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Saturday, 4 February 2017

Race To The Finish!

Author and Illustrator: Benedict Blathwayt
Publisher: First published by Hutchinson 2006, subsequently published by Red Fox

Benedict Blathwayt stories are good, but Benedict Blathwayt illustrations are sublime! Rarely is it this way round for me when it comes to children's literature, so the books of Benedict Blathwayt buck a trend. 
'Race to the Finish' is my favourite of Blathwayt's Little Red Train series (and we own every book in the series). In this title, do-gooder Duffy the driver, on old vintage steam train 'The Little Red Train', together with back-up-man Jack the Guard, are challenged to a race by the sneering cheating train crew of the modern 'Swish Train'. In a simple tale of old versus new
the rickety old (nostalgia ready) steam train is the eventual victor; the great British underdog does it again! 
The fun and drama are built nicely in this book when the reader is privileged in knowing (through being party to small, meandering illustrations) that The Swish Train drivers are cheating in order to win the race. My children squeal in disgust at the cheating tactics, such as putting oil on the track and letting sheep out on to the line to slow The Little Red Train down. 

Now because 'everybody loves the Little Red Train' and 'it's not that slow,' (or so asserts
protagonist Duffy the Driver) the community of passengers get behind The Little Red Train and she wins by an exciting, narrow margin. 
It's the pictures in this book (the whole series in fact) that takes the readers' imagination astray  as there is just so much sensual detail in the illustrations on every page (birds in the sky, deer in the wood, rainbows, waterfalls, depth of perspective in billowing and changing landscapes - beautiful!). The book showcases the British countryside in all its glory. 

The Little Red Train series has been a huge hit with Alf ( now 7) since he was 3, and Bert (now 5) from a similar age, but because of these rich pictures, with a real fix on the 
environment and wildlife, Edie (currently 3) also gets behind them. Normally she rejects any 'train, plane or boat' or general transportation book deeming them as 'for boys' (very sadly- I quite condone this) but she does make an exception with these books, based on their 
"things -to- spot per ratio of the page" factor. Now based on this, I would say The Little Red Train Series should be applauded for being amongst the most gender(s) neutral of 'train' books for pre-schoolers. These books have a very charming longevity, and will be a staple of our bookcase for many years to come (suitable for a good breadth of ages covering 3-8 years). 

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