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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal


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?

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m still waiting for my hold on this title to come through, but it’d have to be a pretty special nonfiction picture book text to make me think it’s better than BRAVE GIRL.

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m attending Judy Freeman’s “What’s New in Children’s Literature” seminar and had a chance to grab this from the table and read it. I admire the book, more for the art than for the text, and I still find BRAVE GIRL to be my top nonfiction picture book text. Maybe I’ll have to post on this one later . . . We had a half dozen people nominate this one. Hopefully, some of them will step up and help us appreciate this text better. :-)

  3. More than any other book this year LOCOMOTIVE uses text like motion. Not just in onomatopoeia but the rhythm on each page propels the narrative and trip.(I wish I hadn’t handed off our copy this morning so I could cite an example) I agree the pictures are equally distinguished but the text is so evocative of the setting and action. As a read aloud it is long for a picture book but held my students captive. (Also, one of the illustrations, chimney rock, towered over my home town of Green River, Wyoming. So obviously it is most distinguished.)

    • ^ This. The text evokes the rhythm of the journey, with it’s stops and starts and the motion in between. And, within that wonderful rhythm, Floca packs in a lot of information about the transcontinental railroad and the journey the family makes. He made very good use of free verse to construct a narrative that fits the type of journey the passengers and the workers were making (and that is an important point – he uses the free verse form to create multivalent narrative points of view).

      Granted, I was raised by a train buff so I’m partial to the material at hand. Both my first and last name are railroad lines. :)

    • And by Chimney Rock, I of course meant Castle Rock. My students loved that they had recognized so many of the landmarks. (Which I’m sure the Newbery committee will take into heavy consideration, I’m sure.)

  4. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    My sense is that the overwhelming strength in the text is in the rhythm and sound; however, when it gets to the actual storytelling, or history telling, I found the text fine…just not stellar. This is an ambitious book, and does so many different things….as an overall package I’d expect to see this on some best-of-the-year lists, but just not sure I see it as a Newbery.

  5. I agree with all of you, actually – love the motion in the lyrical text, but as lovely as it is I don’t think it is nearly as strong as so many other books based on the Newbery criteria. Definitely one of my favorite all-around books of this year, though.

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