cover image PRAIRIE TRAIN


Marsha Wilson Chall, , illus. by John Thompson. . HarperCollins, $15.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13433-4

For a girl riding the rails across the 1930s American prairie, the journey is suffused with sounds: the train whistle's "woooOOOO! ," the "Shooh... Shooh... " that indicate "the pants and huffs and puffs" of the engine's steam, the "clickety click click click " of a passenger's knitting needles "keeping time with the Great Northern line." Chall (Happy Birthday, America! ) harnesses these melodies, building a locomotive rhythm into her prose ("heading far away from home—/ shined shoes,/ white gloves,/ coin purse,/ two dollars,/ cranberry coat,/ wool beret—/ Grandma's girl,/ city queen). As the girl narrator travels east, young readers with a passion for the past will thrill to ride alongside her, experiencing the train's elegant dining car and velvet seats "as soft as caterpillars," and gazing out at the prairie, "stitched together in brown and yellow patches," flying by. Thompson's (Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters ) saturated, photorealistic paintings make the period details vivid enough for readers to feel they could step into the narrator's world. In many pictures Thompson depicts the girl in mid-action (tumbling off a seat when the train stops; singing with hands spread), which enhances the immediacy of the artwork. This handsome volume lyrically evokes a bygone world. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)