January 28, 2016

Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni’s Ice Machine (Great Ideas Series)

by Monica Kulling
Illsutrated by Renné Benoit
Tundra Books
978-1-77049-795-5
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
January 2016

It’s always a great day when another of Monica Kulling’s Great Ideas Series books comes out.  These illustrated biographies, enhanced with artwork by an assortment of talented Canadian illustrators, highlight key individuals whose innovations we have come to rely upon but about whose stories we often know so little.  There’s been George Eastman’s photography, Elijah McCoy’s invention for oiling train engines, Elisha Otis’ elevator, Margaret Knight’s paper bags, Lillian Gilbreth’s efficient kitchen, Marconi’s wireless and now an invention dearly loved by hockey fans the world over, the Zamboni invented by Frank Zamboni.

Opening with a poem called Bone Blades that emphasizes “a way to fly around, when ice is on the ground”, Monica Kulling takes young readers to the early 1940s when Frank Zamboni and his brother and cousin opened their Iceland Skating Rink.  Resurfacing the ice, while skaters waited, was a time-consuming endeavour of a tractor levelling out the pits and grooves, a crew shovelling away the shavings, washing the surface and then spraying with fresh water, and all before a gleaming finish was added by hot water.

Having learned to tinker with trucks and tractors on their Idaho farm and working at his brother’s auto repair shop in California, as well as studying at an electrical school in Chicago, Frank was a busy man, working with his brother Lawrence doing electrical work, drilling wells, installing pumps and then making ice for home ice-boxes.  It wasn’t a big jump to making ice rinks with the smoothest surfaces ever.

But it wasn’t until after the war that Frank was able to buy military parts that became the foundation for his ice-resurfacing machine and a version of his famous Zamboni machine was created.

Oh, how I wish that the Zamboni had been a Canadian invention.  It seems so quintessentially Canadian.  But Monica Kulling still makes the reader applaud for the innovation and brilliance of Frank Zamboni to find a ground-breaking solution to a common problem.  By sweeping in details about his early years and training, as well as family and engineering development, in addition to some Zippity Zamboni! fun facts appended to the story, Monica Kulling again demonstrates how extraordinary developments can arise from very ordinary circumstances.

Having Renné Benoit, whose artwork has graced award-winning picture books such as Lily and the Paper Man (2007), Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion (2009), and The Secret of the Village Fool (2012) as well as the recent A Year of Borrowed Men (2015), do the illustrations for Clean Sweep! seems intuitive, as she creates memorable work that feels like old photographs from a bygone era.  Her colours and lines are soft and sepia-like, both light and substantial, depicting people and places of a different time so naturally.

Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni’s Ice Machine is a fresh take on a historic innovation told simply but with sparkle by Monica Kulling and perfected by Renné Benoit’s art.

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I encourage teachers to consider using this wonderful series for teaching biographies to young children.  Clean Sweep! and others in the series demonstrate an innovative way to share someone’s life story without the boring parts that are so often embedded in the teaching of biographical literature.

Here is a complete list of Great Ideas Series books, including upcoming releases:


  1. It’s a Snap! George Eastman’s First Photograph (Tundra, 2009)
  2. All Aboard! Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine (Tundra, 2010)
  3. In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up (Tundra, 2011)
  4. Going Up! Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top (Tundra, 2012)
  5. Making Contact! Marconi Goes Wireless (Tundra, 2013)
  6. Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen (Tudnra, 2014)
  7. Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni’s Ice Machine (Tundra, Jan/2016)
  8. To the Rescue! Garrett Morgan’s Underground (Tundra, Jan/2016)
  9. Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge (Tundra, Aug/2016)

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