all aboard!…five tantalizing rides on the rails

Several fabulous new train titles have come out in 2013. I’ve got three of them for you today, plus a charming Charlotte Voake title I’ve loved for many years and a look at trains through Monet’s eyes. For those of you with kids who are gaga over trains, every one of these is a dream, but if you”ve never thought of yourself as a train person — jump on board anyway!

locomotive cover image2 brian flocaLocomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca

I’ll start with an absolutely stunning book from a favorite, extraordinary author/illustrator, Brian Floca.

The steam locomotive transformed the geography of our nation, and “annihilated” time and space by allowing folks to traverse such vast distances comfortably, safely, and quickly.

Take a ride across the country on one of these iron horses in 1869, and learn all about these fascinating machines, the people who run them, the awesome sights across the land, the amazing work that wrestled a railroad through the terrain, and much more.locomotive illustration brian floca You are on the train from Omaha, Nebraska to San Francisco, with a window seat and access to railroad restaurants and roundhouses,  eavesdropping and people-watching…such a wonderful sense of immediacy is in these pages.

Brian Floca — wow! — this is an epic work. He has distilled so much research into his immensely readable, almost poetic text, relaying an enormous volume of fasincating information with a clear tone of wonder and beauty. The human element is central, even though much technical information is divulged. Dozens of his trademark gorgeous, detailed watercolor illustrations provide a great deal of information as well, pulling back the curtain on train interiors, levers and gears, period clothing, the countryside, and the roaring mammoth size of these engines!

In addition, the endpapers of the book contain brilliant, beautifully illustrated panels on the transcontinental railroad and the ins and outs of steam power. A long Note on the Locomotive provides a wealth of information for older readers and adults, and even Floca’s detailed listing of Sources gives an interesting window on the subject.

If this does not win top awards for non-fiction, I’ll eat my hat. Ages 7 or 8 and up. HIghly recommended!

train cover image elisha cooperTrain, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper

Elisha Cooper’s take on trains is marvelously different, so Cooper-esque!, and a complete delight for ages 4 and up.

Ingenuously, Cooper takes us on a cross-country trip as well, hopping on different trains along the way so we get to experience five kinds of trains  — a commuter train, passenger train, freight train, overnight train, and high-speed train,.

Cooper is a master observer. I love that about his books. You can tell that he rode a train illustration elisha cooperlot of trains, and hung out at a lot of stations, watching, listening, sketching a gazillion details going on around him — different kinds of people hurrying, workers at the station, ways people occupy themselves on the train. All that wonderful reality is carefully packed into his drawings, which still look effortless and airy and light.

In addition, we get glorious views of the changing landscapes along our journey, a chance to sit in the engineer’s seat — so cool! — and views from the tracks. Fascinating descriptions of the sights and sounds of the train in lovely, sparse text will make you fall in love with trains, if you aren’t already a keen fan.

Included are a short glossary containing some very interesting additional info, and a teeny author’s note. I love Elisha Cooper’s work, and this is another winner. Don’t miss it.

And here’s a lovely bonus: a fascinating interview with these two guys, talking about their books. I found this weeks after writing this particular blog (it’s been sitting in the hopper waiting for an open week) but loved hearing these guys talk about one another’s work.

steam train dream train cover imageSteam Train, Dream Train, by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

It’s nighttime. Stars speckle the deep sapphire sky, when through the darkness a huffing, puffing, clanging train pulls up to Night Falls station. The crew is ready to load up a ton of unusual, entertaining, scrumptious cargo!

A passel of monkeys and rabbits have jolly toys to load in the boxcar — monkey bars and hula hoops, pogo sticks and model planes. Next up is a hopper steam train dream train illustration tom lichtenheldcar, being filled to the brim with bouncy balls of all shapes and sizes. Brilliant colors of paint are being squirted into tankers by some merry purple elephants. On and on it goes, until the train is crammed with all the stuff that dreams are made of.

Now the train slowly chugs out of the station, while the crew peacefully slumbers. It’s a stream train, dream train. Goodnight.

This is a wonderfully imaginative goodnight book, with each page swathed in cobalts and dusky purples as well as every yummy, amusing thing a child could want in her dreams. Lichtenheld’s deep, jewel-toned illustrations are chock full of playful details, rendered in wax oil pastels which yield a lovely soft texture. Older readers will enjoy the clever pairings of crew-and-load, such as the tortoises loading the race cars onto the autorack.

I could well imagine this becoming a worn favorite for many children. Ages 2-3 and up.

claude monet the painter who stopped the trains cover imageClaude Monet: The Painter Who Stopped the Trains, by P.I. Maltbie, illustrated by Jos. A. Smith

So many Monet titles focus on his seascapes or his work in Giverny. Here’s a fascinating peek at his paintings of quite a different subject — the Gare Saint-Lazare.

In the 1870s, trains were a thrilling, sensationally-fast mode of transportation, while Claude Monet’s new-fangled Impressionist paintings were earning mainly sneers from the critics. Perhaps, Monet thought, he could capture his audience’s enthusiasm by painting clouds of steam from a train, rather than banks of fog by the sea.

Traveling to Paris, Monet tackled his subject as he had others — creating numerous

The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train by Claude Monet

The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train by Claude Monet

paintings of the same place, showing different moments in time, differing effects of light and steam. To do this he needed the trains to hold still, to delay their departures even. Monet chatted with the stationmaster and received his permission. For months, despite the grumbling of disgruntled travelers, Monet worked furiously in the train station at Saint-Lazare.

The results were just as he hoped: sensational! Émile Zola remarked that Monet had found “the poetry in train stations,” and the entire series was snatched up by an important art dealer.

P.I. Maltbie’s account is pleasant, upbeat, accessible to children ages 5 and up, yet loaded with interesting information about Monet’s work that will captivate older readers. Using Monet’s 9-year-old son Jean in the storyline adds a lovely, narrative sense to the book. Jos A. Smith’s absorbing watercolor illustrations add warm cheer, as well as delightful period detail. Monet and the stationmaster both exude tremendously likeable natures.

A lengthy Author’s Note fills in some detail, and be sure to read the Artist’s Note as well to find some fun surprises in his illustrations. Also listed are museums where you can view Monet originals, and a nice bibliography.

here comes the train cover imageHere Comes the Train, written and illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Ahhhh… Charlotte Voake writes and illustrates such incredibly charming stories, making the ordinary, exquisite.

It’s Saturday, which means Dad, little William, and big sister Chloe are out for a bike ride. They’re headed to a footbridge that crosses high above the railroad tracks, and here they stop…and wait…and watch…and listen…for the train.

Others gradually join them there with assorted strollers and dogs, hoping, hoping here comes the train illustration charlotte voakefor a train to appear. And when it does:

Sparks! Noise! Mad waving! Rushing wind! Rumbling, rattling, shaking. Whoopeee!!!

Then, everything goes quiet again, and it’s time to wait…for the next one.

That’s it. Just a tiny episode. But this is what childhood memories are made of. Such odd little everyday details are brought up and cherished by our children when they’re grown. The routines, the slow, ordinary, together times. Voake is brilliant at encapsulating the magic of these moments. Very few words, and pages flooded with simplicity, happiness, gentleness, ordinariness. Mesmerizing.

I’ve loved this book since my kids were little. I’m sure it’s out of print…but definitely worth looking for, for the youngest lap-sitters. Do yourself a favor — introduce yourself to Ms. Voake and find her other books, too.