Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I Can't Stand Thomas But My Kids Love Him 

What's a dad to do? There are a number of kids books which I've been compelled to read over and over through the years despite the fact that, as an adult, I absolutely can't stand them.

Prime example? Thomas the so-called Tank Engine starring in his mega-blockbuster:


With regard to this book I have to say: a more psychologically debilitating experience for children I can't imagine. And it hurts for adults too. But, as I said, all psychological debilitation notwithstanding, the kids love it. Or maybe they love it precisely because of the debilitation; perhaps their little brains crave it in some perverse way, just like they're drawn to spinning tea-cup rides and other vomit-inducing activities. What do I know? I'm only a parent.

Let me explain. Perhaps you aren't already familiar with this one's plot pitfalls.

Thomas is apparently a Tank Engine. That is my first beef with this thing. Couldn't they just have called it Thomas the Train? Wouldn't that have worked so much easier? Ok, maybe there really is such a thing as a tank engine, and technically Thomas is one of those and not a train. Who cares! It's a kids book! If it doesn't alliterate we must obliterate. If it doesn't rhyme it isn't fine.

But that's not all. You see Thomas has a job working for a registered sex offender, Sir Topham Hatt:


The book says of him: "Even Sir Topham Hatt is ready. Ready for what? Children---on a school trip!" And I believe it.

Now I don't actually know that Sir Topham is a registered sex offender, since I don't know the url of the web site where all the cartoon sex offenders are registered. But would you have this guy over to babysit at your house? Didn't think so.

And now Sir Topham is trying to draw young Thomas into his nightmare world. He's made a promise that if Thomas finishes all his work in time, then Thomas gets to take the children home:


And of course Thomas believes him and wants to take those children home with every fibre of his being:


The indoctrination seems to be working. Thomas struggles mightily throughout the book against Rambo-esque odds to get back to the station on time. But one thing after another keeps getting in his way, knocking him off schedule. Like sheep:


And notice that the other, older trains just think it's funny. They're up there on their express runs having a really big laugh over poor Thomas' plight. What kind of lesson is this for kids? If my kids fall behind in their schedule, I don't laugh at them, I scream. Geez.

So Thomas is finally approaching the station and juuuust might make it if he hurries. Won't Sir Topham and the little children be proud! But then cruel fate forces him to confront his Great Moral Choice -- Bertie the Bus has broken down.


Will Thomas risk everything to stop and help his friend, even as fulfillment of his dream is so close at hand? Of course he will. Thomas is a mensch. So despite his sadness, knowing he will now miss his upcoming deadline, Thomas stops to help...only to find:

(if you haven't read the book yet, skip the next picture and following paragraph)


Yayyyy!!!! The kids!!!! They were on Bertie the Bus, and now that Bertie has broken down, they need a ride, and since Thomas was decent enough to stop, his reward is to take them home!!! That's really beautiful, man. No, that's not a tear, I just got something in my eye.

But wait a minute!

The kids are deliriously happy with how their story has turned out and they are now comitted to stopping all the time no matter how late it makes us -- thank you SO MUCH Thomas. But why do I have this sort of hollow feeling in my chest, like I've just watched someone's heart being broken? And then I realize the final outrage. You see, all this time loyal Thomas was running himself into the rail bed gravel trying to meet Sir Topham's condition and get back to the station on time. And yet just as Thomas was nearing the station, struggling to make it on time, Sir Topham had ALREADY SOLD HIM OUT!

This book needs one more page in which Thomas returns home after dropping off the kids. He steams into the station and gives that backstabbing boss a piece of his mind! "You said if I got back on time, I could take the kids home. But before the deadline even arrived, you already had the kids packed up on a bus and gone! Well, Mr. Hatt, I am so out of here! Find yourself another little protege because I quit. And yes, I have pictures, so I expect a very generous severance package..."

So, to conclude this review of "Thomas and the School Trip": your kids will enjoy it and have you read it to them countless times. They won't care a bit about all the things I'm complaining about, and if you try to explain it to them, over and over, they'll just shrug and look at you funny and demand you read it again. So it's a pretty good book for kids.

Go ahead and buy it.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: