There are three books that we have consistently turned to in the past five years or so when the boys have wanted to learn train facts. They are below in order from the most appropriate for younger to older children. However, when it comes to pure train fact books, I have to say that the final one – The Train Book: The Definitive Visual History – stands out as a hardback that will stand the test of time.
Zachary (now nearly 7) got into trains at a very early age. It was also clear from early on that he had a numerical, practical mind that wanted to learn about how things work, how they used to be made and so on. Clearly we wanted to encourage that and he learned a lot from YouTube videos, documentaries (yes, even at about the age of 3!) and visiting steam railways and museums like the London Transport Museum and National Railway Museum in York. Yet books were a massive part of his learning, especially at bedtime and on rainy days.
There are many books you can choose from to learn train facts – and even this post I wrote earlier this year – but there are three I would recommend beyond the rest.
Best train fact books: young children
Zachary has always had a decent attention span but even then we found that one way to get him to enjoy basic learning at a young age was through sticker, coloring and activity books. We ended up with three copies of Train: Ultimate Sticker Book. At first it was definitely about the stickers. The stickers are placed over blue outlines of the engines and Zachary simply wanted to slap Rocket in the right place. Slowly he learned many of the more distinctive engine’s names. Later, he would point to the small paragraph next to each sticker and ask me to read it to him. Sure much of ‘In 1829 the Rocket, invented by Robert and George Stephenson, proved once and for all that steam locomotives were more efficient than horse-powered carriages’ would have gone over his head but it fed an inquisitive mind. Overall, the facts – and stickers – stuck.
Best train fact books: with a story
The other way to introduce the history and engineering behind trains was through Peter’s Railway. Author Christopher Vine intertwines tenderly written stories about Grandpa and Peter building a railway between their houses (and beyond in subsequent books). At first, Zachary simply enjoyed the stories and watercolour pictures and was happy to skip the more technical sections. However, as he grew and we read them again and again he wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of what was happening in the story. Insights through the series of five hardbacks and 10 papaerbacks include ‘Why Railways Don’t Have Steep Hills or ‘Gradients”, ‘Cuttings and Embankments’, ‘The Boiler – How the Locomotive Makes Its Steam’ . For a more detailed review of Peter’s Railway series read this. The link below directs you to Christopher Vine’s website as buying direct from authors is the best way to ensure they write more fantastic books.
Best train fact books: older kids
For children of school-going age, there really is only one book I would recommend. The Train Book: The Definitive Visual History costs under £9 and is a beautiful 320 page hardback. The book runs chronologically in chapters from 1804-38 The Iron Horse to After 2000 Railway Revival. Each chapter not only details the types of engines that were being developed in various countries and the people behind them but also the impact they had on history or society. There is also a section at the end for How Railways Work and a much-needed Glossary. Certainly at an early age this is not a book is going to read cover to cover, or even full chapters. We loved simply laying on the floor or bed and flicking to a random page and reading some of the words and looking at the stunning photos and images. Or letting Zachary choose from the Contents a part of the book he wanted to read. It is the type of book that you see on your child’s bookshelf now and know it will be one they keep into adulthood because of the shared memories of reading it.
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