All Aboard! by Monica Kulling

all-aboardCindy: Want to hook young readers on the genre of biography? Give them All Aboard! Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine (Tundra, 2010). The opening scene shows a 6 year-old Elijah happily running to fix his father’s broken horse-drawn mower. His talent and love of working on machines started early. In 1866 Elijah returned to his ex-slave parents in Michigan having finished engineering schooling in Scotland, but his dreams of working as a mechanical engineer were dashed when the only job he could get as a black man was as an ashcat, shoveling coal into the train’s firebox and “greasing the pig,” oiling the wheels and bearings. While doing this dangerous, tedious work Elijah had time to think and at night he worked on drawings for his first major invention, an oil cup that would keep the train greased while it ran, preventing the frequent stops and delays for this work that was necessary to keep the train running.

Elijah McCoy is one of the inventors on the list our sixth graders research every year so I have read about his life and was familiar with his inventions. Some of my students could benefit from this book, although it is meant for a much, much younger audience. Sometimes the students get sidetracked with the minutia of the inventor’s life and come out of the research project still not understanding the major contribution of the inventor. Maybe a picture book reading first would help. Kulling presents an entertaining and informative overview of Elijah’s passion that just might spark young readers to follow their curiosity…or at least to read more biographies.

Lynn: Those of us with school librarian blood running in our veins get really excited when we find good books that can be used in lots of ways and here is a book that does just that. All Aboard can be tied into many subject areas from history to science to language arts. Cindy mentioned the introduction of biographies but there is also a great tie-in to the use of idioms. Being around our focus group all summer, I have remembered how interested that age group is in language and just how mystifying some of our common expressions can be to kids. Kulling does a great job of explaining the origins of our expression, the real McCoy, in a way that will really intrigue young readers and get them thinking even more about our fascinating language. If you don’t know where that expression comes from you have one more good reason to read this book ūüėČ

Bill Slavin’s illustrations, done with pen and ink with watercolor, are really charming and filled with humor and period details. They are large enough to make this a good book to read to a group and the lure of steam trains will capture kids’ attention right from the start.

This is the second book in the Great Ideas series by this team. Add this one to your back-to-school shopping list.

nonfictionmonday2Check out more great nonfiction on Playing by the book, this week’s Nonfiction Monday host.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "All Aboard! by Monica Kulling"

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  1. Thank you Cindy and Lynn for the wonderful review. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed all the aspects of this biography, including my use of idioms and Bill’s glorious illustrations. On a day when I was thinking, what’s all this writing about ‚Ķ this review perked me right up. Thank you again.

    All best, Monica

  2.' Nicolas Aye says:

    Your post Book Blog – Bookends – Children’s Book Reviews – Booklist Online » Blog Archive » All Aboard! by Monica Kulling hit the nail on the head. I will be guaranteed to check back here often to find out what you have to express. You won a reader.

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