Locomotive is a 2013 children's book written and illustrated by Brian Floca. In 2014 it won both the Randolph Caldecott Medal for "most distinguished American picture book for children" and a Robert F. Sibert Honor. It also became one of the best 10 illustrated books in New York Times. Other works of Floca's are Moonshot, which also won the Sibert Honor, and Lightship which, for its contribution of information of literature for children, won the Sibert Honor.
Locomotive, written by Floca, is a nonfiction book of 64 pages that teaches readers about the history of the first transcontinental railroad and locomotive of U.S in the 19th century. The illustrations by Floca follow the history, and the train, engine, station, countries, and people are shown as it was in the 19th century. Through the lines of the book, words are repeated and lines rhyme: "here is how this road was built, with grunt and a heave and a swing, with the ring of shovels on stone, the ring of hammers on spikes," and "Wheels spinning, rods swinging." Similes are used to describe places: "The country opens, opens wide, empty as an ocean." And at the end, the book closes by using assonance: "here where you needed to go, here where you need to be...here with the people you’ve waited and wanted and needed to see."
Locomotive starts by giving historical background in its front cover pages about the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 19th century. It explains that two companies, Central Pacific Rail Road Company that started from Sacramento, California and Union Pacific Rail Road Company that built from Omaha, Nebraska, collaborated in its construction. Since the government allowed them to decide the meeting point, they selected Utah as this point. The purpose of it being built was for people to take less time to travel. Before this, traveling from coast to coast would take up to six months which was difficult and dangerous because travelers traveled by wagons over land or by ship.
The nonfiction book Locomotive starts with a picture of a road in the middle of a valley. And then, in order for readers to follow the journey, the writer uses a family, mother, daughter and son. The journey begins in Omaha, Nebraska, where this family is waiting for the Locomotive, the first transcontinental train. After this, the story describes that in order for the engine to work, it needs a brakeman, fireman, engineer, and the one in charge of all of them, the conductor. Everybody notices when the Locomotive comes, the CLANG-CLANG-CLANG, the HISSSSSSS and the SPIT of the steam and the HUFF, HUFF, HUFF makes everyone aware of its arrival. Two companies built the railroad, and two companies run it. In Sherman, Wyoming the train needs two engines for it is the highest point. In the west, the engine burns wood for there is more wood than coal. In Sierra, Nevada, the train needs two engines in order for the train to climb mountains and "if the rails are slick if the wheels won’t catch."
The fireman, the one who is responsible for making the water boil and turn to steam, has a hard and hot job, for “he scoops and lifts and throws the coal, from the tender to the firebox.” It is also a dangerous job for the switchman, for unexpected things happen while he tries to join the engine and the train, as the book says “You can tell that one is new to the job if he still has all his fingers.”
Through the journey passengers enjoy the view of other cities and towns. If people are not polite when they are inside the train they will need to learn how to be, for at night passengers will need to tell their neighbors in a polite way, “can you move your elbow, can you stop snoring.” For the passengers it is not polite to use the toilet because it is just a hole on the floor of the train. Those who go to California need to change trains in Utah where the two railroads were joined with a spike made of gold. At the end, after long days of sitting inside the train or nights without sleep, passengers get to their destination where people are waiting for them.
At the end of its cover page Locomotive gives information on how steam is used to make an engine work, and teaches vocabulary about the engine to young engineers.
The critical reception for Locomotive was notably positive, however, some critics gave mixed reviews. The New York Times describes Locomotive as an "unusual picture book in that it is intended to please a fairly wide age group, which means it may also frustrate some readers or listeners." On the other hand, the New York Times points out that the illustrator is "brilliant" and that his layout makes readers anxious to go to the next page. Kirkus Reviews praises Floca by asserting that "Floca soars with his free-verse narrative, exploiting alliteration, assonance and internal rhyme to reinforce the rhythms of the journey." School Library Journal asserts that Floca is "masterful with words, art and ideas." Jennifer Mann in The New York Times identified Locomotive as "a book of teaching" for young engineers to learn vocabulary about the engine. In another Kirkus Reviews review Julie Danielson describes how for its heavy detail of history the book is a model of research as the writer invested several years of his life looking for information about America's first transcontinental railroad and even drove by himself across the continent.