Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

A mere ten months before the start of the 1893 World's Fair, the planners were still looking for a star attraction.  The French had really outdone themselves at the previous World's Fair by showcasing the Eiffel Tower in 1889, and now something even more spectacular was wanted.  A contest was held, but all the entries looked like Eiffel Tower imitations.

Enter George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., an engineer who had a dream.  Instead of going straight up and being stationary, George's dream was round and moving.  At first, his proposal was rejected by the contest judges as too big, too complicated, but as the time for the fair drew closer, the judges changed their minds, but refused to fund George's project.  With the help of private investors, and a lot of hard work, the 1893 World's Fair opened with a most successful star attraction: The Ferris Wheel.

Kathryn Gibbs Davis has written this wonderfully detailed, absolutely accessible picture book about the first Ferris wheel for older readers who have most likely seen and maybe ever ridden a Ferris wheel, but who probably have never thought about how it was done, or by whom, for that matter.

What an inspiring story it is, too.  George Ferris met with obstacles from the judges first rejection of his idea, to his difficulties getting his dream wheel funded, and when ground was finally broken, the workmen ran into problems with broken tools, quicksand (yes, quicksand, the stuff of grade B movies), Chicago's strong winds, and, of course, skepticism.  But George Ferris had a dream and perseverance, as well as confidence in his skill as an engineer and in the new amazingly strong metal - steel - that he used and his dream came true on June 21, 1893, opening day of the World's Fair.

Not only has Gibbs written a very readable book, but she has included sidebars of factual information throughout the book, giving more information about the Ferris Wheel and how George made it work.  And there is lots of wonderful back matter, including quote sources, a selected bibliography and websites the curious can visit for more information.  There is also a photograph of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., taken from the Chicago World's Fair pamphlet.

The illustrations are done in a digitally mixed media using ink and watercolor and using a soft palette of purples, yellows, blues and greens and that just feel so right for the time period.  I particularly liked the cover illustration showing the Ferris Wheel lit up again a night sky, towering over the buildings that surround it, but under the twinkling stars of the heavens.  It gives such a wonderful perspective of the magnitude of this amazing accomplishment.

When was the last time you were on a Ferris Wheel?  I was 6 and it was on the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World's Fair

This is book 8 of my Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy


  1. I really want to read this book, & your wonderful review has made it even more enticing, Alex. Can't remember the last time, but probably with students at our local amusement park. It is great that he persisted, isn't it?

  2. I went on a ferris wheel in Seattle a few years ago with my children. Such fun and incredible view. I need to get this book.

  3. I enjoyed Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. It's a fascinating story. Great review!!

  4. What a wonderful review! This one has been on my TBR list--but I still haven't gotten a copy. Guessing I will buy it soon!

  5. I loved this book! I think I wrote a post about it for next week... or sometime in the future :)

  6. I’m one of those people who have ridden a Ferris wheel but have never thought about how it was built or by whom. What a fascinating subject I will look for a copy of this, it’s time I educated myself! Thanks for another lovely review.

  7. Thanks for sharing your review on KidLitBlogHop Alex.
    I am so in love with this book. I read it aloud at school and there were so many connections that kids made.. whether it was the Eiffel tower or the lego like ideas of fitting the structure together. The fact that it was in Chicago.. all the kids wanted to know if its still there and whether they could go see it! Now that's really the success behind a well made non-fiction! This is definitely one of my favorites this year :)

  8. This book looks awesome! I can't wait to check it out--I've recently become a big lover of kid's non-fiction!


  9. I have come over from the Kid Lit Hop.
    This is a wonderful review you have here.
    Looks like I may need to add it to my collection.

  10. Oh, wow, this is enchanting. Gigi is so enamoured with the big wheel in Melbourne, that I know one day she is going to insist on going on it. What a wonderful book and so inspiring. Thanks for bringing it to our attention on the Kid Lit Blog Hop

  11. I really enjoyed this book when it came home from the library. I think it has tons of kid appeal and plan to purchase it for our school library! Found you on the Kid Lit Blog Hop and sharing your review!

  12. I have always loved the Ferris Wheel, but had never heard the story about how it came to be. Sounds like a fascinating book. Thank you for sharing this on the hop.

  13. Hi there Alex - I've been seeing this around - really looking forward to reading it. Sounds like a great book! :)


Imagination Designs