A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Locomotive is a beautifully illustrated picture book by Brian Floca (Moonshot, Lightship) that shows kids what it was like to cross the United States on a steam train in 1869, just after the transcontinental railroad was built. With you-are-there excitement, readers follow a family's journey and learn all about steam trains and the building of "a road made for crossing the country, a new road of rails made for people to ride." Locomotive is poetic, thrilling, meticulously researched and ultra-informative -- great for home or the classroom, train fans, history buffs, Wild West lovers, or anyone who enjoys finding out fascinating facts.
What's the story?
Three members of a family -- mother, daughter, and younger brother -- board a steam train in Omaha, Neb., in 1869 for a ride on the just-built transcontinental railroad, headed for Sacramento, Calif., where they'll join Dad and continue to San Francisco to start a new life. All the sights and sounds are new to them, just as many of the facts about how the tracks and mountain tunnels were built, the multiethnic crews that built them, and the operation of steam trains may be new to young readers.
Is it any good?
LOCOMOTIVE is a visually dazzling, poetically written, impressively informative picture book. It gives a comprehensive account of what it was like to cross the United States by train in the late 1800s, and is filled with historical facts and detailed watercolor illustrations of everything from how wood and coal fueled the steam engines to how the on-board toilet flushed to what narrow, rickety wooden bridges looked like across steep canyons in the Wild West. Yet by focusing on one family's journey, it becomes a thrilling, relatable human adventure rather than dry textbook material about a long-gone technology. Author-illustrator Brian Floca provides plenty of historical context to underscore what a revelation transcontinental travel was for the people of that era.
In an earth-toned, pastel palette, Floca effectively varies long shots and closeups and uses large-type, all-capital letters for phrases like, "ALL ABOARD!," "FULL STEAM AHEAD!," and the steam whistle's "lonesome cry," "WHOOOOOOO! WHOOOOO! WHOO," to help build excitement. End papers offer a time line and a map of the transcontinental railroad as well as a diagram and explanation of how steam power works. A long Author's Note gives more information, followed by a list of sources for further research.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about trains. Why are toy train and train stories so popular with kids? What other train stories have you read or seen in movies or on TV?
What are some of the things you learned about steam trains and train travel in the 1800s from Locomotive?
How is train travel different today from it was in the late 1800s, when Locomotive takes place?
- Author: Brian Floca
- Illustrator: Brian Floca
- Genre: Picture Book
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, History, Trains
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Atheneum
- Publication date: September 3, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 4 - 10
- Number of pages: 64
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: ALA Best and Notable Books, Caldecott Medal and Honors
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.