Trains Are Scarier Than You Think

by anna on September 4, 2009

A whole book on trains?! How perfect for Mini. Or so I thought.

A whole book on trains?! How perfect for Mini. Or so I thought.

I believe I may have mentioned once or two thousand times that Mini is a big fan of trains. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to happen upon this wonderful book on my way back from BlogHer View definition in a new window in July: a whole book filled with trains, train illustrations, and colorful train legends and folklore! The kid travel souvenir gods had shined upon me that day, I was sure of it!

Aww, look at these fantastic full-color illustrations of trains! What little boy wouldn't love them?

Aww, look at these fantastic full-color illustrations of trains! What little boy wouldn't love them?

Because even if Mini has been doing a lot of growing in recent months, and even if he has become increasingly fond of the move where I’m talking and he says, “Mah!” and then “Shhh!” with his finger pressed to his lips, whenever he feels I’m being too chatty–there’s still a little bit of the wet-behind-the-ears naif in him. At almost two and a half, Mini’s not too grown up to enjoy a full-color illustration of an old-fashioned steam locomotive, complete with front-attached cow catcher! Oh no!

This is a little much, isn't it?

This is a little much, isn't it?

And here’s looking at you, Lynn Curlee — finally, a writer who is not afraid to admit she shares Mini’s wide-eyed nostalgia for all things train! “There are few things more exciting than the sound of a train chugging through the countryside”?! That is a sentence that could only have been written by a remarkably literate toddler! For what adult could muster up this kind of childlike wonder about an outdated and slow form of mass transit?! None with whom I’m acquainted, that’s for sure! And none who are younger than, say, Larry King!

OK, I don't know how realistic it is that a two-year-old will understand this part, but I guess it's good to expose him to this stuff early.

OK, I don't know how realistic it is that a two-year-old will understand this part, but I guess it's good to expose him to this stuff early.

And teaching him about how a steam locomotive works?! Well, it’s never too early to get in the running for the Rhodes Scholarship, right?

This is a "Momma" and a "Dadda." Notice the use of indefinite article--they are just two of billions of Mommas and Daddas in the World According to Mini.

But sometimes you get so charmed by the multiple pictures of couples in silhouette, each captured in a loving parting embrace by the side of a departing train, that it makes you forget.

Hey look! Another Momma and another Dadda! Is it me or is this book awfully heteronormative?

Hey look! Another Momma and another Dadda! Is it me or is this book awfully heteronormative?

It makes you forget what you usually know, viz. that not all people who deal with children–or write books for children–actually have children–or at least, that not all of them demonstrate a complete understanding of the child’s intellectual processes and motivations. Like the times when you’re at My Gym and you notice that all of the Big Wheels and other push toys have been tied to poles with bungee cords, rendering them immovable, and thus a huge source of frustration to the average toddler.

I should have known these scribbles were Mini's attempt to work through a psychic trauma.

I should have known these scribbles were Mini's attempt to work through a psychic trauma.

And that’s why, when you first happen upon one of these outrageous travesties of toddler justice, your brain is simply incapable of accepting it. This is why you will assume, at first, that there has been some kind of tragic mistake. “Are the Big Wheels tied up just temporarily? Like, you will let them ride around on them later or something?” you ask, hoping against common sense that nobody in their right mind would set out to mock a toddler with a non-moving moving toy. It is that same impulse that leads you to believe that these scribbles inside the train book were a result of a toddler’s imagination sent into overdrive by the wonders of mass transit via locomotive, and all of the magic that steam power works on the impressionable toddler brain.

Hold the phone. What is this?!

Hold the phone. What is this?!

But eventually, you get a closer look at things, and notice that the page opposite the scribbling is filled with falling bodies, set against a graphic background of flames and sundry crushed train parts.

Really? The crash and the flames isn't enough? You also need the falling bodies?

Really? The crash and the flames isn't enough? You also need the falling bodies?

And then you rip the page out of the book because–what the fuck? What kind of a sick fuck puts a page full of bodies falling out of the sky, set against flames and crashing trains in a children’s book?! What is WRONG with people?

{ 10 comments }

Snakey September 4, 2009 at 6:49 am

That is fucked up! It really is. LOL @ Mini’s reaction.

“How a steam locomotive works” is just the foreshadowing: the child needs to be disabused of the notion that train travel is safe and know a fiery death is always just meters away, even in the absence of weak bridges (that’s another fear to cultivate… maybe the same illustrator has a sequel titled “When human structures attack!”).

And you ripped the page off! Which is making me imagine you sneaking into the library and going all Farenheit 451 at the kids’ section :D

anna September 4, 2009 at 7:09 am

I know! I’m usually anti-censorship but after one too many times of trying to convince Mini that, yes, the Choo-Choo fell down, but it’s “OK,” and that he didn’t need to worry–usually at bed time, too–Mr. Right-Click just lost it and ripped it out. I usually just try to skip past the page but of course that one page is more interesting to him, probably because it does raise a lot of questions.

lynn @ human, being September 4, 2009 at 9:18 am

That graphic is unbelievable. What, no decapitation mid-air? No blood splatter? No hair on fire?

Suitable for giving nightmares to all ages.

BTW, my daughter’s favorite board book–the one she still reads along side Nancy Drew–is called Trains. “This is a steam locomotive. This is a town the train passes by. Here comes the train! The cars must stop.”

anna September 4, 2009 at 11:50 am

LOL, what is it with kids and trains?! The just love them. I honestly don’t understand what this author/illustrator was thinking with the crash page. I mean, who does she think is reading her book?

Zoe Right September 4, 2009 at 10:32 am

I could almost hear the jaws music as I was reading through

anna September 4, 2009 at 11:52 am

Mr. Right Click is actually concerned now that we did some kind of damage to him by exposing him to this book at his age. It seems dramatic, but on the other hand, this is the age where all of the future “issues” get imprinted. Of course, if he’s afraid to go on trains as an adult this will have zero effect on his life, really, so I guess it’s OK.

Monica September 4, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Is that a West Elm bookcase I see in these photos???? We just finished putting some of these together and I LOVE THEM!!! Two years after we moved to this house I finally took all the books out of boxes and put them on these and they look great. Apologies for getting off topic so here is something somewhat related: my mother used to say that W. Disney was a sadist who loved to traumatized little children with scary stuff. This was in the 1950′s by the way.

Keely September 4, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Uh – wow? What, exactly, is supposed to be the context there? “Sometimes trains go boom”? “Make sure your bridge engineers have the proper credentials”? “Holy crap we don’t have a picture for this page, ask the depressed guy in the art department to whip something up”?

Jeez. I would have ripped it out too.

Trainspotter September 5, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Um, have you read the fairy tales yet? Big bad wolf? Evil Queen? Ogres with axes? People getting killed and threatened constantly — will there be no fairy tales for Mini. Will the wolf be excised? Or am I failing to make a distinction?

Juliet Grossman September 6, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Don’t worry; Mini and every other kid will be on the psychiatrist’s couch for a bunch of other stuff we have no idea we’re even doing to them. Your story is like something that would happen on The Simpsons: “Look, Maggie, look at the cute dogs” and off to the side only Maggie notices that they are wolves ripping apart a smaller animal. I guess it’s never too early to learn about great train derailments of our time, suicide by train, cars trying to beat trains and the entire family is killed in a bloody crash, etc. Let’s hope Mini’s scribbling on that particular page is just coincidental and he “didn’t notice” the death & destruction. (la la la.) Or maybe he’ll just have a vague discomfort around trains and never quite know why.

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