Book Review: Alexander, the Boy Soldier Who Conquered the World

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Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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Book Review: The Wright Brothers

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This timely book from National Geographic is as detailed a biography as you're going to find that is also written for young readers. The subtitle, "A Photobiography of Wilbur and Orville Wright," is a bit misleading in that it suggests lots of photos and little text. What you the reader get is lots of photos and lots of text. It's good text, too, offering facts and figures and perspective and fun facts and all manner of other kinds of information that will have the reader immersed in all things Wright before they ever get their plane off the ground.

As usual, the folks at National Geographic (specifically, Marry Collins, the principal author here) have done their homework and done it well. They've found in the Wrights' upbringing the special mix of curiosity, tenacity, mechanical ability, and never-say-no spirit that made this important invention possible. Priceless story follows priceless story, interspersed with factual text. The photos are a mix of familiar and obscure; all are compelling.

The book's opening grabs young minds by relating the story of a 3-year-old boy who sees an airplane in the sky. This is 1905, and the vast majority of America hasn't yet heard of the Wrights' invention (another misconception that the author corrects). From there, the story moves into traditional territory, describing the boys' upbringing and education. Most of all, the author focuses on the boys' curiosity and need-to-know drive that would keep them pursuing their life's dream long after others would have quit.

And along with the traditional facts and figures are such gems as Wilbur's ice hockey injury, Orville's intense shyness, and a detailed treatment of the painstaking nature of building the flying machine and all the other parts that made it such a wonder to behold. The book also includes many little-known facts about the Wrights' three-year testing at Kitty Hawk.

Helpful maps and graphic illustrations are included as well. Most helpful are the down-to-earth graphics that explain why the Wrights had to work so hard to overcome certain difficulties (the three major movements of air, the rigid nature of their initial designs, etc.).

All in all, this is a wonderfully detailed examination of the Wright brothers and their contribution to society. Through a perfectly balanced combination of text, photos, maps, and graphics, Collins has achieved an admirable goal: helping readers learn and relearn at the same time.

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