Review: Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo for PPBF

This is my pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday, which is presented each week by Susanna Leonard HillChugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by Daniel Kirk.

  • Hyperion Books, 2001
  • Fiction; ages 3 – 5 (or anyone who thinks it’s fun to say “choo-choo”)
  • Themes: trains, toys
  • First line: “Sun’s Up, Morning’s Here.  Up and at ’em, engineer.”

Related activities:

So, duh, we love trains around here.  Train books are pretty much the gold standard.  Was Knuffle Bunny good?  Yes.  Would it have been better if it had featured a train? Yes. Obviously.

chuggc chuggaIn honor of this train adoration, I offer up Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis for Perfect Picture Book Friday.  It is a really fun read-aloud book.  When we first heard it at a library storytime (o! storytime! how I miss you!), the librarian had all the kids say, “Chugga-chugga choo-choo!” with her while pulling an imaginary train whistle whenever the phrase appeared in the book.  By the end of that reading, she had turned into the pied piper of the library; the children would have followed her anywhere. The pictures are pretty great, too, since they are about toys.  I love seeing how other people imagine playing with toys that we have in our house, like blocks.  It helps me out when I’m having those low-energy days. Or, you know, months.

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but sometimes when I have read the same book forty or fifty times, I start to mentally take it apart and search for hidden meanings. Maybe this is just how the girl who loved English class deals with this all day mommy-time, I don’t know.  Llama Llama Red Pajama, for example, appears to be about a single-parent family.  And many of the workers in Roadwork seem to be women (they have ponytails at any rate, so I’m calling it). Did I notice that all the trucks in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site are male? Yes, I did. And I was irritated. I know these examples aren’t exactly Jane Eyre-madwoman-in-the-attic, but you know, they help me get through another bedtime.

I don’t want to admit how many times I read Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo before I realized the human protagonist has dark skin.  And that some of the toys, including a cowboy, do too. (I’m not using the term African-American because this story could take place anywhere around the world.  And also, I don’t know how/if toys identify themselves as far as race/ethnicity.) These details make this book a little more special to me, especially since I think it is easy to lump trains into the realm of Thomas the Tank Engine and little Caucasian boys wearing engineer hats, when really, I know from personal experience that trains appeal to all kinds of kids. And some of them are not often represented in the pictures on the page. Example: an amazon search for “princess + train” reveals just one entry.  Why?

Every time I discover something new/extra/hidden/special about a book, it makes it all the more interesting when I read it the next forty or fifty times.

Do you ever pick apart the kids books you read?  Have you discovered anything interesting?

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Review: Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo for PPBF

  1. COOL book! I have to check it out! I posted about Steam Train, Dream Train today by the same author of Goodnight Construction Site and the characters (animals) in the book could be boys or girls (except for the mom kangaroo who pretty much has to be a girl). You make a good point about writing books for all kinds of kids!

  2. I usually tear adult fiction apart, but not children’s books for some reason. But now, I will make an effort to do so, Alicia. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Trains are delightful especially for little boys. My two year old son’s eyes get wide whenever he hears the train pass on the railroad tracks about a quarter mile from our house. He love them! I’ll have to find this book for him.

  4. Two train books today! This sounds like a fun book. But, I like your analysis about books and what makes them special. You are very observant. Great suggestion for all of us.

  5. Joanna

    I absolutely DO notice these details, and love you spelling them out for us! You are right, train books truly have a universal appeal!

  6. Christa

    Be sure to let us know when your next book, “The Princess Train,” is available for download.

  7. You can’t go wrong in my house with a train book. I absolutely love the PB&J train! Thanks.

  8. beautiful book and ideal for my nephews, thanks for sharing.

  9. Catherine Johnson

    I love a book with hidden meanings. This looks great and that train painting activity is awesome.

  10. Love this book, Alicia! And your craft activities are spot-on.:) Any kids who loves trains will go ga-ga over this one.:)

  11. Thank you for including our PB&J sandwich in your post!

  12. Love the title and it does sound like a really fun read-aloud book!

  13. Pingback: Non-Train Books That Have Trains, Too | alicia finn noack

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