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True Heart

by Marissa Moss
Illustrated by C.F. Payne

Published by Silver Whistle/Harcourt Brace, 1999
32 pages
ISBN: 0-15-201344-X

Ages 6 - 9

A picture book story based on true railroad history involves a teenage girl left to take care of her eight brothers and sisters after her parents' death from typhus in 1893. At first 16-year-old Bee took in laundry. After she found out that railroad work paid better, she got a job loading freight for Union Pacific. It wasn't easy for her to get the job, and then it was difficult for her to ignore the taunts of fellow workers who had never worked along side a female, but Bee established herself as a reliable worker. She actually loved the trains and the names of their destinations. She enjoyed imagining where the passengers were traveling, and why, and she wanted to take them there herself. Sometimes she was allowed to back up the engine and couple it to cars on side tracks. Now and then Ole Pete, one of the engineers, let Bee drive all the way to the next station. Train robberies weren't uncommon in those years; during a robbery one day Ole Pete and the coal feeder were wounded. The delayed passengers let it be known that all they wanted was to get going, even with a substitute engineer who was a young woman, at that. Bee later established herself as an engineer, and her favorite engine to drive had the official name,"True Heart." Although Bee's own true heart and life are fictional, at the back of the book one can see the black-and-white archival photograph of a female train crew that supports Moss's personal research into the role of women as workers within U.S. railroad history. The illustrations were done in mixed media by Payne in this, his first book for children, although he has a long, distinguished career as an artist in other areas. His beautiful work shows a clear understanding of the story, landscapes, trains, and time period. Although the events of the story itself may seem coincidental, it brings to life a fragment of the hidden history of women laborers as well as of railroad history. As Moss writes at the end of her notes: "...there's truth in fiction, and there's truth in the many stories of people like Bee - whose names we'll never know but can only imagine - people who had the determination to live out their dreams." True Heart is a uniquely inspirational historical story representing some of the young women of America's past, girls who had to become breadwinners and who worked hard at manual labor to realize their dreams. CCBC categories: Historical People, Places and Events; Picture Books for Older Children.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

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