Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who do you choo-choose?

Shark vs. Train

Shark vs. Train
By Chris Barton
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Little Brown, 36 pages
$16.99, ages 4 to 8

Who would have thought two such wildly different infatuations of childhood could be successfully teamed as costars of a book?

But from the eye-grabbing front cover to a fun back cover, Shark vs. Train is a kid-pleaser, which actually provides a few opportunities for discussion along the way.

That said, I would have done one piece of editing at the very beginning. The premise is this: Shark and Train are toys that two boys pull out of a toy box. The toy box scene happens just before the title page, which looks like the cover with a few extra words. "SHARK VS. TRAIN: Who will win?" Then there's some cartoon bubble trash talk: "I'm going to choo-choo you up and spit you out," etc.

My editing suggestion would be to save the "reveal" that Shark and Train are toys. As the story ends now, the boys are called for lunch and the toys are tossed back into the toy box. A great ending if we didn't know they were toys all along. I read the story this way at my school, starting with the title page. You can, too.

So there's the title page, then straight into a hilarious rush of contests. Who will win? "That depends on if they're in the ocean," Barton writes, accompanied by a great picture by illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. All his pictures are terrific. In this one, Shark is grinning nastily as Train sinks toward the sandy ocean floor, his cheeks puffed with the effort of holding his breath.

But on the next page they're racing on railroad tracks.

The scenarios get ever-goofier - seesaws, hot-air balloons, marshmallow roasts, burping contests, basketball. Children will chortle and you can talk about why and how Shark or Train is winning this or that competition. At the carnival, which ride draws a bigger crowd, Train or Shark?

Soon the contests grow difficult or impossible for either to win, and eventually they get downright scary, nudging Shark and Train onto the same team.

The back cover contains a "Meet Shark and Train" feature full of fun facts, such as favorite colors (blood red and coal black) and statements by the contestants.

The day I read this at school, children from two different classes said "read it again," as soon as I was finished. And later, a boy in a class I hadn't read it to found it on my chair and tried to check it out. He wasn't happy when I told him he couldn't because it wasn't a library book.

-Rebecca Young


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