Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the Blue Comet

The cover caught my eye, but the book did not meet my expectations.  On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells is a time travel fantasy for kids age 8 to 12.  The story is about Oscar Ogilvie, who lives with his father in Cairo, Illinois.  They collect model trains and run them in the basement of their home.  When the stock market crash forces Oscar's dad to move to California to look for work, Oscar stays behind with his aunt.  His loneliness is assuaged by a mysterious drifter who befriends him.  Then Oscar witnesses a violent crime that catapults him into a time-traveling train journey to find his father.

Growing up, my grandfather allowed me to play with his Lionel trains.  Consequently, I related to many parts of the book.  But I also kept wondering for whom Rosemary Wells wrote.  Many of her historic references (Life magazine, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, etc.)  will be lost on and uninteresting to today's young readers.  I found the time travel weakly developed and even confusing, especially in chapter 17.

BooksForKidsBlog and School Library Journal both like and recommend the book.  Reading from a kid's point of view, I maintain it won't be popular with young readers.  I agree with Daniel Kraus, writing for Booklist, "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." 

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