Northbound by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein

Cover image for Northbound

Northbound by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome (9780763696504)

Michael has always stopped work to watch the trains go by the farm he lives on with his grandparents in Alabama. Then one day he gets his dream and takes a train trip north with his grandmother to Ohio to visit cousins. Though Michael has caught sight of a boy his age on the train, he isn’t allowed to go into the car where the boy is riding, because it’s closed to Black people. As the train leaves Atlanta, the “Whites Only” sign on the door is taken down and now Michael is allowed to enter the car. The two boys quickly start to play together and explore the train. They discover they have all sorts of things in common. But when the train reaches Chattanooga, Tennessee, Michael has to return to his own car and the sign goes up again. Luckily, his new friend knows it is fair and shares a final drawing of all people riding in the same train car together.

In a book that starts with the wonder of trains and the joy of a train ride, this picture book shows the impact of arbitrary race laws throughout the United States in the early 1960s. While consistent racism in Alabama is an everyday occurrence for Michael, it is the on-again, off-again rules that will catch readers’ attention as well as that of the train passengers. It clearly demonstrates the differences in the way racism impacts lives in different parts of our country, speaking clearly to today’s issues as well as that of our past.

The art by Ransome is a grand mix of train travel with tunnels, bridges and cities together with a diverse group of passengers and staff on the train. There is a sense of frustration and limits in the illustrations with the closed doors and signs that is replaced with a joyous freedom as the two boys explore the train together.

A critical look at our shared civil rights history and a call for us to do better. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst (9781536216592)

Hamish the bear and Noreen the goose love to watch trains together. Hamish longs to take a train to the city, but Noreen isn’t interested. So Hamish set off, following the train tracks on foot. When he got to the station though, he found he needed a ticket, so he just kept on walking. As night fell, he came to a railroad yard and discovered a caboose all lit up inside. There he found Christov who was sick with the flu and too ill to go to work in the morning and run a big crane. So Hamish offered to help. He borrowed Christov’s hat and jacket and headed into the city on the train. When he got to the building site though, he didn’t have any boots, luckily he was able to find some nearby. Then it was time to run the huge crane. Hamish worked hard, running the crane from the cozy cabin. He did it for the five days that Christov was sick and was offered a job himself by the end. But Hamish was missing Noreen and took a train home, to share his adventures with her, and maybe have some new ones together.

Hirst tells a charming tale of Hamish, a bear with a taste for adventure and trying new things. He is also a very helpful and thoughtful character, helping out where he can and finding unique solutions to problems he encounters along the way. I was most impressed that Hamish was a success as he tried to help. It became a celebration of trying new things, learning and succeeding rather than what is often seen in children’s books like Curious George where helping becomes failing in a funny way.

The art is simple and friendly, capturing both the expanse of the countryside and the bustle of the city streets. Some of the pages are fully colored while others use white space and smaller images that move the story ahead. Throughout there is a sense of happy positivity.

A glorious adventure full of trains and cranes. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ty's Travels All Aboard by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata (9780062951120)

Ty loves adventures and most of all he wishes his family would play with him. But his father is busy making dinner, his mother is folding the laundry, and his big brother is doing his homework. Ty spots an empty box and knows just what to do with it. Soon he has built a train engine and begins a journey down the tracks. At the first stop, someone is waiting! It’s Daddy, who climbs aboard. At the next stop, it’s Momma who comes aboard in time to see the city go by. The next stop has his big brother join in. The last stop comes eventually and they are back home just in time for dinner.

There is real challenge in writing a good easy reader and Lyons meets that challenge head on here. With her story of a supportive and playful family, she has a story that can be told simply. It has plenty of action and motion to keep the story moving forward in a way that is paced perfectly for new readers.

The illustrations by Mata are friendly and use the white space on the page nicely. They support the text on the page, offering new readers just the right amount of support visually. She also shows the imaginary journey clearly using crayon and simpler graphics that are done in a childlike style.

This series is a great pick for new readers. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins. 

 

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome (9780823438730)

Ruth Ellen and her family left the South to head north to New York. Some African-Americans made the trip on foot, some drove but Ruth Ellen and her family took the train. They got the last seats in the colored car, and settled in for the long journey. They left secretly, not telling her father’s boss or their landlord that they were leaving. More and more people filled the colored train car as they traveled northward, many of them left standing because all the seats were taken. Ruth read to her mother from the book her teacher had given her about Frederick Douglass. As they got to Maryland, the separation of white and colored was removed, and Ruth and her family moved to get seats in less crowded parts of the train. Some white people didn’t want them sitting near them, but others were friendly. Their trip continued all the way to New York City where they would make their new future. 

Told in the voice of Ruth Ellen, this picture book is a very personal look at the deep changes in the South after slavery that created the opportunity for the Great Migration to the north. On these pages is a clear optimism about their future, their new opportunities coming to fruition. The book is focused specifically on the travel north, beautifully weaving in elements from Frederick Douglass’ experience as he journeyed north fleeing slavery. 

The illustrations are done in paper, graphie, paste pencils and watercolors. Ransome has created illustrations that are richly colored, show the poverty of the south, but also capture the rush of the train towards the north and opportunity.

This historical picture book shows a moment of deep change in America. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Holiday House.

Review: The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

boundless

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

train

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

locomotive

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

how to train a train

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

steam train dream train

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.