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The Prairie Train by Eric Rohmann

The Prairie Train
Crown Books, 1999
ISBN: 978-0-51770-988-7, hardcover
Dragonfly Books, 2004
ISBN: 978-0-55311-334-1, paperback

The Prairie Train

bwritten by Antoine O'Flatharta
illustrated by Eric Rohmann

“Once upon a time there was a train that dreamed of being a boat.”

It was the train that took immigrants seeking a better life in the New World across the endless flat prairies to San Francisco. And it was the train that took Conor, a small homesick boy from Ireland, on the voyage he would remember for the rest of his life. While on that train, Conor dreams of being back in Connemara, Ireland, with his grandfather when suddenly, to his amazement, the waving prairie grass becomes the sea and the train on which he is traveling, like a boat, sails across it right back to his home. How Conor comes to realize that the home he's left behind will always be with him provides a reassuring and deeply satisfying resolution to this poignant tale. The dreamlike paintings by Caldecott Honor artist Eric Rohmann combine with the lyrical text of Irish playwright Antoine Ó Flatharta to make this a truly memorable book.

The Prairie Train by Eric Rohmann   The Prairie Train by Eric Rohmann
From Eric: 

“This was another attempt at illustrating another author’s story, and like King Crow it was not wholly successful. There is a special skill to making pictures for another’s words. It requires an understanding of what to leave out — how to respect the author’s intent, while finding ways to enhance the reading experience rather than merely decorating the words. Antoine’s story of a boy far from home is bright with imagination and invention, but I think my pictures weigh it down. I am in great admiration of illustrators like G. Brian Karas and Lane Smith who excel at finding their own voice in the words of others.”
Reviews Awards
Publishers Weekly
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.

Library Journal
“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

Kirkus Reviews
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

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