Ghost Train

by Paul Yee, Harvey Chan,
ISBN: 0888992572

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Children`s Books
by Jeffrey Canton

Ghost Train is a magnificent new picture-book written by Paul Yee with paintings by Harvey Chan. They work marvellously together; their 1992 collaboration, Roses Sing on New Snow, won them the prestigious Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award. Like Roses, Ghost Train is written in the style of a folktale focusing on the experiences of the Chinese in Canada in the early 1900s.

Choon-yi and her mother are left behind in their village in South China when her father decides to sail to North America to help build a railway through the mountains. While her father regularly sends money and news to his family, Choon-yi adds to the family's fortunes by painting portraits in the marketplace. When her father sends for her after two long years, she quickly gathers up her ink brushes, colours, and paper, and sets off on a journey to Gold Mountain. But she has no sooner arrived in the new world than she discovers that her father was killed when the side of the mountain collapsed. Choon-yi sadly prepares to return to her village alone.

The night before she sails for home, however, her father comes to her in a dream pleading with her to paint the fire-car, "the train that runs on the road that I built." And Choon-yi sets off to create a masterpiece that will set her father-and the many other men who have died building the railway-free.

Yee has once again delved into the past to create a gem of a story. Not only does he draw on the history of the Chinese in Canada and the pivotal role that Chinese Canadians played in the building of the railway, but Yee also uses folktale motifs to add depth to his story. Ghost Train is beautifully written-poignant, chilling, and utterly compelling.

What is particularly special about this book are Harvey Chan's evocative paintings. His illustrations seem imbued with life-they shimmer and glow like the coals that fire the ghost train-and ready to jump off the page. He is an illustrator who is best known for the diversity of his style-how completely, and wonderfully, different this book is from Roses Sing on New Snow or The Charlotte Stories. Chan has used rich browns, yellows, and reds to create a ghostly luminous bowl in which we can feast on Paul Yee's story. l

Jeffrey Canton is program co-ordinator for the Canadian Children's Book Centre.


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