Wheels of Change

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Wheels of Change Book Poster Image
Plucky heroine faces turbulent times in engaging tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of colorful details about life in and the geography of Washington, D.C., at the turn of the 20th century. Vocabulary such as "catalyst" and "perspicacious," with easy-to-understand definitions and relatable, often funny examples. Kids will learn a little about Theodore Roosevelt and his family and how Henry Ford made automobiles affordable for many Americans. A lot of social issues still important today -- segregation, racism, gender roles, and women's suffrage -- explored in a historical context. Author's Note explains the family history that inspired the story; several recipes for baked goods important to the story are provided. A comprehensive bibliography with a few Web links.

Positive Messages

Change is inevitable. Some kinds of change don't really affect you, and others "sweep away everything you know, leaving emptiness behind," and that's when you have to figure out how to adapt. A change that at first might seem scary can become a good thing if adapting to it helps you learn something new. Accept people for who they are, and treat everyone equally, regardless of skin color. Worrying about things makes you forget what you should be concentrating on, so don't get caught up in your worries.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emily, who's 12, is helpful to her parents and a caring older sister. She's prone to anxiety but learns not to let her worries get the best of her. She sometimes gets into trouble acting on impulse, but her motives are always good and she tries to fix her mistakes. She's quick-thinking and keeps a cool head in an emergency. She's frustrated about not being allowed to pursue her interest in blacksmithing but discovers other talents and hope for her future happiness. She has a strong, loving relationship with her father, and the more she learns about her mother, the more she appreciates her. She's also surrounded by a strong network of caring adults and has a supportive, loyal best friend.

Violence & Scariness

Emily mentions tasting blood a couple times from biting her own tongue and cheek. A dead baby mouse is vaguely described. A man speculates that he would whip his wife as punishment for attending a women's suffrage rally. Mention of a past incident in which a woman slaps her daughter in the face. Emily is in danger from a fire, but the episode is more exciting than frightening. A man points a shotgun at a bad guy until he's taken to jail.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wheels of Change is an entertaining and reassuring way of drawing kids into early 20th-century American history. Important social issues that still resonate today are explored in a historical context and include racism, women's rights, and gender roles. There's some excitement when narrator Emily, who's 12, is in danger from a fire. Blood's mentioned a couple of times from Emily biting her own tongue or cheek, and a dead baby mouse is vaguely described. Positive, educational messages abound about adapting to change and treating others equally and respectfully.

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Emily's father is a carriage maker in early 1900s Washington, D.C., and she likes nothing better than helping her father and especially Henry, the blacksmith who works for him. But blacksmithing isn't an appropriate interest for a young lady in 1909, and Emily's forever being sent back to help her mother around the house. As automobiles become more and more popular, Emily wonders what will become of her family if no one needs carriages built any more. And how can she find her own way when everything around her is changing so quickly?

Is it any good?

Emily's adventures in WHEELS OF CHANGE will entertain kids and get them engrossed in 1900s American history. Important issues such as segregation and women's rights are explored in a way that will make sense to kids and open their eyes to daily life during a time of tremendous social upheaval.

But what kids will notice most as they read is how much they enjoy following Emily's exploits and adventures. Her narrative voice is believable and engaging and makes it easy for kids to put themselves in her place. The plot is well-paced, building naturally to major events and a hopeful, satisfying ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the world changes. What kinds of changes seem scary? What kinds are exciting?

  • Emily is a bit of a worrier. What makes you worry? Does worrying help you solve problems, or does it create even more problems?

  • Why are books about olden times so popular? Can they teach us anything about ourselves and our world now?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

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