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Book description

This is a fun and engaging story that is part historical fiction and part fantasy. Oscar is an eleven year old boy from Illinois during the Great Depression when his father loses his job selling John Deere tractors and has to go to California to find work. Oscar is left with his strict Aunt Carmen and finds life without his father utterly miserable until a mysterious man named Mr Applegate helps him with his math homework and a friendship is born. Mr Applegate finally gets a job as a night watchman at a bank--the bank owned by the man who bought up all of Oscar and his fathers model trains and now uses them as a holiday display in the bank window! Visiting Mr Applegate after hours and playing with the trains takes some of the sting out of Oscars life, but it isnt quite the same as building the trains with his dear ol dad. A bank robbery on Christmas Eve sets Oscar into a wild ride (on the miniature Blue Comet!) as time travel takes him forward to 1941! Will he be able to find his father there? And will he ever get back to his proper time?Overall, I really enjoyed this story. Oscar is so likable and the time travel bits were interesting and fairly well done and kept one in a bit of suspense (though Im not sure the resolution was completely explained) and the inclusion of historical figures was clever. Who was Dutch, the former lifeguard turned actor? What about Mr H, a man known for directing suspenseful films? Some of the adults reading the book will already know; and thats good for them because there is no Authors Note to explain fact from fiction, or who the characters were in real life, which I think would have really helped the educational value of the tale. A few parts of the story felt needlessly redundant as Oscar repeated his time travel story to various different characters and, much as I love Kiplings If poem, it was kind of over-used here though I liked its underlying theme in the story. Also, I was a bit uncomfortable with the portrayal of the wealthy as heartless snobs and all the farmers and working-class as good people who were taken advantage of; surely there is some truth in both portrayals, but real life was/is not quite so black-and-white and I would have liked a bit more variety or explanation as to why the people Oscar encountered behaved the way they did. With a few characters toward the end of the book, I wasnt quite sure how we were supposed to feel about them and this felt frustrating rather than liberating.Still, all in all this was a very entertaining and enjoyable adventure story that does a fine job of bringing history to life. I was impressed with the variety of periods covered (mid-1920s to early 1940s) and children who do know a bit about history will probably have fun being in the know when Oscar goes to 1941 (i.e., Oscar is confused what the war is that just broke out in December 1941, etc). Those who love trains will probably be especially drawn to this tale.Also, I must say that I really loved the fact that Oscar and his dad are so close. Its rare to find a childrens story where the parent is a hero of sorts (vs. an adult that must be got out of the way so the kid can go on his/her adventure unencumbered) and specially so to see a single father portrayed in such a warm and loving light.For a more thorough synopsis of the book than I have time to write, see this fine one:http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...ETA: I listened to the audiobook and the narrator did a decent job. IT held my attention during commutes, which is more than I can say for some audiobooks though it is not up to the level of, say, a Katherine Kellgren narration. One bummer is that I didnt realize the book is illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline so I missed out on those illustrations. I did check out a hard copy of the book from the library to see the illustrations after the fact and think that they are excellent, a bit Rockwell-esque and very suited for the era.

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