I Dream of Trains


Papa says
it's the sound of leaving
that speaks to my soul...

The poignant words of two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Angela Johnson and striking images from fine artist Loren Long join forces in this heartbreaking yet uplifting picture book about a boy, his love for trains, and his adulation of one legendary engineer.
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Papa says
it's the sound of leaving
that speaks to my soul...

The poignant words of two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Angela Johnson and striking images from fine artist Loren Long join forces in this heartbreaking yet uplifting picture book about a boy, his love for trains, and his adulation of one legendary engineer.
It's the story of a hero lost and a hero discovered, of a dream crushed then reawakened, but mostly it is a story of the force that sustains the human spirit — hope.

The son of a sharecropper dreams of leaving Mississippi on a train with the legendary engineer Casey Jones.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
MacArthur Award winner Johnson (Heaven; Toning the Sweep) pens a reverie as piercing and poignant as the long cry of a train whistle against debut artist Long's breathtaking backdrops. As the African-American boy narrator toils in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, he hears a train speed past with the legendary engineer Casey Jones at the controls. Transported, he imagines sitting beside his hero in the cab of the 382 train "as the engine carries us past the delta and across the plains./ Over the mountains, past the desert and to the ocean-far away from here." Johnson's words, melodic and introspective, evoke the boy's longing for a better life ("Short days, cold days,/ turn back into long, warm planting days,/ / I still stare at the tracks and wait for Casey and his/ engine to come flying past the fields/ and dream me away"). Landscapes of purple mountains, stretches of aqua seas, rivers and rolling farmland are all connected by the tracks Casey travels. Long plays with perspective, using aerial views as the boy soars above his life in his daydreams (he crosses the Mississippi on a bridge of railroad ties, the shadow of his imagined hero beside him) and intimate close-ups as the boy returns to the reality of his life. Casey's massive, almost ghostly train becomes a powerful symbol; the train wreck that kills the famous conductor on April 30, 1900, screeches with drama. "Does that mean it's over?" the devastated boy asks his father. Johnson reassures young readers, through the father's reply, that dreams can still take wing. When the boy imagines boarding a train to leave his home, years hence, he says: "I will... remember as I roll away/ what Papa said about Casey/ and his soul-speaking whistles/ and my place in the big wide world." This theme of hope born of aching loss, and the ability of dreams to uplift and transform, speaks to every child who has ever had a hero. Ages 5-7. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Our young narrator, thinks about Casey Jones while picking cotton in the Mississippi heat, listening for the whistle as he dreams about trains. In his mind he rides the engine with Casey across the miles. Johnson's poetic prose depicts the dreams that lift his life. With his papa, the boy visits the scene of Casey's famous wreck. Through daily drudgery his father encourages him to see "the big wide world" beyond some day. He knows he will leave, but he will remember. Long supplies a visual tone poem with his double-page paintings. These are dramatic, theatrical settings. Some are close-ups of the characters but others are more panoramic, describing wooded landscapes and the humans playing their parts. Muted colors, many dark scenes, sculptural shapes all help create a visual spirituality. A note fills in historic background, including the fact important to blacks at the time that Casey worked side by side with black Sam Webb, whom he told to jump before the crash. 2003, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Ages 5 to 8.
— Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-This powerfully illustrated picture book looks at legendary engineer Casey Jones through the eyes of a fictional black child who toils in a cotton field near the railroad tracks. In low, reverential tones, the text speaks both of the folk hero's mystique and the narrator's eagerness to experience Casey's big world. The man's status as a pioneering symbol of harmonious race relations appears within the story and in an eloquent epilogue suitable for older readers. Johnson's treatment of Casey's tragic, heroic death is particularly respectful and moving. Long's moody acrylic paintings, mainly in subdued tones, are a sterling accompaniment to the book's provocative prose.-Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this poetic reverie, a sharecropper’s son dreams of riding with Casey Jones and his fireman Sim Webb. The whistle of passing trains stirs something in the child: "Papa says it’s the sound of leaving that speaks to my soul." In Long’s stately paintings, done in dark browns and golds, Casey and Sim stand heroically, their oversized steam engine hurtles past like a storm cloud to its tragic end, and the child, always with an inward look, moves with his equally heroic father from cotton fields, through seasons, to an eventual, long-wished-for farewell on a train platform. In her afterword, Johnson suggests a link between the trains that Jones and his fellow engineers drove through the Mississippi Delta at the turn of the 20th century and the urge to go that sparked the Great Migration. Perhaps--but the dream of boarding a train to find one’s "place in the big wide world" is one that echoes through every generation. (Picture book. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689826092
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 630,911
  • Age range: 5 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.60 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Angela Johnson has won three Coretta Scott King Awards, one each for her novels The First Part Last, Heaven, and Toning the Sweep. The First Part Last was also the recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award. She is also the author of the novels Looking for Red and A Certain October. Her books for younger readers include the Coretta Scott King Honor Book When I Am Old with You, illustrated by David Soman; Wind Flyers and I Dream of Trains, both illustrated by Loren Long; and Lottie Paris Lives Here and its sequel Lottie Paris and the Best Place, both illustrated by Scott M. Fischer. Additional picture books include A Sweet Smell of Roses, Just Like Josh Gibson, The Day Ray Got Away, and All Different Now. In recognition of her outstanding talent, Angela was named a 2003 MacArthur Fellow. She lives in Kent, Ohio. Visit her at AJohnsonAuthor.com.

Loren Long illustrated President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing; the newest version of The Little Engine that Could; Madonna’s second picture book, Mr. Peabody’s Apples; Nightsong by Ari Berk; and the Barnstormers series. He also illustrated Frank McCourt’s Angela and the Baby Jesus and is part of the Design Garage for Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown series. Loren’s work has appeared in Time, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. He lives with his wife and two sons in Westchester, Ohio. Visit him at LorenLong.com.

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