In Print

Summer delight at the carousel

Posted August 24, 2006

"The Greatest Place on Earth" by Ilana Mackin. O'Brien & Company Printers, Inc. 39 pages. $18.95.

Did you know that the Flying Horses was originally located in Coney Island, N.Y., and was there for eight years until it was moved to Martha's Vineyard? Did you also know that it originally was located where the current public bathrooms are near the Oak Bluffs steamship wharf?

For many children, the Flying Horses is "The Greatest Place on Earth." Having written about the Oldest Carousel in America, Author Ilana Mackin rightly chose that for the title of her children's book, which also serves as a history lesson, a scrapbook, and a lifetime keepsake.

Dedicated to her family for introducing her as a child to the carousel, and to her children and husband for their inspiration and support, Ms. Mackin combines a childhood tale with historical information in this light read. From parking the car to cashing in dollars for quarters for the arcade games to getting a slice of Giordano's pizza, the book touches upon the little details of a trip to the Horses. The author uses graphically enhanced and altered photographs, and familiar images such as the building's entrance and children catching rings are shown in either a grainier style or with heavier contrast.

The historical element to this book is a great way to teach children Island history while telling them a fun story. Throughout are informational boxes in the shape of an "Entering Oak Bluffs" sign, in which readers learn that ring catching dates back to the 1700s as a European sport on horseback. There are fun facts too: inside each horse's eye there is a miniature porcelain animal such as an eagle or goat.

Though the book could stand alone as a children's story, it continues with a teacher and parent educational section that lists facts about the historical background of the Island. It references the older history when the Vineyard was called "Noepe" and the Wampanoags were the dominant people, and continues with the newer history beginning when Bartholomew Gosnold came in 1602.

There is a hands-on section in the back to add personal photographs and jot down favorite memories, which makes the book a great gift for a family, and a project for a child.

Never forgetting the fragility of the environment, Ms. Mackin reminds readers throughout the story about the age of the carousel, as it was brought to the Island in 1884. The Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust restored it in 1986, and everything including the rings is special to the carousel. As tempting as it is to take a piece of the Vineyard home, Ms. Mackin urges readers to leave them in the building, and buy a brass ring for sale behind the counter.