BoyChild is excessively interested in all things that go, but trains hold a special place in his heart! (He told me that the reason he often wakes up a little before 6 a.m. (!) is that he hears a train, and since we have a train that passes through the woods near our house, it’s possible, but my ears aren’t attuned enough to train sounds for me to notice if one comes by at that time since I’m usually snoozing my vibrating phone alarm about then…) These books are sure to get young train enthusiasts all aboard!
Trains Go, by Steve Light (2012): BoyChild first got and enjoyed Trucks Go by the same author, so when I saw this one, I knew I needed to give it a try! Perfect for reading even to infants, each extra-wide spread (the book is about six inches tall and twelve wide when closed) features an image of a different kind of train with the phrase, “The _______ train goes…” and a multi-word onomatopoeia for the sound or sounds it makes. (Hope you’re comfortable going all out with the sound effects! 😉 ) The illustrations are bright and deceptively simple; despite all the detail included in each one, neither the image nor the page seems cluttered or overwhelming. Although the Amazon page lists this as for preschoolers and up, I can see reading this to any little one old enough to sit up in your lap to follow along–if they’re old enough to learn that a cow goes moo, they’re old enough to read about trains going choo-choo! (I also see that the author has a book recently out called Diggers Go…so that’ll be going on BoyChild’s list, too!)
Freight Train, by Donald Crews (1978): This Caldecott Honor recipient has been a favorite with small children since it was published back before I was even born. You can hardly consider picture books without thinking about Donald Crews, and this book is both a classic and a must-read! The book covers colors and train vocabulary in addition to the very simple plot of a train traveling on a track. As expected, this is right up BoyChild’s alley; it’s perfect for toddlers and preschoolers as a concept book on a high-interest topic.
I’m Taking a Trip on my Train, by Shirley Neitzel, pictures by Nancy Winslow Parker (1999): BoyChild isn’t usually much for audience participation while reading, but this book is an exception. Each page introduces a new line in this cumulative book, and the repeated lines include a small picture to represent the main word from each of the previous lines. While BoyChild doesn’t chime in for all the pictures, he’s really good at intoning, “…traaain” when I pause after reading, “And I’m taking a trip on my…” at the end of each repetition. Great for preschoolers (or toddlers who can speak), this book teaches the names of many of the different train cars and other train-related vocabulary. Bonus points go to the author for including a play on words for the last page of the book for the entertainment of the adult who just had to remember the term “gondolas” in relation to trains sixty-five billion times!
Trains: Steaming! Pulling! Huffing!, by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy (2005): The text of this book is fun and full of train vocabulary (more even than the other books, I think) set in verse, but the real draw (no pun intended) is the art of this book. The illustrations have the collage feel of an eclectic, old-fashioned scrapbook, and, according to the front papers, “are rendered in clip art, etchings, original drawings, and maps.” There is definitely a lot for an early elementary reader (or listener) to explore!
Richard Scarry’s Hop Aboard! Here We Go! (1967/2012): While this whole book is dedicated to things that go (and is therefore a favorite!), I’m including it here because of the section called “Trains and Locomotives.” This section includes eight pages about trains, including detailed drawings, and they teach some basic history about trains and the parts of a modern (in 1967, at least) passenger train. Another rich source of train vocabulary, this big book is great for preschoolers and early elementary aged children who have a thing for things that move!
Train Song, by Diane Siebert, paintings by Mike Wimmer (1990): With a poem originally published in 1981 in Cricket Magazine, the illustrations of this book give the rhythmic verse a visual. Describing the travels of different trains across the country, the short, rhymed lines require some sophistication to read aloud (as most poems of this sort should be), and there is some specialized vocabulary as well as many names of towns and cities, so this book is probably best to be read aloud or used in teacher-led groups to discuss elements of poetry with younger children or for older elementary students with mature poetry skills for performance or personal enjoyment.
I Dream of Trains, by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long (2003): A young sharecropper boy in the early 1900s tells of his life and daydreams and intertwines the story of Casey Jones, the famed engineer, as his father tells him about his final, fateful trip and tells his son about the life available to him out in “the big wide world.” The illustrations are excellent (I particularly like the extreme close-up of the narrator’s face in his work hat with the field of cotton and other workers in the background), and it opens up the opportunity for investigations into the history of the railroad, sharecroppers, or the early 1900s in general. Good read-aloud text for any elementary age, particularly as an introduction to a history or biography unit.
Trains (National Geographic Kids), by Amy Shields (2011): This nonfiction early reader (level 1) is full of all the parts of a nonfiction book–table of contents, headings, photographs, captions, labels, information boxes, and a glossary. While the content is good for new readers, I feel like real beginning readers (“kids who are beginning to read on their own”) might really struggle with this book because of the technical terms and how much is happening on each page. Probably best for a little more secure reader, first or second grade. (There is no information in this book to help define the other levels available from this publisher, so I can’t compare.)
Trains (Kingfisher Readers), by Thea Feldman (2012): Kingfisher defines level 1 as “beginning to read” instead of their level 2 “beginning to read alone” that seems more analogous with the National Geographic level 1. That would explain why this book lacks some of the features of nonfiction (like a table of contents and incidental information pieces like sidebars and information boxes) that made the previous book too cluttered for an early reader. (Well, the table of contents didn’t clutter the page, but this book contains less information to organize, so a table of contents is less necessary.) Besides a cleaner page and simpler vocabulary, this book also includes a note to parents on the inside front cover to help them interact with their new readers for better comprehension. Best for the earliest readers, kindergarten or first grade.
Big Book of Trains (DK Publishing), by National Railway Museum, York, England (1998): No nonfiction topic is complete without including a book from DK Publishing! Like all DK books, this oversized volume includes all the features of nonfiction, a multitude of captioned and labeled photographs, and a wealth of information for any interested reader! Perfect for browsing for information for older children and for enjoying the huge train photos for younger ones! For somewhat older or more interested readers, try the Eyewitness Books Train version (also DK Publishing) for even more detail and more history of trains. For the very young nonfiction reader, try Roger Priddy’s My Big Train Book. My children have always loved his books, filled with page after page of photographs on simple colored backgrounds with basic captions!
There’s an App for That?
While I don’t often mention other types of media, there are some educational games for iPad (and possibly other platforms, but I don’t have firsthand knowledge of them) that are really quite helpful for some children. GirlChild picked up colors, letters, sounds, numbers, and all of that mostly through simple interaction in her environment, but BoyChild proved a tougher case. Daddy’s iPad, however, has created sufficient enticement for some focused time that has resulted in real learning, and his love for trains proved a draw that has helped him learn some things which had been making me question his progress! BoyChild’s second favorite iPad game is called Working on the Railroad: Train Your Toddler by Tiger Stripes–which BoyChild just calls the train game. (His first favorite is Rainbow Cars, but that’s mildly irrelevant here.) The part he plays the most often incorporates letter recognition, shape identification, and spelling as the child puts different shapes into their openings on a large letter to spell out the words “train” and “track.” My husband is actually considering buying the full version of this game since BoyChild loves it so much (and needs the practice with his letters)!