Stop the Train by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Stop the Train by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: Settlers in the new town of Florence, Oklahoma, must get together to campaign for their town's survival. This is a delightful story full of larger than life characters, warmth and humour.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2007
Publisher: OUP Oxford
ISBN: 978-0192718815

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Cissy and her family have come to set up a grocery store in the brand new town of Florence, Oklahoma, near the railroad. She quickly makes friends with a very chatty, kind boy called Kookie, short for Habbakuk. Other people come to stake their claim on plots of land, and open up businesses. It is all very exciting but the settlers of this new town soon discover they have a serious problem. The railroad company wanted the land the town is being built on, and when everyone turns down the cash they are offered to give up their claims, the railroad boss announces his trains will not stop in Florence. The railroad is the reason for the town's existence, and without it Florence will collapse before it is properly started.

How the townsfolk of Florence get together and stop the train is the story of this delightful historical novel for older children, set in the US in the 1890s. What really made this such an enjoyable read was a vibrant cast of characters. As well as Cissy and Kookie and the other children, there is Herman the Mormon signwriter, who has a moral objection to money and wants to get to Salt Lake City, Utah, where most Mormons live, but has only been able to trade his services for a ticket to Florence.

My favourite adult character, though, is Mrs Loucien Shades, a widow who answered an ad for a wife but when someone else is offered that position, agrees to become the town's schoolteacher. She has no formal teaching qualifications and possibly rather less formal education herself than might be expected, but what she lacks in technical expertise, she makes up for in other ways. She loves the children and they love her, and she has some inspired ideas for keeping the curriculum interesting, for example getting all the adults in town to come in and talk to the children about their work or other subjects they know about.

I love to read historical fiction with very strong but believable female characters. Girls and women in this time and place must have been tough – they would have had to be to survive the trials and tribulations of pioneer life.

I also liked the way in which the novel shows that the people of Florence need each other, the need to get together and plan collective action to achieve their goal. They are full of bright ideas and enthusiasm, though some of their plans don't quite work.

Although written for children, this very funny and touching historical novel is a great read which many adults would enjoy too.

If you feel sad to put this book down at the end, the new story about the same characters, Pull Out All the Stops! is reviewed here. Other possibilities are The Death Defying Pepper Roux by the same author, and Gatty's Tale (set nearly 800 years earlier in 1203) by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

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Buy Stop the Train by Geraldine McCaughrean at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Stop the Train by Geraldine McCaughrean at


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