Monday, November 14, 2011

Train Books for Children Mini-Reviews

These are reviews of the train books we checked out of the library for our unit study on trains. In addition to this reading, I did a simple fingerplay from a '60s-era book for teachers called Rhymes for Fingers and Flannelboards, we visited Travel Town in Griffith Park and we visited our city's real, live train station. Other books we read that aren't reviewed here are Freight Train by Donald Crews, The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper and That's Not My Train from the popular touch-and-feel series.

Train Song, Diane Siebert (author), Mike Wimmer (illustrator): The text is an image-heavy poem that was originally published in Cricket magazine in the early '80s, the paintings are a mix of locations and scenes that almost seem like a movie montage, but the total effect is tremendously evocative and educational. This was one of our favorite books; it was right at J's level and we both dug it.

Trains: Steaming! Pulling! Huffing!, Patricia Hubbell (author), Megan Halsey, Sean Addy (illustrators): Great rollicking verse, great funny collage images, great book.

William and the Night Train, Mij Kelly (author), Alison Jay (illustrator): This is the one train book I'd most like to eventually add in our personal collection. Wide-awake William learns that everyone sleeps on the train to tomorrow. Beautiful sleepytime verse, dense pictures that will grow with the kids, altogether a lovely bed time book.

Two Little Trains, Margaret Wise Brown (author), Leo Dillon, Diane Dillon (illustrators): This was far and away my fave of the imaginary toy trains books. "Two little trains went West," but one is a real streamliner crossing the country, one is a boy's train climbing stair mountains instead of the Rocky Mountains, and so forth. Lovely verse, lovely spare pictures.


Trains, Byron Barton (author, illustrator): Clean, simple and straightforward. All of these Byron Barton transportation books are great for guys J's age, and even younger, I'd think.

Engine, Engine, Number Nine, Stephanie Calmenson (author), Paul Meisel (illustrator): Train books naturally lend themselves to great rhythms and this was just a fun wacky long rhyming poem.

Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga, Christopher Wormell (author, illustrator): Entertaining-enough story and cute pastel illustrations, but this one just made me uncomfortable because it's about how the little engineer thinks his obese passengers Mr. Elephant, Mrs. Bear and Mrs. Walrus are too fat to be on his train safely!


Choo Choo: The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away, Virginia Lee Burton (author, illustrator): Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel is one of my favorite books of all time (not just of children's books, of all books!), but this was a disappointment. Choo Choo is an irresponsible train engine who wants to live it up, and the telling of this tale is just too routine to be exciting. The biggest problem, however, is the incredibly muddy images, which are rendered in black charcoal, making them too hard to see and just no fun.

All Aboard! A True Train Story, Susan Kuklin (author, photographer): Photographic storybook about a still-exant steam train that operates in Colorado. This had the best age-level-appropriate fact-section in the back (the code of train whistles, how steam engines and railroad tracks work), but the story and pictures were just dull.

Chugga-Chugga, Choo-Choo, Kevin Lewis (author), Daniel Kirk (illustrator): Totally unremarkable toys-come-to-life train book.

Steam, Smoke and Steel: Back in Time with Trains, Patrick O'Brien (author, illustrator): This one failed through no fault of the book, it was just way about J's age level. Probably better for an eight-year-old.


John Henry, Julius Lester (author), Jerry Pinkney (illustrator): I've always loved the story of John Henry and this version made me cry like a baby, but Jackson wasn't having it. We'll try again in a couple years while exploring American folklore in more depth. We'll also save Casey Jones for then. I found a perfectly tolerable Casey Jones book at our branch library, but came to realize the story is mostly famous because of the folk song (and the story is a downer anyway--dude dies in a train crash!), so I just put together a YouTube playlist for the kid focusing on the song and that was plenty of exposure/entertainment for now.

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