Brian Floca’s homage to the locomotive follows the same format as his acclaimed MOONSHOT, presenting a fully involving work textually and visually that becomes a challenge to dissect from a Newbery perspective.
The large, square picture book format and long-ish length suits the subject: one family’s trip from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento , CA, by train in 1869. The short-lined text has a sometimes sing-song, certainly poetic voice that allows Floca to get in plenty of train sounds and rhythms, and where they can these sound words depart from the text body into the illustration, giving that sense of reverberating through a body. Plenty of specific detail about the train itself will absorb the train-obsessed audience, and this detail is carefully interspersed with more contemplative observations of the scenery, and dips into the history of the rails–both what they achieved and what they destroyed (though the latter is really on hinted at gently in the main text; and delved into more fully in the end note). All of this is intertwined with Floca’s illustration that span from cartoony-documentary spots to full-spread breathtakers. The visual (both illustration and design) here feels like the platform for the text, which despite lulls and occasional gaps in attention really is lively as the ride.
Can I strip just the text from the experience of this book and hold it up against our other contenders? It’s very hard. I’m reminded of our discussion of Allen Say’s DRAWING FROM MEMORY...where what happens to-the reader in the book can’t also be assigned casuality to either the text or the visual, but rather how they work together. I feel like I can more easily separate out experience of text, illustration, and the combination, in a more classically formatted picture book like IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE, or a more obviously designed graphic novel like BOXERS or PRIMATES. Anyone want to help me with this one?