Review: The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

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The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Will found his first adventure when he headed out into the wilderness on a train to see his father after the transcontinental railroad was completed.  Will not only got to witness the final golden spike being driven but got to finish driving it in himself!  After the ceremony though, disaster struck with an avalanche that took Will and his father along with it.  They survived despite the large amount of snow and being attacked by sasquatches.  Now a few years later, Will and his father are aboard the Boundless, the most amazing train ever created.  Will’s father is no longer a laborer, instead working as an engineer aboard the train where Will will be riding first class.  The train carries with it a circus as well as thousands of people riding in different classes.  But there is also danger aboard the train and it’s headed right for Will. 

Oppel, the author of Airborn, has created a great adventure aboard a marvelous train.  The train itself is incredible from its sheer size to the number of people aboard.  The descriptions of each class of the train are done with an attention to detail and to the feeling of each area, each one significantly different from the others.  This setting is richly drawn and used as a clever device to keep the plot moving and also to isolate Will and the others from help. 

Will is a fine protagonist.  He is brave, somewhat bored, artistically gifted and living a surprising life.  Through it all he shows a spunk and willingness to throw himself into life, exactly the thing that his father despairs of him ever having.  The other characters are also well drawn: the villains are horrifically awful, Will’s companions are complicated and have their own motivations that are revealed as the book progresses. 

This is top-notch adventure writing set on a moving train traveling across a world filled with monsters, many of which are human.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: Train by Elisha Cooper

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Train by Elisha Cooper

Join the trains as they cross the United States in this fast-moving picture book.  Start on the platform with the conductors and passengers.  Then the doors whoosh shut and “All aboard” and we are off.  First the train is near the city, then it’s quickly out into the countryside.  The Commuter Train stops at the next station.  Then the story switches to a Passenger Train with an enormous engine and readers get to see inside the engineer’s cab with all of the levers.  The train crosses the countryside and then the book turns to a Freight Train that goes so slowly.  It is passed by an Overnight Train that curves up into the Rocky Mountains.  People head to their cabins to sleep and wake for breakfast in the dining car.  Their train is then passed by a High-Speed Train that blurs and finally glides into the station.  Your journey has ended, unless you read it again.

Perfect for young train lovers, they will learn about the different types of trains and terrain along this railroad clacking journey.  They also get tantalizing glimpses into the trains and their cars.  There are long images of rows of seats filled with people and curving rails ahead of the engine.  Young readers will also enjoy seeing how you sleep on a train and where you eat.  Cooper reaches beyond these details though and really captures the rhythm of train travel and the way they are so huge yet so dwarfed by the landscape.

Cooper’s illustrations are done in his signature loose style.  This works particularly well with landscapes and crowded train yards.  Children used to seeing exacting details on machinery will quickly get used to this less precise art style.  Instead of details, Cooper manages to capture atmosphere and feel in his illustrations.  This lets his trains race across the landscape showing the feel of that movement and speed.

Another magnificent picture book from Cooper, get this into the hands of young train fans or families heading on a train trip.  All aboard!   Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.

Review: Locomotive by Brian Floca

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Locomotive by Brian Floca

This book thoroughly celebrates the days of steam trains when rails were just starting to bridge the nation.  It begins with the building of the railroad, coming from east and west and meeting in the middle.  Filled with the sounds of building and the sounds of trains, this book fairly sings with the noises of the railroad.  Your trip starts on a quiet platform waiting for a train.  Once aboard, readers learn about the way steam powers the engine and the jobs of different people aboard.  Readers ride aboard the train, visit the bathroom which is basically a hole in the floor, and sleep along the way.  On the way west, you can see the landscape change, cross fragile bridges and enter black tunnels.  This entire book is a stirring testament to steam engines and the people who worked them.

Floca offers so many details here.  One might think that would slow the book down, but it is really all about those details and the entire experience of travel by steam train.  He keeps the interest level high by being very selective of the facts he shares.  It makes the reading fascinating and even young train buffs should learn a thing or two. 

Floca’s illustrations are beautiful.  He lingers over details in his images as well as in the text.  Readers get to see mechanisms close up, feel the speed of the train as it moves forward, and see the light reflecting off of the tight tunnel walls.  He creates an experience here that speaks to the time period clearly with his choice of fonts and the design of the entire book.  His illustrations are sometimes front and center, other times serving more as diagrams of interesting facts. 

Gorgeous illustrations, fascinating facts and a clear love of the subject make this a riveting read whether you are a train buff or not.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton

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How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by John Rocco

Did you know that trains make great pets?  Well this is the book all about how to best keep a train as a pet and have it well trained too.  First, you have to decide what sort of train you want: freight, monorail or steam.  Then you need to catch one.  There are lots of ways to do this, but the best way is to catch their attention with smoke signals and then bribe them with coal.  You then have to name your train and try to set it at ease.  Spend time together and get to know one another.  Eventually if you have built enough trust, your train will let you ride him.  But it takes time to ride off into the sunset together.

Eaton sets the perfect tone in his writing.  The framework of a how-to book adds a level of structure that Eaton plays with throughout.  Reading along the way, Eaton invites you into his world of sentient trains where each reader is offered the opportunity to consider what type of train they would want as a pet and how they would care for it.  It’s a delightful world and one that lingers after shutting the cover.

Rocco’s illustrations are a large part of building that delight.  He has created trains that read as purely machine and yet have faces that smile directly at you.  He also maintains the scale of the trains, allowing them to be huge puppy-like beasts that have a great wildness as well.

This cheery book will delight train fans but also reaches far beyond them with its humor and world building.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker

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Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

The author/illustrator team that brought you the bestselling Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site returns with another gorgeous transportation-themed bedtime book.  The cheerful rhyme invites children to explore the different types of train cars and what sorts of items are stowed in each one.  This is done by a monkey crew who move monkey bars into the boxcars with tumbling moves and lots of bananas.  The hopper car is filled with bouncy balls by kangaroos and a helpful giraffe.  Elephants squirt paints into tankers with their trunks, each train car a different color.  The cold reefer car holds ice cream treats as well as polar bears and penguins.  Gondolas are filled with sand, beach balls and toys.  The autorack has lots of fast racecars.  The well cars have dinosaurs and their lunches.  Finally there are the flatbeds made into beds and the red caboose, the train heads off to a new day. 

First let me comment on the endpages which are done in train engineer cloth pattern and really invite young train enthusiasts to read on.  The book has that wonderful rhyme that is playful and youthful, dancing along merrily to the beat.  That sense of play is evident throughout the book, as the different animals load the train with things that will interest very young readers.  All of it has a silly tone that makes it great fun to read.

Lichtenheld’s illustrations add to that silliness with small touches that are such fun to discover.  Done in a soft yet rich style, the illustrations invite you to dream along with the book.  Their deep color captures the nighttime setting while the softness will have little heads snuggling in close. 

A worthy companion to the first book, get this into the hands of little engineers and fans of Thomas the Tank Engine.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Engine Number Ten by Rose Ann Woolpert

Engine Number Ten

Engine Number Ten by Rose Ann Woolpert, illustrated by Jaguar Studio Design

This is the story of how granite was quarried over one hundred years ago in California.  First work was done with mules and small wooden carts.  Then little steam trains were used on the narrow tracks, shuttling back and forth with loads of rock.  Steadily, more steam trains were used until they had ten steam trains and one steam shovel working in the quarry.  Then diesel locomotives started to replace the oldest steam engines until just Number Ten was still working.  The other steam trains had been taken apart and sold.  A new diesel engine was purchased for the quarry, pulling huge loads of granite with ease.  Number Ten was sent off to be scrapped.  But then something happened that changed Number Ten’s fate, a rockslide trapped the diesel engine.  There was only one train that could rescue her:  Number Ten!

Woolpert successfully mixes the true story of the Number Ten engine that now is on display at the Railroad Museum in Sacramento with personified engines that eagerly say “Yes, I Will!”  Her writing is refreshingly clear and playful, allowing the momentum of the true story itself to set a brisk pace. 

The illustrations are a mix of vintage photographs and black and white drawings that are often superimposed upon the photos.  This echoes the story being a mix of history and fiction.  The result is clearly historical but also very friendly.

This is the first book in the “Yes, We Will” series which will continue to tell the stories of the machines and people of Graniterock, a business in northern California.  It’s a good pick for young train enthusiasts or those interested in American history.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from the author.

Review: I Too Am America by Langston Hughes

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I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Collier marries the famous poem by Hughes with the story of the African-American Pullman porters, who served the wealthy white patrons aboard trains.  The poem speaks to the dream of freedom and equality that we are moving towards but have not yet attained in America.  It tells of servants sent to eat in the kitchen but also that in the future that will change and no one will again be sent to eat separately.  Collier’s illustrations depict the real work of the Pullman porters and the rhythm of the train seems to appear in Hughes’ poem too.  These men who worked in a racist world long after slavery was abolished are a fitting match to this strong poem that sings.

Hughes was able to write with such spare poetry, that it gives a strong vehicle for illustrations.  Collier built an incredible story around those lines, one of porters and a small boy who has new chances in the modern world.  He wraps his illustrations in the flag, playing with stars and stripes and the blue of the open sky throughout the book.  There is a gravity, a seriousness to his work that is truly fine.  It lifts up to the level of the poem, creating a harmony that is very special.

This is an extraordinary picture book about freedom, African Americans, and the struggle that still goes on every day for equality.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Trains Go by Steve Light

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Trains Go by Steve Light

This board book celebrates the various sounds that trains make as they travel the rails.  There is the
“Squeak Clang Ting Bing Bing Bing!” of the freight train.  The streamliner makes a long “wooo wooo” sound in contrast.  Mountain train noises are full of “trip trap” and “fuff puff.”  The noises include toots, whistles, dings and of course a few choo choos too!  This is a great pick for the smallest train enthusiasts.

Light’s illustrations are done in deep colors with plenty of strong black lines to offer a mechanical foundation to the illustrations.  Against the white backgrounds, the bright colored trains pop as they whiz past.  Light uses the full page, filling it with the sounds of the trains, the tracks, and the smoke and steam they create.  They have a strong sense of motion as they sound their whistles and zoom by.

A fun read aloud, this is one that will be popular with little train fans.  If you are doing baby or toddler story times, this just might get everyone along for a train ride together!  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

The Last Train: Take a Trip into History

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The Last Train by Gordon Titcomb, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Based on a song by Gordon Titcomb, this book celebrates the days of the steam engines and small depots.  A modern child visits the decrepit old depot in his town, the rusty tracks that no long gleam.  He thinks about his grandfather and father and the work they did on the railroad.  He dreams of huge engines and shiny cars streaking past.  His box of memorabilia has plenty of memories stored inside of the glory days of the railroad.  Titcomb’s words are enduring as he speaks to the wondrous power of the steam locomotive and the days when they ran.  Minor’s art brings both modern days and history to life in warm colors, allowing young train enthusiasts to dream along with him about the power of steam.

Titcomb’s song and this book really celebrate the steam engine and the magic that those days still hold for modern children.   The entire book is nicely summed up in the final lines:

A blast of steam,

the whistle screamed its mournful last refrains,

Long silent, though its echo still remains.

The words are poetry, they rhyme and dance, chugging along at times, at others sleekly gliding past.  He captures the joy of the rails perfectly.

Minor’s art is celebrates the trains too.  From the engine in the darkness under a star-filled sky to the caboose disappearing as the snow blows in.  But he also celebrates a child’s relationship with trains.  His old depot is filled with details that bring it to life.  His meadows of flowers serve as a backdrop to the aging railyard.  His flattened coins remind us all of sunny days and the surprising warmth of a smashed coin after the train goes by.  In short, he shows us just why we all love trains.

A beautiful book, this is sure to be enjoyed by train lovers old and young.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from illustrator.