Locomotive – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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I recently participated in one of children’s literature historian, Leonard Marcus’ literary tours in New York, where among other delightful people, I met author-illustrator, Brian Floca. I was impressed with his knowledge of children’s book publishing and immediately went home to check out if I already knew some of his work. I discovered that he had illustrated one of my favorite chapter book series, Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, but I hadn’t read any of Brian’s works in which he was both author and illustrator. I needed to rectify this and was thrilled to discover LOCOMOTIVE on the drydenbk’s shelves when cat-sitting a couple of weeks ago.

locTitle: Locomotive

Author & Illustrator: Brian Floca

Publisher: Athenium Books for Young Readers, July, 2013

Age: 4-11+

Pages: 64

Themes: Steam locomotives, US transcontinental railroad, travel

Genre: Nonfiction

Opening Lines:

HERE IS A ROAD                                                                                                            made for crossing the country,                                                                                                a new road of rails                                                                                                              made for people to ride.


On July 1st 1862, during the civil war, Abraham Lincoln signs a law enabling the Central Pacific Railroad Company to build a railroad east from California. The Union Pacific Railroad Company is created to build westward from Nebraska. They are given state aid and 12 years to complete this humungous task! The construction is completed 5 years ahead of schedule and this beautiful book follows some of the first travelers along this railroad track.

Immersed in phenomenal historical and physical detail, 64 pages of dreams, determination and facts shunt the reader eagerly from page to page into the feat of this railroad and the thrill of these early journeys. This is the recreation of an era and accomplishment that will beckon to lovers of history, locomotives, and journeys. The reader travels in the compartments with the passengers, into the railroad restaurants, sweating with the fireman and engineer as they check the steam pressure, watching on tenderhooks as the switchman changes the pin connecting up a fresh machine. The different terrain is evoked through text and pictures from the dust basins of the great plains, the deserts, through the spruce and pines of the Sierra Nevada to Sacramento Calfiornia.

Why I like this book:

If you look at the lengthy list of sources at the back of this book, you start to imagine the hours of research and editing that went into  its creation. I pored over it for a weekend before beginning my review. It is rich with facts yet light in language and movement. It engages all the senses with: the onomatopoeia, varied font-choice and size, poetic language, scientific detail, expansive travel scenes etc I found myself sharing in: the excitement of these first train travelers, the pride of the hoggers’ locomotives, the hiss of the steam and heat of the fire, the beauty of these landscapes being opened up to so many, the amazement of the speed (a journey which used to take weeks by ship or wagon reduced to five days!) I learnt so many facts about steam locomotion, that I truly soared and chugged with this fabulous creation. The illustrations begin with the chinese laborers who helped build the railroad and end with an 1870’s scene of the harbor in San Francisco with visual splendor on each one of the 62 pages in between!

The two end pages contain more information than most picture books in their entirety. I have always wished I’d lived in the time of horses and wagons, now I would like to be transported to the time of locomotive innovation. LOCOMOTIVE will have an appeal way beyond the nerdy train-lovers. Narrative nonfiction at its best, this is not only the sort of picture book that common core enthusiasts and teachers will gobble up, but this is the sort of picture book I would leave on my coffee table for adults to browse through! So much WOW in one book! I hope to see Locomotive on some award lists next year!


Taken from Bria Floca’s website: Locomotive Teaching resources for Locomotive from Simon & Schuster are here. These include a (Common Core-friendly) curriculum guide. The direct link for that guide (in PDF form) is here.

A review and a collection of links, resources, teaching ideas, and other relevant titles is on the blog The Classroom Bookshelf, in a post by Erika Thulin Dawes, here.

Visit a train yourself! Click here to download “Ride This Train!”— a PDF from Trains magazine listing tourist railroad destinations across the U.S. More Locomotive material coming soon.

Brian has been on tour promoting locomotive this fall and has still a number of locations he is visiting in November. Please see here for details.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

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19 Responses to Locomotive – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Carol Munro says:

    I LOVE this book. LOVE it! It’s been nominated for a Cybils. (Meet you in the restaurant, Joanna. I’ll buy you some “chicken.”)

  2. While I haven’t read this particular one of Brian’s books, I am familiar with his work. He is very talented and his work is engaging. Locomotive sounds really well done. And what an exciting opportunity, taking the tour. Congratulations!

    • Joanna says:

      I want to own a copy of Locomotive, it is truly splendid! Leonard does other New York tours, too, so if you ever get a chance, I highly recommend them, Joanna!

  3. Miranda Paul says:

    Love this book! And yes, hours of research. Thank you for sharing all of those resources, too!

  4. I saw this book and briefly scanned it. It is beautiful and I really enjoyed your very thorough and thoughtful review. This will be a favorite of children who love trains and perhaps a collector’s item for adult train enthusiasts. I know many.

    My great-grandfather was the architect for designing the bridges for the B&O Railroad in the late 1800s-1900s.

    • Joanna says:

      Pat, I think that even kids who aren’t train buffs will love the details and journey, here.

      Wow. LOVE knowing about your granddad!

  5. I haven’t seen this, but now I want to! I loved his work in “Moonshot.”

  6. Sounds super, Joanna! I think non-fic books like this are going to become a lot more popular especially if these fabulous illustrators are involved.

  7. This book sounds wonderful! I love the sound of locomotives (in movies — today’s trains aren’t as exciting-sounding as old-fashioned steam locomotives).

    You’re already starting to get your wish for Locomotive to garner lots of awards — I just saw it listed in the New York Times list of 10 Best Illustrated Books of 2013.

  8. What beautiful illustrations! This is another gem in the mine of historic picture books. I need to check this one out as well. Thanks Joanna!

  9. Sounds like a fun nonfiction story! I like the cover – pretty detailed! 😀

  10. Joanna, you are right…this book looks like it has the ‘WOW’ factor…I’d love to pick up a copy for my 8-year old twin grandchildren…my oldest son (their dad) did an extensive high school paper on this exact subject and I know he would really enjoy seeing that info in a children’s book. It sounds like fascinating reading…I’d LOVE to take a train across part of the country. The only trains I have familiarity with are those in the NYC subway system. 🙁

    Wonderful review, Joanna…and super activity and resource list!

  11. This is indeed a gorgeous book and perfect for PPBF. There are so many curriculum connections as well as incredible, inspirational art.

  12. Rhythm says:

    This does look like a WOW book! I’ll have to be checking this out. Thanks for such an in depth review.

  13. Beautiful looking book. My nephews would love this! Thanks, Joanna.

  14. Wow! How much information must be packed into this book! And I LOVE that cover! Thanks for sharing this one, Joanna!

  15. Pingback: Locomotive – Perfect Picture Book Friday – Redux | Jilanne Hoffmann

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