Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (K. G. Davis, 2014)
This would make for a great read aloud in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade with opportunities for rereading excerpts of text to think critically about the author’s central ideas and purposes. The main part of the text is written as a narrative with the purpose of “telling the story of” how George Ferris endeavors to bring to life “an idea [for a structure at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair] that would dazzle and move.” In addition, many of the two-page layouts have a non-narrative caption (in bold and a different font) that provides background information pertinent to that point in the narrative. For example, when George’s idea is rejected by the construction chief of the fair, the narrator lets the reader in on George’s expertise on how to use a new metal –steel–and how this would make the moving wheel “strong.” The non-narrative caption for that page serves to build knowledge on this concept – steel, its strengths and George’s area of engineering expertise –
George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy. Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements. (no page #s)
This structure – the use of narrative to “tell the story of” and non-narrative to explain is worthy of exploration by students.
Actually, there’s a lot of potential for using this book in the classroom. If your 3rd or 5th grade class is studying motion and stability–Ferris’ engineering and what he must have considered in designing and building the wheel could be discussed.
And with the Common Core ELA Standards, there are opportunities to engage students in conversations (even student-led), close reading and conversation, and writing in response to the text. A few suggestions include –
- Reading aloud the book (this might take two sessions) and asking students to turn and talk – just to discuss what has happened, to make meaning of what is going on. You might pose prompts along the way like, “What’s going on here that might be a problem?”
- Using a gradual release to explore the role of captions in supporting the narrative – 1) modeling how one caption supports the text, 2) asking partners to explain how another caption serves to support the text, 3) asking individual students to tackle explaining a third caption and how it serves to support the text with conferring and coaching as needed.
- Posing questions for critical thinking, conversation, and writing in response like –
- Why do you think the author wrote this book? What was his purpose? What in the text makes you think so?
- How was George Ferris perseverant? In spite of obstacles, danger, and discouragement?
- Do you think the author believes that this endeavor –George designing and building the Ferris Wheel–was unprecedented? Why do you think so? What is textual evidence to support your reasoning?
Photo of the Ferris Wheel at Chicago World’s Fair
- Engaging in further research to compare accounts or to learn how the modern Ferris wheel differs – the newest, tallest wheel opened in Las Vegas last spring – the High Roller and there’s still a functioning wheel built in the late 19th century, the Wiener Riesenrad (German for “Viennese Giant Wheel”). There’s also plenty of videos of these wheels as well.
Okay…hope this helps!