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On the Blue Comet Hardcover – September 28, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

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

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Download a discussion guide for "The Blue Comet" [PDF].

Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 730L (What's this?)
  • Series: AWARDS: Black-Eyed Susan Book Awards Grades 4-6 2013
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; First Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076363722X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763637224
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,286,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Born in New York City, Rosemary Wells grew up in a house "filled with books, dogs, and nineteenth-century music." Her childhood years were spent between her parents' home near Red Bank, New Jersey, and her grandmother's rambling stucco house on the Jersey Shore. Most of her sentimental memories, both good and bad, stem from that place and time. Her mother was a dancer in the Russian Ballet, and her father a playwright and actor. Mrs. Wells says, "Both my parents flooded me with books and stories. My grandmother took me on special trips to the theater and museums in New York. "Rosemary Wells's career as an author and illustrator spans more than 30 years and 60 books. She has won numerous awards, and has given readers such unforgettable characters as Max and Ruby, Noisy Nora, and Yoko. She has also given Mother Goose new life in two enormous, definitive editions, published by Candlewick. Wells wrote and illustrated Unfortunately Harriet, her first book with Dial, in 1972. One year later she wrote the popular Noisy Nora. "The children and our home life have inspired, in part, many of my books. Our West Highland white terrier, Angus, had the shape and expressions to become Benjamin and Tulip, Timothy, and all the other animals I have made up for my stories." Her daughters Victoria and Beezoo were constant inspirations, especially for the now famous "Max" board book series. "Simple incidents from childhood are universal," Wells says. "The dynamics between older and younger siblings are common to all families."But not all of Wells' ideas come from within the family circle. Many times when speaking, Mrs. Wells is asked where her ideas come from. She usually answers, "It's a writer's job to have ideas." Sometimes an idea comes from something she reads or hears about, as in the case of her recent book, Mary on Horseback, a story based on the life of Mary Breckenridge, who founded the Frontier Nursing Service. Timothy Goes to School was based on an incident in which her daughter was teased for wearing the wrong clothes to a Christmas concert. Her dogs, west highland terriers, Lucy and Snowy, work their way into her drawings in expression and body position. She admits, "I put into my books all of the things I remember. I am an accomplished eavesdropper in restaurants, trains, and gatherings of any kind. These remembrances are jumbled up and changed because fiction is always more palatable than truth. Memories become more true as they are honed and whittled into characters and stories."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Language: There are a handful of hell's and damn's scattered throughout the book. There are also about 10 expression involving Deity. The words piss and fricking are used and Oscar says, "I learned a few bad words and I strung them all together."

Violence: Oscar's mother is killed in an explosion. Two armed men with guns break into the bank to rob it. They blindfold the watchman and hit him over the head. They shoot their guns and try to catch Oscar but Oscar escapes. The robbers shoot the watchman in the head and in the heart. There is blood everywhere. Oscar remembers the robbery throughout the book, a little more detail each time. Cyril tries to capture Oscar.

Adult Themes: There is smoking and drinking by adults. Oscar (as a child in a young adult body) thinks he could at least ask for a beer. Reference is made to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the war. The stock market crash and the depression that followed are also touched on. Oscar's father loses his job and their house. Oscar has to live with his aunt.

Oscar lives with his Dad in a home in Illinois. Together they enjoy the hobby of putting together model train sets. Then the stock market crashes and Oscar's dad loses his job, their house and their beloved train set. When Oscar's dad leaves in search of work, Oscar is forced to live with his aunt who is a stern and cold lady. Oscar meets a stranger one day who becomes a real friend to him. The stranger teaches him poems and helps him with his math. Then one day Oscar witnesses a horrible crime that begins a series of time-hopping events on train called the Blue Comet.
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Format: Hardcover
I have never read a story by Rosemary Wells before, but when I saw the beautiful cover of ON THE BLUE COMET and read the cover, it was a book that I had to read. I mean it's a time traveling story with trains! The story follows Oscar Ogilvie, an eleven-year-old boy living from 1931 Cairo, IL. The story actually begins a few years earlier. After the tragic death of his mother, Oscar and his father find refuge together in a Lionel toy train set that they build together. The set expands and soon takes up the Ogilvie's basement. Oscar's aunt think's Oscar's dad is insane and is wasting his money, but the father and son both know better. Then the stock market crashes in 1929 and everything changes. Oscar's dad eventually loses his job working for John Deere. They have to sell the house and all the trains. Oscar moves in with his aunt and her daughter and his dad leaves for California to try to find a job with the John Deere plant out there.

Work is scarce and Oscar's dad has a tough time at it first. Meanwhile, Oscar is working on improving his math grades at school. While his aunt and cousin go about their tutoring and speech lessons to wealthier families, Oscar stays at home. One day he meets an older man named Mr. Applegate. Mr. Applegate used to be a mathematics professor at Princeton, but his theories about Einstein and time travel were too advanced for the time. He lost his job and now travels around from place to place looking for work. Mr. Applegate helps Oscar with his math and introduces him to great literature. Mr. Applegate eventually gets hired at the local bank as a night watchman. Weeks before Christmas the bank reveals an impressive lobby display of trains, all of which used to belong to Oscar and his father. Mr.
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Format: Hardcover
As some of the other reviewers mentioned, the gorgeous cover attracted me. I had just seen the Antiques Roadshow episode featuring a Lionel Blue Comet, a train of which I'd never heard before and which fascinated me. So when I saw the blue train on the cover, and read the title, I was already hooked.

The story lived up to the cover. No point in writing a synopsis, since others have already done so, but the time travel elements are very well done, the characterizations are excellent, and I'm left desperately wanting a sequel to find out more about the people about whom I came to care.

An added bonus for adults which will probably pass children by are the references, not necessarily by name, to famous people of the past. I was especially moved by the portrayal of Dutch, who is first seen wearing a Eureka College sweater.

The full-color inside illustrations are also spectacular.
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Format: Hardcover
Plot: Things are going from bad to worse for Oscar Ogilvie. His mother has already died in a freak accident in a fireworks factory, and now his father has lost his job, their home, and most importantly, their beloved train set and must go to California to look for a job, leaving Oscar with his casserole-baking aunt. But worse is yet to come, involving a bank robbery and then Oscar's miraculous escape INTO that same train set, where he travels into the future.
Why I picked it up: Hello? A full length juvenile book written by Rosemary Wells? Wells can take the simplest element of young rabbit and big sister and weave a totally charming and unerringly accurate portrayal of childhood. I thought she might be able to do the same here.
Why I read it: I was in the middle of several other books when this came in, and just started the first couple of pages to taste. Oscar's serious but slightly sardonic voice came through so strongly, against a backdrop of the Depression which was vivid but not maudlin. Wells does a wonderful job of using detail to create reality, and Oscar's voice rang in my ears after I had put the book down, calling me back to it when I tried to finish others higher up on my stack.
Dealing with time travel and trains, this book would be a good one to recommend to fourth and fifth graders. The sci fi element follows to its logical end. There's plenty of danger but a satisfyingly happy ending.
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