Locomotive is part geography book, part history book and part instruction manual for all things to do with trains. Written and illustrated by Brian Floca, it is a homage to the locomotive which was the height of mid-nineteenth century technology.
It is 1869. you, your mother and a sibling are taking the train out of Omaha, Nebraska to join your father in San Francisco. You learn about the crew and what they do to keep your train running. As the train crosses Nebraska, you get a glimpse out your windows of the Platte River Valley and the Plains beyond. Are you hungry or bored? A “butch” ( a young boy selling books, newspapers and food) comes through your car. You learn how the passengers stay warm and that it is rude to use the “convenience” when the train is sitting at a station. You get off the train for a simple railroad dinner along the way. At the end of the day, a new crew boards and a new engine pulls the train. At night, some people sleep in berths the porters pull from the ceiling. In your car, you try to sleep on your bench seat as best you can.
Out of Cheyenne, Wyoming your train starts climbing up the Rocky Mountains. That requires two engines to pull the train. You see the beautiful rock formations out your window. Near Salt Lake, you reach Promontory Summit; the place where the Union Pacific meets the Central Pacific Railroad and where a golden spike joined the two halves. This is where you change trains. You got here by way of the Union Pacific Railroad. You will finish your journey on the Central Pacific Railroad. On through the high desert to Truckee to start the steep climb over the Sierra Mountains. Up to Donner Pass, through the summit tunnel and down hill from Summit Station to San Francisco, where your father is waiting for you at the station.
All along the route, we learn what each crew member is doing to keep the train moving towards its destination. Each page is beautifully illustrated, not with generic scenery but what you would actually see if you where on the train. This is a book to be poured over. Inside the front cover is a map of your journey and a little about how people traveled before the railroad. Inside the back cover is a primer on steam power. Locomotive is my new favorite picture book. It is a book for kids who think they are too old for picture books. It is a jewel!