Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine

All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine

Monica Kulling
Illustrator:  Bill Slavin 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Tundra Books, 2010   ISBN: 978-0887769450

Elijah McCoy loved machines. Even when he was a very little boy, he loved to tinker with and fix things. The son of slaves who had escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad, Elijah had big dreams. More than anything, he wanted to design and build machines. To help their son achieve his goal, Elijah’s parents sent him to study mechanical engineering in Scotland. When he finished his studies and rejoined his family in Michigan, Elijah had high hopes for the future. Unfortunately, his education and ability counted for very little in America. All potential employers saw when they looked at Elijah was that he was black. The best job he could find was an unskilled menial job working for the Michigan Central Railroad.

Elijah’s job was to shovel coal into the firebox of the train engine, and to oil the wheels and the bearings. A small boy was given the job of oiling the parts of the train that Elijah could not reach. The work was dirty, arduous and, for the little boy, it was also dangerous.

Elijah began to wonder if he could invent something that would make oiling the machinery in the train easier. What if he could invent an oil pan “that oiled the engine while the train was running.”

This delightful picture book tells the story of a man who identified a problem in a machine, and who found a way to solve that problem. Monica Kullings’ engaging text helps young readers to see what a special person Elijah McCoy was. With Bill Slavin’s expressive artwork to accompany the text, this is a book that proves that biographies can be both interesting and entertaining.