From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7–An engaging story of the magic of trains and time travel. Oscar Ogilvie, 11, lives with his dad in Cairo, IL. They share a love for model trains, particularly exact replicas of existing trains. After the Crash of 1929, Oscar's dad loses his job and their house, including the model trains, and leaves for California to look for work. Lonely and sad, Oliver is left in the care of his dour Aunt Carmen. Pining for the trains and the connection to his father that they represent, he visits the Blue Comet in the basement of the First National Bank on Christmas Eve. Harold Applegate, a homeless man Oscar has befriended, is the night watchman. He explains the theory of negative velocity, or time pockets, to Oscar. When armed robbers break into the bank, Harold tells Oscar to jump into the model train set, and the boy is catapulted into an adventure that carries him from coast to coast and across time from 1931 to 1941 as he searches for his dad. His meeting with real people from the time, including Ronald Regan ("Dutch"), Alfred Hitchcock, Nelson Rockefeller, and Joe Kennedy, adds some humor, although today's kids might not recognize the names. Wells aptly portrays the magic of the model trains and of a young man's quest. She blends just enough hyperbolic elements to give the story the feel of a tall tale. Ibatoulline's precisely drawn, intricately detailed illustrations, some full page and others spreads, are stunning, and all are in full color. They enhance the 1930s setting and perfectly capture the nostalgic, wistful tone of the narrative. The sheer beauty of this winning book will attract many readers; the magic of the story and its likable protagonist will hook them.Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
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Eleven-year-old Oscar’s life is disrupted when the stock market crash of 1929 forces his father to leave Illinois to find work in California. It’s a devastating loss exacerbated by the selling off of their beloved train set. Then Oscar meets a mysterious stranger named Mr. Applegate, and their intersection with a bank robbery creates a mystical moment in which Oscar escapes harm by somehow leaping into a model train. He is whisked off to California—but when he gets there, he is 21 years old. Helped by his similarly aged father, Alfred Hitchcock, and Joan Crawford’s maid (seriously!), Oscar makes another magical journey, only this time he overshoots home and ends up 6 years old in New York. The plot’s Twilight Zone potential—the intriguing concept of a spectral train providing haven for unhappy children—is not thoroughly plumbed, and one wonders at the appeal of such a retro story. Hopefully, though, readers will be all-aboard this pleasing diversion. Ibatoulline’s Rockwellian illustrations match the squeaky-clean text (even the word damned is bleeped). Grades 5-8. --Daniel Kraus