MAY 2:

  • Happy birthday Susan Richards Shreve (Trout and Me), and Mary Quattlebaum (Jackson Jones series).
  • It’s the birth date of Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903-1998), whose book Baby and Child Care was first published in 1946. On a related note, it’s Baby Day! Read The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee, Baby Cakes by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Sam Williams, and Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee.
  • In 1885, Good Housekeeping magazine first goes on sale. Read Chores Chores Chores! By Salina Yoon and Why Do I Have To Make My Bed? by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Johanna van der Sterre.

May has been designated Get Caught Reading Month, a campaign launched in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers. The month has been set aside to remind people how much fun it is to read; posters for the event show favorite children’s book characters or celebrities celebrating books and reading.

I’m going to feature two book that you might want to “get caught reading.” The choice for today a relatively new title; the book for tomorrow, one of the most beloved books of the 1990s. Although neither has been in print long enough to be considered a classic—both have won the admiration of adult critics and the endorsement of children.

One of the most creative picture books of 2010, Chris Barton’s Shark vs. Train explores the imaginative life of children. Creator of a fascinating biography of the Switzers, The Day-Glow Brothers, Chris Barton shows just how inventive he can be in Shark vs. Train. The ever-creative Tom Lichtenheld adds the other half of the equation, art that enhances the humor of the story and makes it even more appealing.

Our two boy protagonists meet, even before the story begins, over the toy box. As they rummage through it, one picks out a plastic shark and the other a train. And then the battle begins. As it says on the title page “Who will win?” Immediately the toys begin to trade insults, often including bad puns: “I’m going to Fin-ish you, mackerel-breath,” Train warns. Then these two antagonistic toys compete in a variety of settings where one obviously dominates. Train’s furnace doesn’t work in the ocean; Shark has trouble on a seesaw. Shark can eat more pies, but Train can belch louder. Essentially, the two toys behave like rowdy young boys who try to one-up each other. If they go trick-or-treating, Shark has an advantage; at the carnival Train’s lines go around the page. Neither, it turns out, can play the piano or video games because they lack thumbs. When the boys get called for lunch, they throw the toys back in the box and run out—although Shark and Train continue to hurl insults at each other.

Perfect for two- through eight-year-olds, the book can be acted out with puppets. It naturally can be used for writing exercises: What other contests would be appropriate for Shark and Train? It shows a profound understanding of childhood imaginative play and creates a lot of laughs when read aloud. Funny, original, exciting, Shark vs. Train demonstrates that the picture book format still has endless possibilities; creative people can find new and exciting ways to use it all the time.

Here’s a page from Shark vs. Train:


Originally posted May 2, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Humor, Imagination, Toys
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Shark vs. Train


  1. Mindi says:

    My 6 year old daughter loves Shark v. Train. She laughs out loud while reading the text and studying the illustrations. It’s led to some interesting discussions in our house, that’s for sure!

  2. I’ve heard so much about this book, but until now I didn’t read such a glorious review!

    Thanks for the inspiring glance at this humorous book! Lovely.

    Fab picture book … zooomm …… there it goes, straight to my wish list!

    Read Aloud Dad

    PS. I can’t wait to read about Holes tomorrow! This one, I’ve already included on my bookshelf.

  3. Rebecca says:

    This has quickly become a favorite of mine (and my boys!) – it’s a lot of fun. My favorite part (clearly for the parent!) is the little Fonzie reference in one illustration. Even though I know it’s there, it’s a delight every time.

  4. Hah, just read this an hour ago before naptime! We’ve read it many times before, but still, good pick for today!

  5. Sarah says:

    This was one of my favorite finds at a seminar this year. I love Shark and Train’s contests.

  6. Erica S. says:

    I love both The Day-Glo Brothers and Cloudette, so it’s no surprise that I would love this book! My dad and I have a long-running “shark vs…” contest going on (based on the SyFy Channel Original Movie “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus”), and I will have to show him this book – I’m sure he’ll be highly entertained.

  7. Ashley Maher says:

    I just recently read this picture book and loved it! Who doesn’t love a story about trains and sharks, though? the artwork is perfect for the story, and all the little mock battles train and shark get into are so much fun!

  8. McCourt says:

    I recently started a ‘Shark vs Train’ pandemonium at my kids’ school library! I recommended it when I was volunteering at the library to one of the Kindergarteners and for the next few weeks so many more kids were clamoring for it. It is now one of my ‘go-to’ recommendations!

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