A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that nothing really objectionable as far as sex or violence is presented in these stories, which are more lessons than well-developed narratives. Some of the lessons are heavy-handed. The trains don't always speak to each other in an admirable way, and it's a shame that there aren't more female characters. This series also quite visibly promotes Thomas the Train products.
What's the story?
Each of the 24 different stories in this book tells a tale starring either Thomas or the various engines who are his friends or work mates. The engines have adventures around the train yard and out on the tracks around the Island of Sodor that teach them lessons.
For example, Thomas learns that he doesn't have to tease to feel important and that he'll do a better job if he's patient; Henry learns that he needs to keep doing his job even though the rain might hurt his paint; James learns that looks aren't everything. All of the engines learn that it's important to work hard at the jobs they're given and to get along with one another.
Is it any good?
Thomas and his friends learn valuable lessons during their many adventures in this exciting "big storybook," which gathers 24 stories into one collection. Thomas first-timers may find the stories confusing and disjointed. Also, girls will have a harder time relating, since all of the engines are male; the two coaches that Thomas pulls -- Anna and Clarabel, who "run happily behind" him -- are the only female characters in the entire book.
That said, some of the language is clever, especially the repetitive phrasing that sounds like the chugging of a train. Every page is illustrated with photographs of model railroad scenes, which are intriguing and complex and give readers lots to look at. Of course, all of these engines, coaches, buses, cars, and other paraphernalia are available for purchase. No one can argue that the obvious lessons are positive, but readers should be conscious of the sexism and commercialism throughout.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the lessons Thomas and his fellow trains learn, the arguments they have, and the tricks they play on one another. They can also talk about the types of trains and parts of locomotives, as well as the kinds of jobs people do on trains. Kids and parents will learn quite a bit of train vocabulary, such as "couplers," "turntables," and "buffers." Families might want to visit a railroad museum, ride on a real train, or start building a model train collection.