There are people whose literary recommendations I take with a grain of salt, and there are people whose lightest word causes me to rush off and add things to my Goodreads To-Read list. The donors of this book were among the latter. Still--"Thomas the Tank Engine! Really?" I said.
"Well, it's like Winnie-the-Pooh," said my friend. "There are the Disney travesties--and there are the original stories, which are wonderful."
"Like The Jungle Book," I agreed, and so I sat down with the children and dug into the real Thomas the Tank Engine.
And it was wonderful.
The Rev W Audry originally penned 26 short collections of short stories about Thomas, Edward, James, Gordon, and many other steam engines on a variety of different railway lines on the fictional Island of Sodor. The stories were published between 1945 and 1972, before Audry ran out of steam (couldn't resist) and illustrated beautifully in full colour. The first collection didn't even include the character of Thomas.
If you've read books like Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children, you know that before the end of steam, people became railway enthusiasts, charmed by the unique personalities of the different trains that roared by their sleepy country villages. Nesbit's book, also for children, distilled this charm and fascination into the story of three children finding a home and growing up after the disgrace and imprisonment of their father. With much the same inspiration Awdry took a different tack: he makes the engines themselves characters, and follows them through a series of adventures based on real-life railway incidents. All over Britain, rail enthusiasts and rail workers praised the stories for their authenticity.
The children I read to were spellbound by both pictures and stories. The stories are particularly good: very short and very simple, most with some nice clear edifying moral that doesn't smack you between the eyes yet is perfectly clear to the youngest child. The word that sums them up best seems to be satisfying, for I got as much enjoyment out of them as the children did. Here's why.
- The characters are well-drawn. It seems strange to talk of steam engines as being human, but that's what they are--well-defined characters with both good and bad points.
- The stories usually end with disobedient engines being reproved and punished, or obedient engines being rewarded. Like in real life, there are always consequences for actions.
- But, the stakes and consequences are always authentic railway predicaments.
Though I haven't had the chance to read every single one of the Railway Series stories, I hugely enjoyed the ones I did read, and so did the children. A great read-aloud choice for boys particularly.
Get Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection from Amazon or The Book Depository (affiliate links).