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My eldest son has loved stream trains ever since we took him to the restored vintage line at Pickering in North Yorkshire. From then on he has loved anything to do with trains and this obsession doesn't stop at home. At school they get to bring a story book home every week from the school's library collection and one book that keeps occurring is The return of Old Smokey by Colin and Valerie King. My son has brought this book home on numerous occasions and each time he really enjoys it.
The front cover really appeals to my son as he always shows me it as soon as he brings it home. The cover has a picture of a friendly looking stream train coming out of a tunnel with smoke all around it. This train is actually Smokey the train this story is based on. He has eyes and a smiley face on the front of it making him appealing to most children.
The story begins with the closing of the Colne Valley railway. Old Smokey the stream train and his driver Fred are losing their jobs as the line is being closed and demolished. Whilst Fred returns home with no job poor old Smokey is sent to the scrap yard to rust like many other stream trains that are there all broken and rusty. That is till one day Smokey is re-discovered and there is hope for him once more.
The back cover of the version my son borrows from school has a lovely map style picture which shows the line going round in a oval shape, Hedingham station, the lonely scrap yard, Ghost tunnel and Fred's house. These places are followed in the order they appear in the story, like the map they do loop together in the end. There is square in the middle of the track briefly talking about seeing old stream trains yourself and about you possibly visiting the Colne Valley railway in Castle Hedingham Essex or a restored line like this one. It was then I realised the story is based on an actually place which I quite liked.
I found the story flowed lovely and both me and my son enjoyed it. The rhyming text makes it a dream to read and it rolls off your tongue with ease. It isn't a really long story only lasting about four minutes but my son loves to discuss the pictures and the times we have visited a railway that has been re-opened so for us it generally lasts a lot longer.
The story itself is full of descriptive words and sounds which I feel make the story come alive. The pictures follow suit too. They are delightfully detailed which keeps my son amused. It is a countryside railway line so the rolling hills in the distance and the houses built into them makes great fun for my son pointing them out. I myself find I love looking at the pictures as there is a lot to see. One particular picture which is lacking in the usually detail is of the scrap yard with all the brown rusty trains looking glum. This often sparks a discussion up with my son as to why this happens to trains. I personally love the picture of the old train running over the beautiful viaduct through the night.
The first time I read it to my son he went through a mixture of emotions in a short time. To begin with he was excited to hear a story about a stream train. I think from the front cover he expected it to be a bit like a Thomas the tank engine story with a train doing jobs up and down the line, quite light hearted really. But from the first page it was shown this wasn't going to be so. My son was a little sad to hear the stations were being shut and the trains being taken to scarp yards. As the story moves on and the pace quickens my son began to enjoy it and of course he is very pleased with the ending. We have read it several times now and as much as he enjoys it I can see there isn't that mystery as to what will happen anymore but he still enjoys it.
I have found it is quite a topically book and when first written I think that is what the writer wanted to achieve. The beginning says it all when the words written are 'thought it was clever to close all the lines'. This is a book that can be enjoyed by child and adult and at a cost of £5.99 is worth every penny.