I am often asked to suggest good language-enhancing books for boys (or girls) who have an insatiable appetite for books about trains, planes, trucks and cars! Here is my list. I hope you will add to it. The criteria is that the book has to include some kind of storyline, people, animals or action besides the vehicles. That’s what raises the level of language. Make sure that you read a variety of books to your preschooler. If they love trains, have a few books on that subject but offer books about their everyday experiences such as going to the playground, visiting grandma, starting school, or going to bed.
1. Emergency! by Usborne Chunky Jigsaw Books. Not only is this a book, but also it has four jigsaw puzzles on the pages of a fire truck, ambulance, rescue truck and helicopter. This is one of my favorites because each page has a story—putting out a fire at the bakery, loading the ambulance with an injured child at the playground, collecting a broken down jeep in the jungle, and rescuing an injured climber in the mountains. Lots of people, lots of action, lots of if-then cause and effect to bring out language and lots of vehicles!
2. Duck’s Key Where Can it Be? by Jez Alborough. A lovely family that I worked with gave this book to me. Their two boys couldn’t hear it enough. A twist on the usual flap book, this story follows the duck searching for his lost key. He’s one step behind the clever frog who is a tease in this hide-and-seek book. The flap isn’t where you would expect it, so there is much to think about and discover on a page.
3. Machines at Work by Byron Barton. This author has written a series of simple, brightly illustrated stories about planes, machines, boats and trains. Recently, his series came out in oversize editions too.The simple drawings are overplayed with a short text to match the attention span of a baby or toddler. I like these books because of the people involved in all the activity, giving you opportunities to extend the language of the text.
4. Go Maisy Go! by Lucy Cousins. On the cover it says, “Five feet of lift-the-flap fun!” and they are right. Kids love to open up the accordion style book. One side is wordless with each vehicle linked to the next through an experience ready for you to describe. The elephant driving the fire truck is squirting water into the bathtub on the back of a flatbed. On the other side the pages are numbered and the traffic jam is blamed on a zebra crossing the road. You could even set this bright book out on the floor surrounding your baby having tummy time to give her a delightful dose of color and action.
5. Fire Engine Man by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha. This little boy starts out playing with his fire truck until his imagination takes off and he is in his gear and off to fight a fire. This is every little boy’s dream.
6. Stop and Go Maisy! by Lucy Cousins. I have used this fantastic flap book with countless boys to expand their language and keep their interest through vehicles. Each page has a theme of waiting for the bus, driving a fire truck to the rescue, Maisy flying her plane, loading up the tractor, and of course taking a train ride. Maisy and her crew provide the action, while your child interacts with the flaps that reveal hoses, cats, cupcakes, sunshine, engines, peacocks and clocks. Talk about how each item relates to the theme of that page. What do we do with___? is a probing question to make your child think about the function of objects like the hose, ladder, engine, or first aid kit.
7. The Fire Engine Book illustrated by Tibor Gergely. If you want to be nostalgic and share a golden book from the 50’s this is it. I was first introduced to this book by one of my “play on words” moms who has two boys. She knows my criteria for a good language enhancing book and said her two-year-old loved this book. Why not? From the minute the fire alarm sounds, “Ding, ding, ding,” there is a flood of firemen on each page sliding down the pole, riding in the firetrucks, throwing on their coats, pumping the water, and saving a dog from the fire. There is plenty of action to describe here besides reading the text.
8. I Love Trains by Shari Halpern. A little boy professes his love for trains and we’re off on a ride to see what all the cars are carrying from logs, trucks, grain, and scrap to “secret stuff that’s under wrap.” What adds to the language value of this book is that on each page there is a scene in the background to describe—kids flying kites, farm animals grazing and mom and the family waving to dad on the train. This author, like Byron Barton, has a series including I Love Trucks in the same format.
9. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. Sometimes we overlook older books in search of what is hot but Richard Scarry books have enthralled children for decades. The detail, precarious situations, and search for Lowly the Worm hold the attention of a preschooler.
10. Tell me your favorites in the “comments” section of this article—thanks!