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Book Review: Cromwell Dixon’s Sky-Cycle by John Abbott Nez

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From Icarus to the Wright Brothers, mankind’s fascination with human flight has proven to be a continual driving force for innovation, invention, and flights of fancy. Prolific children’s book creator John Abbott Nez has flipped back through the pages of the early days of American aviation to bring to new life the story of Cromwell Dixon, a 14-year-old lad who earned for himself the title of “America’s Boy Aeronaut” by successfully building and flying an unusual flying bicycle.

In the year 1907 Cromwell Dixon’s Sky-Cycle took off in a cross between a hydrogen balloon and a bicycle. This mechanically minded boy with “more gumption than a gopher” took his passion for flight and together with a supportive mother carved out a reputation for himself in the freewheeling world of aeronautics.

Nez’s muted palette and crisply outlined illustrations bring Dixon’s progress from vision, through obstacles, and on to success to the printed page for a new generation of readers. The charming cover image hearkens back to vintage billboards, advertisements, and signs, revealing the care with which Nez has labored to keep the book’s appearance evocative of an earlier age. Dixon and his mother are drawn from actual photographs of the pair, adding an additional level of realism.

In all honesty, my house full of girls can take or leave this title; their ambitions revolve around making jewelry, tea parties, and dress-up. Despite their rather tepid reception, I’m entranced by the potential this picture book holds for ambitious boys. In a marketplace that often seems slanted towards writing for female readers, Nez’s contribution is a title to check out for the boys in your life.

Furthermore, in an age in which young men are so often wasted on video games and senseless pursuits, this sharply drawn portrait of a boy who acts to bring his dream to life, and hone skills in order to meet his goals, will prove an amazing encouragement to young fellows with gumption everywhere. Moms, be forewarned, if you pick up this title for your son, he’ll soon be expecting you to back up his adventurous schemes and inventions as did Mrs. Dixon. Prepare for adventure!

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