Monday, September 13, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Ultimate Trains by Peter McMahon, illustrated by Andy Mora

New train book! Train books are always good - you can never have too many. This one is a little different than your average train nonfiction...

Ultimate Trains is the first in a new series from Kids Can Press called Machines of the Future. It focuses on new designs in trains, specifically maglevs. The book begins with a table of contents, introduction, and safety note, since there are EXPERIMENTS included. After an illustrated timeline from the invention of the wheel to the Canadian Pacific Railway, the book explains steam engines - and gives instructions on how to build your own miniature steam engine, then explains the evolution of diesel and electric engines, the trains most commonly in use today. There's a brief discussion of how trains are environmentally responsible, and then we move right into the main part of the book: trains of the future, magnetic levitation trains, or maglevs. Interesting train facts, experiments, interviews, explanations of how magnets work, and descriptions of maglevs in operation today and possible trains of the future going under the ocean or out to space (shades of Timothy Zahn anyone?) fill the rest of the book, ending with a glossary and index.

I was disappointed that there were limited photographs in the book, which is mostly illustrated digitally (or so it looks to me, I am no expert). I think most kids prefer photographs in their nonfiction and I would have liked to see "real" trains. This book may appeal to serious train fans among younger children, but is best suited for older elementary or middle school kids interested in science and technology. The experiments are clearly written and well-illustrated - some would be suitable for younger children, but most would be better used with older elementary or sixth grade students.

The discussions of future trains, their impact on the environment, and their benefits was interesting and well-written, but I would have liked to see more opposing viewpoints. There's only a brief paragraph on the problems with these high-speed trains, saying that they use most of the trip accelerating and decelerating, require constant computer monitoring, and are vulnerable to wind shear, as well as track being expensive. I would have liked to see more discussions of safety issues (I personally wouldn't want to travel hundreds of miles an hour on something controlled by a computer, considering that we can't even get the internet to work at our library half the time...) and maybe some practical discussions of trains as public transportation. I've lived in a medium-sized city, medium-sized town, and small town, all without owning a car and having to depend on public transportation or my own legs. I have serious reservations about the practicality of public transportation. Anyways, that's a discussion for another time.

Verdict: This is an upbeat, interesting, and well-designed book about contemporary and future trains and transportation. It won't have the wide audience of most train non-fiction, which is usually aimed at preschool or early elementary students, but the topic and presentation should draw interest from older elementary students and some middle school and even high school students interested in science. Recommended.

ISBN: 978-1554533664; Published August 2010 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates


5 comments:

Katie Fries said...

Very interesting. Several years ago (he was still in preschool) my now-7 year old asked me how maglevs work and my response was a blank stare and some mumbling about magnets. I will put this on my list, even though you said it's best suited to upper elementary aged students. Do you think it would appeal to a younger child with a keen interest in science/engineering and transportation? At the very least, maybe I'll be able to pick and choose some of the more interesting passages to read?

Rasco from RIF said...

Thank you so very much for posting at NONFICTION MONDAY today. I am delighted to know about this book and coming series. I have a young grandson so I am reentering the world of this topic, you have helped GiGi Rasco!

Brimful Curiosities said...

I just discovered your train reading list. My son thanks you.

Jennifer said...

Absolutely Katie! The book is divided into smaller sections, good for reading one at a time and several of the experiments would be perfect for a 7 year old! The average 2nd grader might be a little overwhelmed, but yours sounds like he'd love it!

Jennifer said...

Yay, someone is seeing my lists! The train list is popular at our library - you can never have too many train books!