I Like Trains
I Like Trains is a picture book about a small dog who really, really likes trains. I like trains too, but this character was inspired by some small humans I’ve known who were truly devoted: like small dog they seemed happiest doing railway-related things, from reconfiguring toy train-tracks to driving imaginary engines, and from reading about trains or watching them on TV to seeing them go by under bridges and, of course, catching actual trains for themselves.
My books usually begin in my sketchbooks and I’ve often shared the doodles that grew into books like The Girl with the Parrot on her Head and ALPHONSE, THAT IS NOT OK TO DO! In the case of I Like Trains, I’m a bit wary of sharing the doodle because practically the whole thing ended up in the book! When I doodled this I’d recently discovered that writing picture books in the first person can unlock something for me. Perhaps it’s because when a character speaks directly to the reader, I worry less about whether it’ll be enough of a story, what it means, or whether it’s SIGNIFICANT. Trains, clearly, could not be more significant to this little dog (or bear, as it was at the doodle stage) so why don’t I just listen for a while?
I took this little heap of stapled scraps of paper in which a small bear talks about liking trains to my Editor and Art Director, Lizzie Sitton and Ben Norland. Not only did they not have me quietly ejected from the building, they said we could make my tiny idea into an actual book!
But how? For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the very simplest picture-story books – those that have a plot but are short and simple enough to keep a one- or two-year-old engaged. While making I Like Trains, I thought a lot about books like Satoshi Kitamura’s Duck is Dirty (a small work of genius in a chewable format, which Ben introduced me to) and John Burningham’s Little Books (The Blanket, in particular, is perfection, it has everything it needs and nothing more). I loved these books but I didn’t understand them: how did their authors know how much story was enough? How did they do so much in such a minuscule space (The Blanket has 64 words!)?
I Like Trains is my seventh picturebook but my first for very young readers and resisting the urge to complicate things was difficult and, if I’m honest, scary: there’s nowhere to hide in a book like this. I tried to keep the very small people I knew in mind, to just slow down and enjoy all-things-train. The climax of the story comes when Small Dog catches a real train to visit Granny: expanding my doodle into a full-length picture book enabled me to expand this journey and celebrate some of the things I love best about trains – including the way the world whooshes past outside.
It also meant that small dog and granny could spend more time together (mostly playing trains, obviously).