7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #350: Featuring Elisha Cooper

h1 September 29th, 2013 by jules

Early sketch

Final art: “…into the night. The moon rises. Wherever the train goes, the moon follows. When the train stops, the moon stops. When the train starts, the moon starts. Sometimes it hides behind a ridge. Then—hello friend—reappears. The train rests in small towns. Passengers off, passengers on. Stars blink in the cold air, lights blink on the horizon, and the Overnight Train pushes into the deep hours of the night…”
(Click to enlarge spread. No, really. You must.)


Anyone else seen Elisha Cooper’s newest picture book, Train (Orchard Books, September 2013)? It’s really something, and it’s been met with a whole heapin’ handful of starred reviews. (Too many to keep up. Just trust me on this.) This is one for the senses, Cooper’s depiction of the sights and sounds and smells of the experience of riding a modern-day train. Readers start out with a red-striped Commuter Train, end with a High-Speed Train, and experience a bright blue Passenger Train, an orange Freight Train, and a dark green Overnight Train in between. We stop at small stations, sit in the cab of an engine, pass valleys of fields, witness the outskirts of a midwestern city, step inside Grand Central Station, head across the Great Plains, enjoy a dining car, watch the moon follow the train, and much more. We see the sights, smell the biscuits (and “grease and rust and burnt toast”), and hear the sounds of the train (“it sounds like the da dum da dum of a beating heart”).

There’s no shortage of children’s books about trains, but this one is exceptional for its lyricism and Cooper’s signature artistic style: Impressionistic, gestural, graceful. He segues from one train to the next without a hiccough. The book’s horizontal format is perfectly suited to the subject matter, and his spot-on pacing and very fluid sense of movement (as well as a text that flows beautifully) make these page turns compelling. As they should be in a book about a train’s forward journey.

And what breathtaking landscapes we’re treated to in this one, as only Cooper can show us. The night-time spread, pictured above, is particularly striking. Best of all, he captures the wonder of trains — and travel in general. It’s a child-like wonder that never for a second talks down to children—Cooper would never do such a thing—making this a book for all ages. But I’ll stop there, ’cause he’s visiting this morning to talk a little bit about that. The wonder, that is.

I thank him for stopping by and sharing artwork and sketches — or, in his words, “mainly paintings as they were happening.” (I have a kind of addiction to seeing Elisha-Cooper sketches.)

* * *

“The drawings taped above my desk…”
(Click to enlarge)

Elisha: I didn’t love trains growing up. My brother had a train set. I didn’t. I spent my time outside on our farm, with my goats, reading or throwing apples at my brother when he came out of the house.

But I loved traveling with my family, and when I was eight we went to England and took the overnight train from London to Edinburgh. We had a tiny sleeping compartment with fold-out beds, and we rushed through the country and the night and woke up to Scotland. This train was awesome.

(Click to enlarge)

When I began talking with my editor at Scholastic about doing a book on trains, I was hesitant. Trains can be so stereotypically boy (I’ve heard there’s some character named Thomas) with their big engines, their mechanical whizbanginess. I never got that. I also have two daughters, and I think my work has been affected by their taste. But then I remembered that train to Scotland—how thrilling it was—and I realized that I could write about trains and also about the excitement we feel when we travel. Broaden the subject. Make the book for boys — and girls. Make trains bigger.

So, I rode trains up and down the eastern corridor and out to Chicago. I rode an overnight train to California. I sat in the dining car and read and watched America slide by outside my window. In the Sierras, we were rear-ended by a freight train. Back in New York, I drew commuters in Grand Central. Then I smushed my sketches together to tell the story of five different trains — commuter, passenger, freight, overnight, high-speed — as they made their way across the country.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

When I wrote the text, I wanted the language to move. Be propulsive, like a train, rolling from one spread to the next (with sentences that jumped by ellipses from one page to the next). And I tried to keep the wonder of travel in mind, that eye-opening transformative thing, how we leave one place and arrive somewhere else and we ourselves have changed along the way.

If there’s something political about the book, I suppose it’s that cars are bad and trains are good. (And we all should be biking anyway.) So, I guess Train is about the love of travel and the good of mass transit. That’s my hope.

That said, there was one time when I was at a rail yard in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, sketching a freight train—massive, mechanical, the engine was an animal—and I remember thinking: Oh, boy. I get it.

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(Click to enlarge slightly)

“My desk in the middle of painting…”
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(Click to enlarge)

Final art: “The train leaves in minutes. Passengers buy tickets and rush across the floor to where the train is humming on its tracks. Conductors look up the platform. They check their watches. One minute. Hats wave, whistles blow. ‘All aboard!’ Not all. A passenger jumps on at the last second. The doors whoosh shut.
The train pulls out of the station…”

(Click to enlarge)

Final art
(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)

Final art: “…across the Great Plains. It rolls past wheat and prairie grasses. Past silos and barbed wire. Past a lone hawk circling under a big western sky. The Freight Train rolls slower than slow. So slow it’s hard to tell it’s moving. As if the train and the clouds above were having a race to see which can go slower. Slow, sloooow.
And like the clouds, the train does not stop…”

(Click to enlarge)

TRAIN. Copyright © 2013 by Elisha Cooper. Published by Orchard Books/Scholastic, New York. All images here are used with permission of Elisha Cooper.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

I like so very much what Elisha wrote that I kinda don’t want to go on and on here. I think I’d rather fade into silence, for my part anyway.

I love this book. A lot.

I will say this, though, about my week: Betsy and I got galleys of our book! It’s very exciting to hold the book in my hands. I hope people like it, those people who are reading galleys now (we had to ask for blurbs — oh, how I hated asking busy, busy people for blurbs, but it had to be done) and everyone who can read it, come April. Understand, getting the galleys now is bittersweet in that Peter isn’t here to see this. I wish he were.

Wait, one more kick: This poem, “Sailing on Lake Superior,” that a friend shared with me just the other day:

Let this suffice; the ease of thinking
it all goes on, whether we’re here
to see it or not. The splashing waves,
the suntipped gulls arcing across
the radiant world.

Ah. I love that.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

15 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #350: Featuring Elisha Cooper”

  1. I have heard of this book, which is unusual for me! I love train travel so this post was a treat today.

    And I just saw kicks #350 at the top of the post. Is it really 350 kicks today, Jules? That seems like so many!

    Congrats on your galley arriving, Jules! I wish Peter were here to share this moment with you and Betsy.

    My kicks:

    1. My sister and her new husband are back from their honeymoon in the USA, and we are loving hearing about their adventures
    2. I got a journal paper submitted that was almost ready to go before Rowan was born a week early
    3. I am enjoying a parents group started by my local community health centre
    4. I successfully caught a huge spider under a jug this morning without squashing any of its legs (often I get nervy about squashing legs at the last minute, shake, and fulfil my fear!)
    5. Rowan continues to thrive and is almost double his (admittedly small) birth weight already
    6. A beautiful storm last week – some welcome rain after weeks of dry weather.
    7. The chickens now get fed later in the mornings but are laying like crazy so I guess they forgive us!

  2. Ooh, thank you Elisha Cooper. I have a student who is crazy about train books. Thanks for showing the sketches leading up to the final art.
    Jules, galleys how exciting and bittersweet. I am sure Peter’s spirit is with you all. I love the phrase “suntipped gulls”
    Emmaco, congrats on getting your paper submitted. So happy to hear about thriving Rowan.
    My kicks:
    1. A wild windy and rainy Saturday and it continues today.
    2. Reading.
    3. Writing.
    4. Breaking Bad finale.
    5. Roses deadheaded in the brief recess of the storm.
    6. Daughters.
    7. Grandgirls.
    Have a great week.

  3. Emmaco, yes, 150! Jump back, huh?

    Congrats on getting the paper submitted, ESPECIALLY before the boot camp that is early motherhood. Good timing, you. (Ever seen, speaking of this post’s subject and parenthood, this book: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780375424557? It’s clearly not a children’s book. Anyway, it’s really, really good. Cover below.)

    So glad Rowan is doing well. I saw his picture on Facebook. He is gorgeous, and he looks so happy, Emmaco!

  4. Oops, passed you in cyberspace, Jone. (Learned yesterday that William Gibson coined that phrase, “cyberspace.” If I knew that before, I’d forgotten.)

    I like wild and windy days. Do you? There’s a word for people who get pumped up by rain — or feel inspiration, that is, and don’t get depressed about it? I read this the other day, but I’ve already forgotten it. (Hello, Mrs. Short Term Memory. “I shouldn’t have stood under that pear tree.” … There’s your SNL reference for the day.)

    Jone, I can’t see the BB finale tonight, ’cause we rent it from iTunes the next day. We don’t have cable. HOWEVER, I wouldn’t put it past me and my husband to get up at 4 a.m. to watch it, ’cause evidently it’s available around that time. I mean, I gotta know what happens. Did you Jesse on SNL last night? (NEW CAST MEMBERS! Long-time SNL Geek here.)

  5. Thanks!!
    My kicks:

    1. Reading The Smartest Kids in the World
    2. Apple Cinnamon Bread
    3. My students are making real progress, which is a huge relief.
    4. Making plans to see my own children for holidays
    5. I have already found and bought my husband’s Christmas present and it’s exactly what he wants!
    6. Steroids for poison ivy means I have limitless energy
    7. Lots and lots of great picture books are spread out on my dining room table, just waiting for me.

    I can’t wait to read the galley. It’s been a long pregnancy and it will be time for delivery soon!

  6. Good morning, Imps! How are you all? I hope you’re enjoying the transition between months and seasons.

    Elisha: Hi there! I love the passage Jules quoted right at the top, especially “Wherever the train goes, the moon follows.” Lovely. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes peeks at the sketches and the story.

    Jules and Betsy: Congrats on getting the galleys! 🙂

    Jules: “Suntipped gulls” – that’s pretty. I said hello to a beautiful seagull yesterday.

    emmaco: Hugs to the munchkin. So glad that he’s thriving. Congrats on your submission! Glad that they had fun in the USA.

    Jone: Sounds like Saturday’s weather was opposite here and there: it was burning hot and barely, rarely breezy yesterday.

    Robin: Enjoy the energy. Sorry for the ivy encounter.

    My kicks for the past week:
    1) Filming on location with a fun-loving cast and crew (and the folks we encountered along the way!)
    2) Film audition
    3) – and subsequent offer
    4) Being busy doing what I love
    5) I am so grateful for the opportunities I was given this week
    6) Showing range
    7) Pushing through

    I have two more auditions today, y’all. Cross your fingers and cross your toes!

  7. Jules missed seeing Jesse because SNL is on too late. Maybe it’s on demand and I can see it. SNL…39 years….wow. I watched the beginning years faithfully.

  8. Robin, that’s good news about kick #3. Well, all your kicks are good, but that’s particularly nice.

    Little Willow: All fingers and toes crossed, and I’m whispering Break a leg…

    Jone, your comment said “Jules” for a while. WordPress is being so weird. I just edited it to change it your name. …. Guess you’re watching the show now?! I think I’ll do the 4 a.m. thing.

  9. I am thrilled with this post today. When I read Train it was such a sensory experience capturing everything I like about this kind of travel. Thank you Elisha. It’s a treasure.

    Jules: I am so excited to read the book. I can’t even begin to imagine how you must have felt seeing those galleys.

    Emmaco: I know what you mean about the storm. It seems we have had so little rain this summer and even this fall.

    Jone: I worked in my gardens for several hours this weekend. Every little bit helps. I’ll bet your roses are beautiful. Some of mine bloomed twice.

    Robin: Apple Cinnamon bread sounds divine.

    Little Willow: Hope the film audition went well. Good luck.

    My kicks:
    1. Trees turning colors
    2. Saturday night rain
    3. New books
    4. Reading new books
    5. Starting to decorate for Halloween
    6. Pumpkins
    7. Longer walks with sweet Xena

  10. Monday morning fly by
    Hello all!
    Glad to read your kicks this beautiful morning and to see this lovely post featuring Elisha.
    Top three kicks this week:
    Good news about sister’s surgery, M.I.C.E., Breaking Bad

  11. So sorry to have missed Kicking with you all yesterday.

    Love the look of this book, and of course really love the prose-poetry of the text. It’s a small thing, but my favorite bit of the wonderful art? The sketch you included as the third image in the post. What’s great about it is that at one level it’s really just a formless, well, blob. But when you look at it for more than a moment it sinks in that it actually depicts a fairly complex moment: a man looking at his watch, somehow communicating impatience, even. Bravo.

    One other thing, re: Breaking Bad… you may have thought you saw the finale. It turns out that there’s a deeper back story to the episode; luckily, The Onion is always happy to share.

    Have a great week, all!

  12. Margie: Enjoy those walks and all the new books. Any new favorites?

    Moira: Glad you got good surgery news!

    John: Hee. I was just going to comment and share a New Yorker piece I just read, but I don’t want to give away spoilers. (Yes, I woke up at 4 a.m. to watch it. I’d not do that for any other show.)

  13. [whispering] We’ve never watched a single episode. [/whispering]

    I know, I know… I think I myself am just about ready to give up on cable + satellite, and go strictly to streaming — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Plus, and a gazillion specialty channels like Fandor, BBC, PBS. There’s just SO MUCH TO WATCH. I’m already in a state of despair at the start of the “regular TV” season, watching the DVR’s “disk full” progress meter climbing, and climbing…


  15. […] check out a brief interview with Cooper and lots of photos of his sketches and illustrations here).  This one, too, deserves a Highly Recommended.  (Orchard Books, […]

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