November 2004

Keeping track of the 50 states

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Caldecott Honor illustrator Peter Sís has lived in the United States for 20 years, and his new book, The Train of States, is a sumptuous tribute to his adopted country. A native of Czechoslovakia and the first children's book artist to be named a MacArthur Fellow, Sís was inspired to create The Train of States by a visit to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, which houses hand-carved, extravagantly painted antique circus wagons. This ingenious book is not only a visual feast, but also a parent's dream, packed with information needed for those inevitable homework assignments focusing on the states. Sís presents the 50 states in order of their entry into the Union, beginning with Delaware in 1787 and ending with Hawaii in 1959 (there's also a separate spread devoted to Washington, D.C.).

Using a combined format he has employed successfully in such books as Starry Messenger, Sís divides each page into two sections. Along the bottom of each page, readers find useful information such as the date of statehood, the state capital, bird, plant and state tree. In addition, there are tidbits that make each place unique, such as the fact that Iolani Palace in Honolulu is the only royal residence in the nation, or that Oregon's Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the country. The top four-fifths of each page depicts the train cars themselves, fancifully illustrated in the style of an antique circus train. Each train car is unique, a visual delight that captures key historical and geographical highlights of the state, along with the state's nickname and motto. For instance, Massachusetts is adorned with busts of its presidents, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams and John F. Kennedy. We see a map of the state, along with pictures of pilgrims, turkeys and small portraits of key figures such as Louisa May Alcott.

According to Sís, "There are hundreds of facts, symbols, moments from history, tidbits, and details presented on these pages. I hope my book will lead you on your own journeys of discovery." All aboard!

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