________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 13 . . . . March 1, 2002

cover My Grandpa Plays with Trains.

Myrna Neuringer Levy. Photographs by Ian Crysler.
Toronto, ON: AMA Graphics (Order from Myrna Neuringer Levy, P.O. Box 38196, 550 Eglington Ave. West, Toronto, ON, M5N 1B0 or email myrnasbooks@yahoo.com.), 2001.
26 pp., pbk., $14.95.

ISBN 0-96923-984-X.

Subject Heading:
Railroads-Trains-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

*** /4


"I wish you would have found Devony and brought her here. I miss her sooo much, Grandpa."

"I know you do, Alex. I'd like to help - but my eyes are better at finding old trains than old friends."

I took off my engineer's hat. Devony moved away in the summer. She was always asking about Grandpa's train room - did the trains have names, did Grandpa really have as many books as I said he did, did Grandpa have an extra engineer's cap? I wanted to bring her to see Grandpa's trains - and then she was going to let me see her pet turtle! But she left the day after school ended.

In today's world of computer games and hand-held electronic toys, pastimes of earlier generations can seem intriguingly fresh to young readers. Such is the case with My Grandpa Plays with Trains wherein Alex's grandfather is a most serious model railroad buff, but he is not so serious that his "toys" are for him only. The book opens on a Sunday with Grandpa and Alex playing with Grandpa's elaborate model train layout. While Alex greatly enjoys this shared experience, he is somewhat despondent because his friend, Devony, had moved away before he could share Grandpa's trains with her. When the doorbell rings signaling the arrival of Alex's father to take Alex home, he does not want to leave the fun of being with his grandfather. However, Grandpa assures him, "It's OK, Alex, you'll come back on Saturday."

     Each night, Alex phones his grandfather, and the pair ask the same questions of each other, with Grandpa's question being, "How was school today? and Alex's being, "Can I come over tomorrow?" In Alex's response, he shares what he has done during his school day, usually something that has a train connection. And Grandpa's replies to Alex's query are variations on "Tomorrow's [day of the week], Alex. School for you, work for me. But you can come over on Saturday." Friday night's conversation changes, though, because Alex's parents have arranged for Devony to spend the weekend with Alex, and she will be joining Alex at Grandpa's. Alex is most hopeful that his friend will enjoy the trains as much as he does, but Devony's initial reaction is absolute silence. After what seems an eternity for Alex, Devony finally lets out her breath and says, "These trains are amazing! Can I come back next week - and bring my Grandpa?"

     While Myrna Neuringer Levy tells a most competent story, Ian Crysler's photographs add significantly to the book's emotional impact. With two exceptions, each pair of facing pages devotes one page to a full colour photo and the other to the text which is sometimes accompanied by another small photo. Only three people make appearances in the photos, Grandpa, Alex and Devony, and Crysler's photography, which never feels posed, captures aspects of their characters. As can be seen in Crysler's pictures, Grandpa is really quite the railroading afficionado, and even his ties and suspenders sport railroading motifs. Grandpa's hobby room is chockablock with model trains, their engines, cars and other paraphernalia, and, after the story has been read, young "readers" can go back to the photographs and lose themselves in their details. In the book's third last photograph, which occurs at the point Devony and Alex have arrived at Grandpa's house, Crysler effectively creates tension by not showing any people. Instead, he uses a close-up photo of a kitchen table bearing partially eaten breakfasts that the grandparents have hastily abandoned because the children have arrived. One photograph contains an "in-joke," the inclusion of a copy of Levy's other book, The Summer Kid, which has spilled from Alex's backpack.

     One of the consequences of today's more mobile world is that, because grandparents and their grandchildren are often separated by large distances, opportunities for significant ongoing contacts are greatly diminished. Books like My Grandpa Plays with Trains reveal the potential of the wonderfully rich emotional relationships which can develop between the old and the young.


Already a two-time grandfather, Dave Jenkinson has recently welcomed a third granddaughter, Audrey Hannah into his life.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364