All Aboard! Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine

All Aboard! Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine by Monica Kulling. Illustrated by Bill Slavin (Canada) - (USA)
Great Ideas Series, 2

Pages: 32 pages
Ages: 5+
Finished: Sept. 10, 2010
First Published: Aug. 10, 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: Children, picture book, biography
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Summer days were mowing days in Colchester, Ontario.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Tundra Books.

Reason for Reading: Taking my turn before handing it over for a bedtime read to my son, who is very much into inventors right now.

Lovely little first biography for picture book age children or older struggling readers who still like their books filled with illustrations. Of course, Elijah's life is told briefly and rapidly but it manages to hit upon all the major events of his life leading up to the invention of his oil cup which revolutionized steam travel. Not only do we get the facts of this young man's life, we also get insight into the era and the treatment of Blacks in the US and child labour in general. Canadian born Elijah, educated in Scotland, returned to his family now living back in the US, first meets up with a white man's disdain and ignorance as he tries to get a job designing train engines and ends up being an ashcat, the person who feeds the coal into the engine. Along with him is a small white boy, his "grease monkey" who keeps all the parts well oiled climbing under and over the engine in a dangerous job. These injustices though are what keep Elijah up at nights trying to figure out a way to fix the steam engine that causes their job to be so dangerous and tiresome, and for train travel to be so slow.

The writing is age appropriate and interesting and doesn't talk down to its audience giving a good clear picture of the process an engineer and inventor must go through. Slavin's illustrations are wonderful old-style paintings that fit the text perfectly. The story goes on to end with a small page telling where the phrase "the real McCoy" came from and how Elijah had a life filled with engine inventions and even some inventions that had nothing to do with engines, such as a portable ironing board. Young children will enjoy Elijah's story and older ones may be inspired to finding out more about him.


  1. That looks like a book that would appeal to a lot of boys!

  2. This book would be perfect for my son. He's not quite reading and still likes picture books, but it might also take him to the next level. Thanks for sharing!


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