The Washington Post

Three steam-powered children’s books about trains

With Amtrak reporting a record 31.6 million passengers, families will welcome this year’s trainload of picture books about locomotives. And from factual to fanciful, many of them are excellent.

Climb aboard Elisha Cooper’s “Train.” In the busy, vaulted station, conductors check their watches, “hats wave, whistles blow,” and passengers hustle to get through the doors before they “whoosh shut.” Soon, your red-striped commuter train is overtaken by a bright-blue passenger train, and magically you become an engineer, peering out the windshield at the on-rushing tracks. In the rail yard, you meet a freight, crammed with “steel, concrete, oil, corn, and lumber.” Then it’s off to the dining car of an overnight local and finally the blurred world of sleek, high-speed travel. The long format, impressionistic watercolors and varied perspectives beautifully evoke a sense of train travel, “a small world moving through a larger world.”

Sherri Duskey Rinker’s train is of another sort entirely. Under a midnight-blue sky sprinkled with stars, the crew of her “Steam Train, Dream Train” loads car after car with freight. But this crew is made up of monkeys (“They whirl, twirl, cartwheel, jump / but cargo’s stowed without a bump”), rabbits on pogo sticks, camels balancing building blocks and kangaroos bouncing balls. The rhyming text bounces along as well until the final pages, where “Puffing, chuffing out of sight . . .  / Steam train, dream train . . .  / chhhhhh . . . goodnight.” Add Tom Lichtenheld’s lush illustrations to the mix for a book imbued with moonlit magic.

Tired of just going along for the ride? Maybe you need Jason Carter Eaton’s “How to Train a Train,” a guide to acquiring a unique locomotive pet. The conversational text is exploded by John Rocco’s zany, digitally colored illustrations. Learn about how these mysterious beasts travel (freights move in herds, monorails alone) and what you need to trap them (big nets are good, quicksand works, but smoke signals are best). Eaton even explains how to soothe a jumpy engine: “Few trains can resist a read-aloud.” Few kids, either — especially when the subject is trains and the words go “Rocka-rocka, clickety-clack” down the track.

— Kristi Elle Jemtegaard


By Elisha Cooper

Orchard. $17.99. Ages 4-8


By Sherri Duskey Rinker

Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Chronicle. $16.99. Ages 3-6


By Jason Carter Eaton

Illustrated by John Rocco

Candlewick. $16.99. Ages 4-8



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