Format: Picture book
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Art Seiden
Publisher: Goldencraft; Reprint edition (published July 1979)
What is it with kids and trains?
Before I had fully grasped exactly how significant trains are in the minds of toddlers, I made a huge mistake. My mom had been visiting and when it was time for her to head home, we thought it would be fun for Little E, then 2.5, to come to the train station to see her off. She would get to see trains, she would get to wave goodbye; it would be great.
You’re probably smarter than I am and you see where this is going.
Little E was happy as can be to see the trains in the station and to watch Grammie board the train. But then the train started to move, and I can pinpoint the exact moment that Little E realized that (1) she was not going to get to go on the train and (2) Grammie was going away. She crumpled into a heap of wailing, flailing agony on the train platform, garnering sympathetic looks from passersby (where was the sympathy for me?), who made helpful comments like “Someone’s not happy!” (Side note: WHY do people say this to babies, children, and parents? I promise you: I am acutely aware of my child’s misery.)
Anyway, back to trains. I think in terms of toddler love, trains might rank second only to ducks.* This love seems to peak around two and a half for some children; others maintain their love of trains into adulthood, becoming part of the somewhat bizarre subculture of railfans.
If you know a kid who digs trains, and I know you do, I highly recommend checking out The Train to Timbuctoo by Margaret Wise Brown, who is of course far better known for her books Goodnight Moon (first published in 1947, if you can believe it) and Runaway Bunny. But be prepared: this is a read-aloud you can’t cop out on: the book’s main draw is the sound effects made by a big train and the very little train as they journey home from Kalamazoo to Timbuctoo. Don’t bother opening it up if you can’t give a convincing “Clackety clack,” “clickety click,” “SLAM BANG,” “pockety pocketa pocketa,” or “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Even the very tiny minority of kids who don’t love trains will be drawn in by the music of the “puff puff puff”s and “piff piff piff”s. You might not have to do the sound effects for long, though; your young audience is fairly likely to take that role over. When you get to the end, the book suggests, you can switch the names of the towns in the front of the book and head back from Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo.
Kalamazoo to Timbuctoo,
it’s a long way down the track.
And from Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo
it’s just as far to go back.
From Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo
from Kalamazoo and back,
a long, long way,
a long, long way,
a long way down the track.
The Train to Timbuctoo is a book for which it is worth spending some time scouring your local used bookstores.
*Recently, according to the Onion, “high-ranking members of the toddler community made an impassioned appeal … for greater duck visibility, calling for more unobstructed views of the beloved waterfowl.”