Friday, March 18

Shark vs. Train

by Chris Barton   
illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Little, Brown  2010 

It's the Superman vs. Batman argument of the toy box, people!  Who will win?  

Two boys run for their toy box, each extracting their power toy of choice, one a shark the other a train.  Grrr!  Chgrrrr-chug!  Who will win?  Depends on whether they on land or sea, in hot air balloons or roasting marshmallows.  And while initially one gains clear advantage over the other as the story goes on Shark and Train find themselves increasingly in situations where neither would win; playing hide-and-seek, for example, or playing video games without imposable thumbs. In the end a call to lunch ends the play and an escalation of the rivalry that might have spelled doom for both if not for divine intervention.

For those looking to study picture books, who want a good example of word and picture interaction, Shark vs. Train makes a solid study.  The concept is established in a single spread where the two boys run to the toy box and choose their "competitors," while the rest of the book explores the contest, complete with reversals and a a seemingly unwinnable climax that is as natural as it is obvious.  It's true to play, to boys, to the notion of competition, the absurdity of childhood thinking, and does so in under 125 words.  And it does all this in visuals which fully flesh out the story. This is how picture books work best, when their story language is as simple as the reader's reading vocabulary but the visuals match their far-more-advanced verbal vocabulary.  

On a technical level I would love to know how much information beyond the text Barton indicated, but in the end it has nothing to do with the final product. Boys (and some fathers, if they're honest) who enjoyed the braggadocio of I'm The Biggest Thing in the Ocean will certainly enjoy and recognize the same "truth" of this sort of competition. The winner is the reader who gets to use their imagination to invent more scenarios once the book is over.   
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