Title: The Tweedles Go Electric
Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Published by Groundwood Books, February 2014
Themes: electric cars, early 20th century, historical fiction, inventions
The Tweedles don’t own a car. People think they’re behind the times. They’re neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Hamm are downright rude about it. “You Tweedles are a bunch of fuddy-duddies,” says Mr. Hamm whenever he sees them.
This story introduces us to a quaint if somewhat quirky family, where the son and daughter are named Francis and Frances, (Frankie and Franny) 100 years ago at the dawn of the century. After some resistance and mockery from neighbors about the family’s dated ways, the Tweedles decide they are going to buy a car. But not a smoke-splurging gas-buster for them, no, the Tweedles decided to go electric. As the father breaks the news, it is to an enthusiastic response from Mom and son, but not so bookworm Frances, who is less than interested and not a little concerned about the speed, unlike her little brother who is uber excited about owning a CAR!
The mockery does not stop as no one can understand why the Tweedles would want to play with something so dangerous as electricity! Remember this is 1903! After the excitement of the first day, Mr. Tweedle resorts to his bicycle to go to work the next day, leaving who to drive the car, when their neighbors, the Hamm’s, descend with an emergency and their car out of gas? Why, it is Frances, of course, who remembers the car salesman of the previous day pitching his sale as a so easy to drive it was child’s play! Frances saves the day becoming as avid a fan as her brother.
Why I like this book:
THE HUMOR, which older children (and adults) will get, is tongue-in-cheek from beginning to end and the allusions to the 20th century are wonderful. The first line drew me right into this whimsical world. it is a story full of charm, quirk, beautifully crafted phrases – people find electricity “more frightening than a box of boas!” and a 21st century boost for eco-mindedness. I confess I snorted with delight (in a very ladylike manner) at the sedicious feminism. Franny is presented early on thus – “Like most girls, she is more interested in higher education. Speed gives Frances nosebleeds, and adventure seems to go along with getting lost, which makes her nervous. There’s only one place Frances puts her nose and that is between the pages of a book.” Which sets the plot and the unsuspecting young reader (while the adult sniggers) for Franny later being the hero and becoming so enchanted with speed that she drives from East to West coast across the continent as a young adult.
Marie Lafrance’s illustrations match the era and quirk to a tee, and the story is visually inviting. The hairstyles, clothing and a slightly slanted building on the first spread, along with the ‘downright rude’ told me immediately that I was in for a whimsical ride, and I was not disappointed! Look out for some of lafrance’s details like the shop names and the Tweedle’s matching boots and priceless confounded expressions! You step straight back into 1903 with a flourish and flair.
This is a lengthy story for today’s picture book standards, of not much under a 1000 words, and I am very happy that this Canadian publisher bucked the trend. It is a very well paced story that reads as smoothly and unusually as a green electric car. Of course the car had to be green! This is historical fiction with fun and finesse, which will appeal to children AND adults.
The author has written over 40 picture books and she kindly answered my query about how she came across this story.
How I Met the Tweedles
The Tweedles (whose last name is spelled with an “s”) family comprises Mama, Papa, Frances, and Francis. They like to think of themselves as modern, but in reality the Tweedles are always one step behind their times, which is the early 20th-century. I wrote this story three years ago, while I was researching and writing two other projects: Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner (published in 2012) and To the Rescue! Garrett Morgan Underground (book 7 in the Great Idea series, due out in Fall 2015).
While writing Francis Scott Key’s story, I was constantly confused about how to spell “Francis”—that is, with an “i” or an ”e”? I just couldn’t keep it straight. Garrett Morgan provided me with this fun fact: “Out on the road, the traffic is helter-skelter and every whichaway. There are no signs or lines.” It was Garrett Morgan who invented the traffic signal after witnessing a horrific car and wagon accident because of that helter-skelter traffic.
I consider the Tweedles story itself to be a gift, pure and simple. The first line, “The Tweedles don’t own a car,” simply popped into my brain. I did not know who these Tweedles were, nor why both their children had the same first name. I just kept typing in an effort to keep up with that elegant (thank you Marie Lafrance for picturing the Tweedles so perfectly) Edwardian family. I enjoyed writing every sentence of that story simply because it was fun.
For grades K-2, a set of four lessons on transportation from the UCI Ed Dept.
No Time For Flachcards has a set of 19 Car and Truck activities for kids.
And as we are talking about ecologically friendly cars, Kidspot in Australia has a great recycled milk carton car craft idea.
An interview with Marie Lafrence on her research and process in illustrating THE TWEEDLES GO ELECTRIC.
Every Friday, authors and Kidlit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the perfect picture books with resources, please visit Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.