The Secret is Out: The Inventor’s Secret releases today (plus a unique give-away!)

Okay, so what are the odds?
I post once a month on Picture Book Builders, and this month my turn fell on September 8, the release date of my newest book,
The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford.  (By the way, my son calculated the odds of this happening: 1 in 105, which is less than 1%!)

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 [The Inventor’s Secret “extras” – Book Trailer Activity GuideILA post (w/ “Inventor Project”)]

Since this statistically improbable, yet serendipitous, event did occur, I took it as a sign to share a bit about The Inventor’s Secret — the true story of the frustrations, successes, and friendship of two famous inventors, Ford and Edison.

Research was a significant part of the writing process for this nonfiction piece, so I thought it might be helpful to share how I tracked down several crucial, yet elusive, facts.

One of my early research adventures began when I was trying to find out when and where Henry Ford first met Thomas Edison and finally discovered his “secret” to success. (Background – Henry had worked on a gas car for years, but couldn’t get it to work properly. Meanwhile Thomas was creating many amazing inventions such as his electric pen, phonograph, and light bulb. As time went on, Henry became so frustrated he just had to find out Thomas’s secret!)

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Edison’s electric pen  …                                      tin foil phonograph …                 &  light bulb

Initially I turned to a primary source, My Life and Work by Henry Ford, which stated the two first met in Atlantic City in 1887. But then I discovered Ford supplied a different date and place, New York in 1896, in his other autobiography, My Friend Mr. Edison, which he co-wrote with Samuel Crowther. Two primary sources with conflicting information–what’s an author to do? Dig deeper. So I did, and found three sources which corroborated with New York, 1896 (and more details about Henry’s employment which confirmed the NY place and time.)

[Research Tip: Primary sources (such as an autobiographies) aren’t always 100% accurate. Always double check with multiple sources if possible.]

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Then there was the challenge of figuring out when Thomas Edison invented his incandescent light bulb. I thought I could simply look through Edison’s patents to find out. But he has 1,093 U. S. patents, and 424 of those pertain to “Electric Power and Light!” How was I going to determine which one was considered the official, final design?

Fortunately, Dr. Carlat from The Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University came to the rescue and kindly explained patent #223, 898, with its long lasting carbon filament, was Edison’s breakthrough on the light bulb (though it wasn’t available for use until about two years later.)

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[Research Tip: If possible, consult with experts to help solve those sticky questions which books and other sources can’t answer.]

In my opinion, the best part of research is a field trip. So I had a great time visiting the Edison & Ford Winter Estates Museum in Fort Myers, Florida and checking out early light bulbs, examining car designs, and talking with the Curator, Alison Gieson. 

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[Research Tip: Visit museums, key locations, meet with Curators, etc. to discover more details for your story.]

The Inventor’s Secret also included research I unknowingly did back when I was back in high school and took driver’s ed. At the time, I was very curious to learn how cars worked. Then one day I read a chapter in my driver’s ed book which explained how a car turns gasoline into motion, and I literally got goosebumps.  That information about four stroke cylinders and spark plugs was so fascinating (and surprisingly easy to understand) I wanted to share it with young readers in this book. Fortunately, the editor, art director, and illustrator agreed, so a clever illustration explains how a car turns gas into power.

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In all, I spent about four and a half years doing research (off and on, but mostly on) for The Inventor’s Secret. In addition to the expert/curator I mentioned above, I was very fortunate to receive help from Leonard DeGraaf at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, researchers at the Benson Ford Research Center, Mike Cosden (who at the time was the Asst. Curator at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates Museum, and is now the Curator) and others. I also know Jennifer was knee-deep into research of her own, and she went on some cool field trips, etc.

All those months of researching inventions got me to thinking about how certain ones have changed lives through the years.  For example, my great-grandfather, Dr. Charles Thomas, began his medical career as a “horse and buggy doc” in 1900 in rural Indiana. “Doc Thomas,” as he was fondly called, drove his horse and buggy to patients’ homes when they were sick, injured, needed a tooth pulled, or ready to give birth. But his horse was not always speedy, or reliable! So in 1907 Doc “went modern” and bought Ford’s Model-R car (two models prior to his famous Model-T.) Ford’s trusty, newfangled vehicle allowed Doc to arrive in time to deliver over one thousand babies! 

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Doc Thomas and his Model-R car

 

 

 

Well, thanks for stopping by and letting me share a bit about my research for The Inventor’s Secret. I’d love to hear about your research tips and experiences too!

Suzanne

Give Away Details

The fabulous illustrator of The Inventor’s Secret, Jennifer Black Reinhardt, plans to give  a copy of this book on her upcoming post, so I thought I’d do something a bit different and give away a Skype visit. It can either be an author Q & A class visit OR a picture book manuscript critique via Skype. Winner’s choice! I’ll randomly pick one winner from those who leave comments by Sept. 16th.

Last Week’s Winner Announcement

The winner of Jill Esbaum’s Elwood Bigfoot giveaway from her August 25 post is Wendy Greenley. Wendy, please contact Jill through her website (www.jillesbaum.com) to claim your prize. Thanks!

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books–all nonfiction. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating, little-known facts about historical figures. Recent picture books include: The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue (4 Starred Reviews!), Friends for Freedom, With Books and Bricks, The Inventor’s Secret (2017 NSTA Best STEM Book, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt), and Out of School and Into Nature (Sleeping Bear, 2017). Coming soon -- Dangerous Jane (Peachtree, 2017), 2982 Days (Peachtree, 2018), The Daring Dozen (Charlesbridge, 2019) and A Computer Called Katherine (Little Brown, 2019.) Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com

62 Comments:

  1. Suzanne, your post inspires me to try my hand at nonfiction. Thanks for the enlightenment!

    • Glad you found my ramblings inspiring. Nonfiction is exciting when you’re writing about a topic you’re interested in. I guess I forgot to mention that I have an engineering degree and worked on automotive braking systems during my “engineering days”, so inventions/engineering are great interest to me. You’re entered in the contest!

  2. I love that you get goosebumps when knowledge excites you!

    • Goosebumps are usually the best way to know I’m working on the right topic for me. It’s easy to stay interested in a nonfiction manuscript for years when you’re excited about the topic. You’re entered in the contest!

  3. I love this peek into your research process, Suzanne! Congrats again to you and Jennifer–the book looks fantastic. And thanks for the great tips!

    • Thanks for your kind words about the book. You’re right, this was just a “peek” at the research. There were too many research adventure to tell, but all of them were interesting in their own way!

  4. You are awesome, Suzanne! Thank you for sharing some of it here today 🙂 Happy Book Birthday to us!!!!!!!!!!!!! xo

    • You are more awesome! Your research for this book was unbelievable, and then you were able to share all your findings and details in adorable, engaging illustrations! So thankful you generously shared your amazing talent with this book!

      • Suzanne, I was utterly inspired by your beautiful words. I think the fact that we both needed to learn so much to make this book makes it an extra special collaboration. Thank you for letting me be part of such an amazing story! I can’t wait for little hands to hold it! Yay!!!!!!

  5. I can’t wait to read this! Thanks for giving us the scoop on your research!

  6. Absolutely fascinated – will DEFINITELY be picking up this book soon. I know it’s too late, but the Henry Ford Museum in the Detroit area also has some good info.

    Have a FABULOUS day – and thanks for sharing this stuff!

    • Joanne, your thoughtful reply reminded me I didn’t share a lot of details about my research. I did work with researchers at the Henry Ford Museum, so I updated my post a bit. I grew up in northern Indiana and coincidentally had visited the Henry Ford when I was in grade school. Thanks for stopping by, and you’re entered in the contest!

  7. What fun! Happy book birthday!

  8. It sounds like you were the person who was to write this book. I visited that museum a long time ago. I don’t remember if they had a gift shop, but it should carry your book! (I would have bought it there!)

    • I really enjoyed learning about Edison’s inventions and Ford’s early car designs, so perhaps I was the person to write this book. The Edison & Ford Museum does have a gift shop and last I heard they were planning to carry the book. You’re entered in the contest!

  9. Thank you for sharing the idea formation and research process you used for the book – even dating back to high school driver’s ed! I love it. I am just starting to write nonfiction for children after focusing on fiction, so this post is helpful. I can’t wait to read the book!

    • Hi Traci,
      I’m glad you found the post helpful, and excited to hear you’re starting to write nonfiction. I think you’ll love it! You’re entered in the contest!

  10. This sounds like an absolute fabulous book. I love researching those little nuggets of history – it becomes so addicting to find more and more information that sometimes I need to remind myself to stop and write! I will definitely ask my library to get this book!!!!!

    • So true, Debra! Sometimes it’s hard to stop researching to write. And sometimes it even harder to leave out some of the fascinating information you’ve discovered in order to keep your story focused. You’re entered in the contest!

  11. Love hearing how you reconciled the conflicting primary sources. And it’s great to hear that the experts were so helpful with their time and knowledge. Congratulations on your book birthday.

    • I’ve had good luck with finding experts who are willing to help out with various stories. They sure are invaluable and much appreciated. You’re entered in the contest!

  12. Your book is intriguing, your research is fascinating, and the serendipity of your book launch and this post was meant to be. Congratulations! =)

  13. This post was SO much fun! I admire your years of dedicated research and what a wonderful story you have pulled out of piles of facts, figures and anecdotes. Can’t wait to read this and share with my little inventors!

    • Hi Cathy. I really appreciate your enthusiasm! I have to admit, when I was working on the extensive Source Notes for the back of the book (and trying to make them all fit in the allotted amount of space), things got a bit dicey, but I’m happy readers can see where all the facts in the book came from. You’re entered in the contest!

  14. This is just the type of factual book I love to share with grades 2 and 3. Having the back story on your research makes it even better. Thank you!

    • If you like back story, perhaps you’ll also enjoy the Timeline, Details About Inventions, Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes, Source Notes, and Bibliography in the back of the book. You’re entered in the contest!

  15. Suc great tips, and I would love to wins a Skype crit with you. Happy, happy book birthday! Hurrah, Suzanne!

  16. Sarah Glenn Fortson

    Suzanne, I attended a presentation you gave at The Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books. I remember you mentioned getting goosebumps
    When you first heard about the soda bottle school, too!

  17. Wow, thanks for sharing all this top-secret stuff. Off to buy a copy for my Little Free Library Walnut!

    • Nicole, I just checked out your Little Free Library Walnut!
      [Check this out readers! – http://www.nicolepopel.com/little-free-library-walnut.html%5D
      How adorable! What an outstanding, generous idea. If you put a copy of Inventor in your library, would you send me a picture of it there. I’d love to share it on my website (and I might try to visit your library the next time I’m in California on vacation!)
      Thanks for sharing and you’re entered in the contest!

      • PS Nicole, I also adore collective nouns! My division picture book The Great Divide shares some of my favorite collective nouns such as a charm of hummingbirds, bale of turtles, smack of jellyfish, and a crash of rhinos!

  18. Happy Book Birthday! I’m ordering my copy as soon as I finish this comment! I grew up in Detroit and spent many a day at the Henry Ford Museum and the Ford Rotunda. If I’m the lucky one, I’d love a critique on my nonfiction picture book manuscript!

    Oh, and congrats, Wendy Greeley!

  19. Whoa! I started reading this post because I wanted to know about your process and the book. And then find out that there’s a chance to win a Skype visit for our school! Yay! Great post! And thanks for your generosity!

  20. I visited and was inspired by the Edison/Ford Winter Estates Museum, too. So impressive to hear how much work you put into the manuscript, and your quest to verify details. Thanks for sharing your story, Suzanne. . . and congrats on the release of your new picture book. I’ll look forward to reading it!

    • Actually, the Edison/Ford Winter Estates Museum had so many great exhibits, I wish I could have spent more than one day there. Glad you enjoyed the post. You’re entered in the contest!

  21. Suzanne, how lucky for us the stars aligned and your turn landed on your release date! Thank you for the great tips and sharing your excitement.
    Yeah, for field trips!
    Much success with The Inventor’s Secret. 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind comments and well wishes, Janie! Surprisingly, the stars did align for this book and post. I’ll have to remember that the next time something doesn’t work out. You’re entered in the contest!

  22. I can’t wait to read this book to my girls. They’re going to love it. Thank you for your years of research, and for sharing your methods.

  23. Now I can’t wait to read this book. I love history and I want to know what Ford found out from Edison! Thanks for the hook!
    Now, about the Skype visit I might possibly win. Would I donate it to our local children’s home or keep it for a critique. You bring up so many quandaries for me to consider!
    Thanks for investing 4 years of research to bring the story to light.

    • Susan, you crack me up! LIfe is full of puzzling quandaries, isn’t it? Hope you enjoy the book, and I think you’ll find Edison’s secret to success helpful in your writing as well. You’re entered in the contest!

  24. Your research tips are great, and I especially enjoyed reading how your research came together through dedicated digging and validation with multiple sources. Can’t wait to read the book. Thanks for sharing your insights, Suzanne!

    • Book research is very rewarding, but I guess I might have left out one part where my editor and I were pulling out our hair when certain sources ended up being less than reliable, and it was very difficult to find reliable sources for certain facts. Oh, well, no one ever said it was going to be easy! You’re entered in the contest!

  25. This book idea sounds very serendipitous for you, Suzanne. Fascinating. I love those little research twists and turns.

  26. Thanks for sharing your research process and useful reminders. It is very frustrating when sources give conflicting facts—even more so when the facts are from the same person. I guess that’s when the subject experts come in handy. Looking forward to reading your book. I may understand gas engines finally. The illustration is great.

    • Mary, what I found out is that Ford was very old when he wrote his autobiographies, so his memory wasn’t top notch. Or course, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast! Hope you enjoy the book, and you’re entered in the contest!

  27. This book sounds fascinating, Suzanne–what an interesting little historical nugget! Can’t wait to take a look inside. 🙂

  28. I loved reading about your research! I’m working on a biography and it has also taken me on twists and turns. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Talk about coincidence…We’ve just moved to Milan, OH and live down the street from Thomas Edison’s birthplace. I’ll be especially eager to read your book for literary, historical, and neighborly purposes.

    • That’s very cool! I think the illustrator did some research there regarding Thomas’s early childhood home and such. Hope you learn something interesting about Thomas from the book. You’re entered in the contest!

  30. Love the research tips embedded throughout your piece. Congratulations on the new book. I just ordered a copy and look forward to reading it!

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