10.30.2014

Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton


I almost didn't review Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton. I reviewed Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Zachary Ohara in April of this year and the world play of "wrecks" and "rex" feels a little done. But . . . well . . . Clanton draws a mean monster, an adorable uni-rabbit and an endearing little robot. And then there are the building blocks. Clanton does amazing things with building blocks in Rex Wrecks It!. 

With the title and jacket art, you know what you are going to get with Rex Wrecks It!, and getting there is a lot of fun. Clanton's illustrations are especially engaging, but his story has some nice wordiness as well. Gizmo, Sprinkles and Wild are the victims of Rex and stand-ins for toddlers. Gizmo builds a rocket out of blocks. Sprinkles makes a magical heart using only red blocks and Wild builds a "Wooden Wonder of Wowdom."






The trio of friends decides to work together to stop Rex. Building something bigger and stronger - -a supercool fortress - doesn't work. 

Then Gizmo gets the great idea to include Rex in the building process and things seem to be going well. When the masterpiece is finished, it looks amazing and everyone is happy, "Even Rex. Mostly." Even though Rex is a simply drawn character, Clanton achieves an almost aching sense of building unease in the eyes of Rex as he and the gang admire what they have built. I won't give it away here, but what they build is really neat. The climax of Rex Wrecks It! is both satisfying and sweet and reminds me of why there IS room for another Rex/Wrecks book on the shelves. I was also reminded of why there will always be room for books like Rex Wrecks It! on the shelves while at my son's 10th birthday party on the beach last weekend as I watched the boys kick down the sandcastles made by the other kids (oh, alright, made by the girls) at the end of the party. There's a little bit of Rex in all of us . . .




Source: Review Copy

10.29.2014

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



Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis and illustrated by Gilbert Ford is a revelation! I had no idea that this structure that I always thought of as a slightly sketchy carnival ride had such an interesting inception and remarkable beginning.



When, with only ten months to go before the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, a contest is announced inviting Americans to outdo the star of the 1899 World's Fair, the Eiffel Tower. George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., an "ambitious young mechanical engineer" who has already designed some of the country's biggest bridges, tunnels and roads, is inspired. Where all the other entries seem to be shooting for a bigger, better version of the Eiffel Tower, Ferris has an amazing idea - an idea for a structure that will be "both stronger and lighter" than the Eiffel Tower. Based in Pittsburgh, Ferris wants to build his marvel out of steel.




Ford's illustrations, done mostly in twilight blues and purples, are full of motion and details, perfectly evocative of the era. Davis's writing is engaging, and she uses sidebars to share additional facts outside of the narrative that give context to the time period and the challenges Ferris faced. Like the fact that, while the judges, after much dilly-dallying and in desperation, finally name Ferris the winner of the contest, the refuse to give him any money to fund his project. 

What surprised me most of all as I read Mr. Ferris and His Wheel was the wheel itself that he built for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago - it looked more like the London Eye than the two-seater, swinging bucket type Ferris Wheels that are so common today. Ferris's first wheel had living room sized passenger cars that held forty red velvet chairs for passengers. Another amazing fact, Ferris's wheel had 3,000 electric lightbulbs that lit it up at night. This was at a time when most homes were still lit by kerosene lamps and candles. And, by the end of the nineteen week long fair, Ferris's wheel had revolved more than 10,000 times and carried more than 1.5 million passengers!

Source: Review Copy