CLANK, CLANK, CLANK! HISSSS, HUFF, HISSS! CHUG, CHIG, CHUG... can you hear it? Clinks and clangs, booms and bangs, and that oh so iconic whoo-whoo! It's the summer of 1869, and the Transcontinental Railroad is newly in service. Many worked to create the line, many work to operate it, and many are now traveling along on its legendary tracks.
Like a mini encyclopedia on the Transcontinental Railroad, Locomotive, by Brian Floca, does not skimp on the details. The cover itself is a story. The 199, a freight train used by the Union Pacific Railroad, met the Central Pacific Railroad's Jupiter engine at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10th 1869 to join the rail lines the two companies had worked so furiously to build. From there the inside of the cover brings the reader up to date on the events that took place to bring us to this point in the summer of 1869.
Beginning in Omaha, Nebraska, at the start of the line's journey West, engineers, brakemen, and that famous conductor prepare the train to travel. Passengers load into the cars and with a hiss and a bang, and a wonderful whistle, the train is off. Each page of Locomotive is story in itself. Floca does a good job of keeping the text simple and straightforward, while maintaining the value of the information.
What grabbed my attention most though was the wonderful typography, in varying vintage fonts and sizes that leaped off the page and pulled me into the thick of the journey. Giant CLANKS, BOOMs, HISSs, CHUGs, and WHOO-WHOOs animate the language from page to page. I couldn't help but want to make the sounds as loud and gregariously as possible while I read along; I was reading this book by myself at the time (only slightly embarrassing).
The next detail that cannot be ignored are the wonderful illustrations of the trains themselves. I could stare at them for hours, and when you get to the inside of the back cover, there is a wonderful diagram outlining each part of a steam locomotive, it's so great! All in watercolor with some line drawing for detail, the trains and the beautiful landscapes they travel through bring this book to life. I did not love the illustrations of the people as much as the trains, but they did give a good sense of what the passengers might be wearing, and how they felt along the journey.
After many attempts at sound effects while reading this book, I was sad when it came to an end, I didn't want it to. There is a reason this book was awarded the Caldecott Medal, its fantastic. I can't think of a better picture book for the summer months. What a great jumping off point for all the summer adventures, imaginary and otherwise that we will be going on. This book makes me want to travel as the passengers in 1869 did, by train. To see the wilds of the plains and the Sierra Nevadas, to feel the rumble, the hiss, and the clank of adventure.
* Last time in Books and Stories: Summer Reading List