Review of Crossing On Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World

Crossing On Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, 
and a Journey to the New World
by David Macaulay; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Roaring Brook    128 pp.
5/19    978-1-59643-477-6    $24.99

Macaulay chronicles his own mid-twentieth-century immigration story in full color and a wide trim size—along with plenty of diagrams and technical descriptions of the ship that brought his family from England to America. Macaulay tells readers that his journey “had been under way for much longer than I had realized”—and then proves his assertion through thoughtfully scaffolded and scrupulously researched chapters. The development of the steam engine, beginning in the eighteenth century, launches the primary narrative arc of the book. Nearly two hundred years of engineering innovation follow before readers are introduced to the life and work of ship designer William Francis Gibbs, the person responsible for the innovative and record-breaking superliner SS United States that would eventually transport a young Macaulay in 1957. An effective combination of expository text and technical illustrations conveys the construction and functionality of the United States—most impressively displayed through a massive double-gatefold. Macaulay concludes the book with his own recollections of crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the great ship, providing charmingly childlike memories (“I stared pathetically at the windows of the bridge, hoping for an invitation to go up and try the wheel”). Beyond the impressive scholarship and impeccable draftsmanship, Macaulay rounds out the reading experience with moments of humor (both written and visual), pleasingly atmospheric spreads, and a humanistic view of applied science. Back matter (absent of an index) includes an afterword, a timeline, acknowledgments, selected reading, and photographs.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Patrick Gall
Patrick Gall works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago.

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