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Ghost Train

by Paul Yee, Harvey Chan, illus.

The ghost train in this story is similar to the ferry of Charon in classical mythology: it carries the souls of the dead. Here, the souls belong to the Chinese workers who were killed while building the mountain railways in North America. Since their bodies have not received a proper burial, the men’s souls remain trapped on the ghost train, winding along roads that never take them home. They need liberating, and this is where 14-year-old Choon-yi comes in. As a talented ink painter and the daughter of one of the deceased, she is asked to render a faithful image of the train.

The historical material in this book would lend itself easily to a censorious tone, but Yee manages to avoid this. He informs his readers of the desperate poverty that drove many Chinese labourers to the North American railroads and of the dangerous and exploitative conditions under which they worked. But he has built the main story around Choon-yi’s adventures and eventual triumph, and this makes a positive frame into which to cast the less pleasant but equally historical facts.

This is the second collaboration between Paul Yee and Harvey Chan. In their first picture book, Roses Sing on New Snow, a young restaurant chef in “the New World” uses her culinary arts to comfort Chinese labourers who have had to leave their families behind. In Ghost Train, Choon-yi offers the same kindness, only with ink painting instead of fine foods. We don’t see any of her paintings though, perhaps because they are supposed to be magical and this would be asking rather a lot of the illustrator. However, Chan would probably be up to the challenge. He has illustrated this story with highly expressive oil paintings that complement the story in all of its aspects, ranging from the sombre to the surreal. My only reservation is that the illustrations might be too subtle (or simply too dark) for the tastes of children under the age of seven.


Reviewer: Bridget Donald

Publisher: Groundwood


Price: $15.95

Page Count: 32 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-88899-257-2

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 1996-7

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, Picture Books

Age Range: ages 5-8