Thursday, July 14, 2011

Freight Train by Donald Crews

If I had to recommend a picture book for young children, Freight Train by Donald Crews would be one of my top choices. Whenever Ryan brings it out, he insists on that we read it over and over again at least five times, sometimes up to ten times!

There is no plot or story line. The book merely describes the different cars (in different colours) that make up a cargo train and describes the train's journey from country to city, day to night. There is limited text on each page, which makes it perfect for young children. Although the text does not rhyme, it has the rhythm of a poem when read aloud. The illustrations are simple and colourful. Sometimes the images are clean and sometimes they are blurred and smudged to show movement. On the last page, the train chugs out of view, Ryan loves to read the last word - "gone".

To be honest, I was surprised at how much Ryan loves this sparse book. To an adult (or perhaps just to me) the book seemed quite boring, as it does not actually tell a story. I then realised that that's where the magic of the book lies - it lets the child make up his/her own story, it inspires the child to wander off into his/her imagination where the train gets into all sorts of adventures, it fosters the child's natural creativity. The child's natural curiosity is piqued and they want to learn more about this exciting-looking train. Ryan can stare for a long time at the page where he first sees the entire freight train, who knows what he is imagining! That's when I realised that this book is pure genius.

The book was named one of 1979's Caldecott Honor Books. The popularity of this book led to a sequel in 2001, "Inside Freight Train", also by Donald Crews, which features fold-out panels so your child can see the inner workings of the train.


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