Locomotive

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This week on Winning Wednesday I will be reviewing Locomotive, the 2014 Caldecott Award winner, by Brian Floca. Locomotive allows readers to enter a time long ago when the transcontinental railroad had just finished being built. Children learn about how the first trains looked and worked in this narrative nonfiction story. With its amazing illustrations and captivating text, readers will be on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens on the next page.

The book starts by illustrating how difficult it was to create a railroad that stretched across the country. The text has an interesting rhythm:

“Here is how this road was built,

with a grunt and a heave and a swing,

with the ring of shovels on stone,

the ring of hammers on spikes:

CLANK CLANK CLANK!”

The entire book is written in this style. The book follows a family as they journey west to the pacific ocean to meet their father/husband. While the family is traveling on the train, readers get to explore the different rooms in the train and see how things work. For example, we get to see inside the cab of the train, where the fireman does his job:

It’s hard work, hot work,

smoke and cinders,

ash and sweat,

hard work, hot work-

but that’s a fireman’s life!

He tends the fire

that boils the water,

that turns the water into steam.

The book goes on like this, following the train through the flat and grassy midwest to the west, filled with rocks and canyons. It stops at a few towns and readers can learn about the kinds of things that might have been on the menu at a restaurant in one of these towns (buffalo steak and antelope chops!) Readers even get to see how people would sleep and use the restroom on the trains! How exciting! By the end of the book, the family has made it to the west coast and has reunited with their father/husband.

Throughout the journey, the author makes excellent use of onomatopoeia. Not only does he have onomatopoeia as a part of the text, he has also incorporated almost an illustrative aspect to it. The words are larger than the normal text and are usually a different color and font as well. Here are a few wonderful examples: “…through the Great Basin, a bleak and silent land – silent except for the HUFF and the BANG and the CLICK and the CLACK of the cars,” and “Up, up, over stone… and under, through the mountain’s summit, where granite was drilled and blasted. Here black powder and nitroglycerin BOOMED! Now in the dark the engines echo: CHUG-CHUG CHUG-CHUG CHUG-CHUG!” This use of onomatopoeia makes for a very, very exciting story!

Of course, as this story is a Caldecott Award winner, the illustrations are especially spectacular. Floca used so much detail in his paintings, allowing readers to really feel like they are in the train with the family. Very rarely do we ever get to see this time period portrayed in anything but black and white.

I feel that this book would not be the best choice for preschoolers or kindergarteners. It is longer than the average picture book and uses language that is much too sophisticated to be understood by that age group. However, I am confident that older children will get endless amounts of enjoyment and insight from this exciting and educational book. Bravo, Brian!

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