I can't tell you how many times, over the last year, I have read stories from "The Little Red Train Storybook: Four Fabulous Adventures" by Benedict Blathwayt. I picked it up in the Bargain Books section of Borders for my son, the train fanatic. Cost per read, it may have been the best bargain I have ever gotten.
The Little Red Train is a small steam engine that, unlike Thomas the Tank Engine, does not have a face and is never cheeky. The most human thing this engine ever does is sigh, using its whistle. This engine is too busy pulling passengers and freight through the English countryside to worry about dragons and ghosts and all the other issues Thomas has.
And what a countryside! In the author's bio, it says he loves pictures that you can 'go for a walk in' and he must love his own illustrations. They are so charming, and so detailed that you can find new sights even after reading a story many times. We just recently noticed that in the story "Little Red Train to the Rescue," various animals climb on the train as it stops in different places, and then you can find them scattered across the illustration of the train's final destination.
The text is readable and enjoyable for both kids and parents. Several of the stories include repetitive elements so kids can chime in with their parents after a few readings. My son will read almost any book about trains, but even my six-year-old daughter likes the Little Red Train stories and will complain if we start while she is still brushing her teeth. Her favorite is "Green Light for the Little Red Train" in which the little red train is accidentally sent through the Channel tunnel and drives through France, Spain, Italy, and several Scandinavian countries before arriving home. Because the pictures are so detailed, my son can happily sit and "read" the stories to himself if I am busy.
I would highly recommend these stories for any kids age 3-8, and to any parent who is a little tired of all the engines on the island of Sodor and needs some new train reading material.