I read this to my 3-year-old daughter as she sat in a hospital bed post-surgery. She loved the story, as easy as it was for her to follow: James and Edward have a race, though each has his own preoccupations throughout.
This particular tale from Sodor has similarities with “The Tortoise and the Hare,” though Awdry’s version adds a bit more morality to “the moral of the story” than does the classic tale. Rather than “slow and steady wins the race,” Awdry might have concluded, “slow and helpful makes the better engine.” And rather than combating an arrogant hare, Awdry’s winner instead races against a self-absorbed engine. These are good morals both (“help others” and “avoid vanity”), which gladdens my heart a bit to think that my kids are enjoying some of this half-century’s greatest fables in the cartoons they watch and read.
With entertainment-technology as it is today, there are as many new cartoons in the world as there are children, and the vast majority of them are brainless and useless—if not downright harmful—to growing minds. Nevertheless, there still are those modern-day classic characters like Thomas the Train Engine and Curious George who through their adventures teach children all about such important things as morality (Thomas) and life skills (George). From epochs to proverbs to parables to fables to nursery rhymes to cartoons, each age has figured out how best to transmit its most important life lessons to the next generation. Of course, while cartoons are a bit more dumbed-down than the great stories of the past (and involve a lot less commitment on the parents’ part to share), I’m glad that our generation hasn’t totally abandoned the concept of “stories that teach.”
The rhyming scheme in this particular book makes it totally easy for adults to fill their reading with flare and emotion, and it’s also easy for kids to follow. It’s not, however, easy for kids to read at any beginning levels (in my opinion), so keep it as a day-time book and a teaching moment. The artwork in this one is also fantastic, filled with great color and unique perspective following the two engines as they race through the hills.