Paul Yee adopts the Chinese ghost story tradition to recount hard historical fact in Ghost Train
, while Harvey Chan's brooding illustrations perfectly complement Yee's multi-layered text. It's a winning combination that earned both the 1996 Governor General's Award for children's literature and the 1997 Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award.
Choon-yi's father loves her dearly, even though she is born with only one arm, and with that arm she is capable of creating images so real they seem to be alive. Extreme poverty forces the father to leave his family behind in South China to take a dangerous railroad construction job in Canada. After two years of sending his pay home, Ba asks that Choon-yi join him, but when she arrives in Vancouver she learns that her father has died in a landslide. Her plans to return to China come to an end, however, when her father appears in a dream, imploring her to paint the fire car that runs on the railway he has helped to build.
Choon-yi does as her father asks, and the picture comes to life, pulling a magical train filled with muddy and bloody men. "'Many men died building this railway,' Ba said. 'All along the route, bodies have been swept away by the river or buried under a landslide. Their bones will never be recovered. But the time has come to transport their souls home.'" A former city archivist in Vancouver, Yee draws on his extensive historical knowledge to create compelling and educational children's books. His Roses Sing on New Snow--also with Chan--won the 1992 Ruth Schwartz Award, and his other children's titles include Tales from Gold Mountain and The Jade Necklace. (Ages 6 to 12) --Deirdre Hanna
Gr. 3^-5. Dark, glowing oil paintings illustrate a moving fantasy about the Chinese workmen who died far from home building the railroad through the mountains of North America. The story, first published in Canada, is told through the eyes of a young girl, Choon-yi, born to poor peasants in southern China. She has only one arm, and her mother rejects her, but her father loves her dearly and encourages her artistic gift. When she is 12, he leaves for America to work on the railway being built through the mountains. After two years he sends her money to join him, but when she gets there, she learns of his death. He appears to her in a dream and asks her to paint him on the train he built. The full-page paintings show her traveling on the hurtling engines; we see the power of the railroad and the sorrow of the men who died building it, their clothing stained with mud and blood. This is a book to use with Rhoda Blumberg's Full Steam Ahead: The Race to Build the Transcontinental Railroad
. Hazel Rochman