cover image I DREAM OF TRAINS


Angela Johnson, , illus. by Loren Long. . S&S, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82609-2

MacArthur Award winner Johnson (Heaven ; Toning the Sweep ) pens a reverie as piercing and poignant as the long cry of a train whistle against debut artist Long's breathtaking backdrops. As the African-American boy narrator toils in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, he hears a train speed past with the legendary engineer Casey Jones at the controls. Transported, he imagines sitting beside his hero in the cab of the 382 train "as the engine carries us past the delta and across the plains./ Over the mountains, past the desert and to the ocean—far away from here." Johnson's words, melodic and introspective, evoke the boy's longing for a better life ("Short days, cold days,/ turn back into long, warm planting days,/ …/ I still stare at the tracks and wait for Casey and his/ engine to come flying past the fields/ and dream me away"). Landscapes of purple mountains, stretches of aqua seas, rivers and rolling farmland are all connected by the tracks Casey travels. Long plays with perspective, using aerial views as the boy soars above his life in his daydreams (he crosses the Mississippi on a bridge of railroad ties, the shadow of his imagined hero beside him) and intimate close-ups as the boy returns to the reality of his life. Casey's massive, almost ghostly train becomes a powerful symbol; the train wreck that kills the famous conductor on April 30, 1900, screeches with drama. "Does that mean it's over?" the devastated boy asks his father. Johnson reassures young readers, through the father's reply, that dreams can still take wing. When the boy imagines boarding a train to leave his home, years hence, he says: "I will... remember as I roll away/ what Papa said about Casey/ and his soul-speaking whistles/ and my place in the big wide world." This theme of hope born of aching loss, and the ability of dreams to uplift and transform, speaks to every child who has ever had a hero. Ages 5-7. (Sept.)