Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sky Boys

Sky Boys: How they built the Empire State Building, by Deborah Hopkinson & James E. Ransome, c2006

We've seen King Kong scale it, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra sang from its rooftop in On the Town, Tom Hanks found Meg Ryan there in Sleepless in Seattle. The Empire State Building is a symbol of American hope and pride.

This is one of the books commemorating its 75th anniversary. The book opens with beautiful b&w photos on the endpapers. Hopkinson's text describes a young boy on the streets of NYC looking for firewood. He finds a pile of wood that marks the remains of a hotel which has been torn down to make way for a new building that will be the Empire State building.

It is the Great Depression and the building provides jobs and hope for the city. The sky boys work high overhead moving the beams into position. The water boy brings the men a drink. The step by step process of driving the rivets is nicely detailed. There are lunch stands and a restaurant high up in the girders.

Ransome takes the reader up into the building's bones. The time period is evoked as we look down on joblines and newsboys.

The final triumph is the young boy's ride to the observation deck when the building is finished. The wonder of being up so high is one I recall from my own childhood visit there.

One year and forty-five days,
seven million man-hours,
More than three thousand men--
a triumph of speed, safety, and efficiency,
and something else, too: beauty.

This is a lovely and informative book. James Ransome's illustrations are warm and inviting. I think this book is more easily shared as a read-aloud than Elizabeth Mann's excellent Empire State Building which was a Bluebonnet nominee this year. I would want to be sure this book was available for architecture units and to support the American history curriculum.

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