-posted by Meghan
Coming right up on May 8th, it’s National Train Day! If you have toddlers, preschoolers, or early grade schoolers, this is a big day, since trains (anything with wheels) are pretty fascinating and important to this age group. At major train stations in lots of cities across the country, they’re having exhibits of model trains, equipment, and loads of other activities. You find out what’s going on near you at the National Train Day Kids website.
We will actually be missing the festivities this year, since in Los Angeles, May 8th is also Fire Service Recognition Day. Firetrucks are Jacob’s favorite thing in the world (after diggers!)- he even sleeps in a firetruck bed- so that takes precedence for us. (As an aside, did you even realize these days existed, before you were a parent? I sure didn’t, and it surprises me how much it turns out I enjoy them!) So, since we’ll be missing visiting the trains, I thought we’d celebrate by reading some of our favorite train books.
Here are our top 5 train books, complete with the Molly and Jacob seal of approval:
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
It’s a modern classic, and there’s a reason for it. Yes, it’s really a Christmas book, so you may wonder why I’d say to read it in May, but it’s definitely a book that brings the sense of wonder and magic of a train ride to life. And the illustrations are mesmerizing.
The Little Train by Lois Lensky
Pre-twins, I knew Lois Lensky as the author of The Strawberry Girl, and the illustrator of the Betsy-Tacy series. Now that the kids adore the many incarnations of Mr. Small, I think of her as his creator. While the books are a little dull for grownups, kids seem to adore the details of a day in the life…
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
I don’t need to describe or sell this classic to anyone, do I? For days after reading it, you’ll be chanting to yourself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” Which isn’t a bad thing, really.
The Goodnight Train by June Sobel, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
It’s a simple bedtime story, and the repetitive and fun sounds make it a hit with toddlers. It’s great for train lovers, and bed-time avoiders (and most of the toddlers I know are both, so it’s a double win!).
Thomas’ ABC Book by Rev. W. Awdry
I’m so not a fan of these kinds of books, but I am a firm believer that if it’s a book, and kids love it, it’s a great thing. And kids seem to love Thomas, and love this book. Even my kids, who have never seen the show adore this book, and pretend to be the trains. And it’s got the alphabet, so it gives you nice talking points for letters as well as trains.
Meanwhile, if you’re not in the under 5 crowd, you’re not left out! While trains might not be the main character in many books for older kids, and they tend not to talk, they are certainly there! My Grandma always said it isn’t an English movie unless there’s a train in it (and she’s right) and you’ll find that while many favourite English novels aren’t about trains per se, they certainly have one, usually at the beginning. Here are my four favorite reads for the Tween and Early Adolescent crowd (or parents who like to reminisce…) the first two of which are decidedly British:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Would Harry have even gotten to Hogwarts without the Hogwarts express? (Well, yes, like when he and Ron took Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia and flew it there… but you get the point.) Harry’s first trip to Platform 9 3/4 is where his adventure really begins, and it’s the Hogwarts Express that takes him, and us, from the Muggle world to the magical one.
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (what is it with these Brits and initials!)
“They were not railway children to begin with…” begins the books, and reading how they came to be will have you crying at times, but laughing plenty too. I’m a total sucker for books written at the turn of the century, but even if you’re not, I think you’ll find that this sweet-but-not-sappy story pulls you and your whole family in. It’s a wonderful read aloud.
This was the first Edgar Eager book I read as a kid, and once I finished it, I devoured the rest. They all have a new and different kind of magic, and the sneaky magic always manages to teach a pretty great lesson, mixed in with the adventure. (Once I thought about it, the kids also take a train to begin their magical adventure in The Time Garden. Eager must have liked trains as much as his English counterparts.)
Seems like all these books were written for our great-grandparents or grandparents, doesn’t it? This one was written recently, though it takes place in the 1940’s. I guess if you want a train book, you’ve got to look to an era when trains were a more popular mode of transportation! It’s hard to summarize this book, where a train trip is the first part of the adventure itself, not just the transport to the adventure, but I guarantee you won’t be sorry you read it.
Happy National Train Day!