Title: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane
Written by: Kirsten W. Larson
Illustrated by: Tracy Subisak
Calkins Creek/Boyd Mills 2020
For ages: 7-10
Themes/topics: inventions, STEM, perseverance
To Emma Lilian Todd, problems were like gusts of wind: they set her mind soaring. Sometimes the problems seemed small, like where to find metal to craft her inventions. (Solution: she saved tin cans from her supper.) But soon Lilian’s challenges ballooned.
Summary (from the publisher):
“This riveting nonfiction picture book biography explores both the failures and successes of self-taught engineer Emma Lilian Todd as she tackles one of the greatest challenges of the early 1900s: designing an airplane.
Emma Lilian Todd’s mind was always soaring–she loved to solve problems. Lilian tinkered and fiddled with all sorts of objects, turning dreams into useful inventions. As a child, she took apart and reassembled clocks to figure out how they worked. As an adult, typing up patents at the U.S. Patent Office, Lilian built the inventions in her mind, including many designs for flying machines. However, they all seemed too impractical. Lilian knew she could design one that worked. She took inspiration from both nature and her many failures, driving herself to perfect the design that would eventually successfully fly. Illustrator Tracy Subisak’s art brings to life author Kirsten W. Larson’s story of this little-known but important engineer.”
Why I recommend this book:
The book begins with this line: “To Emma Lilian Todd, problems were like gusts of wind: they set her mind soaring.” And like a perfect paper airplane, that beautiful line sets us sailing through the life of this pioneering inventor. She was always tinkering as a child and it seems she had the perfect brain for inventing. But in the early 1900s inventing was not seen as something a woman should do. However, Lilian wasn’t giving up, so she “got a job typing up plans for new machines at the U.S. Patent Office. While Lilian’s fingers raced across the keys, she constructed each contraption in her mind.” In the evenings after work, she invented in her New York City apartment, tinkering with tiny aircraft late into the night. And through many tries and many failures, Lilian persisted. Tackling each problem one by one, she got her design built. And even then, there was another failure: the only engine she could find was a car engine that wasn’t powerful enough. But she persisted and tried again, until finally her design flew! This inspiring story illustrates the importance of persistence and the power of curiosity and engineering. This is a wonderful STEM title for libraries and schools!
Check out the illuminating back matter which includes a compelling Author’s Note, an Age of Airships timeline with fascinating photos, and a selected bibliography. And don’t miss the extensive educator’s guide, available for free download here: https://boydsmillsandkane.com/kanepress-activities/wood-wire-wings-educators-guide/. The guide includes common-core-aligned lessons in ELA, math, science, and social studies.
(For a colossal collection of picture book reviews, please visit this page on Susanna’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)