Saturday, March 10, 2012

On the Blue Comet

On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells.  Candlewick, 2010.

On the Blue Comet was a pure joy to read.  My childhood memory of pressing my cheek against the train board to gain a eye/ground level view of the trains was echoed in this story.   The story's main character, eleven year old, Oscar Ogilvie is a kindred spirit as he performs the same ritual. We both were trying to imagine ourselves into the small world of the trains.

When I was a child, we had a model train set up.  We did not have a basement but my father designed a over-sized folding platform for our HO model trains which included a train we had actually ridden on, the Santa Fe Railway Super Chief.

Wells sets her story during Great Depression. Oscar and his father share a love of model trains and they have an elaborate set up in the basement of their house.  Each year they add to their collection but the hard economic times have put a stop to that.  In fact, things are so bad that they must sell the train set to the local bank manager who uses the trains as a display in the bank lobby.  Oscar's father leaves to look for work in California, promising to send for Oscar when he finds some.  The kindly night watchman at the bank allows Oscar to visit and run the trains after the bank closes.  One night the lobby is invaded by bank robbers and Oscar escapes into time and an unlikely landscape.

This story mixes history, time travel, and fantasy along with cameo appearances by some famous people in history.  A great deal of the reading fun was identifying the people Oscar comes in contact with. 

Bagram Ibatoulline has contributed glowing paintings that have been meticulously researched.  Period fashion and architecture are reflected in illustrations which allow the reader to reach back in time too.

The book reminds me of how much model trains added to our childhoods. We learned -- hands-on --about electricity, direct current, transformers as well as trouble-shooting, patience and craftsmanship. 

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