cover image On the Blue Comet

On the Blue Comet

Rosemary Wells, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline, Candlewick, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7636-3722-4

Model trains, time travel, and cameo appearances by Ronald Reagan and Alfred Hitchcock, among others, make this adventure an ideal family read-aloud. "One day everything in the world was fine. Dad and I had lamb chops and ice cream," says Oscar Ogilvie, 11, about life with his widowed father in 1929 smalltown Illinois. Self-reliant and companionable, Oscar makes dinner so he and his father, a tractor salesman, can spend their evenings constructing elaborate railroad layouts. Then the Great Depression hits, and the Ogilvies lose their house and, worse, their trains, which are put on display in the bank lobby. Oscar's kindness to a laid-off math teacher turns serendipitous when the teacher becomes the bank's night watchman, giving Oscar access to his trains. During one after-hours visit, the bank is robbed; Oscar escapes by diving into the model train set, where he crisscrosses time and the continent, unscrambling what's happened to him. Well-drawn secondary characters and evocative details bring the hardscrabble 1930s to life. Ibatoulline's intricately detailed illustrations, both full-page and double-spread, have a Norman Rockwell quality that reinforces the setting and adds a nostalgic air. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)