Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle by John Abbott Nez
I have an embarrassing confession to make. When I first heard about the balloon boy two weeks ago - the lad who was supposedly floating away in a homemade balloon - I assumed that the kid had made a flying machine, and he was taking it out for a test drive. I didn't think he was imperiled by anything more than official and parental disapproval, and that not 'til he came down.
I think I read too much juvenile fiction. Most kids don't build flying machines, and, as it turns out, such was not the case.
So imagine how happy I was to learn about Cromwell Dixon! Kid was fourteen when he started work on a homemade airship. From 1907 to 1910 he built and flew bicycle- and motor-powered flying devices, borne aloft by hydrogen-filled gasbags that his mother helped him make, winning competitions and at one point making the New York Times. Ha! Some kids build flying machines after all!
It's a great story, and I'll bet John Abbott Nez was thrilled when he ran across it. A genuine kid inventor - a boy who reached for the sky and attained it! And Nez does a great job with it. The text is energetic, with just enough technical detail to be interesting and not so much as to be a barrier. Pencils and watercolors give the art an old-timey delicacy, but a strong color palette and animated expressions keep it lively.
I especially love Cromwell's mom - she looks confident, supportive, proud, and not even an ounce worried, even when her baby boy rises into the blue yonder riding on a frame of sticks with a giant silk bag of volatile gas inches above his head. Tell you what, no son of mine's gonna try a stunt like that! Especially since, as it turns out (and as Nez doesn't mention in his book because, well, why would you) Dixon died at the age of 19, in a plane crash at a stunt flying exhibition.
To sum up: there are two kinds of moms I cannot see myself becoming - Mrs. Dixon, who stood proudly by as her son risked his life to prove that his machine worked; and Mrs. Heene, who... yeah just ugh.
My thanks to Tim Travaglini at Penguin for hooking me up with this book.