Once upon a time, we had a little boy who was completely enthralled with all things having to do with trains. When he fell for Thomas the Tank Engine, he fell hard, and he was not yet two. We have an extensive collection of Thomas and friends (thanks to the grandparents) complete with a living room’s miles worth of track, corresponding stations, bridges, and assorted other props. That boy is now in engineering school, and I can’t help but think that Thomas and friends (as well as Legos® and blocks etc.) had a hand to play in his education/career choice.
It had been awhile since the trains roamed the living room for days on end, when my daughter brought her babysitting charges over last spring. They could not believe their eyes when they saw our train paraphernalia — I’d not met such Thomas fans in nearly fifteen years. The 8×10 oval rug was soon transformed into a set for Thomas adventures and stories — both those familiar from books and shows and those made up on the spot.
I now have several young friends in storytime who love Thomas. Slowly I’m remembering the names and personalities of the train cars. It gives me an “in” with these preschoolers, I think — I speak their language. I know about cheeky Percy and wise Edward. I know that Thomas has the number one on his engine, whereas Edward has a two — although both are blue, it’s a beginner’s mistake to mix them up. I know that James, the Red Engine, can be a real pain at times — he’s a bit of a snob and a little too proud of his red paint. I know Annie and Clarabelle are Thomas’ friends (his coach cars, actually).
I took the giant Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection off my shelves the other day. It instantly made me sleepy. We read Thomas stories after lunch, before nap, with a great regularity. They are not terribly sophisticated stories. They tend to be more than a bit preachy. And there’s an astonishing level of detail about train bits and their workings. I was always half asleep by the time we were finished reading.
I think of the Thomas stories with the same sort of fondness with which I think of Mr. Rogers — gentle, rhythmic, sleep-inducing, post-lunch wonderfulness. And, my goodness, do I love the very serious conversations to be had when dimpled little hands hold up the cars and tell me all about the parts and personalities of each of the trains and trucks and diggers. These conversations don’t make me sleepy at all, though they do make me nostalgic for the days when it took a whole morning’s worth of negotiation to get my boy to move Thomas and his friends so I could vacuum. Vacuuming days were hard and sad days, generally reclaimed only with an extra story from The Complete Collection. And then a nap…for all concerned.