The Great Wheel – Newbery Honor 1958

For April, I wanted to be prepared when it came to my Newbery Challenge reads. In previous months, I ended up waiting and waiting for books from the library and having little time to actual read before the month was over. So instead of requesting one or two books, I requested several and then sat back and waited to see which would hit my hold shelf first. Naturally, instead of dwindling in like normal, four or five books arrived all the same day. The plans of man and all that, right?

One of those books was The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson. Mr. Lawson is not only an author but well-known as an illustrator.  Why not learn a bit about the Great Wheel? I had hopes that it would be a worthy, interesting read to pass along to my children.

The story of The Great Wheel built by Mr. Ferris is told from the perspective of Conn Kilroy. Kilroy is an Irish immigrant who joins his uncle at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to help build the first Ferris Wheel. Alongside Kilroy we learn of the opposition and disbelief that this great wheel is feasible, reliable, or possible. We see the Wheel’s formation from the deep foundation to the attachment of the Pullman cars.

There are really two stories walking together in this book. We have Conn Kilroy’s story of making a life for himself in America and helping build the Ferris Wheel helps him to do that. The other story, of the building of the wheel, is woven into Kilroy’s story. Of the two, I found the building of the Ferris Wheel the most interesting. When you think of the size of this first Ferris Wheel and the amount of labor and knowledge it required, it is simply amazing. The strength, work ethic, character, skill of so many men coming together from various backgrounds, all working together for a common goal is a beautiful picture of America’s past.

The Great Wheel is one that I will be passing along to my children.  I appreciate the method that Mr. Lawson used to tell the story of The Great Wheel. While the book is not one of page turning excitement, is shares a worthy glimpse into our history.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Newbery 1959

When I was making selections on books to read from the 1950s Newbery winners and honors, my two oldest girls encouraged me to read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. So with that trusted recommendation, I made sure to put Blackbird Pond on the top of my list as I wondered why I had never read it.

We join Katherine Tyler (Kit) as she journeys from her free-spirited life in Barbados to the quiet, structured life in the Puritan Connecticut colony. For the girl who was pampered by her grandfather, read and enjoyed Shakespeare freely and lived a life full of color, the changes are difficult.

We must admire Kit’s determination to be a help to the family who has taken her into their home. She clearly does not fit in this community and there are those who view Kit as an outsider. As Kit struggles with where she belongs, two friends are found. One is an elderly Quaker woman viewed with scorn by the community and a young Puritan girl who is mistreated. We see beautiful friendships flourish between these three.This friendship is put to the greatest of tests when one is accused of being a witch.

I was expecting The Witch of Blackbird Pond to be a story of the witch trials during this time. What I found was a story of friendship, love, and sacrifice. I enjoyed the simple manner of the story and how we see all sides, not just Kit’s. We not only see Kit’s struggle to fit in but we see the compassion of her Puritan family as well. All stories have more than one side and I think this is the understated beauty of this book.

My daughter (11) happens to be studying this time period in history so I happily passed The Witch of Blackbird Pond to her. She found it an enjoyable read as well. This book is well suited for ages ten to twelve.

Wednesday with Words – Unbroken

I started reading  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. This story of Louis Zamperini has captured me and I have barely begun.

That day, Super Man banked over the Pacific for the first time. The crew was bound for Oahu’s Hickam Field, where the war had begun for America eleven months before, and where it would soon begin for them. The rim of California slid away, and then there was nothing but ocean. From this day forward, until victory or defeat, transfer, discharge, capture, or death took them from it, the vast Pacific would be beneath and around them. Its bottom was already littered with downed warplanes and the ghosts of lost airmen. Every day of this long and ferocious war, more would join them.