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Favourite books: The Train Ride

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By Jane Bowerconsultant in art, drama, dance and literacy

Jane runs practical workshops in schools or at

Don’t miss this train! Take a ride to the seaside full of opportunities to spark children’s interest and imagination

The Train Ride

After my introduction to the book by a Key Stage 1 teacher, The Train Ride by June Crebbin, illustrated by Stephen Lambert (Walker Books, ISBN 9780744547016), has become a firm favourite. I love its clear, simple storyline, its soft, rounded pictures (which have a kind, comforting look to them), its wonderful train-like rhythms, and its cosy, homely ending.

It’s a timeless book, which could speak to any child in any era since the train was invented. It has great potential with children, offering links with journeys, transport, holidays, machines, the seaside, farms, sound effects, songs and musical rhythms, drama, art and writing – enough for a whole term’s work in fact!


A child relishes a train journey through the countryside, observing all sorts of sights through the window. The focus occasionally shifts to inside the train (lunch, the ticket collector, the window reflections when going through a tunnel), which eventually reaches the seaside and a town, where the purpose of the journey is revealed (a visit to Grandma). The entire story is written in a rhythm that matches that of the train. Available in Big Book form, The Train Ride’s large, simple illustrations are a great starting point for discussion.

Back to the start

In the hall or classroom, set out chairs in groups of four, facing each other, to represent the inside of the train. Rather than simply acting out the story, take on the role of Grandma. Explain that the children have come to the end of their visit, but you are so interested in everything they saw on their journey you are going to go back with them. As you know the train driver, you have arranged for the train to stop at every station along the way. Pack your suitcases ready for the trip. Ask the children to look after you; as you are a bit old you need a hand to walk and can’t see too well. This will encourage them to show you things during the drama.

Your destinations should go backwards through the book, so the first stop will be the lighthouse, sand and sea. How long you spend at each stop is up to you – you could spend a whole session exploring the seaside and extend the drama over several sessions. Next is the market square, a balloon ride, and looking after the geese with the farmer. Then, after going through the tunnel and looking at your reflections, take a tractor ride, feed the mare and foal, sheep and cows. Finally, you all arrive home and unpack your suitcases.

Journey journal

Add extra interest to your drama by hiding small flat souvenirs around the workspace to find at each stop, such as a goose feather, some sheep’s wool, photos of the mare and her foal, the tractor and the view from the balloon, your train ticket, and a wrapper from your packed lunch. Alternatively, the children can make them later and stick them into a simple book, writing about something they saw on the journey on each page.

Rhythm and rhyme

Read the story aloud and ask the children to close their eyes. What do they notice about how the story is written? It is written in the rhythm of the train, with repetitions of ‘What shall I see?’ and ‘That’s what I see’. This gives an excellent structure for the children’s own ideas. Working as a class around the whiteboard, try out and discuss ideas to get the children to appreciate the rhythm and to search for simple rhymes, such as:

I went to Italy on a plane

What did I see? What did I see?

A lion with a silky mane

That's what I see

That's what I see.

Beat it!

Encourage the children to enhance their poem by adding music. Try beating four beats on suitable percussion instruments to ‘What did I see?’ or turn the poem into a song and set the words to a tune. Let the children perform their song on the train made of chairs from the drama.

What did I see?

Show the children the painting Train Landscape by Eric Ravilious (1939). A copy of this is often found displayed in schools as it is one of the prints donated by Sainsbury’s. This shows a view of a white horse carved into the landscape, which can still be seen on the train journey from London to the south coast, near Reading. Ask the children what they have seen through a train or car window on a journey. Provide the children with a large piece of paper on which the outline of train windows has been drawn, as in the Ravilious painting. Ask them to paint the view they remember or the one they would most love to see from a train, real or imaginary.

Talking trains

Talk about other trains and journeys in books, such as Thomas the Tank Engine by W Rev Awdry, Oi! Get Off Our Train by John Burningham, or the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter series of books. Explore brochures from travel agents for the Orient Express or other luxury trains. Discuss the most amazing journey the children can imagine. What would the train be like? Would it be lined with silk, have a magic wand in each compartment or a zoo in one of the carriages? Where would the train go? Would it travel through the rainforest, go under the sea or into space?