Saving the Day: Garrett Morgan’s Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal

Little, Brown. Dec. 2021. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316457262.
PreS-Gr 2–A fictionalized account in verse of the early 20th-century Black inventor Garrett Morgan starts in childhood, with the youngest in a large family. Depicted as a klutzy dreamer who means well but “Couldn’t hammer a nail./ Was too weak to lift things,/ Not even a pail,” young Garrett nearly gets run over by a car when he’s lost in thought. Gravely concerned for his well-being, his parents send him away to work and study in a big city. Morgan is shown to be successful, finding a job repairing sewing machines, and inventing the zigzag stitch. However, witnessing another car accident gets him thinking about traffic safety and the kind of mechanism that would provide “a signal before stopping/ so first they could slow down.” In the subsequent description “the green grass of a field,/ Illuminated by sun,/ glow of the coals,” Parsons seems to conflate Morgan’s actual traffic signal invention with the modern three-light system that has more complicated origins. An author’s note features a photograph of Morgan, his official patent for his traffic signal that looks quite different from the modern traffic light, and Parson’s rationale for focusing on the traffic signal instead of Morgan’s “most notable” invention of a breathing device.
VERDICT An accessible and inspiring look, garnished with poetic license, at one of history’s overlooked inventors.

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