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Monday, 13 February 2017

Freight Train

Author and Illustrator: Donald Crews
Publisher: Sandy Creek 1978, featured edition HarperCollins Greenwillow Books, 2010

This is the dream book of my 18 month old, George. It's a big, chunky-sized board book, tick; it's about trains, tick; a big long steam freight train, double tick; there are very few words, tick; and it really improves if the adult reading the book adds their own train noises, smiley-faced tick.

For me, this book isn't a patch on another preschooler train book I recommended,
Rattle and Rap, but it remains a staple of our weekly reads as it's so popular with George at present. From experience, my three older children had tended to have outgrown this book by 2-2.5 years, but they currently enjoy reading it to George, and do better train noises 'going through tunnels' than I could ever do. 

The 'story' (and I use that term loosely as there is no real story) is about a train's journey along a track. Elements of the written word rhyme, so for example: 'A train runs across this track. Red caboose at the back' , but mainly the written element of the book is very understated, single words on some pages, 'gone.' As such, the book is strangely eerie, it uses silence in an interesting capacity: there are long pauses as the eyes are drawn to the trails of monochromatic steam left behind by the 'Freight train. Moving.' 

Very young children love going through the colour wheel of carriages in this book: 'green cattle car, Blue gondola, car, Purple box car,' (it becomes so repetitious for adults - and what's a gondola and caboose' anyway?! ). The illustrations are sleek and stylised, they capture a sense of movement and speed nicely, and the black and primary colour palette obviously hugely appeal ( are visible to) even the youngest of babies and toddlers. 

The book needs to be read aloud (well) and sound effects added for maximum impact. The cut-through on the train-in-tunnel page is really effective if you make a whooshing noise and stop as the bank returns, whooshing again as the train reappears. Again, this is all an exercise in playing with noise and silence; quite interesting for a children's book, captivating for young children going through the 'permanence' stage. 

In all, this is a clever, stylish book, but the long silences, simplistic block pictures are just so unfamiliar, so unconventional against today's children's literature market, you can't help feeling a little undersold. My 18 month old overrules me though, he votes with his feet, and this is usually the first book turfed off the shelf and placed in my lap. Whoosh! 

Here's a link to some Frieght Train inspired activities to support reading: 
HomeGrownFriends Freight Train Activities

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