Toy Story 3 may be the movie to see this summer, but I’m loving another kind of toy story that’s just as fun, especially if you have young boys in the house (around ages 4 to 8). Shark vs. Train, by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld, begins with two boys rummaging through a toy box to find something to play with. One pulls out a toy shark; the other a toy train. And that’s when the comic matchup begins. In the following pages, the boys disappear and you see the cartoonish shark and train going toe-to-toe in all sorts of hilarious competitive scenarios. With each hypothetical situation, readers are left to ponder between giggles: “Who will win?” That’s because the scenarios get sillier and sillier. The shark and train go from competing in the ocean and on railroad tracks to roasting marshmallows, eating pies, having a burping contest, trick-or-treating, running lemonade stands, and so on.
At first, there’s a clear winner in each contest. “’Whatddaya mean, ‘It’s a little watery’?!” the shark growls to a dissatisfied deep sea diver at his lemonade stand. Meanwhile, the train has pulled tanker after tanker of lemonade to the desert, where thirsty cowboys stand in line for a cool drink. “Have more, I’ve got plenty!” he says. The goofiness escalates when the shark and train find themselves in situations where neither one of them comes out on top. For example, they both suck at playing a video game titled “Extreme Zombie-Squirrel Motocross.” The score: 0 to 0. “Sure would help if we had thumbs,” grumbles Train. As you can tell, the dialogue is spot-on hilarious. And Lichtenheld’s illustrations are just as humorous. Who knew trains and sharks could be so wonderfully expressive?
Everything about Shark vs. Train rings true—from the choice of toys to the zany competition and logic applied to each wacky what-if scenario. (Come to think of it, I know men who still compete like this!) In the end, it’s a win-win situation for all. Kids will have a lot of fun, and so will you. When they want to hear this toy story again—and they will!—you won’t have to pay for the movie tickets!
Are you familiar with Shark vs. Train or other books by Chris Barton or Tom Lichtenheld? Can you suggest similar books that remind you of how children play?
Sandra Lee Rella, mother of two, is a freelance editor and writer, and a former children's book review editor.
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