Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I dream of trains

I dream of trains was written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Loren Long.  It was published in Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2003. 

I had to read this book several times.  I didn't quite get it the first time.  The opening page starts out, "Papa tells me Casey Jones started dreaming ab out trains when he was littler than me.  I think of that -- big ol' Casey being littler than me -- and smile." I felt as though I had started the book midway through and that I missed the introduction of Casey Jones in the book.

I didn't know who Casey Jones was, so when I first read the book, I kept asking myself, "Why does he keep referencing Casey Jones?  Why is he important to this young, black boy on the cotton fields?"  It wasn't until I read "A Note on This Book" on the back of the last page that I figured out the significance.  Casey Jones was an Irish train conductor who "worked side by side with black Sim Webb" going back and forth through his route from Canton, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. The people in the cotton fields looked at Casey's train as a symbol of hope.  That they could possibly find something that was better for themselves and their family.  They looked up to Casey and believed him to be a good man because, in the deep south, at the beginning of the twentieth century, he had no qualms about working side by side with a black man.  Unfortunately, on a run that he had volunteered to cover, there was a train crash and Casey died, while saving Sim Webb by telling him to jump off of the train.

After reading the note, I reread the book.  I understood its meaning much better the second time.  I understood that he referenced Casey Jones so many times because he saw him as a hero; as someone to look at for hope in his future.  If Casey could do his job, spending hours upon hours with Sim, maybe someday, the rest of the world would follow suit, and white people would be able to work with black people without any problems or tension.

I read the book a third time -- out loud to my children -- which gave me an even deeper understanding of the book.  When I read silently to myself, I don't give the characters as much of a voice.  I don't change my tone and become as expressive as I am when I read aloud.  Because of this third reading, I could really feel the emotions of the young boy.  When the book first started, and he spoke of Casey as a hero and wanting to be like him as he get older, to the end of the book, where he shares his sadness about Casey's death and wonders if there is still hope.  Realizing that I didn't get as much out of the book was pretty eye-opening.  I feel as though I need to go read all of the books I have read aloud to see what emotions they convey in me.

I believe the illustrations were matched perfectly with the text. Each page was full bleed, really allowing the readers to feel as though they are right there with the young boy.  The dark tones showed his feelings throughout the book.  There are many pages where the lines are vertical or diagonal, showing the turbulence within the book. 

I feel a little sheepish, having to have read the book three times to really feel anything for the book.  I think that this would be a book better suited for upper elementary or lower middle school students, as my children weren't really moved by it.  I think it was too deep for them to understand.

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