Reading to my son about trucks, trains and automobiles

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

Most mornings, just before 6 a.m., a small voice can be heard echoing through our house: “Mama? Dada? Read a book?” Of all the things I looked forward to while pregnant with my son, reading books to him was very close to the top of that list, so these are welcome words coming from my now 2-year-old as he stands expectantly, dressed in his rocket ship pajamas and gripping the edge of his crib. I would not mind hearing these words closer to 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., but I am glad to hear them just the same.

There are few things that raise as many fond memories from my own childhood as the books I read, whether it was those my mother read to me, those I discovered in the library or those I ordered at school and then anxiously awaited from Scholastic Book Clubs. To share similar joys with my son, even at an early hour, is a gift. I love that he asks for books, that he knows them by name, that he lights up when he spots certain characters or can finish lines of text by heart.

Advertisement

Of course, along with my son’s love of books come the strong opinions of any book lover. And much as he has willingly embraced many of my own favorites (how could one not love Bedtime for Frances?) he has developed a taste for a very particular genre that previously had failed to make it on my radar: books about trucks. Or trains. Or buses. If it has wheels and moves, my son will read about it. Many, many, many times over.

If it has wheels and moves, my son will read about it. Many, many, many times over.

Our transport-related reading list has included some classics, like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Katy and the Big Snow, both by Virginia Lee Burton—stories with narrative arcs and even subtle moral lessons. It has also included books like Trucks. In this 1984 volume by Anne Rockwell (also the author of Trains. And Cars. And Boats. And Planes, among dozens of other books), the reader is presented with a world populated only by vehicles and the very industrious cats who drive them. (I do not know why they are cats, though my guess is that she knows that animals are the only things that rival vehicles in terms of the top interests of 2-year-olds.)

We have many other books similar to Trucks, in which the content consists largely of naming vehicles and describing their functions. My initial reaction to seeing these books plopped in my lap was often akin to dread. But over time, something shifted. The familiarity of the lines have became somewhat soothing, a kind of truck Taizé that allows me to focus less on the books and more on my son’s reactions, to see, eventually, what Rockwell seems to have known all along.

Books like Trucks are introducing my son to something entirely new to him and making the world he sees each day recognizable on the page.

On her website, she writes, “In doing books for the very youngest children I always remind myself that the familiar world we might consider mundane is new and exciting to them.” Indeed, books like Trucks are introducing my son to something entirely new to him and making the world he sees each day recognizable on the page.

Vehicles I often notice first because of their noise or smoke or the inconveniences they cause are, for him, reasons to yell in delight. Look, he is telling me, haven’t you noticed how amazing it is that this thing digs, or goes fast, or simply exists? And when we hear the rumble of the garbage truck outside our house, my son rushes to the window or the porch and stands waving to the men who throw our trash into the back of their truck and then wave to us with an equal amount of enthusiasm before honking the horn, much to my son’s delight and the possible chagrin of our neighbors. “See men working!” he yells, and I must admit to myself that I hadn’t. My son sees even the smallest moments of the world through the lens of great love, a tiny Mother Teresa in fleece pajamas.

We also have some great kids’ books about the saints, and I hope to teach him more about people like Mother Teresa someday—because the world is miraculous and amazing and filled with ingenuity and struggle and creativity and hard work, and the lives of people like her show us that. But maybe, in their own way, trucks and those who drive them do too.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 months 3 weeks ago

There's all sorts of research that indicates the more babies/toddlers are read to the better they will do intelligent wise. There is also lots of evidence that shows talking to them like adults increases their chances to succeed. Several thousand words a day is the goal. Not baby talk.

The disparity was staggering. Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.

Mike Theman
2 months 3 weeks ago

And then you send your kid to school, and he and his classmates will learn almost nothing about machines and physical labor. They will be forced to sit at desks, despite their inclination to be active, and they will be forced to learn about things like English literature and anti-bullying to make sure that they do not become too masculine, the vast majority of their teachers being female and teaching that which the Federal Government deems appropriate.

Eventually many of the boys will find themselves living out their natural inclinations of aggressiveness and competitiveness on a couch in front of a screen with video games. Many will go on to college to major in some non-labor "career" sitting in front of yet another screen.

Thank God I was raised with a father who worked in a factory and used his body to create and fix. Recently, my wife and I were leaving the hospital after our daughter's minor surgical procedure, and when the valet brought our car, the rear tire was almost flat. As I changed the tire then and there in about 10 minutes, a crowd had formed around me as if I were doing brain surgery.

Men who enjoy physical labor and know how to fix things are a dying breed, intentionally so, I believe, to make them dependents on others for everything. Maybe books about trucks and trains will slow their disappearance.

I still love watching, somewhat envying, the garbage truck and the men loading it as I sit in front of my computer screen.

Cathy Taggart
2 months 3 weeks ago

Many thanks Kerry Weber and "America" for this delightful, inspiring article. It reminded me so vividly of when my own son was two, well over 30 years ago. But this article was not only enjoyable, it also contains an important message. The benefits of parents reading to their children just cannot be emphasised too much.
As for "truck Taize" - I love it!

Advertisement

The latest from america

So what does it matter what a celibate woman thinks about contraception?
Helena BurnsJuly 20, 2018
Former US President Barack Obama gestures to the crowd, during an event in Kogelo, Kisumu, Kenya, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo Brian Inganga)
In Johannesburg, Obama gave what some commentators consider his most important speech since he vacated the Oval Office.
Anthony EganJuly 20, 2018
With his "Mass," Leonard Bernstein uses liturgy to give voice to political unease.
Kevin McCabeJuly 20, 2018
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrives for the Jan. 6 installation Mass of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society,” says Hans Zollner, S.J., who heads the Centre for Child Protection in Rome.