Gizmos, Gadgets, and Guitars: The Story of Leo Fender

Holt/Christy Ottaviano. Aug. 2021. 40p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250251862.
Gr 2-5–Mahin and Salerno present the life of Leo Fender, the fix-it man who revolutionized the solid-body guitar and built an empire of affordable musical equipment. Leo’s story begins in the early 20th century on his family farm, where he explored his love of building and fixing machinery. After straying from a traditional career path during the Depression, he opened a repair shop where he not only fixed instruments but built them. From musicians’ feedback (and their desire for less feedback when playing amplified hollow bodies), he developed what is now the standard in rock music: the solid-body electric guitar. This wasn’t without trial and error, and in his perseverance Fender clearly demonstrated STEAM habits of mind. This biography is well researched and masterfully told. Children will enjoy reading about Fender’s unusual journey, especially with the clever tidbits, peculiar vocabulary, and subtle alliteration that make Mahin a fantastic storyteller. Salerno’s classic Americana illustrations in crayons, ink, gouache, and pastel bring to mind illustrative versions of Norman Rockwell stills, with postures that show as much as the facial expressions. Leo is white, with a mop of curly brown hair and round glasses. Inner workings of the instruments and machinery are finely detailed, and blueprint drawings make up the endpapers.
VERDICT While Fender may not be a household name, his story will inspire future musicians and inventors. Recommended for children’s biography collections, especially those seeking to incorporate the arts into STEAM. Compare with Kim Tomsic’s Guitar Genius, the story of Fender’s contemporary, Les Paul.

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