“Hear the clear, hard call of her bell: CLANG-CLANG! CLANG-CLANG! CLANG-CLANG! Hear the HISSSSSSSSS and the SPIT of the steam! Hear the engine breathe like a beast: HUFF HUFF HUFF!” You don’t have to be a railroad lover (but you might become one!) to head West with Brian Floca’s Locomotive, as the 2014 Caldecott Medal Winner takes readers on a rollicking journey on the Transcontinental Railroad in the summer of 1869.
Locomotive packs in plenty of details about how and when and why the steam engine transformed the landscape and culture of the American West. Make no mistake, though, this is not textbook land. Floca has wisely used an intimate second-person perspective (as he did in Moonshot, 2009), putting the reader right in the action. That’s just the beginning. His abundant energetic verbs–huffs and hisses and bangs and clanks–show up in various colors, fonts, and sizes. Often the rhythm echoes the action: “Faster, faster, turn the wheels,/faster, faster breathes the engine!/The country runs by,/the cottonwoods and river.” And children will delight in surprising facts such as the train’s lack of plumbing, or the switchmen’s risk of losing their fingers on the job.
Floca’s stellar illustrations feature a range of perspectives, along with as much detail as a curious young mind might crave. Beginning with endpapers displaying the path of the Transcontinental and a title page sporting a drawing of a May 10, 1869 telegraph, the book lets readers know they’re embarking on a real-life journey. Pages are filled with lively pen-and-ink and watercolor paintings that depict not only believable children and their families but a variety of workers toiling to make the steam engine take its passengers all the way from Omaha, Nebraska, to San Francisco.
This nonfiction book was born to be read aloud, either one-on-one or to an upper-elementary-age group. It’s a bit longer (60 illustrated pages) and more detailed than most, but the trip is sure to thrill.
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