Thursday, November 09, 2006

I dream of trains

by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long. This is a story of a boy who loves trains. He lives at the turn of the century with his share cropping family on the Mississippi Delta. He dreams of his hero “Casey” Jones, a famous engineer who drove the Illinois Central’s Cannonball between Mississippi and Tennessee. In April of 1900 Casey Jones, a white man, crashed his train on a dark and stormy night and died. He became a hero by saving the life of his Black fireman Sim, blowing the whistle and pulling the brake while telling Sim to jump to safety as the train ran out of control.

Life as a share cropper is hard work for the boy in this story and his family, and he dreams of getting on a train and going out “over the mountains, past the desert, and to the ocean”. When his dad tells him of the world waiting for him to explore, he knows another hero walks with him. Listening to the whistle of trains as they work the fields, he dreams of the life ahead of him. The illustrations are poignant and filled with muted colors. The light gathers on the faces and the horizon, portraying the hope that fills this story. At the back of the book there is a note telling that indeed Casey Jones was a real hero and many of the share cropping families along his route listened to his whistle and longed for more opportunities in the world. It says “Casey’s life and death became the stuff of songs and stories for the black rail workers who worked on the IC Line. It was one of those workers, Wallace Saunders, who authored the ballad that is still sung in countless versions to this day.” This is a beautiful book passing on to us the legend of the train man Casey Jones.

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