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Cover image for Marvelous Mattie : how Margaret E. Knight became an inventor
Marvelous Mattie : how Margaret E. Knight became an inventor

First edition.
New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2006.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Mattie Knight loved to make things ranging from a foot warmer for her mother or toys for her older brothers. Or, when she was 12, a metal guard to prevent shuttles from shooting off looms and hurting workers. Later, Mattie invented a machine that could cut and glue the square-bottomed paper bags we still use today. Meet the woman known as "the Lady Edison."
Reading Level:
Elementary Grade.

720 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader 4.2.

Reading Counts! 4.2.

Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.2 0.5 105170.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 4.2 2 Quiz: 38566 Guided reading level: P.
Geographic Term:
Added Corporate Author:


Call Number
926 Knight, Margaret
J 921 KNIGHT 2006

On Order



With her sketchbook labeled My Inventions and her father's toolbox, Mattie could make almost anything - toys, sleds, and a foot warmer. When she was just twelve years old, Mattie designed a metal guard to prevent shuttles from shooting off textile looms and injuring workers. As an adult, Mattie invented the machine that makes the square-bottom paper bags we still use today. However, in court, a man claimed the invention was his, stating that she "could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities." Marvelous Mattie proved him wrong, and over the course of her life earned the title of "the Lady Edison."

With charming pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations, this introduction to one of the most prolific female inventors will leave readers inspired.

Marvelous Mattie is a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Author Notes

Emily Arnold McCully was born in Galesburg, Illinois on July 1, 1939. She graduated from Pembroke College, now a part of Brown University, in 1961 and received an M.A. in art history from Columbia University.

After graduation, she held a variety of jobs in the art field that included being a commercial artist, a designer of paperback covers, and illustrating advertisements. When one of her illustrations was seen on an advertisement in the subway, she was asked to illustrate Greg Panetta's Sea Beach Express. She accepted that offer and went on to illustrate over 100 children's books. In 1969, she illustrated Meindert de Jong's Journey from the Peppermint Express, which was the first children's book to receive the National Book Award.

Her first solo venture, Picnic, won the Christopher Award in 1985. Mirette on the High Wire won the Caldecott Medal in 1993. Her other children's books include Amazing Felix, Crossing the New Bridge, Grandmas at the Lake, My Real Family, and The Pirate Queen.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 3-This story of the first woman to receive a U.S. patent makes an excellent introduction to inventors and Women's History Month. Knight used tools inherited from her father to design and build her inventions. As a child, she was always sketching one of her "brainstorms" for toys and kites for her brothers. She once designed a foot warmer for her mother. Although it was never patented, Knight's design for a safer loom saved textile workers from injuries and death. Later as an adult, she fought in court and won the right to patent her most famous invention, a machine that would make paper bags. Mattie's story is told in a style that is not only easy to understand, but that is also a good read-aloud. The watercolor-and-ink illustrations capture the spirited inventor and support the text in style and design. Their sketchy quality works well with the pen-and-ink drawings of inventions at the bottom of the pages. While most of these are simulated, the actual drawings from the 1871 patent for the paper-bag machine are included. The text has some fictional dialogue that makes Mattie more real to young readers without compromising the facts. An author's note gives additional biographical information about this creative woman. This is not the best source for reports, but it will inspire interest in women and children as inventors. It's a good reminder that nonfiction isn't just for reports. It pairs nicely with Marlene Targ Brill's Margaret Knight: a Girl Inventor (Millbrook, 2001).-Carolyn Janssen, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Caldecott Medalist McCully's (Mirette on the High Wire) lucid narrative and crisp period illustrations illuminate the early life of an impressive visionary. Born in 1838, young Mattie is inspired by the treasured toolbox she inherited from her father: "When she thought of things that could be made with the tools, she drew them in a notebook labeled My Inventions." The gifted girl's first inventions-a foot warmer, a bat-shaped kite, snow sleds-will certainly intrigue readers, who will find that sketches McCully recreates in panels at the bottom of the pages offer welcome insight into Mattie's creative process. Working in a textile mill at the age of 12, the girl witnesses a runaway shuttle loosened from a loom that injures a peer, and consequently Mattie invents a safety device that later would be installed on looms in all the local mills. After that, she invents a machine that makes the first flat-bottomed paper grocery bags and successfully argues her case in court after a machine-shop worker steals the plans and files a patent for the invention. Mattie went on to establish the Eastern Paper Bag Company and remained a "professional inventor for the rest of her life." In a concluding note, the author emphasizes Knight's remarkable accomplishments and persistence during an era in which many believed "that women's brains were inadequate for inventing." This edifying story may well motivate youngsters to explore their own creativity. Ages 7-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Primary) During her lifetime (1838-1914), Margaret Knight obtained twenty-two patents and produced more than ninety original inventions. In introducing Mattie, McCully concentrates on familiar elements: a poor but clever character uses her wit and determination to triumph over a greedy and powerful force (Charles F. Annan, who attempts to steal her design for manufacturing the paper bags still used in grocery stores today). Such an entr+e into Mattie's life allows youngsters to use what they know (a familiar story structure) to understand what they may not know (how a scientist works). Fictionalized conversations are used adroitly: they indicate the passage of time; the attitudes of the period (""but why doesn't your husband...see to this himself?""); or the transmission of related information (""what's a patent?""). Soft watercolors create a sense of place, but they also reveal much about Mattie as readers see her vulnerability when surrounded by the imposing Manchester Mills or her tenacity when working in a cramped garret. Delicate pen and ink sketches of Mattie's designs border some pages and give additional insight into the workings of an inventor's mind. Not only is Mattie Knight's life marvelously inventive, but her story is as well. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A fictionalized biography introduces children to an enterprising 19th-century mill girl who invented, among other things, a machine to make square-bottomed brown-paper bags. McCully presents in Mattie Knight the very quintessence of Yankee ingenuity, a mechanical girl who makes an improved sled and sells them to the local children. At 12, in Manchester, N.H., she invents a device to prevent shuttles from flying dangerously off the looms, and she never looks back. Mattie's stick-to-itiveness carries her through years of painstaking work and a threat to her patent rights as she makes her way as a woman inventor and entrepreneur. From the lovingly painted redbrick mills to the panels at the bottom of the pages that show Mattie's sketches as she moves through life (including a facsimile of her actual patent drawings), it's a beautiful looking book. The storytelling, however, falls short of the illustrations, clumsily rendered invented dialogue dragging the text down. As a portrait of a little-known independent woman, however, it deserves attention, though it is a pity that the bibliography doesn't point readers to such child-oriented works as Girls Think of Everything by Catherine Thimmesh (2000). (Picture book. 7-10) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

K-Gr. 3. McCully took on a challenge in this picture-book biography of "The Lady Edison"--little-known, nineteenth-century inventor Margaret E. Knight. Knight created the machine that makes paper grocery sacks. Her invention isn't instantly attention-grabbing stuff for young people, but McCully draws children into Knight's life by emphasizing not only her engineering triumphs but also her resolute stance against the restrictive gender roles of her time. She begins with Knight's childhood, when the young "Mattie" sketched prolifically, built inventions, and proposed safety devices for the New Hampshire textile mills where her family worked. As an adult, Mattie continued to work on her inventions until her paper-bag machine idea was stolen. A court scene between the belligerent thief and Mattie emphasizes the inherent discrimination women of the era faced: "Miss Knight could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities of the machine," the scornful thief tells the judge. Still, Mattie wins her case at the book's jubilant close. A one-page biography, which includes Knight's later accomplishments, completes the account. Watercolor scenes invoke the drama, and a banner of sketches showing various inventions runs along several pages. A short bibliography closes. --Gillian Engberg Copyright 2006 Booklist