Homeschooling Resources: Trains!
BY REBECCA RUPP
EDITOR’S NOTE: May 11, 2013, was officially NATIONAL TRAIN DAY. But despite the fact that I slept through knowledge of it on the special day, I know that the following list of resources is too useful and brimming with resources your children will love to keep under wraps for another whole year – so, enjoy!
Donald Crews’s Freight Train (Greenwillow, 2004) is a bright-colored introduction to both color names and all the parts of a train: black steam engine, purple box car, green cattle car, orange tank car, red caboose. For ages 2-6.
Thomas the Tank Engine (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2005) was first featured in the Railway Series book by Wilbert Awdry in the 1940s – and, like Winnie the Pooh, Thomas was based on a child’s (real) toy. Now Thomas is the star of countless books, games, apps, and a TV series. Check out the games and activities at his website, Thomas and Friends. For ages 3-7.
Watty Piper’s classic The Little Engine That Could (Platt & Munk, 1930) is now available in any number of editions, but all star the determined little pale-blue train who finally (“I think I can; I think I can…”) makes it over the mountain with a load of toys. It’s supposed to instill the virtues of courage and persistence in the very small; parents can quote bits of it comfortingly to frustrated five-year-olds, who have thrown a failed project on the floor and are stamping upon it.
By Gail Gibbons, Trains (Holiday House, 1988) is a simple non-fiction introduction to trains with appealing bright-colored illustrations, variously covering all things train, including steam, diesel, and electric engines, boxcars, tank cars, passenger cars, refrigerator cars, and the ever-popular caboose. For ages 4-7.
Diane Siebert’s Train Song (HarperCollins, 1993), illustrated with gorgeous glowing paintings by Michael Wimmer, is a rhythmic poem that captures the clickety-clack essence of train travel: “locomotives/cars in tow/going places/Buffalo/New York City/Boston, Mass./slowing ‘neath Folk musician Gordon M. Titcomb’s The Last Train (Roaring Brooks Press, 2010), with stunning illustrations by Wendell Minor, is an evocative celebration of the great age of the railroads, as a boy recalls the experiences of his father and grandfather, both railroad men. (“My Granddad was a railroad man, he drove the trains around/My Daddy, he sold tickets till they closed the station down/Now the tracks that shone like silver have turned to rusty brown/Thirty years ago the last train rolled through town.”) Wonderful for all ages.the underpass.” For ages 4-8.
Folk musician Gordon M. Titcomb’s The Last Train (Roaring Brooks Press, 2010), with stunning illustrations by Wendell Minor, is an evocative celebration of the great age of the railroads, as a boy recalls the experiences of his father and grandfather, both railroad men. (“My Granddad was a railroad man, he drove the trains around/My Daddy, he sold tickets till they closed the station down/Now the tracks that shone like silver have turned to rusty brown/Thirty years ago the last train rolled through town.”) Wonderful for all ages.
E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children (Random House, 2012), originally published in 1906, is still a great read. The main characters – three children, with their mother – move to a house near the railroad when their father mysteriously disappears. Through their interest in the trains, the kids are eventually able to find and vindicate their father, who has been unfairly accused of spying. For ages 9-12.
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (Harper, 2011) features debonair detective Hercule Poirot (he of the little gray cells and the enormous moustache), a famous train, and a wealth of suspects. For ages 13 and up.
Also check out the 1974 movie version of Murder on the Orient Express with Albert Finney as Poirot and an impressive cast of potential murderers, among them Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, and Vanessa Redgrave. Rated PG.
From the mid-19th century to the 1920s, New York City’s Children’s Aid Society shipped abandoned or orphaned children by train to adoptive families in the west. These trains came to be known as the Orphan Trains. In Eve Bunting’s picture book Train to Somewhere (Sandpiper, 2000), shy, plain Marianne has been sent west on an orphan train, hoping at each stop to find her real mother. Finally, in Somewhere, Iowa, the train’s last stop, she finds a loving home with a couple who had thought they wanted a boy. For ages 5-8.
Joan Lowery Nixon’s Orphan Train Adventures series follows the adventures of the six Kelly children (Frances Mary, Mike, Megan, Danny, Peg, and Petey), sent west on the orphan train to find new homes when their widowed mother is no longer able to support them. There are seven books in the series, beginning with A Family Apart (Laurel Leaf, 1995). Suspense, adventure, and mystery for ages 10 and up.
In PBS’s American Experience series, the 60-minute film The Orphan Trains (2006) is fascinating history of the movement, with first-person accounts and period photos. Included at the website are background information, an extensive resource list, and a teacher’s guide.
Patrick O’Brien’s Steam, Smoke, and Steel: Back in Time with Trains (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000) is a lovely picture-book story of trains, as a boy traces his family history on the railroad from his several-times-great-grandfather on.
In John Colley’s Train (Dorling Kindersley, 2009), one of the volumes in the Eyewitness series, each double-page spread covers an aspect of trains in chronological order, from the first railroads through the trains of the future, all illustrated with wonderful prints and photographs. Learn about steam trains, electric trains, royal trains, and locomotive record breakers. For ages 7-11.
John Perritano’s The Transcontinental Railroad (Children’s Press, 2010) is a nicely designed short chapter book – illustrated with photos, drawings, maps, and prints – about the building of the famous cross-country railroad, a project that enlisted 20,000 workers and took from 1863 to 1869. Included are resource lists, a page of “True Statistics,” and a glossary. For ages 7-11.
Train Songs and Crafts
From Smithsonian Folkways, Classic Railroad Songs (2006) is a collection of 29 traditional songs by various musicians, among them “Jay Gould’s Daughter,” “Rock Island Line,” “John Henry,” “Casey Jones,” and “Wabash Cannonball.” Available for purchase either as a CD or download.
From Artists Helping Children, Train Crafts for Kids has a long list of projects, among them cardboard box trains, an egg-carton train, a recycled train (save tin cans), a crocheted train, and more.
From First Palette, Circus Train is a great papercraft project in which kids assemble a terrific circus train, complete with animals. Included are printable templates, but kids may have more fun making their own.
From Chicago’s Museum of Science and From Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the Great Train Story is an account of the museum’s famous model railroad exhibit (20 trains, 1400 feet of track). Check out the video.
The National Toy Train Museum has information on getting started with model railroads (in two sections, for younger kids or teens), sources for model railroads and supplies, activities, and reading lists.
For even more on trains – including a great train robbery, more adventurous orphans, a really cool steam engine, railroad poetry, and a railroad version of Moby Dick (with underground trains and giant moles) – visit TERRIFIC TRAINS at http://www.rebeccaruppresources.com.