Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Dream of Trains

“I still stare at the tracks and wait for Casey and his engine to come flying past the fields and dream me away.”   

        I Dream of Trains is written by Angelia Johnson and illustrated by Loren Long.  It is written for 3rd-4th grade students.  I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. 
        In this book, a young boy idolizes a famous train conductor.  The story briefly discusses the life and success of Casey Jones, the conductor the child dreams about.  After the child realizes the conductor is gone, he focuses his life more on following his own dreams and setting his own goals.  There is not too much to the story- it is mostly introverted thoughts and conclusions the child draws from reflecting on the life of Casey Jones. 
        Using this book in the classroom could serve so many purposes.  The imagery that is inspired by this child’s imagination could be used to model to students what good details in writing look like and what allowing the reader to imagine the words as a movie or image.  Coupling with the use of images in writing is the use of sounds in the story.  The quote “some sounds can remind you of times gone by” can really inspire students of any grade level to relate their life experiences to sounds in their lives.  Raindrops falling on the roof on days that they were stuck inside the house or the sound of traffic outside their window in a congested city are sounds that can prompt a very personal and sensory piece of writing.  For me, growing up above a bar in a busy neighborhood in Chicago has shaped my perception of what it means to have “noisy neighbors”.  Just the sound of the bass pulsating through my bedroom is enough to bring me back to my childhood. 
        Johnson also uses the notion of sound to describe something that is completely unrelated to the things that enter our minds through our ears.  “It’s the sound of leaving that speaks to my soul.”  This is something the young boy says while he is dreaming of leaving the cotton field of Mississippi where he currently resides and works.  A prompt related to this type of writing could be asking students what they want to do one day (just like the young boy wanted to leave).  Then they could write about what that would feel like, taste like, smell like, sound like, or look like.  By allowing children to step outside their normal realm of generic prompted writing, they can create something they are truly proud of and can relate to upon reflection. 
Angela Johnson
The prevalent theme of this book relates to dreams and aspirations a person can hold in his or her life.  The little boy in this book dreams of a life that is bigger than picking cotton in a world that is beyond his reach in Mississippi.  He connects with trains because they are a means of transportation away from his current state of being.  Students could write about things that they dream of and what they need to do to get themselves to that point.  This book also takes a specific dream (escaping) or hero (Casey Jones) and relating it back to the bigger world for children to focus on their future instead of mimicking one person.  “When Papa squeezes my hand I know I have another hero besides Casey.”  This lets children know that revolving your life or your future aspirations upon one person is not practical or a good start.  The only one pushing your dreams should be yourself.

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