by Brian Floca; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Jackson/Atheneum 64 pp.
9/13 978-1-4169-9415-2 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-8522-8 $12.99
Talk about a youth librarian’s dream come true: a big new book about those ever-popular trains from a bona fide picture-book-nonfiction all-star. Striking cinematic endpapers lay the groundwork, describing the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s. Then, in a sort of historical-fiction-meets-travelogue narrative, Floca zeroes in on one family’s journey from Omaha to San Francisco. Floca excels at juxtaposing sweeping panoramas with intimate, slice-of-life moments: here a widescreen shot of the train chugging across the Great Plains; later a vignette at a “dollar for dinner” hash house (“If the chicken tastes like prairie dog, don’t ask why,” cautions the narrator). Varied font sizes and styles on the large pages beautifully capture the onomatopoeia (“Hisssssssss”; “huff huff huff ”; “chug-chug chug-chug chug-chug”) of the train and the feel of the Old West. One spread finds the train precariously crossing a trestle (“The train is so heavy, the bridge is so narrow, and rickety rickety rickety!”); the concluding ricketys are displayed in an appropriately jarring shadowed font alongside a picture of passengers shaking — and praying — in their seats. Luckily, our family makes it safely to its destination: “the country’s far corners have been pulled together…thanks to the locomotive.” An author’s note and thorough discussion of the sources used are included, and don’t miss the back endpapers — the steam power diagram would make David Macaulay proud.
From the September/October 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.