Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Boundless: The Last Spike

If you’re Canadian you’ve probably seen this photo.
It's 1885 up in Craigellachie, BC. It’s not even a real town. (It’s near Revelstoke.)
This is where the tracks coming from the East met the tracks coming from the West, up in the mountains.
You can see the workers in the foreground.
The fellow driving the spike is Donald Smith, the President of the CPR. (He actually bent the first spike, and had to do it again. He had a desk job.)
Behind him to the left is William Cornelius Van Horne, the General Manager of the railroad and its driving force.

To the right of Van Horne, looking like his beard is about to explode is Sandford Fleming, surveyor and engineer.
And who is that kid, peeking out to the right of Donald Smith...


Well, I know who he is in real life... but in my next post, I'll tell you who he is in the world of The Boundless...

(The sasquatch? Look very closely. It's hard to see, but it's there...)


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Boundless: Leaving the Station

It's huge.

It has to be.

Embarking on its maiden voyage across the continent, The Boundless pulls over 900 cars and more than 6000 people, on a train seven miles long.

 It’s a rolling city.

It carries tycoons and newly arrived immigrants, famous inventors and murderous charlatans. It contains opulent lounges and staterooms, a swimming pool, a cinema, a raucous saloon and a shooting range.

It pulls hundreds of freight cars -- and another eighty belonging to the world famous Zirkus Dante. Inside are acrobats, giants, stilt-walking Siamese twins -- and other wonders of the world, including a sasquatch.

And right behind the massive locomotive is a funeral car containing the remains of the rail baron whose dying wish was to travel forever back and forth across the continent on the train and tracks he masterminded.

* * *

When I was growing up, stories always seemed to take place somewhere else. For me, it was usually England or the United States. Stories could happen in the English countryside, or London, or in New York City, or in Utah or in Mammoth Falls, Wisconsin, but they never seemed to happen much in Canada. It’s changed a lot now, but I still think, as Canadians, we’re not so great at telling our own stories. And especially mythologizing our stories so that they lodge in our memories and even psyches. I used to think history was boring. It had nothing to do with me. Over the years I’ve come across lots of amazing things about our country.
One of them was the building of the national railway.
Canada is huge. It’s incredibly wide. Imagine building a railway from  coast to coast.
Truly, Canada might not have existed as we know it, without the railway. It stitched the  country together. Not only that, the path of the CPR had a huge hand in deciding how the country was going  to be settled and the where the major western cities would rise.
The building of the railway was a truly epic undertaking. Explorers and surveyors spent months and years finding the best routes. Then came making the road, and then laying the steel.

They had to blast through the endless Precambrian rock of the Canadian Shield north of the great lakes.

And then there was the muskeg, hundreds of miles of it,  land so boggy that ton after ton after ton of gravel fill just disappeared into its watery wastes, The muskeg ate gravel and steel. Whole trains were sucked into the depthless morass.


Then there were the trestle bridges to cross river valleys.

 And then came the Rockies.
Work slowed down in the mountains.
There were cliffs and gorges and avalanches, dynamite and blasting.
There were terrible conditions for the workers, especially for the Chinese workers who were brought in and paid much less than the white men, and given the most dangerous jobs.
But they did it. Despite all the hardships and inequalities, the work was finished in 1885.
In my next post: The Last Spike.
With sasquatches...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Boundless Tour Dates

Credit: Ian Crysler Photography
Where I’ll be this spring, to talk about, and read from, THE BOUNDLESS!

 APRIL 2014
Toronto ON

April 26th
Chapters Brampton, 2:00PM


April 28, 2014, 4:30 PM
Children's Book World


April 29, 2014, 10:30 AM
Politics and Prose

St. Louis, MO

April 30th, 6:30PM
St. Charles City-County Library - Spencer Rd. Branch 


May 2, 2014, 7:00PM
Anderson's Bookstore

MAY 2014


May 5th 7:00 PM
Munro's Books

May 6th 9:15 AM
Belfry Theatre
Greater Victoria Public Library


May 6th, 7:00 PM
Vancouver Kidsbooks
Teacher’s Night Event
3083 W Broadway.

May 7th, 7:00 PM
North Vancouver District Library (Lynn Valley branch)
1277 Lynn Valley Road. North Vancouver

May 9-10
School and Library Readings

May 10th, 2:00 PM
Fish Creek Library,
11161 Bonaventure Dr SE, Calgary, AB T2J 6S1
(403) 260-2600


May 10-11th
School and Library Readings

May 11th 2:00PM
Chapters Sherwood Park
#500 - 2020 Sherwood Drive. Sherwood Park AB


May 12th, 7:00PM
McNally Robinson Grant Park
1120 Grant Avenue Winnipeg, MB

May 13th
School and Library Readings
Montreal/ Point Claire QC

May 14, 2014, 1:00PM
Point Claire Public Library

May 14th, 7:00PM
Beaconsfield Public Library
303 Beaconsfield Boulevard, Beaconsfield QC

Sherbrooke QC

May 15, 2014
De Mots et De Craie Conference


May 16th 10:00AM -
Red Maple Festival
Nepean Sportsplex

May 20th, 7:00PM
Copperfield's Books
Petaluma, CA

May 21st, 7:00PM

May 22nd, 7:00PM
Reading Bug
San Carlos, CA


May 29-30
School and Library Visits

Thursday, March 6, 2014

School Library Journal gives The Boundless a Star

RedReviewStar Book Review: Grades 5 8 FictionOppel, Kenneth. The Boundless. 336p. S & S. Apr. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442472884; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442472907. LC 2013009879.
Gr 5-8 –All aboard for an exciting tale of steam-powered automatons, a bloodthirsty sasquatch, colorful circuses, and magical paintings. Aspiring artist Will Everett knows he’s not cut out to follow in the footsteps of his railroad manager father, but his pampered life leaves little opportunity for adventure. Then he boards The Boundless, the world’s largest and most luxurious train. After acquiring the key to the railway owner’s funeral car, Will is running for his life, pursued by deadly enemies who will do anything to possess the car’s valuable contents. He is rescued by Mr. Dorian, ringmaster of the famed Zircus Dante, and an escape artist called The Miraculous Maren. These two performers, however, have their own secret agenda for helping Will. As The Boundless thunders toward its destination, Will must decide who to trust, if anyone. Along the way, Will is on the adventure of a lifetime. With its imaginative plot, cast of colorful, well-rounded characters, and nonstop action, Oppel’s latest is a delight to read from the first page right through the satisfying conclusion. Take note: This book will be popular!–Alissa J. Bach, Oxford Public Library, MI

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Publishers Weekly reviews The Boundless

 The Boundless
By Kenneth Oppel
(SSBFYR; ISBN: 9781442472884; April 2014; Spring catalog)

Will Everett’s father is just a poor man laying track for the Canadian Pacific Railway until, on the day when the last spike is driven home somewhere in the Rockies, James Everett saves the railroad’s president from an avalanche. Three years later, James is a railroad executive, and he and Will have been invited on the maiden intercontinental trip of the Boundless, the largest train ever assembled at nearly 1,000 cars. This purposefully melodramatic tale is set in a slightly alternate 19th-century North America, where monsters like the mighty sasquatch roam the Canadian wilderness. Will becomes embroiled in a plot to break into a palatial funeral car, along with Maren—the beautiful wire walker of the Zirkus Dante, whose cars are part of the train—and the circus’s mysterious M├ętis ringmaster, Mr. Dorian. Dangers both natural and supernatural abound, as well as a certain amount of social commentary regarding class and ethnicity. Oppel’s (Such Wicked Intent) imagination and sense of adventure never disappoint, and readers should thrill to this rousing tale as it barrels ahead at full speed. Ages 8–12. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Apr.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Canadian Materials weighs in on The Boundless

The Boundless.
Kenneth Oppel.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2014.
332 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-1-44341-026-7.

Grades 5-11 / Ages 10-16.

Review by Michelle Superle.

**** /4


There have been moments—and Will remembers each one—when he has sensed his life shift. He felt it that day in the mountains when he met Maren for the first time. And he feels it again now. The entire world seems much larger and stranger than he could ever have imagined. It now contains not only sasquatch but a muskeg hag—and canvases that can trick time itself. He certainly doesn’t understand it, and he’s not even sure he believes it.

Kenneth Oppel returns with another rip-roaring adventure tale for readers aged 10 through 16. The Boundless is a magic realism re-visioning of one of Canada’s most dramatic historical periods—the completion of the CPR. Sixteen-year-old fictional protagonist William Everett mingles with larger-than-life industrial leaders of the past convincingly brought to life, including Cornelius Van Horne, Donald Smith, and Sandford Fleming. In a dazzling sleight of hand, these real historical figures blur together with imaginary circus folk like tightrope walker Maren and ringleader Mr. Dorian, alongside fantastical creatures such as hags and oh-so-Canadian sasquatch. The mash-up is evidence of Oppel’s exceptional faith in his young readers to sort fiction from fact; it also invites genuine contemplation of the possibility that there is more to life than we can rationally understand.

     Will’s story begins with the last spike, but his journey across the country on the 11-kilometer-long train, The Boundless, starts years later. The story blends reality with imagination to make insightful commentary on the human journeys of growing up and finding oneself. Over the course of a country, Will does both, along with falling in love, saving lives, and exploring many aspects of human existence—from its poorest roots to the most spectacular possibilities glimpsed through magic. The Boundless is a grand, lavish spectacle of proportions as exciting as the train itself, the likes of which is rarely seen in Canadian children’s literature. Perhaps more unusual still is the story’s awareness of (post)colonial issues and the deft way in which Oppel protests corrosive racial attitudes through commentary spoken by plausible characters that believably reflect their views on the real-life pervasive economic, cultural, and political problems of that era in Canadian history.

     As serious as its philosophy and ideology are, at its core The Boundless is a rollicking adventure tale incorporating all the best features of the genre. ... [spoilers removed] Oppel makes a strong suggestion similar to those made in the best children’s stories: follow your dreams by developing your own unique aptitude, and you can’t help but succeed. Now as always, this is a welcome affirmation for readers of all ages. The Boundless will become another timeless Canadian classic, standing in good company with Oppel’s other works.

Highly Recommended.

Michelle Superle is an Assistant Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley where she teaches children’s literature and creative writing courses. She has served twice as a judge for the TD Award for Canadian Children’s Literature and is the author of Black Dog, Dream Dog and Contemporary, English-language Indian Children’s Literature (Routledge, 2011).