Top 100 Picture Books #42: Freight Train by Donald Crews
Trains, colors, simplicity. What a mix! – Angela Reynolds
Perfect blend of art and language, from the first line to going, going, gone. – Pat Vasilik
Ah. At last we reach another book I like to read to my daughter. Tell me, does anyone else do a little Kaiser Soze puff of air from the lips when you reach that last “gone” in the book or is that just me? Don’t answer that. At any rate there are few books that manged to grab kids quite as young as this one. It’s something to do with the combination of the pacing, the design, the colors, and the content. I can’t explain it, but whatever it is it has allowed a book that shares my age to stick around for as long as I have. Entirely awesome.
The plot according to Kirkus reads, “As trains do, this one simply–splendidly simply–comes and goes. Starting with an empty track, Crews sets down and names the six different ears: each a different primer-bright color, all together a streaking rainbow when pulled along by the moving black engine. Through tunnel and city and darkness and daylight moves the freight train, “Going, going–gone,” leaving behind a trail of smoke and a strong, sharp impression.”
According to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, Freight Train was originally conceived when Crews served in the military in Germany. It was based on his own memories of watching the trains move past his grandparents’ farm in Florida. And if you’re like me you probably have noticed the “1978” and “N&A” in the book. The first is the date of publication, the second a tribute to his kids Nanette and Amy.
In 1979 it won a Caldecott Honor. One wonders if new parents that encounter it today just assume that the art is computer generated. In fact he made the art with stencils and blocks of color.
Back in 1978 Kirkus gave it a star and said it had, “Clean, clear, brilliant design, with no drag.”
Booklist said, “Clear bright illustrations show all the cars of a train bringing the reader the excitement of movement through day and night, country and city.”
Freight Train is notable these days because of its incredibly clever app. Here’s a look at it:
And here is Donald Crews himself talking about the app:
Hard to beat the original, of course.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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