Title: Across American on an Emigrant Train
Author: Jim Murphy
NCTE Orbis Pictus Award
The Jefferson Cup Award
ALA Notable Children’s Book
ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice
Horn Book Fanfare
SLJ Best Book of the Year
Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Language Arts
Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
Book Links Salutes “A Few Good Books”
Gr. 5 and up. As he did in The Boys’ War (1990) and The Long Road to Gettysburg (1992), Murphy draws on memoirs and letters to humanize history. This time his main source is the journal of the great writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who traveled in 1879 from Scotland to the woman he loved in California, first on a crowded boat and then on a series of crammed, painfully uncomfortable trains on the transcontinental railroad. Murphy weaves together Stevenson’s perilous journey with a general history of the railroad–how it was planned and built, who built it, what it was like to ride it if you were rich and if you were poor, and how it changed the country and those who lived there. Murphy’s style is plain: facts and feelings tell a compelling story of adventure and failure, courage and cruelty, enrichment and oppression. The handsome book’s design includes lots of white space, two endpaper maps, and many prints, drawings, and black-and-white photographs, carefully captioned to make you pore over the details. The direct quotations from Stevenson show him as observer and participant. This was before he became famous, and he identifies with the emigrants’ painful struggle as well as their hope. He’s excited by the diversity in America (he loves the place names that express how “all times, races, and languages have brought their contribution”); at the same time, he’s appalled at the treatment of Native Americans (“I was ashamed for the thing we call civilization”). Murphy provides no direct documentation (often the source is “one passenger recalled,” “some historians have speculated”), but the very long bibliography will be a starting point for those stimulated to read further. The experience of ordinary people revitalizes the myths of the West. Hazel Rochman
Amazon. 2014. “Across America on an Emigrant Train.” http://www.amazon.com/Across-America-Emigrant-Train-Murphy/dp/0395764831
“Across America on an Emigrant Train.” Books In Print. Ebsco.
Jim Murphy. “Books by Jim Murphy.” http://www.jimmurphybooks.com/train.htm
Murphy, Jim. 1 January 1999. Across America on an Emigrant Train. New York: Scholastic, Inc.