Could a change in the outcome of a single event result in dirigibles, not airplanes, being today's preferred mode of air transportation?
A new graphic novel, "The Wronged Wrights (Secret Smithsonian Adventures No. 1)," explores that very idea when a shift in the timeline eliminates Wilbur Wright's successful 1909 flight at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. The result is a National Museum of Air and Space filled with massive airships, hot air balloons, and blimps — not airplanes and space shuttles. Luckily, the shift is felt by four astute middle school science fair winners enjoying a day at the museum. The four team up with "Smitty," the Smithsonian archive's artificial intelligence unit, which helps them travel back in time to set things right.
The adventure story, aimed at kids ages 9 to 12, is the first in a series to follow the time-traveling adventures of Dominique, Eric, Josephine and Ajay as they track down whomever is messing with the timeline.
As a parent, I'm always looking for new ways to expose my 11-year-old son to new information, especially in ways that aren't traditionally thought of as learning tools. I've always felt graphic novels, like this one, are a perfect way to introduce children in the target age group to new ideas. For my son, Isaac, and I, it was a great way to start a conversation about the Wright brothers, their sister, Katherine, and the time period in which they and other aviation pioneers were competing for the attention of investors to fund their inventions and businesses.
However, I wasn't sure how interested Isaac would be in the novel, as our family traveled to Washington, D.C., last April and visited the Wright Brothers exhibit at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. When he finally picked up the book, he devoured it in less than 30 minutes.
"I thought since we visited the museum last summer, and since I had known who the Wright brothers were, that it would be entertaining," he said. "I was not surprised by the story itself, as I suspected this book would have to do with learning about the Wright Brothers' inventions and how they affected society. However, I was surprised to learn that the Wright brothers had a sister, who helped them run their business and even nursed one of them back to health."
The inclusion of Katherine Wright was a pleasant surprise for me as well. Having read David McCulllough's "The Wright Brothers" this summer, I was keenly aware of her overwhelming influence on Orville and Wilbur and of her ever-present absence in the story of early flight. While Katherine's participation in the events that take place in the graphic novel are purely fictional, it is nice to see her get credit in some respect.
And while some online reviews chastise the author for restoring the timeline with an alternative means, as opposed to the true historical events, neither Isaac nor I found that to be an issue. After all, the novel makes use of time travel and sentient artificial intelligence.
"I thought it was a good story, because you learned a little bit about history, exerpienced it in a fun way and it involved time travel," Isaac said. "It's an entertaining story and it helps you learn about the Wright brothers. I hope there is a series that keeps on going and that the characters get older is goes along."
About the book
'The Wrong Wrights (Secret Smithsonian Adventures No. 1)'
Authors: Chris Kientz and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrator: Lee Nielsen
Published by Smithsonian Books