George Ferris, What a Wheel


I had the pleasure of reading another great book by an Oklahoma author recently. Barbara Lowell’s nonfiction picture book, George Ferris, What a Wheel!, tells the story of a man who made an “impossible” dream come true.

George Ferris CoverFrom the book’s description on Amazon: Have you ever ridden a Ferris wheel? You go up, up, up and can see for miles! But when the inventor of the Ferris wheel, George Ferris, first pitched the idea, everyone thought he was crazy. A 250-foot bicycle wheel that goes around and around and carries people in train cars? Can’t be done, they said. But George proved them wrong. Read about how George’s hard work, courage, and imagination created one of the most famous fair rides today.

I went into this book knowing nothing about George Ferris. I didn’t even know the Ferris wheel was named for anyone! I did know, however, that I love Ferris wheels – even though I’ve never ridden in one with train sized cars, made to hold more than two thousand people!

George Ferris, What a Wheel! includes actual pictures of the construction and operational wheel, along with art by Jerry Hoare that makes you feel like you’re almost in the story.

It’s published by Grosset & Dunlap as part of their Penguin Core Concepts line, and covers the concepts Imagination and Problem Solving.

I’m always fascinated at nonfiction picture books – the way the authors cover the true stories completely, while still keeping things relevant and fresh for kids – really impresses me. George Ferris, What a Wheel! is no exception.

Author Barbara Lowell lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband Jim and their fabulous collie, Phil. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a runner-up for SCBWI’s Barbara Karlin Grant and a winner of the Katharine Patterson Prize at Hunger Mountain in the picture book category.

Valerie Lawson did a great interview with Barbara when the book came out this summer, but I asked a few questions too!

Me: How did you come up with the idea for George Ferris, What a Wheel?
Barbara: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson the story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He told me that George Ferris had designed and built an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 passengers at the same time. I had never heard about this and couldn’t wait to read Larson’s book. When I read that Mrs. Ferris cheered a successful second test run by standing on her chair 264 feet in the air, when no glass had been installed in the car’s window, I knew I wanted to write the story.
Me: What was something interesting you discovered while researching for this book? Was there anything fascinating about his life or the World Fair that you didn’t include in the book?
Barbara: The organizers of the World’s Fair wanted something original at the fair. In large part because they wanted to outdo the Eiffel Tower, star of the 1889 Paris Exposition. They held a contest and most of the entries turned out to be bigger or more elaborate tower designs. George Ferris had not entered the contest, but responded with his amusement wheel design when he and other engineers were challenged to create something new and novel for the fair and were specifically told “not a tower.”
Me: If you could meet George Ferris, what would you say to him?
Barbara: If I could meet George Ferris, I would ask him what it was like to ride his Ferris wheel for the first time. What was he thinking and feeling?At the end of the book, there is a section called Ferris Wheel Facts. One of the facts is: “The Ferris wheel collapsed in 1906 – not in a storm, but in a controlled dynamite explosion. Its parts were sold as salvage. Sadly, George Ferris had no say in the wheel’s final outcome. He died ten years earlier at age thirty-seven of either typhoid fever or Bright’s disease, a kidney condition.” I would ask him what he would have done with the Ferris wheel. I would love to be able to see it.

Order George Ferris, What a Wheel! on Amazon!


2 thoughts on “George Ferris, What a Wheel

  1. i’m glad you enjoyed my interview with barbara and got to speak with her about her fantastic book, too. i’m so excited about her debut book, especially since i watched it grow from idea to published book through our critique group. yay, barbara!

  2. Barbara Lowell has created an outstanding book of uniquely told facts and Jerry Hoare’s illustrations accent the photos superbly, though I’m sad at history for tearing that monument to creativity down so quickly and losing such a great mind even quicker.

    Great post, Regina!

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