Thursday, June 19, 2014

Nonfiction Books About Trains


NPR recently posted a "a reading list for riding the rails," which inspired me to put together some lists of the train books that have played a major role in our almost-ten-year-old's education for more than half his life.  Here's a list of nonfiction books about trains, railroads, and subways (list of fiction about trains coming soon!). N.'s favorites are The Great Book of Trains, the books of O. Winston Link's photographs, The Cars of Pullman, and all the books about the London Underground. Parents of railfans, do you have titles to add to this list?

  • The Great Book of Trains by Brian Hollingsworth and Arthur Cook
  • The Age of the Train: From the Rocket to the Bullet by Philip Marsh
  • The Big Book of Trains by DK Publishing
  • Encyclopedia of North American Railroads by Aaron E. Klein
  • Life Along the Line: A Photographic Portrait of America's Last Great Steam Railroad by O. Winston Link
  • The Last Steam Railroad in America by O. Winston Link
  • The Great Railroad Revolution by Christian Wolmar
  • Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America by Sam Roberts
  • The Elegance of Edwardian Railways by Geoffrey Williams
  • Eat Steel and Spit Rivets: Norfolk Southern Employees Reflect on 30 Years of Change, Challenge, and Achievement
  • Amtrak: An American Story
  • Southen Railway's Historic Spencer Shops by Larry K. Neal, Jr.
  • Railroad Depots of Michigan: 1910-1920 by David J. Mrozek
  • Baldwin Locomotives by Schiffer Publishing
  • The Cars of Pullman by Joe Welsh
  • The Sea-to-Sky Gold Rush Route by Eric L. Johnson
  • The Missabe Road by Frank A. King
  • Railway Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden
  • Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden
  • London Underground by Design by Mark Ovenden
  • The London Underground by Andrew Emmerson
  • Discovering Subterranean London by Andrew Emmerson
  • Discovering London Railway Stations by Oliver Green
  • What's in a Name by Cyril M. Harris
  • London Underground Facts by Stephen Halliday
  • Do Not Alight Here by Ben Pedroche

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Field Trip: Seagrove and the North Carolina "Pottery Highway"

Checking out the kilns

We spent a beautiful spring Saturday with friends exploring the Seagrove area, where the local clay has long inspired Native American, English, German, and contemporary potters.  We started at the North Carolina Pottery Center, an excellent small museum/ interpretive center that gave us a good foundation in the history of pottery in the area.  Then we drove around somewhat at random to a few of the 100 or so potteries in the area.  We started, fortuitously, at Ben Owen Pottery, where we were able to look at the kilns and watch Ben Owen III himself throw pots while describing his craft and answering questions.  This was the perfect introduction for N., creating context for all the pottery we proceeded to look at.  By the end of the day, N. was very interested in taking a pottery class!

Watching Mr. Owen at work

An egg separator!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

4th Grade Independent Reading Book List

Browsing in the wonderful children's section at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Rd., London
Here's my annual list of "chapter books" that N. read this year (my list of the year's read-alouds is here).  He was 9 years old and in 4th grade this year.  As always, this doesn't include picture books, which he still very much enjoys.  It also doesn't include Trains Magazine and Classic Trains Magazine, as well as National Geographic, Smithsonian, or our local newspaper, all of which feature in his daily reading.  He also reads widely from our collections of books about trains and architecture, which I have not listed here, since they've been part of his book diet for years (I will make a list of trains books and another of building books sometime though!).  This year I also noted books that he began but put aside because I am intrigued by this practice.  Some of his favorites on this list include the Cat Club books by Esther Averill, Asterix, and Horton's Mysterious Mechanisms.
  • On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells (first 1/3)
  • Secret Letters from 0-10 by Susie Morgenstern
  • Tintin: The Black Island by Herge
  • Superfudge by Judy Blume (read about half)
  • Tintin: Red Sea Sharks by Herge
  • Tintin: Tintin in America
  • Asterix #1
  • The New Treasure-Seekers by E. Nesbit
  • Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
  • Asterix #2
  • Five Go Adventuring Again by Enid Blyton
  • Asterix #3
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  • The Zack Files: Great-Grandpa's in the Litter Box by Dan Greenburg
  • The Zack Files: Through the Medicine Cabinet by Dan Greenburg
  • The Zack Files: A a Ghost Named Wanda by Dan Greenburg
  • Asterix #4
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
  • Asterix #5
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Rides Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Asterix #6
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time by Frank Cottrell Boyce (read 1/2, abandoned)
  • Asterix #7
  • Roland Chambers' unpublished MS
  • Asterix #8
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (read 1/4)
  • Asterix #9
  • Horton's Mysterious Mechanisms by Lissa Evans
  • Asterix #10-12 omnibus
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster (selections)
  • Bird in a Box (started, put aside)
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid #8 Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney
  • Asterix #13-15 omnibus
  • Jane Austen's juvenilia (selections)
  • Horton's Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans
  • King Solomon's Mines(read 1/4)
  • The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill
  • The Curious Adventures of Jimmy McGee by Eleanor Estes
  • Captains of the City Streets by Esther Averill
  • The School for Cats by Esther Averill
  • Jenny's Moonlight Adventure by Esther Averill
  • A Word to the Wise by Alison Cragin Herzig and Jane Lawrence Mali
  • Calvin & Hobbes: The Days Are Just Packed by Bill Watterson
  • Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
  • Jenny's Birthday Book by Esther Averill
  • The Fire Cat by Esther Averill
  • Jenny Goes to Sea by Esther Averill
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Whittington by Alan Armstrong
  • The Wizard of Oz (graphic novel) by Eric Shanower and Scottie Young
  • Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (3rd time!)
  • Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitrou et. al.
  • The Zack Files: Dr. Jekyll, Orthodontist by Dan Greenburg
  • The Zack Files: I'm Out of my Body... Please Leave a Message by Dan Greenburg
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (read 1/4)
Previous lists of independent reading are here:


Previous lists of read-alouds are here:


Do you have any recommendations for N.'s reading in the coming year?  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

4th-Grade Read-Alouds

At this time every year, I post a list of "chapter books" we've read aloud to N. over the past year.  I track our reading at Listography.  This year, we read fewer titles overall because we had less read-aloud time (many late bedtimes due to outings!) during our five months in Europe and because N. reads so much himself.  But we are committed to continuing reading aloud to N., and he loves being read to.  Though he's a very advanced reader, there is still a gap between his reading ability and his comprehension ability so we can read aloud more complex (and more old-fashioned!) books than he might read on his own.  I love the social aspect of reading aloud, the shared experience of the book that we can talk about as we read and remember  together with pleasure.

The highlights of our reading this year were the Great Brain series and Nesbit's Bastables books.  We also really loved Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce.  Reading Great Northern at the start of last summer was bittersweet because it was the last of the beloved Swallows and Amazons series.  But we reread a couple favorites this year (The Secret Garden and The Railway Children), so we may well reread the Swallows and Amazons books (actually we've already reread a couple of the early books in the series in previous years).
  • Great Northern? By Arthur Ransome
  • The Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  • More Adventures of the Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  • Me and My Little Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (read half, then it got too sad!)
  • The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit
  • The Wouldbegoods by E. Nesbit
  • The New Treasure-Seekers by E. Nesbit
  • Oswald Bastable and Others by E. Nesbit (read half)
  • The Great Brain at the Academy by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  • The Avion My Uncle Flew by James Fisher
  • Act One by Moss Hart (read by T.)
  • The Great Brain Reforms by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  • Mary Poppins in the Park by P.L. Travers
  • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
  • Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce
  • The Return of the Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Case for Pluto by Alan Boyle (read by T.)
  • Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (read by T.)
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald
  • Grayson by Lynne Cox
  • The Princess and Curdie by George Macdonald
June 2013-May 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Field Trip: Streamliners

N. and I went to a special event last week at the North Carolina Transportation Museum called "Streamliners at Spencer," a gathering of historic streamlined engines from the 1930s to the 1950s.  It was billed as "primarily a photography event," which meant we couldn't get particularly close to the engines, and there were lots of (generally older, white, male) photographers everywhere angling for their shots.  The day featured a lot of waiting around in the sun and the heat generated by the engines as various locomotives were moved around for photos.  I thought it was terrifically boring, and I have developed a pretty high interest in train history over the years of my son's life!  But N. had a good time.  He enjoyed seeing various E- and F-units that he's interested in.  He tried out a diesel train-driving simulator.  He loved the displays in the visiting Amtrak Exhibit Train, especially one demonstrating the different Amtrak train horn signals over the years and listing their chords (our favorite was the signal that came just before the current signal in use; I think it was a C# diminished 7th chord).  There were model train layouts to admire, and old restored private passenger cars to tour.

N. also got to meet railroad artist Andy Fletcher, who kindly told us a bit about the paper and pens he preferred for his meticulous drawings of locomotives, cars, and cabooses.  N. was quite inspired by his work, and by seeing so many locomotives.  As soon as we got home, he immediately set to work on a drawing of a GG1 engine.

A "GG1" electric locomotive, drawn by N., 2014.