13 03 2012

March is National Reading Month, and from bed-time stories to thrilling novels there is no mistaking the role trains have played in the literary scene. As railroads spread across America and the world in the 1800s, they captured the imagination and interest of the people they served. The trains, rails and workers took on an elevated status and symbolism.


Thomas the Tank Engine is undoubtedly the new face of trains in literature - but he didn't appear until the second book in The Railway Series.

In some stories, the railroad became an essential backdrop to the plot. In others, the railroad became a metaphor for ideas both good and evil. The rails came to stand for freedom, for opportunity, and for an endless journey. They could be an agent of change, or oppression. For children, the trains themselves became the characters – teaching values and morals and good work habits.

There are so many train-related books out there that a comprehensive list seems almost impossible to compile. Here however are some of the most popular choices if you’re looking for a good read for your children or yourself.

Children’s Books

  • The Little Engine that Could, Arnold Munk
  • The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Railway Series, Rev. William Awdry
  • Tootle, Gertrude Crampton
  • Train to Somewhere, Eve Bunting
Hogwarts Express

The Hogwarts Express was a place where characters met and friendships were formed - a common use of trains in story telling.

Young Adults

  • The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner (Warner wrote the first 19 of what is now a 127 book series.)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rawling
  • The Railway Children, Edith Nesbit

Adult Fiction

  • Breakheart Pass, Alistair Maclean
  • Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  • Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
Polar Express

The Polar Express was about more than just a train ride!

Adult Non-Fiction

  • The Horseshoe Curve: Sabotage and Subversion in the Railroad City, Dennis, NcIlnay
  • The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, Leo Marx
  • Main Lines: Rebirth of the North American Railroads 1970-2002, Richard Saunders, Jr.
  • Set Up Running: The Life of a Pennsylvania Railroad Engineman, 1904-1949, John W. Orr

Of course you could fill a library with books about trains. All of the titles shown here are about more than just locomotives, paint schemes and track maps. They all place the railroad in a larger context, be it moral, emotional, or historical.

With your Lionel trains, you can have the best of both worlds. Curl up with a good book tonight, then go relive the action and adventure on your layout tomorrow! Or maybe your trains reflect, or might even inspire, a story of your own. Either way, thanks for reading!