A review of Choo Choo, The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away by Virginia Lee Burton. I really love this book; it has a special place in my heart.
Choo Choo is dedicated, with a beautiful charcoal drawing of a little boy, to the author’s son Aris. In this picture, he is surrounded by his toy trains and — in ever-widening circles — historical, real life trains. The story itself includes all the train-related high-points: tunnels, bridges, stations, traffic crossings, hills, train noises. It is not hard to imagine that Burton knew exactly what her son wanted to see in a train book and made him one that fit the bill. Even the endpapers feature a large panoramic scene of the tracks where Choo Choo runs. My son likes to trace his fingers over the tracks in these pictures, going over the hills and through the tunnels and across the bridge. If you have a small train lover, this book has almost everything you could ask for.
Choo Choo was one of the very first books we checked out from the library that wasn’t a board book. Finn was very young at the time, less than 18 months old, and he had very little patience for this book. There are a lot of words and they don’t rhyme or have a noticeable rhythm. It seemed to take us forever and ever to get through it and, to be honest, many times we did not read the whole thing. I thought it was too long and too wordy and spent a great deal too much space in the beginning laying out the names of the engineer and the fireman and the conductor.
But now that Finn is older, this has become one of his favorite books. Duh, of course we need to know everything about Choo Choo before she decides to run off. We need to know her engineer and see his oil can and hear about how much he loves her; because if you are a person who loves trains, you need to know all about everyone in the book who loves trains. You need to see his hat and imagine it on your own head. You need to see the conductor’s pocket watch and imagine you have one, too. We have to see where Choo Choo goes every day before she runs off, because this is how trains cast their magic spell on us: they travel along paths we can’t always see from our windows or from the roads we usually travel.
Burton is better known for her book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, which is a pretty great book, too. But I like this one better. I saw The Little House, another book of hers, at Half Price Books last week and I am still a little irritated that I didn’t buy it (someone wanted to spend his summer reading gift certificate on a Thomas book). I think I will put that on our list.