Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

On the Blue Comet

On the Blue Comet

Rosemary Wells
Illustrator:   Bagram Ibatoulline 
Fiction
For ages 9 to 12
Candlewick, 2010   ISBN: 076363722X

Oscar lives with his father in a house in Cairo, Illinois, and the father and son have a good life together. Oscar does most of the cooking, and most evenings Oscar and his father go into the basement to work on their pride and joy, a large model train layout.

The stock market crash of 1929 barely registers on Oscar’s radar, but by 1931, he and his father are starting to feel the ripples caused by the financial disaster. Their menu changes, and Oscar’s dad stops buying model trains. Then Dad loses his job and their house is taken by the First National Bank of Cairo. Their trains are also sold so that Dad can afford to buy a train ticket to California. As soon as he gets a good job, Dad promises that he will send for Oscar. “You’ll come to me on the Golden State Limited,” he says, trying not to cry in front of his son.

After Dad leaves, life is pretty grim for Oscar. He has to live with his Aunt Carmen, who is tough, demanding, and very careful with her money. While she is away giving piano and speech lessons, Oscar makes friends with an out of work teacher, Mr. Applegate. Mr. Applegate shares his love of math and poetry with Oscar, and in return, Oscar does his best to feed his new friend.

After Mr. Applegate gets a job at the First National Bank of Cairo as a night watchman, Oscar visits him there, and together then play with the trains that the bank manager bought from Oscar’s father. On Christmas Eve, 1931, bank robbers break into the bank, and they shoot Mr. Applegate. Desperate to save himself, Oscar dives onto the train layout, and he disappears into it. Somehow, he finds himself riding on the trains in the layout; somehow, he ends up on a train heading west to California. Oscar cannot explain how he ended up on the train in the layout, but he has a funny feeling that this all might have something to do with the time travel theory that Mr. Applegate used to talk about.

When Oscar gets to California, he manages to find his father, but Oscar is no longer eleven years old. Ten years have passed, and it is 1941. America is at war, and poor Oscar is a 6th grader trapped in the body of a twenty-one year old man who is being told that he has to become a soldier. With the help of some of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities - including Alfred Hitchcock - Oscar and his father try to figure out how to send Oscar back to his childhood.

The remarkable story in this book combines history and fantasy flawlessly, to give young readers a tale that is interesting, exciting, and full of surprises. The time travel element will keep readers guessing right to the end of the story.

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