Donald Crews' books growing up. I remember seeing the cover of a few (most notably Ten Black Dots and Truck) but can't ever recall cracking them open. It's odd, because Crews received the Caldecott Honor twice in the late 70's and early 80's, so you'd think he would have been on every elementary teacher or librarian's must-read list. But then again, maybe he was, and his books were just being pored over by all the other kids in my class, as I was curling up with Bread and Jam for Frances. It's hard to say.
In any event, it wasn't until I had Sprout in my life that I came to encounter Donald Crews in a meaningful way. And that, of course, was due to this week's Wayback Wednesday read, Freight Train.
Longtime readers of this blog may remember that Sprout is a bit of a train nut. Okay, he's obsessed, really. Anything and everything trains delights him, and hardly a visit to the library goes by without us bringing home a book or two about engines of some sort. Freight Train was one of the first we read together, and he found it himself, so it has a special place in our heart.
The text is deceptively simple - just 55 words -- but each one is carefully chosen and set into its place like a jewel into a setting. And the illustrations are just as impactful. At first they appear simple, and they are, but the stylized images capture the spirit of a freight train through every single spread. Sprout loves it when the train speeds up, and I have to admit that the "Moving" images are pretty spectacular (check them out for yourself - you'll be amazed at the way Crews perfectly articulates the image of a speeding train). And there's so much more here too: colors and opposites (light/shadow), different types of cars and their placement in the train itself. The more you look at this phenomenal piece of art, the more you'll see.
In creating Freight Train, Crews has said he was inspired by his own childhood experiences riding the train from New Jersey to Cottondale, Florida. His memories no doubt helped evoke the graphic style that characterizes this work, and which makes it so visually appealing to even the youngest children. Crews went on to write other similarly themed picture books, and to collaborate with his wife, the author/illustrator Ann Jonas. His work remains vivid, bold, and relevant to children everywhere. Their daughter Nina Crews has carried on the family tradition, producing some amazing works of her own, which we love for their multiracial families and themes.
Believe me when I tell you that Sprout goes nuts for this book every single time he sees it. In fact tonight, he came in from playing outside to find me writing this blog post and insisted we had to read it right away. If that isn't high praise, I don't know what would be.
Wayback Wednesday verdict? A true classic.
Freight Train by Donald Crews, published by Greenwillow Press
Sample: "Moving in darkness. / Moving in daylight. Going, going...gone."