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Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane

4.57  ·  Rating details ·  93 ratings  ·  63 reviews
This picture book biography explores both the failures and successes of self-taught engineer Emma Lilian Todd as she tackles one of the greatest challenges of the early 1900s: designing an airplane.

Emma Lilian Todd's mind was always soaring--she loved to solve problems. Lilian tinkered and fiddled with all sorts of objects, turning dreams into useful inventions. As a child
Hardcover, 48 pages
Published February 25th 2020 by Calkins Creek (first published 2020)
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Average rating 4.57  · 
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Carrie Finison
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I recently had the pleasure of reading an ARC of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Larson. This biography swept me off my feet from the first line. “To Emma Lilian Todd, problems were like gusts of wind: they set her mind soaring.” I was fascinated by this story of a late 19th/early 20th century WOMAN inventor who “whittled and fiddled” and tinkered to turn her dreams into reality. The growth mindset that Lilian displayed in her life is reflected in the way th ...more
Isabella Kung
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic non-fiction picture book, about Emma Lilian Todd. This is the first I've heard of this amazing woman in history and I am inspired! "Wood, Wire, Wings" really embodies her spirit of invention and the growth mindset. Perfect for STEM education. the book also has an excellent back matter which expands further into her life and the history of airships. Through telling us about her life's work, this book shows the important lessons of failure and how with passion and persistence, we can d ...more
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Determination, perseverance, grit, and follow-through. That is what Emma Lilian Todd teaches us about following our passions and pursuing our dreams. Lyrical language, direct quotes, and inviting illustrations drew me into the story of this important bit of history. I was especially impressed with the textual focus on the process of inventing, which inevitably involves lots of failures and re-trials. The backmatter digs deep and offers insight into aviation history, including black and white pho ...more
Margo Tanenbaum
I can imagine using this attractive title about a little known female engineer for a women's history month program (author lives in Los Angeles area) or a STEM program, particularly aimed at girls.
Julie Rowan-Zoch
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Here is an uplifting story of a young girl whose curiosity and passion leads her to do amazing things. Kirsten W. Larson has resurrected the inspiring journey of self-taught engineer, Emma Lillian Todd - a girl destined to make a mark. In a time when women had extra hurdles to overcome in breaking into what was deemed a man’s world, Emma Lillian Todd’s patience, perseverance, and determination led not only to personal success, but to valuable knowledge in the burgeoning field of aviation. Tracy ...more
Carol Baldwin
WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Larson (Calkins Creek, 2020) is a picture book biography that will entertain and educate elementary school readers. Because of its historicity and accessible language, I think it could also be useful for reluctant readers in middle school classrooms. "To Emma Lilian Todd, problems were like gusts of wind: they set her mind soaring.

Sometimes the problems seemed small, like where to find metal cans to craft her inventions. (Sol
Joy Pitcairn
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Flying runs in my family. When I was in 8th grade, my class visited the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and I had the privilege of seeing my great-grandpa’s airplane hanging among other notable examples of key developments in the history of flight.

So when I saw Kirsten W. Larson’s new picture book biography on the life and legacy of Emma Lilian Todd, I was excited to check it out! "Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane" is a beautiful tribute to Todd, a female figure in aviat
Ruth M
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gust. Wind. Soaring. Ballooned. From the first page of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, author Kirsten Larson has her readers up in the air. We’re learning about the inventor’s approach to solving problems, but the allusions to flight set the stage for the airplane designs to come.

An early spread serves as a pictorial guide through inventions developed (none by women, by the way) during Lilian’s lifetime. Quotes from Lilian are well placed among the illustrations, bringi
Helen Ishmurzin
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’m sure you’ve heard about the Wright Brothers and their contribution to the field of aeronautics. Less well known, but at least as brilliant, is pioneering inventor and engineer Emma Lilian Todd.

This book reveals how she spent her life designing and tinkering, building and testing until she created a working plane that was more practical than that of the Wright Brothers because the pilot didn’t need to lie on his stomach “waving his legs in the air”.

In addition to the challenges faced by any i
Heather Stigall
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, nf, pb
Emma Lilian Todd lived in a time of key inventions—the telephone, the sewing machine, the light bulb—but not usually inventions designed by women. That didn’t stop Emma Lilian Todd. Kirsten W. Larson tells the story of a woman who loved to tinker, to find out how things worked, to invent, and to re-think and re-design. Most importantly, this is the story of a woman who tried, and failed (and failed and failed), and then learned from her failures to see her dreams achieved. This book focuses on o ...more
Elizabeth Volkmann
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wood, Wire, Wings welcomes the reader into the life of a little known inventor/engineer who contributed to the long process of perfecting the design of what is now the modern day airplane.

Wonderful on the shelf in relation to: STEM, 'maker', pb biographies, 'mighty women', AND a fabulous example of expert storytelling (enhanced by beautiful illustrations) - this book is sure to interest many young readers. Larson has crafted a book that engages the reader with a powerful story, a strong and per
Melanie Ellsworth
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I had not heard of Emma Lilian Todd until I read WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, but I’m so glad to know her now. Her bravery and confidence are particularly remarkable during a historical period that encouraged men - but actively discouraged women - from being inventors. Both children and adults will be inspired by Lilian’s resilience; Larson describes how Lilian is repeatedly “baffled, yet buoyed” by the technical challenges of building an airplane and the difficulty of being a woman in a field dominated b ...more
Roberta Gibson
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Summary: Emma Lilian Todd loved to tinker. As a child she made a weather vane and took apart a clock. As an adult, she made model airplanes and tested their designs until she was ready to build a real one. Could she achieve her dreams and get a flying machine off the ground?

With text that soars, Kirsten W. Larson reveals the compelling story of a woman whose contributions might otherwise be forgotten. She draws young readers in and establishes the setting with a fascinating collection of inventi
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
"While many early airplane designers competed to fly faster, higher, and farther, Lilian focused on making airplanes a practical form of transportation, like a trolley." - from the backmatter

I think this is what makes Todd's story important. This pairs interestingly with Candace Fleming's recently published book, The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh--there was a man obsessed with flying the farthest and having the most attention, whereas Todd was someone trying to make a form of new technology
NoNieqa Ramos
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
The book opens with lovely prose and the premise that a problem is a challenge and the solution is creativity. The author selected exactly the right information to include in the book like Lilian’s relationship with her grandfather and an illustrated timeline to contextualize Lilian’s influences. The questions that Lilian asks herself and her self talk in general are a model for children to engage in critical thinking. One of my favorite illustrations is on pages 12 and 13, where Lilian is worki ...more
Abi Cushman
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful introduction to Emma Lilian Todd, a woman who designed an airplane in the early 1900s.

I admit I had never heard of Emma Lilian Todd until I read this picture book biography. But Kirsten W. Larson, the author, not only distilled a lot of information in a captivating narrative, she also provided historical context in a really accessible way. I think it will provide kids with a great foundation to want to learn more about Todd, other women in STEM, aviation, as well as engineering.

Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The book begins with this line: “To Emma Lilian Todd, problems were like gusts of wind: they set her mind soaring.” And like a perfect paper airplane, that beautiful line sets us sailing through the life of this pioneering inventor. She was always tinkering as a child and it seems she had the perfect brain for inventing. But in the early 1900s inventing was not seen as something a woman should do. However, Lilian wasn’t giving up, so she “got a job typing up plans for new machines at the U.S. Pa ...more
This is a fantastic picture book biography for those looking to explore STEM concepts and/or growth mindset with children, as well as to emphasize the role of women in STEM.

I'd never heard of Emma Lilian Todd before this book, but was engaged in the story of how she went from tinkering as a child, to typing up others' inventions in the U.S. Patent Office, to building her own design for an airplane. Larson's writing is full of active verbs and refrains that emphasize Todd's persistence in the fac
Mary Copp
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
From the first lines of WOOD, WIRE and WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, I was swept away. This is an amazing biography of a relatively unknown (until now!) inventor who, beginning in childhood, always wanted to know how things worked. Her curiosity and determination grew from tinkering to testing others' inventions to building her own. With a few failures under her belt, persistent and resilient Emma, succeeded in engineering a flying machine! This is an inspiring story of a woman wh ...more
Gregory Barrington
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Kirsten Larson brings forward the true story of an aviation pioneer, inventor, and woman that should serve as an inspiration to all who like to dream big, tinker, play, and simply know they can do something better.

Tracy Subisack's colored India ink illustrations accentuate the story by keeping it light, colorful, and full of energy—which after reading think would be a term to describe Lilian Todd. Her energy continues to drive her forward no matter how many obstacles she encounters.

Besides the
Hope Lim
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing

With beautiful language, Kirsten Larson has introduced Emma Lilian Todd, a curious girl who later became a woman of determination and tenacity. In Wood, Wire and Wings, Kirsten tells the story of Lilian Todd, who aspired to “build planes that flew better and could be controlled like a car or bicycle.” Todd worked tirelessly for 17 hours every day for 4 years until her plane finally took off into the wind.

Kirsten’s thoughtful attention to the common threads running through Todd’s life, curiosity
Lindsay Metcalf
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This inspiring picture-book biography highlights the often overlooked role of women in STEM more than a century ago. Working in a patent office, Emma Lilian Todd took many of the early aircraft designs home and tested them, then decided she could do better. Budding engineers will love to watch her try, fail, and persevere as she makes incremental improvements that persist in aircraft design today. Wispy illustrations from Tracy Subisak evoke the feeling of flying, and quotations from Todd add a ...more
Rajani LaRocca
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A soaring biography of Emma Lillian Todd, a resilient and pioneering inventor and a contemporary of the Wright Brothers in designing airplanes in the early 20th century. Readers will be swept away by Lillian's need to tinker with tin and wire and how this grew into a passion for aeronautic design. And it is just as fascinating to learn about Lillian's failures as well as her successes. Full of quotes from Lillian, the text is light, bright, and informative about her life as well as the history o ...more
Anna Crowley Redding
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
I fell in love from the first page. Author Kirsten W. Larson and illustrator Tracy Subisak not only lift the reader into the heady clouds of wonder with lyrical writing, but the the words and images work brilliantly together to provide immediate and vastly encompassing historical context... something for our future inventors to sink their teeth into.

The fact that this true story features a problem solving, engineering, inventing dynamo that also happened to be female... puts this book ahead of t
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I seek out stories about girls/women who defy the rules and expectations that society imposes on them, and it is always a joy to find those as well-written as this one. Author Kirsten Larson shares the life of Emma Lilian Todd, someone I had not heard of before but whom I know I would have considered one of my most interesting friends. Told in an engaging style, Larson brings us into the mind and thought processes of this fascinating woman to understand her drive to invent and fly an aero-craft. ...more
Nell Elizabeth
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book because it used great, punchy storytelling to pack in a lot of information. Sometimes I find biographies a little snoozy, but not this one--each new twist and turn felt exciting, like I was right there in the action while Emma tried to figure out how to invent a better airplane while confronting traditional sexism of the time. The author, Kirsten W Larson, sprinkled in direct quotes from Emma, which really helped bring her to life as a real person. And the informational back ma ...more
Katelyn Aronson
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love a good biography, particularly when it's about one of the unsung heroines of history (there are so many yet to be honored)! I found Larson's "Wood, Wire, Wings" to be a wonderful addition to children's picture book biographies--inspiring, uplifting, and a testament to the dogged persistence necessary when in pursuit of one's dreams. Throughout the book, inventor Emma Lilian Todd is shown experimenting, facing failure, but always pushing through-undaunted-until she reaches success. Actual ...more
Kelly Carey
Wood, Wire Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane is a celebration of perseverance and resilience. The wind whipped illustrations hint at Emma Lilian Todd’s active mind as she dauntlessly pursues her dream of building an airplane. Peppered with actual quotes from Todd, this book is a wonderful exploration of a practical dreamer who used her imagination to create useful inventions. Readers will cheer for Todd, relate to her failures, and pour over the photographs shared at the end of the boo ...more
Saira Mir
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The inspiring story of groundbreaking aeronautical engineer, Emma Lilian Todd, will capture your heart and imagination. The combination of Kirsten W. Larson’s immersive, visual story-telling and illustrator Tracy Subisak’s nostalgic, dreamy art will leave you feeling inspired and satisfied. Generous historical contextual cues including Lillian’s quotes, an airplane development timeline and an extensive bibliography will make you return to this book time and again. For anyone with a love of STEM, ...more
Vicky Fang
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is fascinating, beautiful and inspiring! I learned so much about Emma Lilian Todd - from the context of inventors around her to her perseverance to achieve huge accomplishments. The language and illustrations are beautiful. It’s wonderful to see a story about a woman inventor who was able to make such strides in airplane design, overcoming many obstacles and failures. I also love that the backmatter describes how inventions are truly built upon the contributions of so many. A great rea ...more
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Author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020) and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2021), as well as more than two dozen nonfiction books for young people. Represented by Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary.

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