A few years ago I helped out someone with a question concerning Seattle's King Street Station. Little did I know that it was the managing editor for Henry Holt & Company, George Wen, one of the oldest publishers in the country. One of their divisions is "Books for Young Readers", and Mr. Wen was so appreciative for the help that he sent me a copy of their then-latest railroad book, Old Penn Station by William Low. To show my appreciation for his generosity I wanted to write a brief review of Mr. Low's book and recommend it to anyone with kids looking for a train book. Overall, I must say that Old Penn Station, while an excellent book is a bit saddening as it tells, ever so briefly, the rise and fall of the magnificent structure.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pennsylvania Railroad's, Pennsylvania Station, it is arguably the most beautiful railroad station ever constructed in the United States. The station was conceived by the PRR's president at the time, Alexander Cassatt, who wanted to give passengers a grand entrance into downtown Manhattan in New York City. While neither Cassatt nor designer Charles McKim ever saw the building completed before their death, what opened to the public in 1911 was a building that is still spoken of with awe even today. To read more about the station and its history please this page where I have covered the building in much greater detail.
While Mr. Low's Old Penn Station is deliberately kept brief for the audience with whom will be reading the book, it is still a splendid title that I'm sure your child will enjoy it. Overall the book is about 36 pages in length with short paragraphs on each page to keep the little ones interested just long enough. However, perhaps what they will enjoy most are the vivid and fabulous illustrations composed by Mr. Low himself. These, large, detailed artistic pieces should really grab the kids' attention (I know they caught mine!).
For railfans or anyone interested in trains, you will also probably enjoy the book as Mr. Low actually does a pretty job of covering the overall historical timeline of Pennsylvania Station with just a few sentences per page to work with. The book starts out speaking of the PRR's interest in wanting a direct connection to Manhattan and page by page describes the construction of the building while mentioning the importance the building once played for New York City. Along the way, Low features superb illustrations on each page. Finally, in the most saddening part of the book, Low describes the downfall and demise of the building as it is razed in the early 1960s and replaced by the current Madison Square Garden. Old Penn Station also makes sure to mention the importance that the structure had on not only saving other historic New York buildings but also those around the country. The loss of Pennsylvania Station truly hit home with many and spurred a movement to save numerous historically important buildings around the country.
Since Old Penn Station hit retail stands in 2007 the book has received multiple awards including New York Times' Book Review Best Illustrated Books of the Year, Bank Street's Best Children's Book of the Year, the New York Public Library's Book for Reading and Sharing, and the Kirkus' Best Book of the Year. If you are interested in picking up a copy of Mr. Low's Old Penn Station the book is sold at all major booksellers such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, and others.