Kid's Stuff -- Books About Choo-Choo Trains
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"My Puffer Train"
Written by Mary Murphy
Illustrated by Mary Murphy
(Egmont, 2000)

Murphy's emblematic penguin (who appears in a number of books) drives a train through the countryside, picking up various animals along the way, and pointing others out as they roll by, with each animal making its own sound -- hee-haw, woof-woof, etc.... They all go to the seaside and then back home... As with Murphy's other books, the pictures are bright and boldly drawn, in a "Maisy"-like way, and will catch an infant's eyes The text is a little clunky, though, even a bit forced. But it's still a nice book, particularly for little ones who are really into trains. (B-)


"The Little Engine That Could"
Written by Watty Piper
Illustrated by George & Doris Haumann
(Platt & Munk, 1930)

This is one of those old, classic books that you go back and read and think, omigod, I had no idea all that stuff was going on in this book! In this case, it's the political content that surprised me... You know the story, right? After a train filled with toys and "good food" breaks down on the far side of the mountain, the toys beg various engines to help them and are rebuffed until a kind, little engine stops to help them. It's the rejections of the first trains -- and their not-too-shrouded political symbolism -- that are so fascinating. The first is a passenger engine train, symbolizing the spoiled, upper-class bourgeois, sniffing haughtily that it hauls around people who are really important, not just dumb old toys. The second seems to symbolize the unions and proletariat (this was the 1930s, remember...), a mighty freight engine that huffs and snorts about how it hauls mighty machines and tools of industry, and it doesn't have the time for some silly toys... Then comes a worn-out, rusty old engine -- the used-up average man? -- which wheezes its way past the little train, sighing, "I cannot, I cannot, I cannot..." Then finally, comes the plucky, all-American, Good Samaritan, can-do Little Engine That Could, who agrees to hitch up and pitch in, singing to herself the whole way up the hill that famous refrain: "I think I can, I think I can..." It's that well-known message of optimism and self-empowerment that stuck with everyone and entered the popular consciousness, but omigosh, all the other stuff that's in here! WHO KNEW?? Admittedly, this book is structurally awkward, particularly the super-repetitive, lumbering text... And yet, it's still a great story, one that continues to resonate from one century to the next... Chugga, chugga, chugga!! Puff, puff, puff!! Whooo-whooo!! (B+)


"The Little Red Caboose"
Written by Marian Potter
Illustrated by Tibor Gergely
(Golden Books, 2000)

(-)


"Train Song"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Donals Saaf
(Orchard Books, 2000)

One of the nicer "train books" you'll find out there... Each morning a little boy sits high on a mountainside and watches a freight train roll by, through farmlands and past whistlestops. He brings his own toy train with him, and once the big train rolls away, starts to count the hours until he can see the train again. Nice artwork... the only trouble I have with this book is the depictation of the livestock -- yeah, trains carry animals, but I doubt many of them are as happy about it as the pigs and cows in this book. Still, what are ya gonna do? Give your kid a PETA handbook to balance things out? Overall, this one's a winner... little children who are into trains will love this. (A-)




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