This lyrical and dramatic picture book for older readers is based on the true story of how an ordinary boy flew his kite to earn an extraordinary place in history in the building of the first suspension bridge over the Niagara River in 1848.
KIRKUS REVIEWS: “A young kite enthusiast lends his skill to an engineering
feat—the construction of the first suspension bridge downstream from Niagara Falls. The narrator (16-year-old Homan Walsh in
1847) recounts in free verse his entry in the kite-flying contest posed by the
bridge’s engineer. The winner must anchor a line 240 feet across an 800-foot
chasm between the United States
above Whirlpool Rapids. He launches his carefully made kite from the Canadian
side, As the wind drops at midnight, “The heavy line went slack! / It snapped
on ice below.” The young hero waits eight days for ice to clear so he can
return home to mend his broken kite for a second, successful attempt. Widener’s
acrylic paintings capture the determination of the boy, the frozen, deeply
chilly landscape, and the danger and power of the falls. Back matter includes a
timeline, source list and more. Memorable and dramatic.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: Gr 2–8—“Homan Walsh, the best kite flyer in a
small town near Niagara Falls,
had a dream. He hoped to win a contest that challenged participants to fly a
kite across the Falls bridging the U.S.
The winner's string would then be used as a guideline for the cables of the
first American suspension bridge. Told in poetic free verse, the book details
the young narrator's emotional journey as he prepared for the
engineer-sponsored contest by making a kite he named "Union."
The boy's account is filled with robust scientific observation and inquiry.
Homan had to travel to Canada
to catch the beneficial southwest wind: "I clumped and ferried cross the
roiling river." He temporarily lost his kite and had to repair it and
start anew. The rich language and the evocative oil paintings make these
subjects of history and civil engineering come alive. The illustrations give a
strong sense of the vastness of the gorge, the minuteness of man, and the
arduous task of getting a kite across the Falls. The back matter is
particularly helpful in unraveling the fact from the fiction. For libraries
looking to strengthen STEM-related units on engineering and 19th-century New York history, this
title is a perfect match.”—Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City
". . . O'Neill's spare text communicates both grandeur and dignity and
manages to cover a good amount of territory. . . Widener's full-page acrylic
paintings closely follow the narrative, emphasizing the harsh winter landscape
and giving a clear sense of he odds against spanning the gorge. An extensive
author's note spells out what is known and not known about the story and supplies
additional facts about the building of the bridge."