Thursday, August 20, 2009


The Little Engine that Could
by Watty Piper

This 1950s classic is seen throughout the world as a truly American tale. A struggle over adversity and a triumph for the little engine who wants to be helpful and try her best. But let's not forget those big unhelpful engines who think they're too important, too exclusive or just too weak. They don't disappear just because the little blue engine makes it to the top of the mountain. I'm sure many hours have been spent discussing the political ramifications of this book, but this is not the place to do it.
I read from a version with the original text and modern illustrations by Loren Long, but I edit as I read. The idea of giving a child a "jack knife" now seems too odd to read aloud. I also edit the mean-spiritedness of the unhelpful trains, although mostly because my audience is normally 3 years and under and expecting them to sit still for the full length of the original text is a little unreasonable.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo
by Kevin Lewis

This train is a toy, but it still has a very busy day loading toy freight and crossing fish tank river. The primary coloured illustrations give you a real sense of a toy's eye view and the creative use of props to make landscape is refreshing. One of the best things about this book though is the lovely change of pace at the end of the book as the train gets more tired and eventually goes to sleep. It makes it a perfect bedtime story.

Bebop Express
by H. L. Panahi, Steve Johnson, and Lou Fancher
This is a new discovery for me and an instant hit in our house. The train runs from New York to New Orleans, picking up jazz musicians along the way. The text is full of tongue twisting scat style rhymes and the illustrations are collage using real photographs of real people. So much more than a train book, this is a history of jazz; an introduction to stand up bass, saxophone, drums and voice and a proud fanfare for the "American jazz symphony".

A Train Goes Clickety-Clack
by Jonathan London and Denis Roche
A more conventional book which lists different types of train as cartoon family rides the rails.

Freight Train by Donald Crews
This board book is incredibly simple and massively effective. Each type of train car is a different colour and they all run together as the train picks up speed and finally disappears off the last page.

I'll be singing The Runaway Train, Train is a Comin' and This Train is Going to Grandma's.

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