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Steam, Smoke, and Steel by Patrick O'Brien
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Steam, Smoke, and Steel

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Steam, Smoke, and Steel by Patrick O'Brien
Paperback $7.95
Jul 01, 2000 | ISBN 9780881069723

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  • Jul 01, 2000 | ISBN 9780881069723 | 5-8 years

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Product Details


A young boy announces his intention to drive a train someday, just like his father. And, as it turns out, just like his grandfather, great-grandmother, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. The boy tells about each relative and each train, traveling through time to create a brief, anecdotal history of American locomotives and railroads. Brightening every page of this well-designed book are watercolor-and-gouache paintings that put each train front and center in a horizontal, double-page spread. Alternating spreads illustrate the text with smaller paintings, which might show the engineers at work, the locomotives in cross-section, or a dramatic scene from a family story. Each picture shows O’Brien’s sure sense of color and line, as well as his clear affection for the subject. In the end, the boy imagines himself as an adult who drives a futuristic train and brings his daughter to see it. A handsome book that offers young American train buffs a glimpse of history and a sense of family.

Beginning with a boy’s description of his father’s job as a locomotive engineer, this book offers a history of railroads through the eyes of the child’s ancestors. From his father’s modern train, complete with computer controls, readers jump back to the boy’s grandfather, who drove a diesel locomotive in the 1960s. They continue back through the years to the youngster’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, one of the first to drive the “brand-new invention called a steam locomotive.” Each section starts with a two-page spread with a large illustration of the train from the time period. Each one sits in the same station and has a different cat for observant eyes to spot. Alternate spreads feature more detailed information about these means of locomotion in the various eras. Technology facts are neatly interwoven with reminiscences from various relatives. Great-great-great-grandfather’s train was held up by Jesse James; great-grandmother was one of the few women who drove a steam locomotive in the 1930s. In a pleasing conclusion, the boy imagines himself as a grown-up engineer, telling his own daughter about driving a futuristic train. The inventive narrative approach presents plenty of fascinating facts about trains of the past. At the same time it conveys a sense of family pride, as well as respect for earlier days. The fictionalized anecdotes give just enough information for children to get a sense of what it might have been like to ride (or drive) a train over the past 150 years.
School Library Journal

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