"Oh, How It Lights Up the Night": Sky Boys by Deborah Hopkinson
Through the eyes of a schoolboy, scavenging for stove wood and finding a bonanza of scrap at the corner of Thirty-Fourth and Fifth Avenue, Deborah Hopkinson's 2007 Notable Book Sky Boys (Schwartz & Wade, 2006) begins the story of the Empire State Building from its human perspective, from many angles--the jobless in line, hoping for a chance to work, the rivet crew, catching red-hot steel and driving it home, the surefooted sky monkeys who know hundreds covet their jobs if they falter or fall, and the jubilant workers clinging to the mast at the top for the photo op when the steel work is done.
In poetic prose we hear the story of the construction--huge machines and unbelievably brave men--who put together the outer shell with incredible speed.
"First come the rumbling flatbead trucks
bundles of steel on their backs,
like a gleaming, endless river
the concrete canyons of Manhattan. . . .,
Before your eyes a steel forest appears.
Two hundred and ten massive columns....
Then it's the sky boys' show....
High overhead they crawl
like spiders on steel,
spinning their giant web in the sky.
Wouldn't you love to be one of them,
the breeze in your face
and your muscles as strong
as the girder you ride?"
Hopkinson provides the statistics and the history of the high steel which would be daunting in any time, but she also tells the story of the Empire State Building as a symbol, a national monument to the courage and hope which built it in the depth of the Great Depression. James Ransome's acrylic oil paintings are equally monumental, full of the solid realism of the period, angled from below looking up, from high on the steel looking down on the rooftops of the city, and with the jaunty strength of the time, looking straight out as if into the future of our own time with their message:
"If we can do this, we can do anything."