ZAP! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge by M. Kulling

  • Merrill Distad


Kulling, Monica. ZAP! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge. Illustrated by Bill Slavin. Tundra Books, 2016.

In this, her ninth contribution to Tundra Books’ Great Ideas Series, prolific children’s author Monica Kulling distills and simplifies the life and inventions of immigrant engineer and scientist Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) for primary school readers. Confining her story to the first half of Tesla’s long life, from his humble origins in Slovenia (then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), to his achievements as nineteenth-century America’s foremost electrical engineering genius, Kulling has maintained a manageable length compatible with the attention span of her audience.

The rivalry between Tesla and his one-time patron and employer, Thomas Edison, over the suitability of alternating versus direct electrical current (AC vs. DC) is described without exposing all the sordid details of their rivalry. The story then quickly moves on to Tesla’s partnership with George Westinghouse to illuminate the 1892-93 Chicago world’s fair site, and to build the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, employing alternating current, a system that allowed electricity to be transmitting over greater distances more cheaply and efficiently than Edison’s rival system. Kulling ends her story in 1898, when Tesla demonstrated a model boat controlled by radio waves, an invisible force that he suggested might also be used for wireless communication, a concept soon made real by radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.

Apart from an anachronistic use of the word “robot,” Kulling’s text is historically and scientifically accurate, clearly written, and age-appropriate, without being condescending. Bill Slavin’s illustrations are nicely evocative of the late nineteenth-century buildings and workshops, and are scaled large enough for story-hour readings to groups of children.

Reviewer: Merrill Distad
Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars

Merrill Distad is Associate University Librarian (Research and Special Collections Services) and University Archivist, University of Alberta, and is the co-editor of Peel’s Bibliography of the Canadian Prairies to 1953 (Toronto, 2003). He is the author, most recently, of The University of Alberta Library: The First Hundred Years, 1908–2008 (Edmonton, 2009).

How to Cite
Distad, M. (2018). ZAP! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge by M. Kulling. The Deakin Review of Children’s Literature, 7(4).
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