Reading, Riding and Railways
March is National Reading Month and very few themes have captured the imaginations of authors and readers alike as much as the railways.
From the talking trains of bed-time stories to the magical trains of children’s books, to the mystery trains of detective novels, there is no question that the railroad, from its earliest beginnings to the present day, has played a special role in fiction.
In the early days of the railroad, trains were both exciting and frightening to many and often embodied the negative aspects of the industrial age. By the turn of the Century, the public had grown accustomed to the railways and they came to symbolize freedom, opportunity and adventure. Most recently trains have taken on a dreamlike quality in fiction as supernatural vehicles allowing protagonists to journey to enchanted places.
There are literally thousands of works of fiction in which the railroad features prominently – here are some well-known titles:
- The Little Engine that Could, Arnold Munk (1930) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Engine_That_Could>)
- The Railway Series, Rev. William Awdry (1945) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Railway_Series>)
- Tootle, Gertrude Crampton (1945) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tootle>)
- The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg (1985) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Polar_Express>)
- The Railway Children, Edith Nesbit (1906) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Railway_Children>)
- The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner (1924) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boxcar_Children >)
- The Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rawling (1997) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Potter>)
- Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1934) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_on_the_Orient_Express >)
- Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith (1950) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangers_on_a_Train_(novel) >)
- The Bridge over the River Kwai, Pierre Boulle (1954) (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bridge_over_the_River_Kwai>)
As a testament to the role that trains have played in many great works of fiction over the years, Lionel Trains, the iconic model railroading brand, offers several model trains based on the ones from your favorite books (two of which appear here). Trains like these provide a great way to inspire your little ones to read. You and your kids can reflect on the stories from the books you’re reading while reliving them through the action and adventure of your model trains.
National Reading Month: http://www.nea.org/grants/886.htm
Railroads in British Fiction: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/nov/17/featuresreviews.guardianreview37
Information and Photos provided courtesy of Lionel L.L.C. All rights reserved. Sean Gelles of Media Whiz, representing Lionel LLC, and I worked together on this post to provide great, wonderful, and valuable information for National Reading Month.