by Brian Floca

Inside page spread and inset of cropped cover, from Brian Floca's 'Locomotive'

Brian Floca's Locomotive

Book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 5-10

You're on the transcontinental railroad in 1869, pulled by a steam locomotive!

Authenticity is the name of the game with Brian Floca's 2014 Caldecott winner.

Summary - Brian Floca's Locomotive

In the summer of 1869, just as the first transcontinental railway is opening, Floca tells us - and shows us - how a locomotive works, then puts us on the big train it pulls as we cross the frontier, from Omaha, Nebraska, to San Francisco, California.

It's really two books in one - a locomotive "how-to," and a "what an 1869 cross-country railroad ride feels like."

(Lengthwise, as picture books go, it reads more like three books.)

Interestingly, Floca writes as if for the nineteenth century child reader, treating the train as new technology rather than old.

The fireman keeps the engine fed.
He scoops and lifts and throws the coal,
from the tender to the firebox.

The facts and details fly by like scrub on the landscape, but not too fast to absorb. Floca uses his award-winning art, as well as free verse text (rhythm, no rhyme) to illustrate and inform. And unless they're well-read on the history of rail in America, parents can expect to learn nearly as much as their children.

(For instance, I now know why it was considered impolite to use the toilet while the train was in the station. Instead of plumbing, there was a hole in the bottom of the train!)

We interrupt this review! For families that like learning about how stuff works, The Way Things Work is pretty much the best book ever!

Review - Brian Floca's Locomotive

Floca sticks with authenticity at every turn. You'll see black Pullman Porters but no African-American passengers. There's no whitewash of history here, though you'll have to read the extensive notes at the back of the book to have these choices explained to you.

(Pauite and Shoshone were allowed to ride the train through their territories by virtue of treaty with the rail company - they'd helped build the line - while Plains and Cheyenne were known to attack work crews and surveyors.)

There's information around every bend; Floca graphically maps the route on the inside front cover and  diagrams steam locomotive parts on the back.

This isn't the first time Floca has turned to transportation for his subject matter. Other books include:

This time he received a Caldecott for his efforts. His detailed watercolor/ink/acrylic/gouache renderings capture both machinery and humanity with equal affection.

For children who like to learn about big machines and see them in action, Locomotive is as good as it gets. For children who like to be taken back in time, it's darn good stuff too.

More Caldecott reviews.

Read more of Steve's book reviews.

New! Comments

Have your say!

Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.

The Caldecott Medal:
List of Winners
and More Reviews

Show your reviewer some

Do you know enough Seuss to excel?