Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine

Kulling, Monica (Author)
Slavin, Bill (Illustrator)
Tundra Books 2013. 32 pages
First published: 2010
Series: Great Idea
ISBN: 9781770495142 (paperback)
9780887769450 (hardcover)
9781770491113 (e-book)
Original language: English
Dewey: 609
Book type: Non-Fiction
Book genre: Biography

Text Elements:

character, multimodal, setting, structures and features

Award

The Forest of Reading – The Silver Birch Express Award Nominee – 2012

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

This biography begins with six-year old Elijah gleefully running to fix his father’s mowing machine—again. Young Elijah’s passion and talent for engines is nurtured by his parents (themselves runaway slaves). But when he returns from school overseas as a qualified mechanical engineer, he bumps up against the racist society of 1860s America.

The language conveys Elijah’s story with elegant verve (“Summer days were mowing days”), railroad lingo (“grease the pig”) and snappy dialogue and descriptions: ‘It takes learnin’ to be an engineer,’ said the boss, spitting at Elijah’s feet.… ‘Excuse me?’ said Elijah.”

Lively, detailed drawings portray the people and technology of the day, with sketchy lines and subtle tints that recall old engravings. A wick-lamp glows as Elijah invents at night—after a long days shovelling coal into the train engine. He shows the boss his oil cup, designed to prevent the need for the train’s frequent stops. And sure enough, with Elijah’s first patented invention, “The train reached Kalamazoo in record time.”

A train-poem introduces this story, offering a vivid metaphor for the Underground Railroad, which aided Elijah’s parents. An afterword explains the origins of the phrase, “the real McCoy.” (Hint: others tried to copy the oil cup.)

  •  

    Read the poem on the first page: “Get On Board.” What is the poet referring to? How do you think the people aboard that particular train felt? What does freedom mean to them? Learn more about the Underground Railroad.

  •  

    Find evidence within the text that shows how Elijah was subjected to racial prejudice.

  •  

    Discuss the expression against all odds and how it could be applied to Elijah McCoy. Write an article about Elijah, describing the type of man he was, as well as some of the inventions he designed. 

  •  

    Elijah was “the real McCoy.” Generate a list of expressions in use today and their meanings (my bad!, heads up, be cool, etc.).

  •  

    Read the poem “Get On Board” on the first page. Research information and talk about the Underground Railway. What does the expression “the real McCoy” mean? Find the answer in the book. (IE)

  •  

    Talk about the prejudice in the story. Discuss this statement: “He also knew the boss didn’t think much of him because he was Black.” Give examples of racial prejudice that exist today. (IE)

  •  Make a timeline of Elijah McCoy’s inventions. Research his inventions that are mentioned at the end of the book.
  •  Make a class list of words and expressions related to the railroad. What do they mean? 
  •  With a partner write an interview with Elijah McCoy. Share with the class.
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Environmental Awareness and Consumer Rights and Responsibilities
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Science and Technology