Title:The Great Horse-Less Carriage Race
Author: Michael Dooling
Publisher: Holiday House
Publ. Date: 9/1/02
On November 28, 1895 a group of ambitious drivers gathered together to show off their horseless carriage models in a 52 mile race across Chicago. The participants of America's First Automobile Race knew that the winner would earn positive publicity for his machine and the possibility of convincing the public that his carriage model was the wave of the future.
Half of the drivers are eliminated in the first paragraph of the story so it is convenient that Dooling begins rather than ends his book with a brief outline of the historical event and its participants (there is an end note about the fate of the winner as well).
Even though the race takes place in freezing, snowy weather and the carriages keep breaking down, Dooley's storytelling operates on a standard race plot structure: Frank pulls ahead, now Oskar pulls ahead, now things are looking better for Frank... you get the idea. Nonetheless, this particular race is an interesting subject for a picture book I suspect that it will keep most kids interested, even if for adults Dooley's storytelling lacks suspense and it is rather obvious from the outset who the hero of the race will be.
Dooley's sepia-toned illustrations thoughtfully evoke the historical time period. Chicago plays a significant role in the race but I would have liked to have felt its presence more. I was excited at the prospect of seeing "52 miles" worth of historical Chicago but unfortunately, for the most part, Chicago remains a grey streak in the background of scenes dominated by a vast white tundra-like route. A few times the drivers must stop in the city, absconding to tin smiths and blacksmiths for repairs during the race. I would have liked to have had a better sense of how and where these shops were located along the route. After all, stops to these conveniently located urban locations would not have been likely during a race through the country side. Other than the mention of the city and a brief scene in which trolley tracks come into play, the race could have been located anywhere.
Despite my somewhat critical review, I do recommend this book. If you kids are interested in history or cars and races, it is an interesting story. Anyone who is a fan of NASCAR will be amused by pit stops which take hours instead of seconds in addition to the length of time (7 hours) it takes to complete the race.
If you happen to be looking for a cars-in-a snowstorm themed book (and who isn't?), this will certainly fit the bill.
Read more about America's First Automobile Race at Eyewitness to History.
Visit the author's website.
Read an interview with the author at Raychelle Writes.
Read the review at Kirkus.