Product Details
List Price:
10 to 14
5 to 9
Trim Size:
8" x 10"
Calkins Creek
ISBN-13: 978-1-62979-556-0
Archival images
Lexile Level:

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About the Book


In this middle-grade nonfiction title, award-winning author Mary Morton Cowan explores the extraordinary achievement of Cyrus Field and one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century: laying a transatlantic telegraph cable to create instant communication between two continents. Cyrus Field had a big dream to connect North America and Europe with a telegraph line, which would enable instant communication. In the mid-1800s, no one knew if it was possible. That didn’t dissuade Field, who set out to learn about undersea cables and build a network of influential people to raise money and create interest in his project. Field experienced numerous setbacks: many years of delays and failed attempts, millions of dollars lost, suspected sabotage, technological problems, and more. But Field did not give up, ultimately realizing his dream in the summer of 1866. Mary Morton Cowan brilliantly captures Field’s life and his steadfast determination to achieve his dream. Back matter includes an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, source notes, and index.


“Field’s…diligence and perseverance shine brightly, and these attributes make this story a winner. (His) uncanny ability to continually turn failure around and his constant quest for knowledge teach readers a valuable lesson about not giving up. Hand this book to your kids who have big dreams so they can experience first-hand the endless possibilities of making those dreams come true.” – School Library Connection  

“Cowan offers a detailed look at the great fortitude of an American pioneer who had an audacious vision. Field's story is filled with examples of the kind of determination that is always beneficial for teens to experience in nonfiction...(and) provides insight about events that many teens do not know about, making this a good addition for library collections serving young adults.” -VOYA  

“This detailed biography, filled with archival reproductions, chronicles Field’s rise from a penniless paper mill worker to one of the richest men in New York City. Cowan relates the scientific and historical events that shaped the process….there is much for young entrepreneurs to learn.” -Booklist

“The relentless persistence of one man resulted in one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and the transformation of international communication… (m)aking extensive use of primary sources, Cowan admiringly chronicles how… Field endured delays and failed attempts…Her well-paced, vivid account makes for a read that is at times gripping. An inspiring portrait of a man with a dream and his steadfast determination to achieve it.” –Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author

Mary Morton Cowan

Award-winning author, Mary Morton Cowan, has focused on writing for young readers for more than twenty-five years. She is a native of Maine and a graduate of Bates College, where she concentrated her studies in English and Music. Cyrus Field’s Big Dream: The Daring Effort to Lay the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, is her second biography.Earlier books include: Captain Mac: the Life of Donald Baxter MacMillan, Arctic Explorer, which received multiple awards, including the National Outdoor Book Award and the Society of School Librarians International Honor Book Award; Timberrr… A History of Logging in New England, for which she was awarded a work-in-progress grant by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and which received Maine Library Association’s Lupine Honor Award; and a historical novel, Ice Country.Her articles and stories have been published in more than eighty issues of children’s magazines, including Highlights for Children and Cobblestone. Several have been reprinted in textbooks and anthologies, some are included in reading comprehension programs for standardized tests, and a few are online.Mary has long been involved in child development and education. She has taught piano and organ lessons, assisted in school reading and writing programs, worked in informal educational youth organizations, and served as a library aide. For many years, she lived in Rochester, New York, and was active in the Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators group (RACWI). Since moving back to Maine, she has taught adult education writing courses and served as a career mentor for middle- and high-school students. A member of Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and SCBWI, Mary is a visiting author in schools and speaks to a variety of community groups. She and her husband live near Sebago Lake in Maine. Visit  An Interview with Mary Morton CowanQ. Where did you get the idea to write about the first transatlantic telegraph cable?A. On a trip to Newfoundland and Labrador, I toured the Cable Station Provincial Historic Site at Heart’s Content. I found it fascinating that a cable not much thicker than a garden hose could be laid on the ocean floor all the way from Europe to North America—and people could communicate through it!Q. Why did you focus on Cyrus Field?A. His determination and courage captured my attention. Laying the cable was his dream, his passion. Cyrus was no scientist, but he recruited the best experts in the world and forged ahead, risking his fortune and risking lives. Thousands of workers and crew members became involved, eventually accomplishing one of the most amazing technical achievements of the nineteenth century.Q. Why do you write about history and historical characters?A. I strive to give young readers a glimpse of relatively unknown history and bring historical figures to life—and I like adventurous chapters of history. This book is full of daring adventure!Q. What was it like researching events that took place more than 150 years ago?A. Young readers deserve accurate information, so I search for primary sources wherever I can. I consulted experts in the field, communicated with a few of Cyrus Field’s descendants, visited Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where Cyrus grew up, and walked in the woods where he hiked as a young boy. I read books written by his family members and portions of his unfinished autobiography, plus letters, speeches, diaries, and expedition logs written by Cyrus and others. I found hundreds of newspaper articles from the 1850s and ’60s. The cable made headlines throughout North America and Europe! As always, I found discrepancies, which made me dig deeper, and I ended up with more than 800 sources. In addition, I searched for colorful tidbits by studying historical paintings and photographs and other artifacts. And I recalled my trip across the Atlantic Ocean by ship, being tossed about in a frightening hurricane.Q. What does the story of the first transatlantic telegraph cable mean to us today?A. Can you imagine living without computers and cell phones? Without texting? Without instant access to social media? In Cyrus Field’s time, it took weeks to send news across the ocean. He struggled for years to achieve “instant” communication between North America and Europe. The transatlantic cable became a critical link in the first worldwide communication network. We now take instant communication for granted, and it is important to learn about its early history and its pioneers. Cyrus Field’s Big Dream helps tell the story and invites numerous enrichment possibilities.

More About This Author
Other Books by Mary Morton Cowan