Friday, October 26, 2007

Nonfiction: Seymour Simon's Book of Trains

Seymour, Simon. (2002). SEYMOUR SIMON’S BOOK OF TRAINS. NY: Harpercollins Publishers. ISBN: 006028475.

With engaging full-colored photographs, Seymour Simon introduces and discusses the various kinds of trains and the cars they pull, and explains their uses.

In his traditional style, Seymour Simon has created an educational book with clear descriptions and captivating photographs that is perfect for children who have developed a love for trains. The book is simplistically organized. Simon dedicates a double-page spread for each train and each car that is discussed. On one page is a full-page colored photograph and on the opposite page is the text that describes the characteristics and use of the train or car. There are also subject headings for each spread that allows the readers to easily go directly to the train or car that they would like to read about instead of being forced to read through the entire book to find what they want to read.

The use of simple sentences allows the readers to understand the history and the functions of the trains. For example, to begin the book Simon states that, “[t]rains made the world a different place” and discusses how people could travel from one place to another and how cargo could be delivered faster by train instead of walking or using a wagon (p. 2). The author continues to provide historical dates of when the Diesel engine and the when and where the High-Speed train was introduced.

Simon is not afraid to describe the sometime complex nature of how a train engine works. For example how steam is used to run a Steam train:

Wood or coal is burned in a firebox. The train from the fire changes water in a boiler into stem. The pressure of the steam moves pistons back and forth. As the pistons move, the wheels of the locomotive begin to turn. The engine gives off fiery sparks and clouds of smoke through a large chimney (Simon, p. 3).

There are similar descriptions for the Diesel and Electric trains.

There are other details that make Seymour Simon’s Book of Trains a book full of information. Simon provides alternative or nicknames for the trains, such as a Mountain train is sometimes called a “rack” or a “cog railroad train,” which refer to the cog wheel that assist the train in traveling up the steep tracks (p. 16). Simon provides comparative descriptions, for example when describing the Boxcars he says that, “[b]oxcars look like giant shoe boxes on wheels,” which allows the readers to understand the shape of the cars (Simon, p. 20). Finally when describing the use of the cars that the train engines pull, the author provides a list of what type of cargo that is carried in the cars, such as Flatcars simple metal or wooden platforms that carry construction machinery and heavy and piggyback loaded truck trailers (Simon, p. 24), and the materials that Gondolas carry include concrete blocks and bricks, pipes, machinery and wood chips (Simon, p. 21).

To complete the book and provide further engaged reading, there are full-page colored photographs of the trains and cars. These were taken at various point-of-views and angles to create dynamics. Perfect example of this is wonderfully seen in the photograph of the Mountain train, which is able to climb up a steep track that takes people to high vantage points on a mountain. The picture was taken from low angle, which illustrates how steep the track the train travels is. Other photographs are taken close-up, which make parts of the train or cars fall off the page, such as the one showing the Boxcars.

A final element that enhances the beautifully dynamic photographs is the surrounding environment. Some pictures were taken during the middle of winter and had snow on the ground, there were pictures of trains traveling through a forest of green trees and had blue skies. Finally the various colors of sunlight were used when taking the photographs. For example, the photograph of the electric trains, the sun filter between the cars and reflects off the shiny metal sides and windows. Another example is seen in the picture of the Tank cars. The setting sun, which is not seen, highlights the round shape of the cars.

Despite the text being simple in nature, Simon provides descriptive and accurate information about the subject that encourages the readers to learn and providing at times brief mention of certain trains, for example, the Japanese Bullet Train, encourages the readers to think and reader more books. The use of real photographs taken at dynamic angles and various environments provides a second element that makes Seymour Simon’s Book of Trains a great educational book for young beginning train enthusiasts.

The layout and organization are vintage Simon: single pages of clear, direct text describing various topic subsets; handsome, well-chosen glossy photos on facing pages; and generous leading. Simon begins with a brief history of trains, defines types of trains, provides brief explanations of different cars, and ends with the importance of trains today. The illustrations fuel a number of opportunities for preschoolers to revisit the book. Copyright 2001 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved. (October 1, 2002)

PreS-Gr 4-Trains and individual freight cars are displayed in glorious full color in this oversized book. Simon offers information on different types of these machines from the earliest steam locomotives to France's TGV, which can reach speeds of 300 miles per hour. The section on freight trains delves into each car from boxcars to the now-obsolete caboose. The sharp pictures cover half of each spread. One small complaint is that while the TGV and Japan's bullet trains are mentioned, they are not pictured. But never mind. Even preschoolers will be drawn in by the large, abundant photographs. Another winner from a popular author.-Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. (May 1, 2002).

*Learn more about the different types of trains with books like The Best Book of Trains by Richard Balkwill, Steam, Smoke and Steel: Back in Time With Trains by Patrick O’Brien, and the Big Book of Trains by DK Publishing.
*Ask the children if they have seen any of these trains and if they have ever ridden on a train.
*The children make their own train set by using small cardboard containers like a cracker box for the main body and use construction paper or thin cardboard paper for the wheels (attached by brass round-head paper fasteners) and for a chimney and cowcatcher (if making a steam engine). Use paint or construction paper to decorate the sides. The method can be done to create boxcars. For tank cars, cut a box in half and place either a toilet paper or paper towel tube on top, then add wheels.

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