Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rescued Book 16: Thomas the Tank Engine

Well, I have a few announcements for my Rescued Book series.  Obviously I missed a few weeks – one week we were busy with the FIRST Robotics/First Lego League championships and the second week I was with family celebrating the life of my aunt that passed away.  I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t call the series 52 Consecutive Weeks of Rescued Books.  So I’ll pick up where I left off with book 16.  The second bit of business is that we’re wrapping up our school year (we’ll still have some school work with the products we review for the homeschool crew), and that means more reading for fun rather than tying in to our history lessons.  So I’ve got several weeks of fun, charming, adventuresome books for summer reading.

This week’s book is an oldie – both when we acquired it and when the stories were actually written.  Long before the outrageously expensive wooden sets or the PBS series, Thomas the Tank Engine started as a way for an English Reverend to amuse his 3-year-old son in bed with the measles.  He recalled his own childhood and listening to trains and “helper engines” chugging up a steep grade near his home and coming to the conclusion that trains had personalities.  As is often the case with kids, the stories had to be told over and over again and the boy noticed any deviation made intentionally or not, so the Reverend wrote down his stories to keep the “facts” straight.  Thank goodness he did, because half a world away and more than half a century later my son fell in love with Thomas, Edward, Gordon, Henry and James too.

Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection

Awdry, W.  New York: Random House Value Pub., 1997. Hardback

This is actually a book of books – the 26 books written by Rev. Awdry between 1945 and 1972 (apparently then his son continued to write for the series).  Each book has four stories that are just about the perfect length for bedtime reading.

The first of these books was called Three Railway Engines and featured Edward, Gordon, and Henry.  Rev. Awdry only had three stories developed, including the famous one about Henry hiding in a tunnel to keep his green paint job out of the rain— he ended up being trapped behind a brick wall when he refused to come out.  The publisher agreed to print the book only if a fourth story was written with a happy ending for Henry (he was released from the tunnel and actually sported a blue paint job for a while).

So how did Thomas end up being the mascot for the series?  I’m not sure he’s even in the majority of the stories as the later books focus on other lines and utility engines: Bill & Ben, Skarloey, Rheneas,  Duck, etc.  After the book was published, the Reverend built a toy engine for his son’s Christmas present and it ended up with the name Thomas.  Of course, this new toy would have to be included in the stories—much like the real Winnie the Pooh bear. 

One name that does not appear is Sir Topham Hatt.  He’s referred to as the “Fat Controller” in all the stories (proving they were written in a less politically correct age).  I also think there are far fewer crashes and accidents in the books than the TV series-- I suppose because crashes are visual and do better on the screen.  

If you’ve got a little one, especially a boy, that’s going through a train fixation stage why not cuddle up in a reading chair and let him look at the illustrations in this book while you read about the trains of Sodor Island?  Then let him study the map inside the cover to see where all the adventures took place.


You can find a list of all my Rescued Books here.

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