284. On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells

On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 329
Ages: 9+
Finished: Dec. 15, 2010
First Published: Sept. 28, 2010
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: children, historical fantasy, time travel
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

We lived at the end of Lucifer Street, on the Mississippi River side of Cairo, Illinois.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Candlewick Press.

Reason for Reading: I've read a few of the author's books and this time it was the historical fiction aspects along with the time travel that drew me to this book. Plus I do also have a thing for old trains.

Oscar Ogilvie lives in the early 1930's. It is Christmas Eve, 1931 to be exact when the action starts to take place in the book. But a bit earlier than this we get to know Oscar and his dad who have a passion for model train collecting and have spend hours in their basement working with their layout. Oscar's dad doesn't do too badly with his job at John Deere and they have accumulated a nice set of Lionel trains. But the crash of '29 hits and eventually his dad loses his job, sells the house and the train set, goes to California to find work and leaves Oscar behind with his prim and proper spinster sister. Then on the evening in question, Oscar is visiting the nightwatchman at the bank, a friend, who lets him play with the train layout on display there, the one that used to be his. On that fateful night the bank is robbed and Oscar jumps for his life into the miniature train layout to find himself in the future where he works his way to join his father in California. Only Oscar is now 21 years old and the date is 1941 and he's been missing, presumed kidnapped all these years. As Oscar tries to get back home to 1931, he takes a side trip to 1926 where he is only 6 years old.

This was a fun book. Oscar is a quick thinking character and an enjoyable one to know. Even though he gets himself into this mess to start with he is generally a nice boy with good intentions who prays Hail Marys when things become too intense for him to handle. Oscar is an average kid who loves his dad very much and on his travels he always befriends someone who helps him through each stage of his journey. While Oscar's main focus is to return home, he also is desperately trying to remember the details of the robbery as he has learnt in the future that a $10,000 reward was offered by the bank for the capture of the criminals.

The time travel aspect is fantasy based and just happens when Oscar's need is so great, usually from fear, and it is never scrutinized or explained away. One must suspend reality to accept this part of the book and also the number of people he eventually tells his story to who believe his tale is unrealistic and must be taken at face value. The historical fiction side of the book is informative while being entertaining. Much is learnt about the stock market crash and how the depression affected the rich, poor and middle classes. The 1941 era imparts mostly information about the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the war with Japan and finally the 1926 episode is the shortest mainly focusing on the restricted lifestyle of a rich girl who would rather be playing baseball than wearing frilly dresses and playing with dolls.

The illustrations are simply divine. Full colour paintings one would expect to find in a picture book, not your usual MG chapter book. So realistic and charming, they have a sense of Norman Rockwell to them. The book's not heavily illustrated, but there are enough so that just as you are feeling that it's about time for a picture one comes along. Many of them are two page spreads to boot!

A good romp, with lots of excitement and adventure. Oscar meets many interesting people along the way and situations are always turning from humorous to fraught with tension. This is a good "boy book" with unique plot elements making it stand out from the usual fare being offered these days.


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