Not long ago, one of my cousins had to suffer through a small tragedy when his iPod Classic bit the proverbial silicon dust. To make things worse this happened just after Apple announced they wouldn’t be making the Classic anymore, so he wasn’t able to replace it or have it repaired. This makes me want to carry mine around in a thick layer of bubble wrap now, because once it stops working I’ll be forced to move on to something new. This idea of how advancing technologies can push us out of our societal comfort zones is the central theme of Darlene Beck Jacobson’s new MG book, Wheels of Change. Interestingly she uses historical fiction to reflect on the topic, setting her story in the early 1900s when automobiles have not yet taken over the world.
Twelve-year-old Emily Soper is far more interested in her father’s carriage construction business than she is in jumping through all of the cultural hoops that will help her learn to become a proper young lady. When the first automobiles of the time show up in her community, she nervously considers what this will mean in the long-term for her father’s work. While wondering what she can do to help him, she gets caught up in several other changes happening around her, including the activity of women suffragists, the effects of racial intolerance, and finding the direction of her own life.
The book has a decent length for a MG novel, coming in just shy of two hundred pages. Each character in the story is presented in a way that makes them easily identifiable for readers, and the settings and time period benefit from what had to be extensive research by the author. By having Emily participate in or witness so many historical touchstones of the time period, I feel the story occasionally runs the risk of losing the attention of some readers, who might skim through chapters to pick up their favorite story threads or characters. Emily’s point of view on the social issues addressed reads as informed by hindsight at times, but this could also be a draw for a young history fan.
It’s hard for me to read anything middle grade without seeing it from a teacher’s point of view and wondering how my students would connect with it. Wheels of Change is the type of book I’d suggest to a student with a particular interest in American history.
More about Wheels of Change