Steam, Smoke and Steel book cover image

Steam, Smoke, and Steel

  • 795

Written & Illustrated by: Patrick O'Brien

All aboard!

This train travels through history making stops in time to learn about the progress of travel by rail.

Hop up into the cab of a speeding modern-day locomotive and look down the tracks into the past. Perhaps these are the same tracks that the diesel-electric locomotives of thirty years ago thundered down, pulling their loads. Perhaps you can see the steam engines of thirty years before that. Watch time unravel and the landscape change as the history of trains barrels through the pages.

Young readers will be fascinated by the exciting - and sometimes dangerous - story of trains while they learn about the different kinds of engines, equipment, and jobs necessary for operating trains throughout history. The young narrator introduces readers to trains from the time of his great-great-great-great-great grandfather at the turn of the nineteenth century to his father's train of today, showing the great changes that invention and progress have brought over time.

Patrick O'Brien's striking illustrations emphasize the beauty, grandeur, and romance of the train. Detailed and richly textured oil paintings take readers on a trip through time to ride aboard open-air cars, travel through mountain passes, and roar down the rails on high-speed bullet trains. Budding engineers will love getting a glimpse at the past and dreaming about the future of trains.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Patrick O'Brien, author & illustrator

Patrick O'Brien was raised a Navy "brat" and moved around a lot as a child, but now he calls Baltimore, Maryland, home. He grew up drawing and painting, but did not realize that he should be an illustrator until after he graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in biology. He then attended art school at Virginia Commonwealth University and started a successful freelance career drawing storyboards for advertising agencies.

Read more about Patrick.

Awards & Honors:

  • Austin Young Engineer's Award

Editorial Reviews:


A young boy announces his intention to drive a train someday, just like his father. And, as it turns out, just like his grandfather, great-grandmother, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. The boy tells about each relative and each train, traveling through time to create a brief, anecdotal history of American locomotives and railroads. Brightening every page of this well-designed book are watercolor-and-gouache paintings that put each train front and center in a horizontal, double-page spread. Alternating spreads illustrate the text with smaller paintings, which might show the engineers at work, the locomotives in cross-section, or a dramatic scene from a family story. Each picture shows O'Brien's sure sense of color and line, as well as his clear affection for the subject. In the end, the boy imagines himself as an adult who drives a futuristic train and brings his daughter to see it. A handsome book that offers young American train buffs a glimpse of history and a sense of family.

School Library Journal

Beginning with a boy's description of his father's job as a locomotive engineer, this book offers a history of railroads through the eyes of the child's ancestors. From his father's modern train, complete with computer controls, readers jump back to the boy's grandfather, who drove a diesel locomotive in the 1960s. They continue back through the years to the youngster's great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, one of the first to drive the "brand-new invention called a steam locomotive." Each section starts with a two-page spread with a large illustration of the train from the time period. Each one sits in the same station and has a different cat for observant eyes to spot. Alternate spreads feature more detailed information about these means of locomotion in the various eras. Technology facts are neatly interwoven with reminiscences from various relatives. Great-great-great-grandfather's train was held up by Jesse James; great-grandmother was one of the few women who drove a steam locomotive in the 1930s. In a pleasing conclusion, the boy imagines himself as a grown-up engineer, telling his own daughter about driving a futuristic train. The inventive narrative approach presents plenty of fascinating facts about trains of the past. At the same time it conveys a sense of family pride, as well as respect for earlier days. The fictionalized anecdotes give just enough information for children to get a sense of what it might have been like to ride (or drive) a train over the past 150 years.


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ISBN: 978-0-88106-972-3

ISBN: 978-1-60734-396-7 PDF
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Ages: 5-8
Page count: 32
11 x 8 1/2

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