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Brian Floca
ISBN 9781416994152
Dick Jackson/ Atheneum/S&S, 2013.
2014 Caldecott Medal, 2014 Sibert Honor, New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Books of 2013
5 stars
Keywords: brian-floca locomotive trains transcontinental-railroad

by Brian Floca

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.

The author-artist opens with a verbal and visual lyricism that evokes the awe of those who first traveled the Transcontinental Railroad: "Here is a road/ made for crossing the country,/ a new road of rails/ made for people to ride." He connects past to present with the universal experience of a boy and girl who wait on the platform with their mother. As the train moves closer, the images and typeface grow in size and clarity ("CLANG-CLANG-CLANG"; "Whoo-oooo").

Floca labels the parts inside the cab, then leads into a close-up of the train rolling out of the station. 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.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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