Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

IRON RAILS, IRON MEN, AND THE RACE TO LINK THE NATION
The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
Written by Martin W. Sandler
(Candlewick Press; $22.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

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Prepare to not want to put down this fascinating nonfiction book called Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Emmy Award and Pulitzer prize winning historian, Martin W. Sandler.

In the early nineteenth century it took six months to travel coast to coast by horse and wagon. Rugged terrain and violent weather made the journey difficult and dangerous. The alternative, sailing around Cape Horn, took at least six months and was equally dangerous.

Dreams of a transcontinental railroad had great promise: quicker travel time, new communities, and improved opportunities for trade and commerce. It took years to advocate and raise money for this massive project. When President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, two companies, the Central Pacific, laying tracks eastward, and the Union Pacific, laying tracks westwards, raced to complete the job.

The work required staggering feats of engineering, which award-winning historian MartinW. Sandler effectively demonstrates using period photos and weaving mind-blowing facts into the narrative. Workers had to blast through mountains to build tunnels and erected some of the highest bridges known. Supplies had to be hauled over mountains on horseback or cart to the workers. Conditions were grueling: prairie fires, cattle stampedes, severe weather, and Native American attacks. Each job had its physical challenges: imagine graders who hauled tons of dirt away or track layers who lifted and placed rails that weighed 500 to 700 pounds!

Sandler critically examines more controversial issues such as corruption, discrimination against the highly efficient Chinese workers, and the severe impact on the life and culture of the Plains Indians.

When the two rails finally met, tens of thousands of workers had laid over 18,000 miles of track and joined the two coasts of a rugged continent. Travel time, coast to coast, was reduced to one week.

The author has made dramatic use of archival photographs to enhance the engaging and informative text, all accompanied by easy to follow maps. A fascinating final chapter discusses what happened to the main personalities. Educators and parents should check out the publisher’s great teacher’s guide and audio excerpt. Highly recommended for teachers and librarians serving grades 5 and up and a great resource for 19th century United States history and train enthusiasts.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

All Aboard! California, All Aboard! New York & All Aboard! Paris by Kevin & Haily Meyers

ALL ABOARD! CALIFORNIA: A LANDSCAPE PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! NEW YORK: A CITY PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! PARIS: A FRENCH PRIMER
Written by Kevin & Haily Meyers
Illustrated by Haily Meyers
(Gibbs Smith; $9.99 each, Ages 0-3)

 

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From the folks that gave us the irresistible BabyLit® Books comes a new series that promises to be another hit. It’s never too early to share the delights of our world with little ones whether that be via personal stories, songs, photos, books, TV, film or travel.

This attractively designed board book primer series introduces youngsters to the varied landscape of California, the stimulating sights of New York City, and the romance and allure of Paris and the French language. Each book consists of 22 matte finished pages filled with bold graphics in an array of colors that I might not ordinarily combine, but work wonderfully together. I want tote bags or tees of all the artwork, it’s just that visually rewarding!

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Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

In All Aboard! California, we tour the Golden State on board a train heading from south to north, making stops in the Mojave desert, and along the coastal beaches that have beckoned sun bathers and surfers for decades. After that the train heads into the Hollywood Hills, past Orange Groves and then makes tracks through the farmlands of the Central Coast. Parents will enjoy pointing out to kids how the train fills up with surf boards, oranges and cows while cruising toward its ultimate destination, the magnificent Redwood Forest. But not before first visiting the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nappa’s vineyards and one other popular tourist attraction, San Francisco. The book ends with a helpful map and the official California State Flag.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardNewYorkcvrNext, with All Aboard! New York, we’re visiting the Big Apple and traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan, something I’ve done countless times (and even once got stuck in the tunnel when my car conked out!). We wind our way around Central Park and head over to take in the sights of Times Square (NOTE: Make sure to check out all the billboards as there’s lots of fun things to discover), but not before getting seated front row center at a Broadway show. What’s a trip to New York without skyscraper spotting including the one and only Empire State Building, a not-to-be-missed landmark of the Manhattan skyline? This trip also includes a ride to lower Manhattan to see the new Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial as well as a glimpse of the NYSE on Wall Street. Two of my personal faves are featured in All Aboard! New York and those are the Staten Island Ferry for a breathtaking view of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge spanning New York’s East River. Before leaving the city, you can even help your child count how many taxis appear in book. Remember also to show them the map at the book’s end with train cars running along the bottom of the two-page spread decorated with delicious foods found throughout the boroughs such as cheesecake, pretzels and bagels.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardPariscvrLast but not least is the City of Love as featured in All Aboard! Paris. I’m thrilled there’s such an adorable board book to not only nurture a love of the French language but of the capital city itself. It’s Bienvenue! Welcome! all around as we chug our way past the Canal de L’Ourcq and see the famous Monument at Place de la Bastille. Is that rain beginning to fall? Mais oui! It’s time to get out a Parapluie or Umbrella. The train passes close by a lovely Garden (Luxembourg perhaps) where children sail boats and lovely flowers are in abundance. Also included are Notre Dame (Cathedral), the Seine River, Sacré-Cœur atop the hill of Montmartre and the Louvre Museum. Grab a baguette and cruise on over to see the Arc de Triomphe, the Élysée Palace (or it could be Versailles – your call parents!), and 19th century iron structure we know as the Eiffel Tower. Words covered range from boy and girl to bridge and rain, and lots more, bien sûr!

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Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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