There are few books that my six-year old son, Zachary, treasures more than his hardback Peter’s Railway ones. To a degree, he had outgrown Thomas The Tank Engine and younger train books and I was keen to use his love of railways, maths and how things are built to explore more real-life situations. The first book in Christopher Vine’s Peter’s Railway series fit the bill exactly, and we now own the whole lot.
For those of you who have one of the books, the format will be familiar. For those who don’t it can be summed up in three parts: tenderly-written railway adventure stories based around Peter, his grandfather and wider family; accessible and interesting technical explanations of how things work; and finally tales that bring to life the enduring history of railways.
Aimed at children of six and upwards (but as I write below, they can be enjoyed by younger kids in my view), the series of five hardback books tell the story of Peter and Grandpa building and running their steam railway from the house where Peter lives with his parents, siblings and pets to his grandparents’ farm.
“Well,” said Peter, “if a big railway is too big, why don’t we build a small railway? We could make it just big enough to carry us, the rest of the family and a few friends. The neighbours would hardly know it was there and the cows and sheep would not be frightened at all.”
Grandpa switched off the machine and looked up. A huge smile spread slows across his face. “Peter my boy,” he said, “I think you’ve got it!”
Grandpa and Peter set to work planning and building their railway. As each chapter passes, the technical sections explain simply but accurately the key engineering and technical concepts behind the unfolding story. Children (and quite honestly, adults if they are reading with the kids) are brought insights into ‘Why Railways Don’t Have Steep Hills or ‘Gradients”, ‘Cuttings and Embankments’, ‘The Boiler – How the Locomotive Makes Its Steam’ and so on.
The first of Grandpa’s stories from the history of railways centres on a WWII fighter plane that shot at a steam locomotive’s boiler, only for the dome to blow off and down the Luftwaffe aircraft. As Grandpa concludes the story, Peter asks ‘Have you got any more good stories?’. In a nod to the many more that will crop up through the Peter’s Railway books, Grandpa replies. ‘Ah, yes. I might well have, but I think we had better put down a but more track first. Otherwise, if I get started on stories about the old railways, we might never finish our railway!’
Grand opening for Peter’s Railway
Of course, as book 1 concludes, Peter and Grandpa do finish their railway and make their maiden trip. However, the journey – as in all the books – is one of working out how to solve the many challenges to completing ambitious projects, whether that be their lack of a steam locomotive or Grandma’s reluctance to travel on their new railway.
We read the first Peter’s Railway book to Zachary at the age of four and as far as we could tell he followed along well (and we skipped the technical parts as these are supplementary to the narrative). This was helped by John Wardle’s beautiful watercolour pictures that visually bring the books alive. Now Zachary is older, we stop more to understand better how things are being built and solved.
As the series progresses, Peter and Grandpa’s railway grows to match their ambition. A turntable is built and Peter learns to drive the engine (Book 2: Peter’s Railway and The Moonlight Express), the line is extended in a way that allows faster speeds and a race (Book 3: Peter’s Railway and the Forgotten Engine), new power sources are investigated but Fiery Fox is needed to help during bad weather (Book 4: Peter’s Railway To the Rescue), while the pair must finally become entrepreneurial to achieve an ambitious five-mile extension (Book 5: Peter’s Railway Hits The Jackpot).
Christopher Vine has also penned 10 shorter paperback books, of which seven are aimed at the same age bracket, and three are written especially for 3-6 year olds. Each of these can be read individually but link back to certain parts of the hardback Peter’s Railway series – allowing aficionados like Zachary to pinpoint when in the series they had been written. There is also a Peter’s Railway Activity Book.
Since I started Trains For Kids in early 2015, I have spoken with Christopher Vine a number of times. It’s made me realise how much dedication is put into the Peter’s Railway world, whether that be his generosity when he spotted on Twitter that Zachary had an old version of Peter’s Railway Book 1 and sent him a new, signed one; or the time he spends at steam railway stations signing his books for children, parents and grandparents alike (as above image shows).
So, if you are ready to join Peter and Grandpa in their adventures building railways in the countryside, why not do so by going direct to the author’s website here, where unlike on Amazon or in bookshops he can dedicate and sign your copy of the book.
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