Patricia Newman, Author, Michael D. Chesworth, Illustrator , illus. by Michael Chesworth. FSG $16.50 (32p) ISBN 978-0-374-33679-0

Newman, making her debut, and Chesworth (Alphaboat ) prove that what's compelling about vintage railroads is not just the majesty of the massive, coal-eating locomotives nor the thrill of barreling through the countryside. No, it's the feeling of being immersed in a world unto itself with a language all its own—a world that knows milk as "whitewash," and the man who stokes the engine's fire as an "ashcat." (The title argot refers to the command to ring the locomotive's brass bell.) It's 1926, and readers meet a boy who has been offered the enviable opportunity to tag along on the run of a mile-long "jigger" ("the heaviest train allowed on the line") with a seasoned "hogger" (engineer). Newman's text unspools as a lingo-filled monologue by the wizened engineer; she smoothly weaves in more than 50 railroading words and phrases, while providing an insider's view of working on the rails all the livelong day. Chesworth's sepia-toned watercolors strike a nice balance between entertaining and educating. On one spread, he shows a cartoonish railroad policeman (aka "bulls") literally booting hoboes off the top of the train as it passes over a trestle (the tramps splash down harmlessly); a few pages later, there's a handsome portrait of the locomotive at top speed, a blur of steam, sparks and black iron. Readers will undoubtedly demand a return trip very soon. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 11/15/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
Genre: Children's
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