This week I’m reviewing another debut picture book, out soon from KT Johnston, a member of the fabulous 2020 Debut Crew!

RAILWAY JACK will be out February 1 from Capstone.  

Connect with the 2020 Debut Crew:


Written by: KT Johnston

Illustrated by: César Samaniego

Capstone Editions, February 1, 2020; non-fiction

For ages: 8-12

Themes/topics: service animals, trains, friendship

First spread:

Rrrrrr! A train rumbled into Uitenhage Station at the tip of South Africa. Opened in 1875, the charming station was nearly brand new. The train squealed to a stop and exhaled a whoooosh of steam. While people bustled on and off, a railway guard named Jim Wide walked from engine to caboose. Jim ducked underneath and looked in between the cars. He inspected each one to make sure the train was safe.

Summary (from the publisher):

Jim was a South African railway inspector in the late 1800s who lost his legs in an accident while at work. Unable to perform all his tasks with his disability but desperate to keep his job, Jim discovered a brilliant solution, a baboon named Jack. Jim trained Jack to help him both at home and at the depot. But when the railway authorities and the public discovered a monkey on the job, Jack and Jim had to work together to convince everyone that they made a great team. This inspiring true story celebrates the history of service animals and a devoted friendship.

Why I like this book:

           With vivid imagery and dynamic writing, the story hooks you from the start with an engaging portrait of the life of Jim, a railway inspector in the late 1800s. But soon Jim has an accident that results in the amputation of both legs. And because there were little to no social services available to help people with disabilities at that time, it was up to Jim to carve himself wooden legs and to write to the railway, begging to be rehired.

           Luckily, he was given a job as a signalman. And though that job was much less physically demanding than Jim’s previous railway work, it was still very difficult. Jim built himself a cart that helped some.

           When Jim saw Jack, a trained baboon, assisting a man, Jim immediately recognized that Jack could be of great assistance to him. And Jack was; he did the work as ably as a human.

The railway got a complaint from a horrified passenger.But luckily for Jim, when the railway authorities sent a man to investigate, Jack convinced the investigator that he did his work capably and safely.

           What’s especially moving about this book is the sense of the deep bond of friendship that developed between Jim and Jack. There’s also a sense the Jack liked his job; it seemed he enjoyed learning new tasks and helping his friend.

           The impressive Author’s Note includes details that take us beyond the timeframe of the story and includes photos of the real-life Jim and Jack. I also appreciated the History of Service Animals section and the Discussion Questions that will get readers asking questions like, “Why is it important to remember that animals are not human?” and talking about complex issues like whether “a baboon should be left in the wild.”

Note: I received an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

4 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday: RAILWAY JACK

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