Cover image for Emma and the silk train
Emma and the silk train
Lawson, Julie, 1947-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
Buffalo, N.Y. : Kids Can Press, 1998.

Physical Description:
31 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 24 x 27 cm
Reading Level:
AD 520 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 3.2 0.5 29963.

Reading Counts RC K-2 4.8 2 Quiz: 17811 Guided reading level: N.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC. BK. Juvenile Fiction Picture Books

On Order



Emma and the Silk Train takes readers back to the early years of the last century when passing high-speed trains brought romance and adventure to small towns in North America. On September 21, 1927, about 100 miles east of Vancouver, British Columbia, a high-speed silk train derailed, spilling some of its precious cargo of Oriental silk into the churning Fraser River. Emma's longing for a piece of silk and her determination to have it put her life in danger. This beautifully illustrated story is a fictional account of a little girl's adventure and dramatic rescue, based on an intriguing event in Canadian history.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 6^-10. Sometimes a nugget of history can be polished into a shining story, as in Sonia Levitin's Boom Town [BKL F 15 98] and Thomas Yezerski's Together in Pinecone Patch [BKL F 1 98], and that is certainly true here. The silkers, trains that carried raw silk and finished cloth from West Coast ports to the East, set speed records in the 1920s. Emma, whose father runs a train station, loves to see the silkers fly through British Columbia. When a silk train is derailed and its precious cargo lost in the river, Emma joins those trying to retrieve the bales for a reward, but secretly she longs for some silk of her own. Even after weeks go by, Emma continues to search. When a red-gold skein catches her eye farther downriver than she should have been, she plunges in after it and finds herself and the silk stuck on a small island. Emma uses the silk as a rescue banner and is astonished to learn, when safe with her family, that she had been spotted by a silk train that slowed down long enough to tell Pa where she was. Mombourquette's paintings have a lively, impressionistic surface of broken brush strokes, making the colors and forms of silk, water, landscape, and clothing shimmer. Paintings range from double-page spreads to small vignettes, and the text sometimes floats on the images and sometimes has its own space on the page. A fine adventure that combines the romance of trains with the sweet swoop of Emma's new birthday dress. Lawson bases her story on the actual derailment of a silker along the Fraser River in 1927. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

After a train carrying bolts of precious silk derails, a girl, obsessed with longing for a silk blouse, spends weeks combing the nearby river for fabric. She finally finds a length of bright red silk, but the fast current strands her on a small island, where she despairs of being rescued. Eventually her family finds her, and her mother makes her a silk dress. The episode is inspired by the 1927 derailment of a silk train in British Columbia, known as the Million-Dollar Wreck. Lawson (Cougar Cove) sews up her tale with a fascinating historical note about the speedy silk trains (silk was insured by the hour). Debut illustrator Mombourquette builds careful, historically accurate paintings from dense, visible brush strokes. The artwork is somber in palette, as if it were perpetually overcast; even the swath of red silk is more dusky than brilliant. Whether finding a bolt of fabric counts as high adventure for contemporary readers remains to be seen, but the sheer contrast between the powerful rushing trains and their luxurious cargo takes hold of the imagination. Ages 4-9. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 3-A young girl living alongside the railroad tracks is fascinated by the speed of the "silkers." Her station-master father explains that these trains carry silk from the Orient and must quickly get to New York with the cargo. Based on a true incident in 1927, this story tells of one such train that doesn't make it and its bundles of cloth are dumped into the Fraser River in British Columbia. Emma helps the local folks try to find the fabric because she is determined to get a piece to make a dress. As she reaches to grab the wonderful piece of red silk floating in the river, she is swept away by the current and becomes trapped on a small rocky island. There, she uses the material as a flag to attract the attention of another "silker" crew. Soft, impressionistic paints evoke the ruggedness of the canyon setting, the subtle warmth of autumn colors, and the beckoning contrast of the red silk caught in the turbulent river torrents. Mombourquette has created a memorable feeling of another time, place, and community, a moment when all are one with the river and the passing trains. Readers get a sense that the illustrator is a steam train buff, as the detail of the trains and railroad life is quite remarkable. The gentle softness of Lawson's lyrical style gives evidence of her love of the sounds of the language and her consummate storytelling ability. Contrasting sentence lengths and the clever use of repetition insist that the story be shared and read aloud.-Ronald Jobe, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.