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Trainstop
By Barbara Lehman
Houghton Mifflin, 2008


Trainstop is a wordless picture book for young children. Like most of Lehman's books, this is a fairly short (30 pages) book with simple watercolor and ink, cartoonish (but nice) illustrations, no words, and a science fiction/fantasy theme.

Trainstop is one of Lehman's more simple stories, having nothing very tricky about it. A young girl traveling on the subway with her parents finds the train making an unexpected stop. Looking around, she sees that everyone else in the carriage is asleep, and when she goes to the door to see what is happening she sees that a town of tiny people have waved down the train because they need help. She runs out to save a tiny pilot and his tiny airplane from a fairly normal sized tree (but with strange red fruit), and everyone celebrates. The train blows its whistle, and she runs back, the train pulls out, and by the time they reach the next station everyone has woken up and things are back to normal. As she reaches her house she sees the small plane coming to bring her a gift -- a tiny seedling. She plants it in her yard, and as the book ends the camera pulls out to show the city with a number of other red-fruited trees dotted here and there.

This is standard fair for Lehman's books, in which children discover a hidden, magical world, have a fairly milquetoast adventure, and then (usually) return to their normal lives having made new friends. While I like all of her stories, this book is perhaps the best introduction to her works, as it involves no recursion, time travel, or other oddities that young children might have trouble following.

One of the benefits of wordless books is that they can be read on multiple levels, either with or without adult help. For example, on the first read through a young child might miss that everyone falling asleep on the train is probably magical, or that the train engineer is part of the adventure, or that the trees in the magic land are special, and the trees we see at the end of the book are the same type. These books are also particularly good as "read alouds", as they encourage discussion, questions, and expanding vocabulary -- and, of course, they give the affordance of having the child read the book to you on equal footing, regardless of reading level.

While I do like this book, it is just a nice children's book, and not something I would read for my own enjoyment. That said, I do like the art, and while it is a simple story, it is entertaining. I would recommend this book to anyone with young children, especially children who are just getting into "reading" books on their own.

SciFiQuest 3020: Foresight is 3020

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