Friday, February 21, 2020

Wood, Wire, Wings!

Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane 
by Kirsten W. Larson; illus, by Tracy Subisak
48 pages; ages 7 - 10
Calkins Creek, 2020

theme: flight, invention, women in science

To Emma Lilian Todd, problems were like gusts of wind: they set her mind soaring.

Lilian grew up in a family of innovators, during the golden age of invention. While Grandpa worked on a carriage wheel, Lilian created her own things: a weather vane from a broken toy. She took things apart and put them back together – and sometimes they never worked quite right afterwards…

But invention wasn’t for women. So Lilian took a job at the U.S. Patent Office, typing up other people’s inventions. Fascinated by plans for flying machines, she built models and tested them. The designs weren’t very practical. So Lilian decided to build her own airplane.

What I like about this book: I like that Kirsten shows the journey from idea to success is not a straight line. When Lilian tests her first designs – they crash. Failure! But Lilian persisted. She knew she was on to something. I like how Kirsten includes the practical side of invention: Lilian needs space and money to construct a plane. Finally she gets it built, fires up the engine and … goes nowhere. Failure! But now Lilian knows what went wrong. All she needs is a better engine – one she’ll have to wait for a year to get.

I like the back matter: an author’s note about inventions and more about Lilian Todd, a timeline of flying machines, historic photos, and sources for readers who want to deep dive into more history about planes.

One Question for Kirsten:

Archimedes: What inspired you to write this story?

Kirsten: One of my StoryStorm ideas was “Rosie the Riveter.” I went through my story ideas in early 2014, and checked out a slew of books on the topic, including Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts. The name of Lilian Todd and a note that she was the first female airplane designer appeared in one of David’s illustrations. Though I’d lived and worked around airplanes my whole life, I’d never heard of Lilian. Neither had my husband, who’s a test pilot and aviation history buff. I knew Lilian’s story was one I needed to tell.

Thank you, Kirsten. Kirsten is a member of #STEAMTeam2020 - find out more about her at her website.

Beyond the Books:

Read about Lilian and four other women who helped push the aviation industry forward

Check out some photos of Lilian’s airplane here.

Download an educators guide from Kirsten Larson's website.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday in a couple weeks -  once the Valentine story contest ends. PPBF is a gathering of bloggers who share their reviews of picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.


  1. This one is on my TBR list. I love how Kirsten just happened upon Lilian's name in an illustration. Serendipity strikes!

  2. This is a really fun and interesting book. Great review Sue.