Hubert Invents the Wheel by Claire and Monte Montgomery

My 12yo son has always been an avid reader and 99% of the books I have read with him have been very positive. Many have had thought provoking underlying messages that nurture a developing child’s analytical skills.  I can only remember two books that have made me question the integrity of the author(s) for the content that has been craftily weaved amongst an otherwise fun, educational story.   There are only two books (out of thousands) that have made me cringe long after reading whenever they cross my mind or I see them show up on a kid’s reading list somewhere.  “Hubert Invents the Wheel” is one of those books.  Three years later, I still get a pit in my stomach when I recall this book.  The main theme is fun and imaginative but what I find so disturbing is the mature themes in a book for young children without this part of the content being addressed by people in authority of children’s books.  Reviews everywhere are very positive, only mentioning the main theme.  I am very open-minded and we have read books with known mature themes that have been a sounding board for open discussion.  If this book showed up on your child’s reading list, it is doubtful that you would suspect content such as “weapons of mass destruction”, “a stripper at a bar”, or “getting drunk as a means of dealing with failure and low self-esteem”.  I wrote this review three years ago but never published it anywhere.   It has nagged at me long enough and I offer it to you now so that you may know to open a dialogue with your child regarding these sensitive subjects.

Review of Hubert Invents the Wheel by Claire and Monte Montgomery

Pros:  Humorously thought provoking 

Cons:  Clichés, slang, mature themes

“But I’m just trying to make our lives easier!”  “I’m trying to make things better!”  These words always seemed to get Hubert in trouble.  However, he could not stop inventing even though his Dad forbade it (and hid his toolbox) and he had lost his Mom to an invention (an umbrella that took her away with the wind!).    He tries to stop but with his mind constantly racing, the great ideas continue to flood his brain – mousetrap, irrigation, WHEEL! At 15 years old and inventing in his blood, Hubert spends his days in ancient Sumeria trying to fulfill all those “what ifs” that pop into his head.  With the best intentions to make everyone’s life easier and better, something always goes wrong. 

“Hubert Invents the Wheel” paints a comical view of new technology from conception to implementation and progress.   However, as Hubert’s resistant Dad, Gorp, says, “Progress comes at a price.”  As the story unfolds, readers are introduced to plenty of unexpected problems to think about.  Although the wheel increased efficiency and improved the local economics, its convenience also came with a price – traffic jams, short tempers, speeding drivers, accidents.  Oh, the bittersweet reality of progress – new problems pave the way for new solutions and more inventions: traffic circles, road signs, and drivers’ licenses.  Aside from wheels on vehicles, Hubert’s ideas were endless….  waterwheels, wheelbarrows, bicycles, roller skates, yo-yo, paddlewheel boats, etc.  Imagine what our world would be like today without wheels!  Also, imagine what can happen when new technology gets in to the wrong hands and used for evil rather than for the good of mankind.

Marching forward at a very fast pace, we get a taste of potential disaster when the Assyrian enemy living on the mountaintop threatens to wipe out the entire village of Sumeria in the valley by rolling a humungous stone wheel on to all the people.  Will they succeed?  I’m not telling. [;~]

While “Hubert Invents the Wheel” takes a comical look at the life of a young inventor and the impact on society present and future, I think the story could have been told better without some of the sidestepping themes.  As if the authors suddenly forgot who their target audience would be (as young as 8-9 years old), we are taken to a rough, sleazy bar where the seedy sledge salesman is drawn in by the sound of “seductive, bump and grind music” and the potential of seeing a floorshow of  “Velveeta and Her Vanishing Veils”.  Soon, a bar brawl is about to break out and the owner draws a foot-long knife to deter the fight.  Hubert also visits the same bar when feeling depressed and sorry for himself.  He has decided that he is a nobody and only worthy of the company of the low-lifes in the bar.  He figures he can dull the pain with an endless round of grog.   For goodness sakes – is this the example we want to set for our impressionable youth in how to deal with our problems?

As if these scenes are not bad enough, we have references elsewhere in the story to “weapons of mass destruction” (do our young kids not have enough reminders of the sad state of affairs our world is in and why many will never see their loved ones again?) and descriptions such as “hellish” and “hellhole”.

What begins as a fun, hilarious story seems to lose its focus about halfway.  There are several wonderful underlying messages and positive life lessons such as the result of persistence and working together.  However, I believe the impact of these messages is greatly weakened with the extraneous, inappropriate distractions such as the bar scenes.  And oh my….  all the clichés are a bit overwhelming and annoying after a while.  As other reviews suggested this book as a great fiction companion to studying inventions and history, I would also have to recommend it as a companion in the study of clichés.  Additionally, I feel the slang is excessive and my biggest pet peeve (especially in children’s books)….  typos!  My 9-year-old son noticed five without purposely looking. 

Overall, I would not recommend this book as a read-alone for the younger intended target audience.