FLOCA, Brian. Locomotive. illus. by author. 64p. diags. maps. notes. S & S/Atheneum/Richard Jackson Bks. Sept. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-9415-2; ebook $12.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-8522-8.
Gr 3-5–It all started with “a new road of rails/made for people to ride” where “covered wagons used to crawl.” Almost 150 years ago–just after the Civil War–the completion of the transcontinental railway radically changed both this country’s landscape and the opportunities of its people. The book traces the advent of cross-country train travel, focusing on an early trip from Omaha to Sacramento. As in Moonshot (2009) and Lightship (2007, both S & S), Floca proves himself masterful with words, art, and ideas. The book’s large format offers space for a robust story in a hefty package of information. Set in well-paced blank verse, the text begins with a quick sketch of “how this road was built” and moves abruptly to the passengers on the platform and the approaching train. The author smoothly integrates descriptions of the structure and mechanics of the locomotive, tasks of crew members, passing landscapes, and experiences of passengers. Simply sketched people and backgrounds, striking views of the locomotive, and broad scenes of unpopulated terrain are framed in small vignettes or sweep across the page. Though a bit technical in explaining engine parts, the travelogue scheme will read aloud nicely and also offers absorbing details for leisurely personal reading. Substantial introductory and concluding sections serve older readers. There’s also a detailed explanation of the author’s efforts and sources in exploring his subject. Train buffs and history fans of many ages will find much to savor in this gorgeously rendered and intelligent effort.–Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston