Trainstop by Barbara Lehman is a wordless picture book about a young girl who has a magical experience on what is an otherwise ordinary train ride. The unnamed girl and her parents get on the train in the city. The parents are preoccupied reading their newspaper and the other adults on the train are all reading or talking on the phone or sleeping. But our heroine spends her time looking out the window at the gray city. Then the train goes through a tunnel. On the other side, the girl finds a country setting dotted with tiny houses and windmills. The train stops, and she alights to a lilliputian world, where, with her considerable height, she is able to save the day. One might suspect, by the way everyone else on the train sleeps through the whole incident, that the girl's experience is a dream. However, the magic follows her home, and the reader is left with an impression that magic can sprout up anytime in the midst of an ordinary day. I think that kids will love it!
With a wordless picture book, the illustrations are, of course, everything. In this case, Lehman's watercolor, gouache, and ink pictures convey mood through clever perspective shifts and the subtle use of color. The girl's pink and yellow striped shirt stands out, compared to the more somber clothes of the other adults and the muted colors of the train car. Only the train's route map is equally colorful, representing, perhaps, the possibilities of travel. Several of the illustrations feature the girl looking out of the window - in some we see her profile and the view, in others we look from outside of the train back in at her interested face. My favorite page is the one where the girl is deciding whether to leave the train on her own. She looks around, and everyone else is sleeping. Even the man on his cell phone sleeps, phone propped up to his ear. She looks a bit doubtful, but of course she can't resist the adventure. And neither will kids. The Lilliputians are priceless. They drive wind-up cars, and wear striped and polka-dotted clothes, and funny hats.
The miracle of this book is how much Lehman is able to get across without words, how unnecessary words are to tell the story. The girl's face isn't even very detailed, with tiny dots for eyes, and a single line for a mouth. And yet, her thoughts are clear from her expressions and posture. The other thing that I think is genius is the way Lehman juxtaposes whimsical fantasy against a relatively bleak city background. It reminds me a bit of Dorothy leaving the gray Kansas farm and entering Oz.
I highly recommend this title, especially for kids who are interested in trains, or fascinated by the idea of 'little people". I think this would be an excellent fit for older preschoolers who aren't quite reading yet, but understand the notion of using a book to tell a story.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: April 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Pink Me, the Excelsior File. See also my review of Rainstorm, another lovely wordless picture book by the author.
Author Interviews: BookPage (a fun, illustrated interview that I found through World of Words). Also, though not exactly an interview, don't miss The Excelsior File's Robert's Snow feature about Barbara Lehman.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.