Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge

Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge

Monica Kulling
Illustrator:  Bill Slavin 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Tundra Books, 2016   ISBN: 978-1770495227

Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia in 1856 and it wasn’t long before his family realized that their Niko was a remarkable child. By the time he was ten he could speak ten languages, and when he saw a picture of Niagara Falls he announced that one day he would go to America and he would put a “giant waterwheel” under the falls. It was an outlandish idea to be sure, but these were the kinds of ideas Niko came up with.

In 1884 young Niko left Europe and traveled across the Atlantic to America to start a new life. He had been robbed on the ship so all he had to his name were four cents, a book of poems, a drawing, and a letter of introduction to Thomas Edison. While he searched lower Manhatten looking for the address he had been given, he encountered a man whose machine was broken. Niko offered his help, fixed the machine, and promptly earned twenty dollars, a sum of money that was very welcome.

Niko managed to find the place he was looking for, which was the workshop where Thomas Edison developed and worked on his ideas. Edison had many helpers working in the factory and Niko hoped that he would become one of them. Soon after he met Edison and presented his letter of introduction,  the famous inventor sent Niko to solve a problem. The dynamo of a ship called the SS Oregon was broken and it needed to be fixed immediately. No one in the workshop knew enough to fix the dynamo, but it turned out that Niko knew exactly what to do and the ship was able to sail.

Not surprisingly, Edison gave Niko a job there and then. Niko had hoped that he would be able to work on a motor that would use alternating electrical current, an invention idea that was dear to his heart, but Edison wasn’t interested. Niko felt that his motor would be more efficient and would work better, but Edison refused to consider building such a machine. Edison had invested in direct current technologies and so he offered Niko fifty thousand dollars to make his existing direct current system more efficient. Niko completed the job, but Edison refused to pay him. Not surprisingly, Niko left Edison’s employ and he was forced to take on menial jobs because nothing else was available. The rift between Edison and Niko was just the beginning of what would become a very acrimonious relationship.

Readers who have an interest in people who were ahead of their time are going to enjoy this engaging biography. With skill and sensitivity Monica Kulling tells the story of one of the world’s great inventors, helping her readers to see what a genius Nikola Tesla was.

This is one of the titles in the Great Ideas Series. The books in this collection tell the stories of men and women who used their creativity and knowledge to build valuable inventions.