HERE ARE THE LOCOMOTIVES, the great machines, pulling their trains behind them. Here are the crews that make them run, and here is how they do it. And here is a family, heading West, hoping to start a new life.
It is the summer of 1869, and trains, crews, and family are traveling together, riding America’s first transcontinental railroad, still new, just built. These pages come alive with the details of the trip and the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives; the work that keeps them moving; and the thrill of travel from plains to mountain to ocean.
Come hear the hiss of the steam, feel the heat of the engine, watch the landscape race by. Come ride the rails, come cross the young country!
Kirkus Reviews (starred review):
“Floca took readers to the moon with the Apollo 11 mission in Moonshot (2009); now he takes them across the country on an equally historic journey of 100 years earlier. In a collegial direct address, he invites readers to join a family—mother, daughter and son—on one of the first passenger trips from Omaha to Sacramento after the meeting of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific in May 1869.... Full- and double-page spreads take advantage of the book’s unusually large trim for breathtaking long shots of the American landscape and thrilling perspectives of the muscular engine itself.... Unjustly undersung as a writer, Floca soars with his free-verse narrative, exploiting alliteration, assonance and internal rhyme to reinforce the rhythms of the journey.... Nothing short of spectacular, just like the journey it describes.” Full review here.
The New York Times:
“Older children will appreciate the wealth of detail and history, while younger ones will be entranced by the appropriately chugga-chugga rhythm of Floca’s free verse and his abundant use of sound effects (playfully emphasized with well-muscled, 19th-century-style typefaces)…. He’s a brilliant, exacting draftsman; he also knows how to give his pictures a cinematic energy, especially in the way he “cuts” from page to page. A spread showing the train crossing a rickety wooden bridge uses a funny visual trick to jolt your eyeballs along with the passengers. Flipping through this book made me smile with pleasure before I even read it.” —Bruce Handy. Full review here.
The Wall Street Journal:
“Brian Floca vividly evokes the advent of the age of steam in “Locomotive” (Atheneum, 64 pages, $17.99), an exhilarating picture book that takes us along with a young family on their maiden train journey from a depot in Omaha, Neb., to a new home in San Francisco…. Mr. Floca writes in loosely poetic prose that rattles along like a string of railcars, but is also loaded with information that will leave children ages 5-10 considerably more knowledgeable than they were before opening the beautiful, dawn-golden front cover…. Mr. Floca manages not just to tell the story of one eventful journey but to summon the great rail enterprise as a whole: the sweat, ingenuity and ambition that went into building it, the smells and sounds of it, and the stunning, varied topography those first tracks traversed in the American West. Here young readers will also encounter possibly the most lucid explanation of how steam power works ever to appear in a children’s book.” — Meghan Cox Gurdon. Full review (available to Journal subscribers) here.
Booklist (starred review):
“Floca follows up the acclaimed Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (2009) with this ebullient, breathtaking look at a family’s 1869 journey from Omaha to Sacramento via the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad…. It’s impossible to turn a page without learning something…multiple wow moments...will knock readers from their chairs. Fantastic opening and closing notes make this the book for young train enthusiasts.”
School Library Journal (starred review):
“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…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.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review):
“Floca (Moonshot) chronicles their journey from multiple perspectives: documentarian, poet, historian, tour guide, and irrepressible railroad geek.... [H]e celebrates the majestic (the passing western landscape), the marvelous (the engineering and sheer manpower required to keep the engine safely on its course), and the mundane, from the primitiveness of the toilets to the iffiness of depot food (“If the chicken/ tastes like prairie dog,/ don’t ask why”). It’s a magisterial work (even the endpapers command close reading), but always approachable in its artistry and erudition. And readers will come away understanding that the railroad wasn’t just about getting a group of passengers from Point A to Point B; it carried an entire nation into a new, more rapid world: “Faster, faster, turn the wheels,/ faster, faster breathes the engine!/ The country runs by, the cottonwoods and river./ Westward, westward,/ runs the train,/ through the prairies,/ to the Great Plains,/ on to the frontier.” Full review here.
The Horn Book Magazine (starred review):
“Talk about a youth librarian’s dream come true: a big new book about those ever-popular trains from a bona fide picture-book-nonfiction all-star. Striking cinematic endpapers lay the groundwork, describing the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s. Then, in a sort of historical-fiction-meets-travelogue narrative, Floca zeroes in on one family’s journey from Omaha to San Francisco. Floca excels at juxtaposing sweeping panoramas with intimate, slice-of-life moments: here a widescreen shot of the train chugging across the Great Plains; later a vignette at a “dollar for dinner” hash house (“If the chicken tastes like prairie dog, don’t ask why,” cautions the narrator).... An author’s note and thorough discussion of the sources used are included, and don’t miss the back endpapers—the steam power diagram would make David Macaulay proud.”
Shelf Awareness (starred review):
“After his paeans to the sea (Lightship) and space travel (Moonshot), Brian Floca here pays soaring tribute to the iron horse that rides the rails.... He connects past to present with the universal experience of a boy and girl who wait on the platform with their mother.... He lays out the paradox introduced by train travel: a serene view of the Great Plains with nary a sign of civilization ("smell the switchgrass and the bluestem, hot beneath the sun"), as well as the sacrifices the railroad wrought ("Here the Cheyenne lived and the Pawnee and Arapaho.... The railroad and the men who built it--they have changed it all"). As the family travels along the tracks, Floca offers tantalizing details: toilets drain onto the tracks; a boy selling newspapers, food and soap is a "butch." At the end of the journey, the boy and girl's father waits with open arms. With maps and milestones in the front, and a cutaway diagram of the engine at the back, readers will want to board this locomotive again and again.” — Jennifer M. Brown. Full review here.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review):
“So, how much do you want to know about America’s first transcontinental railroad? Just the general picture? Then follow Floca’s poetic account of the fictional journey of a mother and two children riding coach class from Omaha to San Francisco just weeks after the line’s completion. There’s plenty to see out the window.... If you need to know more about the “how” of steam travel, consult the annotated front endpapers.... Not enough? Take lots of time to study the cutaway and exploded details of the steam engine itself on the back endpapers...and if you’re truly among the nerdiest of train nerds, go back and compare the engines underway in the main text with the innards in the diagram. Still not sated? Floca holds forth in a dense concluding note on everything from the social history of rail travel to innovations that made running the trains safer for the crews. And if you don’t care to read a word of text, be sure watch your fellow passengers packed cheek-by-jowl on the stiff bench seats, checking out the “convenience,” pondering the suspect chicken dinner in a stopover diner, or, if they’re luckier than you, headed for the Pullman sleeper and a good night’s rest.”
A Fuse #8 Production:
“The transcontinental express changed everything for America, and yet, until now, it has never been properly lauded in a book for children large and small. Locomotive fulfills that need, and then goes above and beyond the call of duty to give its readers the thrill of being there themselves. Would that all works recounting history could be imbued with Floca’s wit and sense and scale. It’s a big, long, dense book and frankly after reading it you won’t have it any other way. Ride the rails.” — Elizabeth Bird. Full review here.
The Washington Post:
“As he did in his Sibert Honor book, Moonshot, author-illustrator Brian Floca weaves a poetic text and dramatic illustrations into an appealing narrative, providing young readers with both factual information about early train travel and a visceral sense of what it must have been like to climb aboard an iron horse in 1869…. Carefully varied perspectives — from spectacular close-ups of wheels meeting tracks to lonely long shots of a toy-size string of cars lost in a vast sea of grass — as well as wildly varying fonts give readers a sense of the thump-and-bump, start-and-stop, rush-and-wait of this week-long excursion…. Endpapers jam-packed with information — from reproductions of Union Pacific and Central Pacific advertisements to a cut-away view of the engine’s guts — complete this carefully designed package. End your journey on the platform in Sacramento, where, “thanks to the locomotive,” a father flings wide his arms and gathers in his family.” —Kristi Elle Jemtegaard. Full review here.