March 11, 2012

In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books
978-1-77049-239-4
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
2011

Margaret (Mattie) Knight was one of those amazing women who never let her gender stand in her way, though others tried.  As a young girl in mid-1800's New Hampshire, Mattie enjoyed building purposeful items from wood, using the tools inherited from her father who'd died when she was 3.  She built kites and sleds, but when she began to work in a cotton mill (still as a young girl), she put her inventing skills to greater use.  While captivated by the looms and other large machinery involved in spinning and weaving, Mattie recognized inherent dangers therein and designed a device that prevented moving shuttles from blasting off when threads broke.

Mattie was only 12 when she invented this stop-motion device, preventing her from registering a patent for it, but she consoled herself with the injuries her device prevented.  Never marrying, Mattie continued to dream up machines when she wasn't working.  In 1868, when she worked at a paper-bag factory, Mattie was inspired to design a machine that would cut, fold and paste a paper bag with a flat bottom.  It was only because of her perseverance, toiling for years on her machine and then taking a patent thief to court, that Mattie was able to establish herself as the ingenious woman inventor she was.

Biographies can be dry reading for children, as can most non-fiction, if the authors and publishers forget to focus on those features of text that make the reading compelling.  Tundra's Great Ideas Series, with three volumes all penned by Monica Kulling, tell biographies as stories, emphasizing the milestones of visionaries' ideas, rather than the minutiae of their timelines.  Enhanced with detailed and appealing illustrations by David Parkins, The Beano contributor and émigré from the United Kingdom, In the Bag! seems less non-fiction and more picture book, favourably widening its readership.

With In the Bag!, Monica Kulling demonstrates a knack she has for crafting reader-friendly biographies for children.  Her earlier books in the Great Ideas Series of illustrated biographies, It's a Snap! George Eastman's First Photograph (Tundra, 2009) and All Aboard! Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine (Tundra, 2010), have been nominated for the OLA's Silver Birch Express Award (2011 and 2012, respectively), with  In the Bag! currently nominated for a Shining Willow Award.  I suspect that the release of Going Up! Elisha Otis' Trip To The Top (Tundra, fall 2012) will similarly find an eager audience of young readers who appreciate the colourful tales of innovation, all the more intriguing for their factual nature.

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