Steam, Smoke, and Steel: Back in Time with Trains

Patrick O'Brien, Author, Patrick O'Brien, Illustrator Charlesbridge Publishing $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-88106-969-3
For this short history of trains, O'Brien (Gigantic! How Big Were the Dinosaurs?) brings a fictional overlay to a fact-filled presentation. The child narrator comes from a long dynasty of train engineers. Starting with his father (who drives a giant locomotive) and working his way back to his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (""one of the very first people ever to drive a train in this country""), the narrator describes the generations both of his family and of trains. Both the text and the watercolor-and-gouache illustrations are generous with details, explaining how different types of engines work and identifying specific parts of various trains. Anecdotes dot the narrative. For example, in the 1960s the boy's grandfather hauls a circus train up from Florida; in the 1870s Jesse James and his gang stage a hold-up of the great-great-great-grandfather's train. But the storytelling isn't vivid enough to overcome the limitations of the mannered structure--only railroad aficionados are likely to hop aboard. Ages 4-9. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 07/01/2000
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