The Railroad Book, written and illustrated by E. Boyd Smith, was released in 1913, copyright by the Fairfield County Council and the Boy Scouts of America.

English: I took photo at Manassas, VA, of the ...

Photo at Manassas, VA, of the Amtrak station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Children’s picture books, by American artists, were rare in the early 1900s.

This started to change when a librarian, Clara Hunt, director of children’s work at the Brooklyn Public Library, put out a call for good picture books, writing directly to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, as part of this outreach effort.

E. Boyd Smith responded to Hunt’s call with The Farm Book in 1910, The Seashore Book in 1912 and The Railroad Book in 1913.

Houghton Mifflin published the originals, and reissued The Farm Book in 1982 and The Railroad Book in 1983.

The beautiful watercolor illustrations are most tied to the turn-of-the-century by the descriptions of steam engines and the clothes of passengers.

But, what hasn’t changed in 90 years, is the respect with which Smith addresses children.

As though a kindly uncle, he does not talk down to them or seem to simplify his explanations of the world of trains for them.

Rather, he offers a straight-forward description of how a brother and sister explore the world of trains and trainmen, and eventually take a cross-country trip by rail from the East Coast to the West Coast.

Indirectly showing children the breadth of the country and very simply introducing them to the concept of the role trains play in our every day lives when it comes to delivering goods, from mail to coal, the fact that infrastructure options have changed since then does not change a child’s need to understand.

And, who is not excited by the toot of a train’s horn, the gathering power beneath its massive engine, the thrill of watching the arm come down over a railroad crossing and lights flash when a train is near?

My husband once took the Crescent, an Amtrak train that plies the route between New York City and New Orleans, from our home in Falls Church, Virginia to be with his family in Atlanta, Georgia.

On that ride, he passed through a quaint, old-fashioned train station in Manassas, Virginia and thought to himself, “It certainly would be nice to live in a town like this some day.”

We moved there in the summer of 2000. Our house is 15 minutes from that train station.

Right next to the station is a sidetrack with a railroad car and caboose where our grandchildren play.

The train sits next to a pavilion where our grandson helps out at the Farmer’s Market in the summer and ice skates in the winter, listening to the trains go by.

Relive your own memories of trains with your grandchildren and The Railroad Book.

Click on the title to order it from amazon, The Railroad Book.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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