In the little kid crowd, it doesn’t take much effort to find a handful or more who like; er, love; ok, eat, sleep, and breathe trains. You don’t have to have a fanatic in your midst, though, to appreciate Lynn Curlee’s informative, entertaining, and affectionate treatment of this fun topic in “Trains.”
Curlee, who studied history and was an artist before becoming an author, has enjoyed great acclaim for his spirited paintings. This author-illustrator has also proven himself an exceptional writer in the field of children’s nonfiction.
What’s perhaps most refreshing about Curlee’s work is the apparent assumption of a great capacity to understand on the part of the readers, despite their young age. Nothing is “dumbed down.”
In “Trains,” Curlee presents an illuminating and gratifying history of the invention and establishment of the rail industry and its tremendous impact on the development of the United States, along with its overall influence on the world. While many books, of course, have taken on such a subject, few have presented it in such an entertaining and inspiring way for children.
“Trains” begins with a personal note from the author, describing his home of High Point, North Carolina and the impact trains have had on his town, “the highest point along the line,” which was named by the chief engineer of the North Carolina Railroad in 1855.The book then traces the history, beginning with the 1700s and the use of machines, to the invention of the steam engine and the first locomotive, to the full development of America’s vast rail system. Curlee refers often to the American idea of “manifest destiny,” touches on the Civil War, and celebrates the peak of rail travel in the U.S.
“Trains” goes on to describe the impact of competition on rail travel with the invention of the automobile and airplane and the eventual decline of the industry in the U.S. He concludes with a hopeful look at the future, pointing to the flourishing rail industries of countries in Europe and Asia.
The wealth of knowledge and the story of history that is passed on within the just over 40 pages of “Trains,” speaks to Curlee’s writing talents. Readers will walk away with a great sense of how trains were invented, an understanding of how the United States as we know it was established, a conception of the way in which an important industry developed, and deep appreciation for those steamy, whistle-blowing iron horses of yesteryear.
“Trains” by Lynn Curlee was first published in 2009 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.