How to Train a Train – Written by Jason Carter Eaton, Illustrated by John Rocco – Reviewed by Ann King
Did you know that I am the meanest mom in the world? Well sometimes the meanest. According to my children, anyway. Why? Because I won’t let them have a pet. A real pet. Not just the fish we have, they say. A real pet. Like a dog or a cat. They are horribly deprived children.
Due to how mean I am, we now have many nontraditional pets in our house. For example, Beary is a stuffed teddy bear who creates chaos everywhere he goes. Archibald is a plastic zebra floatie for the pool. Mr. Tinkles is the stray black cat who is always trying to outsmart us and get into our garage. (The cat usually wins.)
But what if my children asked to get a different kind of nontraditional pet? A submarine, for example? Or, how about an airplane? Or even better, what about a pet train?
Having a pet train would require a lot of time and responsibility, so it’s lucky for us that author Jason Carter Eaton wrote How to Train a Train (Candlewick Press, 2013) to help us think through the basics of having a pet train. There are so many variables to consider.
Here are some of the necessary skills you will acquire from this picture book:
Challenge: Choosing the Right Train for You
Advice: “It’s only natural that you’ll want to take home all the trains, but don’t just grab the first one you see.”
Challenge: Naming the Pet Train
Advice: “Little Miss Muffinhead” or “Nathan” might be some options.
Challenge: Getting the Train to Sleep
Advice: It would be helpful to “play soft locomotion sounds.”
Challenge: Teaching Tricks to Your Train
Advice: “Start with a simple trick…then move on to something a bit harder.”
Written in the second person, this delightful instructional manual is paired with big, bold, and colorful illustrations (by John Rocco) that fill the pages with locomotive details and train personalities. The illustrations are beautiful and absurd, hilarious and even believable. You’ll find yourself cooing to the sweet faces of the personified trains, “Look at the cute train! What a cute little train you are!”
Books like this should be read and read again. With each reread, you will chuckle at a silly line of text that you didn’t notice before, or see something new in the illustrations. Its conversational nature makes it a charming read-aloud and a rollicking shared experience for a community of children. Yet underneath its hilarity and fun, the opportunities for teaching from this text are endless. This book would be a fantastic mentor text for both reading and writing instruction across a variety of grade levels and ages.
Oh and by the way, my children really aren’t as deprived as they think. I might actually agree to having a pet train if it could take us places. Jason Carter Eaton did tell me that there are “many trains that need good homes.” I asked my daughter and she thinks this is a grand idea: She’s already named it Jimmy.
Ann King teaches third grade in Indianapolis, Indiana. When she’s not spending time with her two deprived children, she’s most likely feeding the plastic zebra or reading in a quiet corner. She takes her nerdiness very seriously, blogging often at kingandkids.blogspot.com. Ann is active on Twitter (@kingandkids), utilizing the #mustreadin2014 and #booksmiles hashtags.