How to Train a Train

Written by Jason Carter Eaton, Illustrated by John Rocco Candlewick Press, 2013

So you want a pet train? Well, of course you do!

If you want to have a train for a pet, you first need to figure out what kind of train works best for you. Then you’ll need to catch one, which can be tricky. Give your train a new name and help it adapt to its new surroundings. You can help settle your train in by reading it stories and playing train sounds to help it get to sleep. Get to know it by finding out what it enjoys and what makes it nervous. Try teaching your train a few tricks and some good manners. Introduce it to your friends’ pets, especially if they are also trains or trucks or planes or even submarines. And when your train is happy, you will know.

Author Jason Carter Eaton proves that the best way to make a silly concept book work is to present it in the same way that you would present it as a serious thing. The book’s narrator is dressed as a safari guide, which gives him the appearance of being an expert on his topic. A lot of the advice offered is the same advice you would give to anyone learning to care for a new puppy or a kitten, so it’s likely to strike a chord with pet owners as well as train aficionados alike.

Even dressed up, your train is probably not welcome at the school dance.

John Rocco’s illustrations are done in graphite, with digital coloring, and they beautifully convey all the details of different types of trains and the environments where you find them. Again, the comic twist of showing these giant machines in backyard pools or leaving mud tracks in the kitchen, just as though they were domesticated, really takes it up a notch. There’s a great note to the reader in the back of the book, pointing out the things in the book that should not be tried at home and should only be done by ‘fully trained illustrated characters.’ It’s a lot of fun.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all pets, even the strange ones, need care, affection and love to keep them happy and healthy.

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