The book’s handsome design, as well as Rohmann's deft portraits of Conor and his fellow immigrants, adds to the book's many deeply felt pleasures.
“Once upon a time, there was a train that dreamed of being a boat.” And once upon a time, there was Conor, a heartsick immigrant boy traveling across the prairies to a new home, his toy boat in tow. When the two meet, the world re-forms itself into a lovely fantasy. In prose rich with images and metaphor (“...the Prairie Train traveled through towering grass that moved in the wind like gigantic green waves”), O Flatharta's fanciful tale flows across the pages, drawing readers into the dream journey of the train and the boy. The story has wisdom and depth: "There's bigger boats waiting for you," his grandfather tells him in the dream. “It's the same moon that's shining on all of us. Makes no difference if you're in Connemara or San Francisco.” The tale also has a satisfying and uplifting conclusion: "As the morning sun climbed higher and higher in the sky, Conor and the Prairie Train moved forward together." Rohmann’s stunning paintings evoke a dreamlike state. Dramatic use of light, bold brush strokes and surprising perspectives combine to make memorable illustrations that truly complement the prose. A unique and powerful book.
—Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI
In this poetic book from an Irish playwright and Rohmann, an immigrant child dreams of returning to Ireland, carried across the sea by the train that is actually taking him in the opposite direction, away and over the wide prairie. The train itself is a dreamer, yearning to spring its tracks and sail the oceans; instead, in Rohmann's accomplished, lapidary paintings, it speeds through waves of grass under immense skies, seeming at once majestic and, with its clean, rounded lines, toy-like. The story is a metaphorical take on the immigrant experienceyoung Conor accidentally drops out the window the model ship his grandfather had carved as a going-away present but later dreams of hearing the old man promise that “there's bigger boats waiting for you.” Readers will feel Conor’s poignant sense of being severed from his past, and will understand why he accepts that forward, for the train and for him, is the only direction there is.
The Western Writers of America Spur Awards: Storyteller Award