February 04, 2016

To the Rescue! Garrett Morgan Underground (Great Idea Series)

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
January 2016

The son of former slaves, Garrett Morgan, came from humble beginnings, working on a Kentucky farm alongside his family before heading north at 14 to find something more.  His first invention came by simple observation from the clothing factory floor which he cleaned.  Sewing machine belts were often breaking and Garrett Morgan's development of a stronger belt resulted in a promotion to sewing-machine repairman.  Garrett Morgan relayed this success into his own sewing-machine shop and tailoring shop, and was on his way.

Garrett Morgan could well have been considered a success at this point, owning his own house, and running his own businesses.  His successes were all the more because he was an African-American man in a time of great prejudice and ignorance.  But he continued to develop new products, serendipitously developing a cream for hair straightening which led to his first patent and the beginnings of the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company.

But the key product for which Garrett Morgan is showcased in To the Rescue! came from the man's shock at the death toll from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City in 1911.  Determined to help the firefighters breathe while inside burning buildings, Garrett Morgan developed a safety hood, the precursor to the gas mask, that utilized long hoses to draw breathable air from ground level and allow the wearer to exhale safely, with a sponge to filter out smoke.  He called it Morgan's Safety Hood and Smoke Protector.  Though it worked, it was often shunned because the inventor was black.

It wasn't until a gas explosion trapped more than thirty men underground in Cleveland that Garrett Morgan's safety hood was utilized and applauded as valuable. Not surprising the safety hood was developed further for use as a gas mask during World War I.

With Black History Month upon us and To the Rescue! Garrett Morgan Underground just published last month, it seems appropriate that I share the book with readers now.  Everyone knows the big inventors like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison but Monica Kulling continues to shine some publishing light on the accomplishments of lesser known but just as notable inventors.  The safety hood was a great idea and Garrett Morgan is deserving of recognition for this achievement.  It’s heartbreaking that the colour of his skin may have prevented earlier implementation of his invention and perhaps could have saved lives sooner.  Fortunately, some were able to see beyond that and accept the significance of the safety hood for everyone.

Surprising, Tundra’s Great Idea Series uses a variety of illustrators, though the text is wholly Monica Kulling, and I like the selection of David Parkins to illustrate To the Rescue! Garrett Morgan Underground.  David Parkins, who also illustrated In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up and Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth's Wonder Kitchen by Monica Kulling, is reknowned as a cartoonist, including an editorial cartoonist for The Globe & Mail, and there’s a retro cartoon feel to the art that works well for To the Rescue! The illustrations of pen and ink with watercolours are embedded in realism, necessary for non-fiction, but still gentle and detailed, conveying much about the time and the people, critical for a biography.

I understand that there will only be ten books in the Great Idea Series and this one is the eighth.  So, if you haven’t already, get with it and start your collection of illustrated biographies with To The Rescue! Garrett Morgan Underground to recognize the inventiveness of one African American while talking up safety and necessity as the mother of invention.

No comments:

Post a Comment