During the golden age of the carousel, Coney Island had as many as 12 or 15 hand-carved carousels spinning at the same time and many of them were manufactured here in Brooklyn. Master carousel builders and carvers included Charles Looff on Bedford Avenue, M.C. Illions and Sons Carousell Works on Ocean Parkway, and Stein & Goldstein and William F. Mangels in Coney Island.
Feivel’s Flying Horses, written by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Johanna van der Sterre, is a work of historical fiction that pays homage to Jewish immigrant woodcarvers like Marcus Illions, Solomon Stein, Harry Goldstein and Charles Carmel. The picture book takes its inspiration from the American Folk Art Museum exhibition “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel,” which explored the previously unexamined association between Jewish immigrant woodcarvers and the American carousel industry.
The hero of Feivel’s Flying Horses journeys to America with five dollars in his pocket in search of a better life. Having made his living in the old country carving the reading desks that held the Torah scrolls and other ornate objects, he finds work as a furniture maker on the Lower East Side and then as a carousel carver in Coney Island. Memories of the family he left behind fire his imagination. Feivel dedicates a carousel horse to his wife and goes on to create horses for each of his four children. He carves their names into the saddles. By the time the carousel is finished, Feivel has earned enough money to send for his family. It’s touching how he declines to go for a first spin until his wife and children arrive in America and can join him for a celebratory ride on their Coney Island carousel.
Carousels remain the classic children’s ride and are a delightful subject for a children’s picture book. Feivel’s Flying Horses adds ethnic and cultural interest by telling the story of the making of a carousel through the immigrant experience. The folk art-inspired illustrations are warm and nostalgic. At the same time, the details convey the resplendence of the Coney Island style carousel. Author and illustrator previously teamed up on Mendel’s Accordion, the winner of the 2008 Sugarman Family Award for Best Jewish Children’s Book. The publisher specializes in books with Jewish themes, including other works of historical fiction such as Annie Shapiro and the Clothing Workers Strike and Zishe, the Strongman, based on the life of circus strong man.
Feivel’s Flying Horses by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Johanna van der Sterre. Ages 5-9, Grades K-3. 32 pages. Published by Kar-Ben Publishing, 2010. Hardcover, $17.95. Paperback, $7.95.
Related posts on ATZ…
February 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Coney Island’s William F Mangels
October 25, 2009: Traveler: Bryant Park’s Beguiling Carousel Is Awhirl for the Holidays