(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.)
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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.
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.
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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The train pulls out of the station…”
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(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)
And like the clouds, the train does not stop…”
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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.
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?