About the Holiday
The onset of spring with its wide-open sunny days seems to beckon to us to open our minds to all sorts of new possibilities. International Ideas Month also invites would-be inventors and clever folk alike to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. You never know – there may be a book, a work of art, a new invention, or a solution to a need inside you just waiting to be let out!
The Secret Subway
Written by Shana Corey | Illustrated by Red Nose Studio (Chris Sickels)
In the 1860s the streets of New York were…well, not to put too fine a point on it…disgusting. Made of cobblestone and filled with trash, waste, horse manure, dust, dirt, and throngs of people, the roads made for rough travel. Many people had ideas about what could be done to make the streets safer and cleaner. Some thought a moving sidewalk would work, others talked about double-decker roads or an elevated train system. But while there was a lot of talk, nothing ever got done.
Alfred Ely Beach, however, peered down from his high office room and studied the street below him. Alfred Beach was a thinker, a publisher, and an inventor. He put his clever mind to work and came up with a solution. He envisioned a train powered by an enormous fan that would travel underground. “People would get where they needed to go as if by magic!” he thought. He couldn’t wait to start building. There was just one problem—he didn’t own the streets. And getting permission to dig them up would be hard. “So Beach hatched a sneaky plan. He would propose building an underground tube to carry mail instead.” As he had imagined, no one objected to this project when he proposed it—not even Boss Tweed, who unofficially ran the city.
Given the okay, Beach rented the basement of Devlin’s Clothing Store. Every day he sent in workers to dig and every night wagons took away the debris. For 58 days and nights Beach’s men tunneled under the city, moving forward 8 feet each day. At last the tunnel was finished. It was 8 feet across and 294 feet long—large enough to hold a train full of people.
Beach then decorated the basement to be a beautiful, welcoming waiting room. Gaslight lamps and paintings dotted the walls, flowers added color, and a grandfather clock rang out the time. There was even a fountain with goldfish, a man playing a grand piano, and a delicious lunch. When everything was ready, Beach invited reporters, government officials, and distinguished citizens to join him on February 26, 1876 at the “Beach Pneumatic Transit Company.”
That first day Alfred Beach’s guests only admired the train, but they gave it glowing praise. Soon Beach opened his train to the public. With a WHOOSH from a gigantic fan, the train zipped down the track and then back again. “Beach’s train was a SENSATION! All winter while wagons slipped and slid on the slushy streets above, people poured into Devlin’s for the twenty-five-cent ride.”
While riders loved it, some people objected. Shop keepers didn’t want potential buyers underground. Property owners were afraid the digging would hurt their buildings, and some felt Beach wanted too much power. Even Boss Tweed no longer supported it since some of his friends had their own ideas on building a subway. When the governor of New York refused to let Beach expand his train, the project came to a halt.
The idea didn’t die, however, and “many years later drilling could be heard once again under the streets of New York City” as a train system powered with electricity was being built. Diggers discovered many unusual things buried under the city. Perhaps the most surprising was a brick wall behind which stood a little railroad car rusting in its tracks, a memorial to innovation and the future.
Alfred Ely Beach was one clever man, and Shana Corey tells his story with historical perspective, wit, and suspense. Corey’s language crackles with evocative alliteration, stealth, and action. Kids will be excited to learn of the intrigue and imagination that led to this remarkable snippet of America’s history.
Fans of Claymation will love Chris Sickels’ multimedia artwork that combines sculpted characters, specially built props, photographs, and illustration. Sickels’ characters are nothing short of astounding. Their period clothing, hairstyles, and expressive faces lend an engaging and realistic dimension to the vintage scenes. Sickels cleverly depicts early New York City and people’s alternative ideas to the traffic problem with sketched in schemetics. His use of color and lighting sets the perfect tone for this highly entertaining and educational picture book. Kids will want to linger over each page to catch all the details of The Secret Subway.
For kids interested in transportation, history, inventions, and claymation and other arts, The Secret Subway would be a wonderful addition to their home library.
Ages 4 – 10
Schwartz & Wade, Random House Kids, 2016 | ISBN 978-0375870712
Discover more about Shana Corey and her books for kids on her website!
You will be amazed by the art, books, and animation by Chris Sickels on his Red Nose Studio website!
This Secret Subway book trailer is just the ticket!
International Ideas Month Activity
Chris Sickels’ Secret Subway
Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio invites you to build your own Secret Subway with this printable play set, complete with Alfred Ely Beach and a passenger! Click here to download your printable Secret Subway Activity!
Build a Super Subway Car
Every day, millions of people all over the world travel to work, school, and other activities by subway. Here’s an easy and fun way to build your own subway train from recycled materials. You can make just one car or make a few and connect them to create a long train worthy of any big city!
- Printable Subway Car Template
- Medium or long toothpaste box
- Silver paint
- Paint the toothpaste box with the silver paint, let dry
- Cut out the windows, doors, and stripe templates
- Trim the stripes to fit your box
- To make the little sign near the door, trim a small aquare from one of the stripes
- Glue the templates to the box
Picture Book Review