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Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor

by McCully, Emily Arnold


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Publishers Weekly :

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Starred Review. Caldecott Medalist McCully's (Mirette on the High Wire) lucid narrative and crisp period illustrations illuminate the early life of an impressive visionary. Born in 1838, young Mattie is inspired by the treasured toolbox she inherited from her father: "When she thought of things that could be made with the tools, she drew them in a notebook labeled My Inventions." The gifted girl's first inventions—a foot warmer, a bat-shaped kite, snow sleds—will certainly intrigue readers, who will find that sketches McCully recreates in panels at the bottom of the pages offer welcome insight into Mattie's creative process. Working in a textile mill at the age of 12, the girl witnesses a runaway shuttle loosened from a loom that injures a peer, and consequently Mattie invents a safety device that later would be installed on looms in all the local mills. After that, she invents a machine that makes the first flat-bottomed paper grocery bags and successfully argues her case in court after a machine-shop worker steals the plans and files a patent for the invention. Mattie went on to establish the Eastern Paper Bag Company and remained a "professional inventor for the rest of her life." In a concluding note, the author emphasizes Knight's remarkable accomplishments and persistence during an era in which many believed "that women's brains were inadequate for inventing." This edifying story may well motivate youngsters to explore their own creativity. Ages 7-up. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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School Library Journal :

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K-Gr 3–This story of the first woman to receive a U.S. patent makes an excellent introduction to inventors and Womens History Month. Knight used tools inherited from her father to design and build her inventions. As a child, she was always sketching one of her brainstorms for toys and kites for her brothers. She once designed a foot warmer for her mother. Although it was never patented, Knights design for a safer loom saved textile workers from injuries and death. Later as an adult, she fought in court and won the right to patent her most famous invention, a machine that would make paper bags. Matties story is told in a style that is not only easy to understand, but that is also a good read-aloud. The watercolor-and-ink illustrations capture the spirited inventor and support the text in style and design. Their sketchy quality works well with the pen-and-ink drawings of inventions at the bottom of the pages. While most of these are simulated, the actual drawings from the 1871 patent for the paper-bag machine are included. The text has some fictional dialogue that makes Mattie more real to young readers without compromising the facts. An authors note gives additional biographical information about this creative woman. This is not the best source for reports, but it will inspire interest in women and children as inventors. Its a good reminder that nonfiction isnt just for reports. It pairs nicely with Marlene Targ Brills Margaret Knight: a Girl Inventor (Millbrook, 2001).–Carolyn Janssen, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

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From BookList, February 15, 2006, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

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K-Gr. 3. McCully took on a challenge in this picture-book biography of "The Lady Edison"--little-known, nineteenth-century inventor Margaret E. Knight. Knight created the machine that makes paper grocery sacks. Her invention isn't instantly attention-grabbing stuff for young people, but McCully draws children into Knight's life by emphasizing not only her engineering triumphs but also her resolute stance against the restrictive gender roles of her time. She begins with Knight's childhood, when the young "Mattie" sketched prolifically, built inventions, and proposed safety devices for the New Hampshire textile mills where her family worked. As an adult, Mattie continued to work on her inventions until her paper-bag machine idea was stolen. A court scene between the belligerent thief and Mattie emphasizes the inherent discrimination women of the era faced: "Miss Knight could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities of the machine," the scornful thief tells the judge. Still, Mattie wins her case at the book's jubilant close. A one-page biography, which includes Knight's later accomplishments, completes the account. Watercolor scenes invoke the drama, and a banner of sketches showing various inventions runs along several pages. A short bibliography closes.


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