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I think most children have a natural curiosity to see how things work. As such it is only natural to want to open things up and see what is inside. This book was bought when my oldest was about 3, and very much loved any type of book that showed you what was inside things. Even at that age he loved taking anything apart - like Mom he wasn't always as good at putting them back together again. But the nice thing about a book is you can see what is inside without breaking anything!
This book is listed as being for ages 4 to 6, but I think this age band is much too narrow. My oldest enjoyed this book very much at age three and my youngest has enjoyed it since age two. Obviously, they will need a parent to read this to them at a very young age, and with very young children you might want to skip a few details, but the text is short and even when describing very technical bits is very easy to understand. Of course, if the child is not a real railway enthusiast, a parent might also have to explain what a few parts are - such as a "bogie". A glossary is provided in the back for words such as this which many children may find unfamiliar.
I also find the age limit of 6 a bit too narrow. I may be immature, but I enjoyed this book myself. It was nice to get a really up close look at how steam engines work. The text is short, large and clear, and I think is intended for younger readers, but I would think children up to age 8 at least would really enjoy this. My oldest at 7 still says it is interesting, but that we read it too often ( thanks to his little brother). While I would not be likely to buy this for a child over age 8, it could still be very helpful when they are studying the development of steam engines in school, and I think children as old as 14 might enjoy reading this once at least. For this reason, I think this would be an ideal choice for delayed readers. It's easy enough to read, but not patronising or babyish, and I believe many older children are still keenly interested in how things work.
Trains begin with a brief introduction that is a bit childish. I think even young children know people used trains before there were cars to carry passengers and freight, and that steam engines have been replaced by diesel and electric locomotives today, but it is only one page, and provides a reasonable beginning to the book. This is followed by sets of two pages, most of which will feature a single engine with cut away sections showing how different parts work. There is an American 4-4-0 which is powered by logs rather than coal. It shows the flames inside and the pipes which carry the heat from the firebox through the boiler, heating the water just as an element heats water in the kettle - although we don't get an explanation of this until a few pages later. This train has a huge smokestack fitted with wire mesh to prevent spars from starting prairie fires, a large cattle catcher, and explanation of how the driving wheels works.
A similar section on The Flying Scotsman provides the most detailed explanation of exactly how the steam engine works. It also explains how the bogie allows the train to turn, how pistons work, and the feature which enabled the Flying Scotsman to make its non stop runs from London to Edinburgh. This high tech feature is a simple hollow pipe which allowed the train to scoop water from a trough alongside the track without stopping, filling up as it thundered past. Diesel engines, a high speed French TGF, a subway train and a maglev bullet train are also shown from the inside out, giving details of how each one works.
Other sections tell the reader about railway tracks and tunnels, such as the channel tunnel , and the longest rail tunnel, connecting two islands of Japan. But there are also some odd trains here. A lovely little Mountain train with a toothed rail for steep slopes, an experimental train which hung suspended beneath a track and was powered by a propeller, and especially interesting for us, a tiny miniature railway that once carried mail between sorting offices in London. This disused railway features in a Young Bond novel, and so really caught our interest. The details in this book are limited so we had to google it. It has also featured in a film called 'Hudson Hawk'. The railway is abandoned in the Young Bond book, but in reality would have been in full force at that time ( pre WW2), finally being closed in 2003.
Both of my sons have really enjoyed this book, and it is one my youngest will often choose himself at story time. I do believe it gives children a good start on understanding how machinery works, and is very educational in that sense. I can't say it is our favourite train book, that place is reserved for 'Legendary Journey's: Trains' an incredibly luxurious, lift the tap , pull out book. But it is very good book and a very reasonably priced book. It is entertaining, easy to read, and very informative. It may be listed for ages 4-6 , but I did learn some things from this book. The book is no longer in print, and copies will cost you £2.81 and up from Amazon. At this price the book seems well worth purchasing for young railway enthusiasts. It would be the ideal accompaniment for a day out to railway museum or working steam railway.