First published in 1978, this now classic US picture book (a Caldecott Honor book) pays homage via its subject to the Futurist movement of the early 20th century that celebrated the creation of machines as well as drawing upon the influence of the Pop Art movement of the 1960s.
Landscape format, Freight Train introduces a quite diagrammatic train to the very young reader as well as primary colours; there is a ‘Red guard’s van at the back / Orange petrol tanker next / Yellow grain hopper car / Green cattle truck’ etc. The book contains only 56 words and shows the train gathering speed, going through tunnels, passing by cities, crossing bridges, and moving on through the night. And, just as the train moves forward, so the young reader must turn the pages to keep up with the momentum of the narrative.
African-American Donald Crews, a gifted designer and graphic artist, uses large blocks of bright colour, geometric shapes and a sharp line against a white background which result in a poster like quality. There is a powerful sense of movement and anticipation as the reader’s eye is drawn from left to right along the horizontal track. As the train begins to move, Crews uses static pictures of train cars which are photographically blurred to create motion – an innovative technique at the time for children’s books and one that builds a sense of excitement that reaches a climax before the final page when the train is abruptly ‘gone’. Crews also makes use of type as a visual element, in this instance choosing the same colour as each wagon in the introductory section of the story.
A richly rewarding picture book for the very young, this is a most welcome reissue.