I just love this sort of children’s picture book. It is history, a topic that isn’t easily found, and the art is bold and eye-catching.
In twenty-four pages, or less, author Vanita Oelschlager manages to encapsulate the creation and conditions of the Pullman Porter … the valet/servant who worked on the sleeper (Pullman) train cars. She records it without romanticizing it and without dwelling on the short-comings of such a job. It is a remarkable bit of writing.
The art, by Mike Blanc, is striking and bold, though just a little uneven. There are mostly some fabulous, knockout art pages (such as almost any of the pages within a Pullman car, of the Porter carrying bags or shining shoes), and there are pages that come across as very flat (such as the porter tossing something out the window or the distant look at the train).
There were two small issues I had with this beautiful book.
1) In the narration, it says that “trains were carrying Americans from Boston and New York west to Chicago and St. Louis, and south to Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle.” I’ve read this passage four, maybe five times to see what I’m reading incorrectly. South? To Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle? Did these trains go up in to Canada and come down?
2) There was one page of art with men lined up to apply for a Pullman Porter job, and every single man in line is standing in the same way, with a hand in the pocket and the shirt sleeve rolled up, almost to the elbow. Even the first time I read through this, I just felt something was ‘wrong.’ It lacked a realistic sense of action (even if that action was ‘waiting’). In every other panel of art, there was an accomplished sense of action (even the page of the sleeping Porter!).
These two details aside, this is the sort of book I’d be delighted to have on my bookshelf and would pull out to read with some frequency when my children were younger. I highly recommend this book.
Looking for a good book? The Pullman Porter is a beautiful and wonderfully concise, but informative, picture book about a uniquely American job. Libraries, schools, and anyone who likes having quality picture books on their shelves should have this.
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The Pullman Porter: An American Journey
author: Vanita Oenschlager
artist: Mike Blanc
publisher: Vanita Books
hardcover, 24 pages