IRON HORSES by Verla Kay


Age Range: 4 - 9
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Kay and McCurdy create a wonder-working setting for their book on the story behind the first transcontinental rail line. Words and image are of equal dramatic value, with McCurdy using his signature scratchboard illustrations washed in color, and Kay picking and choosing her words with such care that every one of them sparkles. The story of the building of the railroad long ago entered the national mythology, so has the stature to wear well this handsome literary coat. As in Gold Fever (1998), Kay provides a verse for every page, bone-clean couplets that drive the story forward: “Survey parties,/Canvas tents./Levels, transits--/Measurements.” The blasting of the tunnels is called forth, the erecting of trestles, the Irish and the Chinese, and “Black clouds scuttle,/Billow high./Lightning crackles,/Splitting sky.” Railroad barons and politicians lurk in the background, not necessarily sinister, but certainly not as beguiling as the people laying the rails. An author’s note makes clear the momentousness of the joining of the lines, which has the ring of a miracle even to modern readers: Crossing the continent went from a journey of six months to a trip of six days. (map) (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-399-23119-6
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999