Cover image for Iron horses
Iron horses
Kay, Verla.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Putnam, [1999]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color lll. ; 21 x 27 cm
Illustrations and simple rhyming text depict the race to construct railroads across the country during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Reading Level:
NP Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 2.6 0.5 31080.

Reading Counts RC K-2 2.1 1 Quiz: 23242 Guided reading level: P.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PZ8.3.K225 IR 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PZ8.3.K225 IR 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PZ8.3.K225 IR 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Welcome aboard! Travel back in time to join the workers of the Union Pacific Railroad as they pounded west and those from the Central Pacific Railroad as they charged east to build the first transcontinental rail line in the United States. They were racing to meet in Utah, and it was high drama all the way. Workers had to burst through rocky outcrops while hanging in baskets and sleep in tents on top of railroad cars or in barracks buried in snow.

Bouncy, short verse highlights the steps it took to finally bring the tracks together, and powerful illustrations capture the landscape and the labor.

Author Notes

Verla Kay lives in Tekoa, Washington.

Michael McCurdy lives in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 5^-9. McCurdy's scratchboard illustrations with quiet watercolors convey the excitement, the powerful technology, and the exhausting work that built the transcontinental railroad. With extraordinary depth and realistic detail, the double-page spreads show the individual men laboring to lay the tracks across the huge, open prairie and through the granite mountains, until finally the rails from east and west meet in Utah and the iron horses steam across the land, smoke stretching back like billowing hair in the wind. With just a few words to a page ("Thumping, bumping, / Ties and rails. / Clanging, banging, / Spikes and nails"), Kay's rhyming, chanting text conveys sound and movement with physical immediacy. A map and brief afterword provide some facts about the competitive race from east and west, but adults will have to fill in the historical context from books such as Rhoda Blumberg's Full Steam Ahead: The Race to Build a Transcontinental Railroad (1996). --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kay (Gold Fever) tackles another chapter in American history, this time with less success, turning her attention to the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. Here the rollicking rhyming quatrains that served the theme of the legendary forty-niners so well in Gold Fever are not as effective in relating the history of the railway. From inception ("Railroad barons,/ Visions, dreams./ Thinking, planning,/ Plotting schemes") to completion ("Joined in Utah,/ End of race./ Ceremony,/ Spikes in place"), the events along the way get cursory treatment. Kay's language and meter create an energy that carries the story forward like a briskly chugging engine ("Piercing whistles,/ Shrieking wheels./ Hot steam hissing,/ High-pitched squeals"), but readers may miss the significance of verses like "Survey parties,/ Canvas tents./ Levels, transitsÄ/ Measurements." McCurdy (The Sailor's Alphabet) fills in many of the gaps with his scratchboard and watercolor illustrations. Their stark beauty has the feeling of old-fashioned woodcuts, their drama heightened by the repetitive use of the color black, which runs through the pages like a visual basso continuo. Whether delineating the peaks of a mountain range, the tall baskets used by Chinese workers to scale stone outcroppings or a trestle bridge crossing a valley, the intricate cross-hatchings and strong linear elements of the artwork echo the ever-expanding line of ties and rails that eventually united East and West. Unfortunately, the book ultimately raises more questions than it answers. Ages 4-8. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Here Kay transports readers to the 1860s and the construction of the transcontinental railroad. This story, also in verse, is accompanied by scratchboard-and-watercolor illustrations that depict the terrain and the workers and add drama and detail to this exciting tale. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.