cover image The Prairie Train

The Prairie Train

Antoine O. Flatharta, Antoine O. Flatharta. Crown Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70988-7

With cadenced prose, first-time children's book author and Irish playwright O' Flatharta crafts a gentle fantasy about looking back and moving forward. Despite being created at ""a time when train engines were as shiny and extraordinary as rocket ships,"" the Prairie Train longs ""to be an old-fashioned boat with billowing sails, to take a journey that wasn't set by tracks."" The opening point of view shifts abruptly to that of Conor, a young Irish immigrant bound for San Francisco, who holds tight to the toy boat built by his grandfather whom he left behind. After his prized possession accidentally falls from the train's window, Conor falls into a fitful sleep, dreaming of boats. Suddenly, the Prairie Train enters his dream, taking him across the ocean to see his grandfather, who comforts him by pointing him toward the future: ""There's bigger boats waiting for you."" Rohmann's work seems somewhat hampered by a more conventional story line here, in contrast to his breathtakingly imaginative work in the Caldecott Honor-winning Time Flies. Nevertheless, he successfully marries the fantastic and realistic elements of O' Flatharta's tale in a united palette mirroring both prairie and sea. The book's handsome design (panel illustrations give way to full-bleed paintings during Conor's dream), as well as Rohmann's deft portraits of Conor and his fellow immigrants, adds to the book's many deeply felt pleasures. Ages 5-10. (Oct.)