...this weekend my family and I hopped onboard the Three Rivers Rambler for its opening day ride. We lucked out in that we got to ride it on a steam engine day, as opposed to its usual diesel engine. The Rambler operates out of Volunteer Landing, a beautiful riverside park right near our home and on the edge of downtown. I was quickly thrown back to my days as a tourguide at Carillon Historical Park , and my Rainman-like knowledge of train cars, makers, engines, depots, and semaphores in Southern Ohio. Then I got to thinking of good children's literature about trains. Then I got to compiling all these train-related thoughts into a comprehensive list, bullet-pointed and Power-Pointed into a presentation for you wonderful people.
Then I settled, all in a mere 5.2 seconds, on harvesting my favorite (so therefore the best) children's literature about trains. Or train related.
1. Thomas the Tank Engine (entire body of work) - W. Rev. Audry
Talk about prolific.
After sixty-plus years, these classic tales of Thomas (and of course his friends) have spawned a television series, toy trains, and even a touring company of Thomas Railways that come to different towns and offer a day with Sir Topham Hatt, a real train to ride (full-size!) that (sort of!) resembles Thomas...but if you are a parent of a child under the age of 10, you already know this. All of this lovely stuff that for all its recent commercialism and toy recalls truly brings kids joy and has exploded from some beautifully detailed stories, with rich illustrations, written by a brilliant man for his little boy.
2. The Little Engine that Could - Watty Piper
This train book made me cry once...and I mean recently
Another classic. The suggested 'reading age' (P.S. I'm not a huge fan of the age-ranges in classifying books) is 4-8. I started reading this book to my son at about age 2. The last time we checked it out from the library, I choked up while reading it to him. Throw out all your Deepak Chopras, your Dr. Phils, and your Joel Osteens. Pick this one up. It's all you need.
3. The Little Train - Lois Lensky
This book is the reason my son knows what a semaphore is. - and why there's a fireman on the train that's different than the fireman who drives a red firetruck. Lenski goes into intense detail about the workings of a railroad and its employees. And that's EXACTLY what little kids who are into trains want. Every. single. last. detail. Ones parents usually don't know (except for parents like me, former tourguide-train-nerds). The authentically deco style of illustration will please even the most urbane parents. "And that's all, about Engineer Small!"
4. The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg
Forget about that silly movie Even though my son loves it. He loves the book even more, and in fact, his first phrase he "read" was "The Polar Express"...that kid will sit and listen to Van Allsburg's masterpiece over and over again. Which says a lot, since he's not even 3 1/2, and even precocious and extremely gifted (well, we like to think) kids like him at this age have the attention span of, well, 3 1/2 year olds.
Those are my favorites, and my son's favorites as well. Others that come to mind...
Eyewitness: Train...DK's Big Book of Trains, Freight Train by Donald Crews, Boxcar Children books, Orphan Train Children books, and C is for Caboose- Riding the Rails from A to Z (that one in particular is excellent - - with 1940's illustrations and interesting facts about trains and train culture, it's an alphabet learner that parents and educators like reading on their own as well...)
I leave you with a couple of pictures of our rail adventure: