Locomotive

written and illustrated by Brian Floca

A family's trip by train from Omaha to Sacramento in 1869. Caldecott-winning illustrations and a wealth of historical information about the Transcontinental Railroad.

Summer, 1869, a mother and her two children are riding America’s brand-new transcontinental railroad from Omaha to San Francisco. The story chronicles their journey from multiple perspectives: documentarian, poet, historian, tour guide, and irrepressible railroad geek. The pages come alive with the details of the trip; descriptions of the structure and mechanics of the locomotive, tasks of crew members, passing landscapes, and experiences of passengers.

Older children will appreciate the wealth of detail and history, while younger ones will be entranced by the appropriately chugga-chugga rhythm of the free verse and abundant use of sound effects. 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.

Caldecott-winning, detailed watercolor, ink, and gouache paintings juxtapose sweeping panoramas with intimate, slice-of-life moments: here a widescreen shot of the train chugging across the Great Plains (my favorite); later a vignette at a “dollar for dinner” hash house (“If the chicken tastes like prairie dog, don’t ask why.”)

A delightful wealth of information from beginning to end. Front endpapers provide detail on the building of the transcontinental railroad; back endpapers show the steam engine in cross section, explaining exactly how coal and water made it go.