Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine
Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine
Franz’s eyes twinkled with wonder as the little bird popped out of the cuckoo clock.
He put his ear close to the chirping bird. What makes the sound?
He peered at the gears. What makes them move?
He peeked behind the small door. What’s going on in there?
A tiny whisper called him to imagine, discover, create. But his mother had no time for Franz’s playing. “Go help your father in the barn.”
As a child, Franz is frustrated because he desperately wants to know how things work. His parents simply want him to work on the farm and forget about his dreams. In school, Franz imagines all the things he can invent. His father calls his ambitions “dillydallying” and takes Franz out of school to work on the farm. He never returns to school.
As an adult, Franz manages the farm and starts his own family, but he continues to dream about inventing something special. One night, he dreams of a fantastic idea. He will invent “A Fantastical Magical Phantasmagorical Machine!” His wife calls his new idea “lollygagging”, but Franz doesn’t give up on his dream. While reading the newspaper, he sees a picture of an amazing structure built for the world’s fair in Brussels. He decides he must see the structure himself and takes a train from Austria to Belgium. He is amazed by the structure and even buys himself a souvenir model. It would be “a reminder of how ordinary shapes and lights could become something extraordinary.”
Back home, Franz gets to work, clearing out his spare room as a workshop, collecting trinkets and treasures from around the world, and building his “mysterious contraption” with pulleys, wheels and lights. His family and his neighbours nag him about his project and even laugh at his efforts. His machine slowly comes to life, but everyone is insulting his work! Despite their negative comments, “he refused to give up.” It took Franz twenty-three years to build his machine; however, he did create something very special and found joy in imagining something beautiful and inspiring.
Beth Anderson has adapted the biographical details of Franz Gsellmann’s life in order to write an exceptional picture book about an artistic inventor determined to create a “phantasmagorical machine”, despite the derision he experiences from his family and his community. Franz’s creativity and innovative spirit led him to follow his imagination and discover his talent for invention. The writer includes an interesting activity for readers at the end of the book as well as a bibliography. The “Author’s Note” gives context and historical information to the real-life inspiration of a remarkable and enthusiastic inventor who never gave up on his dreams!
The illustrations by Caroline Hamel are remarkable! She has used bright primary colours, graphic elements, and print to create Franz’s world of imagination, creativity, and innovation. The fact that his hair is blue shows his uniqueness. He is not like his friends and family who search for the practical. He searches for the “fantastical”. There are also numerous important details on every page. The illustration of Franz on the train to Brussels shows that his imagination was constantly at work. Perhaps the most beautiful and memorable page in the entire book is the page showing the reaction of children to Franz’s phantasmagorical machine, and his realization that the machine indeed had a purpose.
Proficient young readers can read Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine on their own, but it can definitely be used as a read-aloud. This picture book will encourage young readers to think about creativity, imagination, machines, building, resilience, and perseverance. It has strong connections to the STEAM curriculum. The book has a powerful message for curious young minds. Follow your dreams. Ask questions, and look for answers just like the little girl at the end of the book who sees the machine and asks, “What’s going on in there?”
Toronto, Ontario’s Myra Junyk is a literacy advocate and author.