Subway : Book Review

Looking for a good book for a train loving tot? Check out my review of Subway by Anastasia Suen, with illustrations by Karen Katz.

Book review: Subway by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Karen Katz

24 pages, English

Published 2008

Available in Hardcover and Board Book


We first got Subway from the library when The Small Controller was three, and I wish I had found it long ago. It is the story of a child’s subway trip, describing the events in rhyme. The words are simple and the rhyme scheme is strong.

I knew the illustrator, Karen Katz, from various peek-a-boo books, and her style is consistent here: colourful, including bright patterns and rounded shapes.

The main characters are a girl and her mother, which is great to see in a vehicle related book (although it could be argued that Subway is more a description of an experience a child might have than a book intended for subway/vehicle lovers, it’s still great). Better still, the main characters are people of colour, as are many of the other subway riders. Children’s train books, in my experience thus far, weigh heavily towards having only (or mainly) white, male human characters. Even if your train-loving child is white and male it is a really good thing to have other identities reflected in his literary world. If the train-loving child in your life isn’t white and male, the difficulty of finding other options could be enough to make you weep.

Subway is not a technical book and does not describe how the subway works, or even who the various people necessary for its operation are; instead its point-of-view is simply that of the rider. It begins with going down the stairs into the subway station and ends with the main characters exiting the station at their destination and the train disappearing down the tunnel. In between it covers typical aspects of a subway trip: changing trains, listening to musicians in the station, and watching out the window of a busy train.

It’s a lovely book. Anastasia Suen’s rhyme and repetitive language make it a good choice even for pre-verbal children. I could recommend it for any young child as a preparation for a first subway trip, but it has also become a fast favourite for The Small Controller who has been riding the subway for a couple of years.

Review: Those Troublesome Trucks!

“We’ll give ’em some nonsense!” isn’t always a promise a parent wants to hear. Wwe’ve had the Giggling Troublesome Trucks for a couple months now: This is how it’s working out for us.


The Small Controller got the Giggling Troublesome Trucks (for wooden railway) for Christmas, so we’ve had them for a couple of months now.  They weren’t something that was specifically requested, but apparently Santa knew of The Small Controller’s love of recreating James’ derailment from The Adventure Begins, and so thought they’d be a good idea.

They are a fascinating product. They are rolling stock, which I have long understood the play value of, but can’t actually be loaded with anything: one has a non-removable load of a grey material that might be ballast or gravel, the other (the one that giggles) is covered with a red tarp.

They are also, kind of, characters.  Kind of, because one Troublesome Truck is very much like the next.  At some point in the future this might be an interesting starting place for a conversation about stereotypes and marginalized characters in literature, but for now it simply means they have a bit of personality which sets them apart from other flatbeds and boxcars.  The facial expressions are pretty great, which is not always the case with wooden railway pieces. They actually look like the CGI cartoon that most toddlers these days are familiar with.  The Small Controller refers to the grey one as having an “oh no!” face.

The sound effects, as I mentioned, only come from one truck. There is no way to turn it off, except removing the batteries, which as with any modern toddler toy requires a screwdriver.  It is set off relatively easily, with pressure to the top of the truck rather than a smaller button.  All of which is to say; if you are a parent quickly irritated by sound making toys this is not for your household. It is however not that loud (as compared with other tot toys), and the voice recording is clear and matches the Troublesome Truck voice in the modern episodes. The ease with which it can be triggered delights The Small Controller. The limited repertoire is also less of an issue than it is with engines. We only have two in the house (and one a hand-me-down), but the Troublesome Truck is activated far more often than the specifically requested Talking Gordon that The Small Controller also got from Santa. Troublesome Trucks just don’t say that much by and large, so three utterances suit them pretty well.

The one feature that I didn’t expect, and that is both fun and actually troublesome is that the cars rock to the extent that they can pull off the line if they happen to be on a tight curve or at points. One rocks side to side, the other back and forth. They look awesome traveling along a straight track, and derailments are certainly common on a toddler’s wooden railway, but it does make me glad that The Small Controller got them as an older toddler.  Consider your toddler’s physical ability to get trains back on the line, and emotional ability to handle added frustration. At the right stage these could improve both, but too early they may prove discouraging.

Troublesome trucks on the track

They get played with both specifically as Troublesome Trucks and as rolling stock (making long freight trains is a passion at the moment).  In terms of playtime, they see more of it than a lot of engines.

Overall the Giggling Troublesome Trucks have been a fun and good addition to The Small Controller’s railway, and I hope this review helps you decide if they might be right for yours. If you have questions about the Troublesome Trucks that I haven’t addressed here please feel free to email me. I may add any such questions and responses to the review.

Fun with Melissa & Doug Create-a-Craft Train

4+! Ha! The Small Controller is not bound by your ages suggestions (though seriously we may try again at 4) and takes on a Melissa & Doug craft kit train engine.



The Small Controller is three-and-a-half now, and I’ve noticed big improvements in dexterity lately. This has been apparent at the train table, with Duplo/MegaBloks, in play with figurines and, most particularly, when it comes to art.

Colouring within the lines may take some time yet, but making purposeful shapes in approximate relationship to one another to form, say, a train?

Chalk train

That is happening. Painting things, adding sparkles or stickers, and gluing things together are sure toddler pleasing activities these days.

Which brings us to the Melissa & Doug Create-a-Craft Train.

M&D CaC Train

I’ve had this thing stashed in a box since Amazon convinced me it was a great add-on item two years ago. (It was actually a great add-on item, since it bumped me up to free shipping, but still, I knew even as I was ordering it that The Small Controller was nowhere near ready to make it at the time.)

It came out last week and was met with excited oohs and ahs. I let The Small Controller go wild, picking paint colours and dabbing them on wherever. We spent about fifteen minutes on it before it was deemed “all done”. Or at least the paint job was – The Small Controller wanted to glue the wheels on right away. Now, now, now!

Art projects requiring patience are a new thing. Waiting for paint to dry has been around forever (or at least since one-and-a-half), but when it comes to a painting The Small Controller generally feels finished with the work in question. Patience, like strength and dexterity needs to be used to grow though, so I’ve been introducing some multi-stage projects recently – and explained, in this case, that if we handled the engine or its wheels while the paint was still wet it would smear and get on us, and on parts of the engine that had not been painted. My explanation was accepted and we moved on to bathtime and bed (art on bath night, repeat after me: art on bath night).

Axles & wheels

The wheels went on first thing in the morning. The Small Controller was able to push the axles through without assistance, though squeezing the glue out of the supplied tube became difficult as it emptied. We got the wheels on, added a bit more paint, and once again set it aside to dry.


The final phase of adding stickers was actually more difficult than it needed to be … because it shouldn’t have been the final phase. If I had looked more carefully at the pictures on the box I’d have seen that some of the stickers were under the wheels. The stickers should have gone on before the wheels were glued in place.

Nevertheless, The Small Controller was pleased with the results, because as parents must remember when doing arts and crafts with the short set: toddler. As fussy as they can be about some things The Small Controller wants fun from art projects, not perfection.

And frankly, as a parent, I’ve received pieces of art that I’m pretty sure a daycare provider made almost singlehandedly, and I have work that The Small Controller mashed and splashed together, giggling all the while. I know what I prefer, too.

We both really enjoyed the Create-a-Craft train. Enough so, that when The Small Controller is a bit older I expect I will ask if another would be fun. If we do one at four-and-a-half I’ll report on that experience too.

On the G-gauge track

As for this one, for the moment it has a place of pride on a section of G scale track in The Small Controller’s bedroom.