Friday, December 6, 2013

2014 Contenders: Locomotive, by Brian Floca

Locomotive is another of our Morris Seminar books, and a very good one it is, too. It's by Brian Floca, who has already won two Sibert Honors as author and illustrator of Lightship (2008) and Moonshot (2010), as well as a third for his illustrations for Jan Greenberg and Sandra Johnson's Ballet for Martha (2011). His fascination with transportation continues here, in an evocative free-verse description of a trans-continental railway journey as it was in 1869.

As we've been mentioning in recent days, the strongest nonfiction of the year seems (in our collective opinion) to be concentrated in the picture book section. Locomotive is another title that deserves to be in the mix with Brave Girl, A Splash of Red, and On a Beam of Light. Interestingly, however, I think it's not as good a Newbery candidate as some of the others, because of the relationship between the text and the illustrations.

One of the ways that Floca creates continuity in Locomotive is by putting words that describe sounds in markedly different fonts from the rest of the text. This works beautifully in the context of the book as a whole, but it's a strategy that's more design than pure text. Much the same could be said of Floca's choice to put some of the lines uttered by the railway workers in speech bubbles. The line between text and illustrations gets very blurry in Locomotive, and although that's fine for the Sibert, it makes Newbery consideration highly problematic.

As a book, I like On a Beam of Light a little better than Locomotive, but I recognize that that's essentially an issue of personal taste -- I like science-y subjects, and I prefer Jennifer Berne's understated prose to Floca's whooshing, onomatopoetic poetry -- rather than any kind of pure critical judgement. However, I think On a Beam of Light does objectively fit the Newbery criteria better, mostly because there's simply more left once one removes the illustrations from consideration.

In reality, the Newbery is probably a pipe dream for both books. However, I'm starting to get really, really curious about this year's Sibert results, where Locomotive could easily carry the day.

Published in September by Atheneum.

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