Running with Trains: A Novel in Poetry and Two Voices

Overview

Is the grass greener on the other side of the train window? Even a brief brush with a stranger can change our lives. It’s 1970, and Perry feels adrift in turbulent times: his father is missing in action in Vietnam, his mother is studying to become a nurse in the city, his older sister has become a peacenik in college. Traveling between his hometown, where he lives with his grandmother, and his mother’s house in Cincinnati, Perry notices Steve, whose farm lies on the B&O railroad line. Steve likes to race the ...

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Overview

Is the grass greener on the other side of the train window? Even a brief brush with a stranger can change our lives. It’s 1970, and Perry feels adrift in turbulent times: his father is missing in action in Vietnam, his mother is studying to become a nurse in the city, his older sister has become a peacenik in college. Traveling between his hometown, where he lives with his grandmother, and his mother’s house in Cincinnati, Perry notices Steve, whose farm lies on the B&O railroad line. Steve likes to race the train as it blows by his fields; Steve skillfully sends his collie after an escaped cow; Steve watches the Cincinnatian, longing for its speed, longing for adventure. In alternating voices, Michael J. Rosen’s poems weave a tale of two boys—one wishing for the stability of home, the other yearning to travel—and the unexpected impact of their fleeting encounter.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This understated novel from Rosen (The Hound Dog’s Haiku) is composed of alternating poems written from the perspectives of two boys whose lives briefly intersect. The year is 1969, and 13-year-old Perry travels via train between his grandparents’ houses in Cincinnati and Wapakoneta, Ohio. In his notebook, he reflects on his father, who is missing in Vietnam; writes to his sister, Annie; and struggles with feelings of rootlessness: “What’s home to me since I have two homes now/ (one with Mom and Grandpa, one with Gran),/ two closets of clothes, two desks,/ two beds where I sleep, two dogs.” Nine-year-old Steve, weighed down by chores, is both fascinated and a little intimidated by the larger world outside his family’s farm (“With luck, one day/ I’ll ride the train—the whole route—/ not just dream it”). Rosen’s poetry, mostly blank verse, circles contemplatively around themes of powerlessness, longing, and growing up. The novel travels at a satisfying hum, though Steve and Perry’s quiet reflections have a restraint at times too timid to leave a lasting impression. Ages 10–up. Agent: Ruben Pfeffer, East West Literary. (June)
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
This haunting novel in poems, set in 1969, alternates between contemplative Perry, 13, and curious Steve, 9. Perry travels through the Ohio countryside every Friday from his grandmother's house to spend the weekend with his mother, who is working on a nursing degree; his father is missing in action in Vietnam. Along the way, he notices a younger boy with a collie and cows. Perry wishes he could stay put, like Steve, and be part of a stable environment. But for Steve, the train symbolizes adventure and change, and he yearns to see what's beyond the routines of farm life. The odds seem against their ever meeting but even as the novel's climactic moment (complete with cows!) draws near, Michael Rosen skillfully uses different poetic forms, including prose poems and blank verse, to explore the times and the boys' emotions. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—It is 1969. Thirteen-year-old Perry's father is MIA in Vietnam. Nine-year-old Steve is stuck working on the family farm. Each week Perry rides the Cincinnatian across rural Ohio from his grandmother's house to visit his mother, who is away trying to earn a nursing degree, and contemplates his transient life. Steve dreams of escaping the routine of farm life. Their lives briefly intersect throughout the book as they catch glimpses of one another through the train window and imagine how much greener the grass must be in the other's experience. The result is an introspective, quiet portrait of two boys on the brink of young adulthood. The tumultuous era in which their tale is set enters into the picture periodically, most frequently in the form of references to Perry's father and his absent, hippie sister, and sets a fitting backdrop for the boys' inner unrest. Rosen delivers well-crafted verse and plays with a few different poetic forms to paint a vivid portrait of the Ohio landscape, but as the plot ultimately goes little further than that described above, the book will likely struggle to find an audience.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
The differing worlds of two boys come together in this intriguing novel in poems set in rural Ohio. Rosen, a talented poet with a penchant for haiku (The Hound Dog's Haiku, 2011, etc.), here stretches in a more narrative form to show a slightly older crowd that the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. The story begins as 13-year-old Perry makes the train trip from his grandmother's for his weekly visit with his mother. Captured by the farm landscape flying by his window, Perry notes that "Nothing's for keeps," and longs for more permanence in what feels like a very transitory life. He is waiting for his father, missing in action in Vietnam, to return; for his sister, who's left the fold to promote world peace, to respond to his letters; for his mother to finish nursing school so they can resume the life they knew prior to his father's going to war. Watching that same train, whose tracks bisect his family's farm, is 9-year-old Steve, who feels trapped by the constancy of his doting parents and farm chores and wishes he could ride that train to exotic locales, recognizing all the while, though, that "coming home has to be a part / of going away." Cows straying from Steve's pasture bring the two boys together briefly for a reality check, but mostly the novel's poems alternate between the voices of these young foils, adding a refreshing immediacy to their intimate reflections on home life and the nature of happiness. A thoughtful, beautifully image-laden tale of learning how to appreciate what one has. (Poetry. 11 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590788639
  • Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2012
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 1,440,872
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 960L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael J. Rosen earned an MFA in poetry from Columbia University. His many books for children include The Cuckoo's Haiku, which was a Kirkus Best Book, a VOYA Poetry Pick of 2009, and was named to the NCTE's list of 20 Notable Books of Poetry of 2009. He lives in Glenford, Ohio.

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