Reviews for On the Blue Comet

Booklist Reviews 2010 July #1
Eleven-year-old Oscar's life is disrupted when the stock market crash of 1929 forces his father to leave Illinois to find work in California. It's a devastating loss exacerbated by the selling off of their beloved train set. Then Oscar meets a mysterious stranger named Mr. Applegate, and their intersection with a bank robbery creates a mystical moment in which Oscar escapes harm by somehow leaping into a model train. He is whisked off to California--but when he gets there, he is 21 years old. Helped by his similarly aged father, Alfred Hitchcock, and Joan Crawford's maid (seriously!), Oscar makes another magical journey, only this time he overshoots home and ends up 6 years old in New York. The plot's Twilight Zone potential--the intriguing concept of a spectral train providing haven for unhappy children--is not thoroughly plumbed, and one wonders at the appeal of such a retro story. Hopefully, though, readers will be all-aboard this pleasing diversion. Ibatoulline's Rockwellian illustrations match the squeaky-clean text (even the word damned is bleeped). Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Spring
In 1931, eleven-year-old Oscar Ogilvie's father heads to California looking for work. Oscar takes solace in visiting his beloved train set, repossessed and now on display at the bank. After a break-in, Oscar mysteriously finds himself on a full-sized train, heading to a future (1941) California. Wells, in complete control of every plot twist and immersing readers in details, conducts one glorious, high-speed ride. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #5
In 1938, eleven-year-old Oliver Ogilvie and his widowed father live comfortably in Cairo, Illinois, sharing a passion for model trains. As the Depression deepens, the bank takes their house and beloved train layout. Mr. Ogilvie heads to California looking for work; unhappily, Oliver remains behind with his aunt. Befriended and tutored by Mr. Applegate, a former math/physics teacher and current night watchman at the bank, Oliver finds solace visiting his trains, now on display at the bank. One night, robbers break in to the bank and shoot Mr. Applegate, whose last instruction to Oliver is, "Jump!" As quick as you can say "all aboard," Oliver finds himself on a full-sized train, heading to a future California. Carefully, but never tediously, Wells immerses the reader in details, creating such a believable situation that it's a small leap of faith to jump on a toy train traveling through time; Mr. Applegate's scientific theories validate the action. A sprinkling of historical figures -- a movie actor named Dutch; a famed director of mysteries, Mr. H; and the freckled-faced young son of Joe Kennedy -- adds clever authenticity, although it's not necessary to identify these people to follow the narrative. Wells, in complete control of every plot twist, conducts one glorious, high-speed ride. Full-color illustrations not seen. betty carter Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 August #1

Time travel hurts. Eleven-year-old Oscar Ogilvie, Jr., first discovers this when he--dodging bullets in an armed robbery--belly-dives into a model train layout at the First National Bank of Cairo, Ill., on Christmas Eve 1931 and, miraculously, finds himself aboard a real train headed for California with the dashing future president "Dutch." Next stop: Oscar is a strapping 21-year-old in danger of being the first fifth grader drafted into the U.S. Army! Oscar's top-notch at any age, and his close relationship with his father (a fellow model-train fanatic) is the heart of this buoyant, mostly Depression-era romp. Abundant historical and literary allusions--and a cast of real-life characters from Joan Crawford to Alfred Hitchcock--enrich the story (though they may be lost on some). Even when the novel teeters on didacticism's edge, readers will be disarmed by Oscar's compassionate nature, amused by his colorful, well-sketched friends and captivated by his "Triumphs and Disasters" (from Kipling's poem "If," affectionately referenced). Ibatouilline's full-color, atmospheric Norman Rockwell–like vignettes enhance the nostalgic feel of this warm, cleverly crafted adventure. (Historical fiction/time travel. 11 & up)

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 September #3

Model trains, time travel, and cameo appearances by Ronald Reagan and Alfred Hitchcock, among others, make this adventure an ideal family read-aloud. "One day everything in the world was fine. Dad and I had lamb chops and ice cream," says Oscar Ogilvie, 11, about life with his widowed father in 1929 smalltown Illinois. Self-reliant and companionable, Oscar makes dinner so he and his father, a tractor salesman, can spend their evenings constructing elaborate railroad layouts. Then the Great Depression hits, and the Ogilvies lose their house and, worse, their trains, which are put on display in the bank lobby. Oscar's kindness to a laid-off math teacher turns serendipitous when the teacher becomes the bank's night watchman, giving Oscar access to his trains. During one after-hours visit, the bank is robbed; Oscar escapes by diving into the model train set, where he crisscrosses time and the continent, unscrambling what's happened to him. Well-drawn secondary characters and evocative details bring the hardscrabble 1930s to life. Ibatoulline's intricately detailed illustrations, both full-page and double-spread, have a Norman Rockwell quality that reinforces the setting and adds a nostalgic air. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 September

Gr 4-7--An engaging story of the magic of trains and time travel. Oscar Ogilvie, 11, lives with his dad in Cairo, IL. They share a love for model trains, particularly exact replicas of existing trains. After the Crash of 1929, Oscar's dad loses his job and their house, including the model trains, and leaves for California to look for work. Lonely and sad, Oliver is left in the care of his dour Aunt Carmen. Pining for the trains and the connection to his father that they represent, he visits the Blue Comet in the basement of the First National Bank on Christmas Eve. Harold Applegate, a homeless man Oscar has befriended, is the night watchman. He explains the theory of negative velocity, or time pockets, to Oscar. When armed robbers break into the bank, Harold tells Oscar to jump into the model train set, and the boy is catapulted into an adventure that carries him from coast to coast and across time from 1931 to 1941 as he searches for his dad. His meeting with real people from the time, including Ronald Regan ("Dutch"), Alfred Hitchcock, Nelson Rockefeller, and Joe Kennedy, adds some humor, although today's kids might not recognize the names. Wells aptly portrays the magic of the model trains and of a young man's quest. She blends just enough hyperbolic elements to give the story the feel of a tall tale. Ibatoulline's precisely drawn, intricately detailed illustrations, some full page and others spreads, are stunning, and all are in full color. They enhance the 1930s setting and perfectly capture the nostalgic, wistful tone of the narrative. The sheer beauty of this winning book will attract many readers; the magic of the story and its likable protagonist will hook them.--Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME

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