The Rain Train by Elena de Roo
I seem to have come across a glut of great books lately. Books that look right up my alley at the library but when I get them home and read them to my kids I find myself paraphrasing or rephrasing the text or wishing there was more or less story. Other times as I sift through the shelves at my local branch using my standard critical approach (title, illustrations, amount of text, and subject matter in that order) and I wonder how many of the titles I pick up belong to wonderful stories paired with unappealing illustrations. If that's the case, back to the shelf it goes. I'm only looking for the best and that still amounts to over a dozen books that make it to this week's short list, the ones we sign out and schlep home. The Rain Train is one that I wasn't entirely sold on upon first read (I think the title first sold me on it over the illustrations) but now I just can't seem to cull it and return it I enjoy reading it aloud so much.
The story is a poem with a lot of great lines. And though I don't recall reading the first page in the library, the opening lines really get me: "When the rain fingers drum out a dance on the pane, / When the windows are foggy enough for my name". And the other set of lines that I savour: "And all of the time / Always the same... / The wail of the wind, / the sway of the train, / The strum of the wheels to the beat of the rain".
Every page pairs poetic description with often-rhyming, sometimes alliterative onomatopoeia, my favorite being: "Past lighted houses -- / Clackety-clack. / Out of the city -- / Shackety-shack". (I always find myself whispering the onomatopoeic phrases.)
Now I don't claim to know what a rain train is, but my guess is that it's made-up by a child lying in bed, falling asleep listening to the rain. This train carries him off through the night to dreamland. The passengers are all in pajamas and carry umbrellas and the last page shows a boy asleep in his bed with a train going by outside his window and it reminds me of the late train that I used to hear if I was up late enough when I was young - perfect.
Beach Feet by Kiyomi Konagaya Illustrated by Masamitsu Saito
This is the other book I can't part with at library return time. The story and the perfectly imperfect illustrations just keep me reaching for this one over others at storytime. The entire book is about a few lively moments of a child's day at the beach. The first person narrator is easily distracted, nicely representing the short attention span of a real child.
Emotion, movement, speed, and even temperature are conveyed in the brilliantly messy illustrations of this book. Toes and fingers are shown to be excited, paddling, or wiggling by their numerous outlines as with the hot toes shown above. My favorite drawing is the intentionally imprecise underwater legs (at right); a few scribbles and realistic shimmering water and moving legs are perfectly achieved. Saito doesn't appear to care about colouring in the lines of his own drawings and the oil pastels lend themselves nicely to blurring and smudging. Attractive, effective imperfection is one of the things I like about the art I like - you know how bittersweet chocolate is better than sweet chocolate on its own? A little imperfection goes a long way in terms of poignancy.