Elementary Programs Chapter

By Laura Douglas and Stacey Irish-Keffer

Section 1: All Aboard! Stories about Trains

Section 1: All Aboard! Stories about Trains

The Reading Express is pulling into town. Use the elements found in this section to plan a program about trains.

Bulletin Board

Clipart - Text on side of Engine says 'The Reading Express' and captain waving though window

Featured Book

Stormy’s Hat: Just Right for a Railroad Man by Eric A. Kimmel.

Books to Display:

Riding the Rails in the USA: Trains in American Life by Martin W. Sandler.

Steam, Smoke, and Steel: Back in Time with Trains by Patrick O'Brien.

Tupelo Rides the Rails written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

C is for Caboose: Riding the Rails from A to Z.

Introduction of Featured Book

Show the children the cover of the book. Ask if they know what hats are pictured on Stormy’s head. Read the title and the subtitle; ask if the children know what kind of hat a “railroad man” wears. This is the story of how that hat was created.


Stormy’s Hat: Just Right for a Railroad Man by Eric A. Kimmel.


Ask questions about the story, such as the ones below, to start a short discussion of the book.

“What types of hats did Stormy try?”

“Why didn’t those hats work?”

“What qualities was Stormy looking for in a hat?”

“Who helped design the final hat?”

Nonfiction Topic: Stormy Kromer

Use the World Book Encyclopedia, nonfiction books, and web sites to find facts about the nonfiction connections.

George “Stormy” Kromer was born in 1876; he was an engineer on the Chicago and North Western Railroad. He loved baseball and trains. In 1903 Stormy described his idea hat to his wife Ida. She took one of Stormy’s baseball caps and reworked it into the hat that railroad worker still wear today. More information about Stormy along with photographs can be found in the article “Hats Off to Stormy” at Locomotive Engineers Journal, http://www.ble.org/pr/journal/winter02/story9.html.


Engineer Hats

  • Engineer hat pattern
  • Cardstock
  • Markers or crayons
  • Crayons
  • Scissors
  • Staplers

In advance, copy enough patterns onto cardstock for each child to have a hat. Decorate the front piece and headband with markers or crayons. Cut out the pattern. Staple the front piece to the headband. Measure the headband to fit and staple it in place.

Find the engineer hat pattern at the end of this program.

Engine Hat Pattern

Shoe Box Trains

(Adapted by Laura Douglas from All the Daze.)

  • Shoeboxes
  • String or yarn
  • Paint
  • Scrap paper
  • Sequins
  • Foam stickers

Give each child a shoebox. Decorate the shoe box with paint, scrap paper, stickers, and other materials. Cut four wheels from scrap paper and glue them on each side of the train car. If desired, string all the shoeboxes together to make a train. Display the train in the library.

Games and Activities

Railroad Tag

(Adapted by Laura Douglas from All the Daze.)

Choose one child to start the train. When the first child tags the second they join hands and chase the other players. When they tag the next one, the player joins hands with them and becomes part of the train. The game is over when everyone has been tagged and is part of the train.


Real Wheels - Travel Adventures There Goes a Train/Plane/Bus (96 minutes)

Featured Book

Railroad John and the Red Rock Run by Tony Crunk.

Books to Display:

Steam Locomotive: Whistling, Chugging, Smoking Iron Horses of the Past by Karl Zimmermann.

Riding the Rails: Rail Travel Past and Present by Jane Shuter.

Crossing by Philip Boot.

Introduction of Featured Book

Show the children the cover of the book, and ask them what they think it is about. Point out the train on the front. Ask if they know what kind of train it is? It is a steam engine? What type of engine do trains use now? This is a tall tale about Railroad John on his way to get married in Red Rock. Will the train be late? Will he make it on time? Let’s find out.


Railroad John and the Red Rock Run by Tony Crunk.


Ask questions about the story, such as the ones below, to start a short discussion of the book.

“Why was Railroad John going to Red Rock?”

“What time was the wedding?”

“What time was the “Sagebrush Flyer” scheduled to arrive?”

“Has it ever been late?”

“What happened on the trip to slow the train down?”

“What is the firebox for?”

“What did they use to power the train after the coal was stolen?”

“How did they finally get to Red Rock?”

“Who was waiting for him?”

Nonfiction Topic: Steam Engines

Use the World Book Encyclopedia, nonfiction books, and web sites to find facts about the nonfiction connections.

Steam engines were developed in the 1700s and made modern industry possible. One steam engine could do the work of many horses and supply the power to run all the machines in a factory. More facts about the history of steam engines can be found at About.com, http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/ blengine history.htm. A short video on YouTube, www.youtube.com/ watch?v=KH7n HO7AhKM&feature=related, illustrating how a steam engine works, could be shown to the children to further the discussion.


Twinkie Trains

(Adapted by Stacey Irish-Keffer.)

  • Twinkies® or similar snack cake
  • Vanilla wafers
  • Colored icing in tubes
  • Small marshmallows
  • Large marshmallows
  • Plates
  • Napkins

Give each child one Twinkie® and six vanilla wafers. Show the children how to decorate the Twinkie® using the colored icing. The Twinkie will be the body of the train, the large marshmallow is the cab, and the vanilla wafers are the wheels. Use the icing to stick the wheels on the sides of the Twinkie® and secure the large marshmallow on top. Small marshmallows can be stuck on top of the cab as the smokestack, if desired. Encourage the children to decorate their train using the colored icing.

Photo - twinkie and six vanilla wafers using the colored icing


Train Window Collages

  • Window frame pattern
  • Black construction paper
  • Construction paper
  • Scrap magazines
  • Scissors
  • Glue

In advance, trace the pattern onto sheets of black construction paper to make the train window frames. Depending on the audience, cut out the “windows” in advance or allow the children to do it. Distribute the black window frames and a sheet of regular construction paper. Cut out pictures from scrap magazines of people, places, and things that might be seen on a train trip. Glue the pictures to the sheet of construction paper. Glue the window frame over the pictures to create a collage of scenery that might be viewed from a train window.

Find the train window pattern at the end of this program.

photo - black construction paper has several cutouts pasted on it of a monkey, parakeet, yellow flowers, trees, elephant with orange sunset

Train Whistles

Instructions to make a train whistle and information about the whistle codes used to communicate can be found at Get the Message, an exhibition from the Traveling Exhibitions at Museums of Science (TEAMS) collaborative, http://www.montshire.org/teams/teams3/get-the-message/program_ materials/chatting-like-a-choo-choo.pdf.

Games and Activities

Little Red Train

(Adapted by Stacey Irish-Keffer from Child Fun.)

Select one child to be the engine. The other children sit and wait at the “train station.” The “engine” walks around the group while everyone chants:

Little Red Train chugging down the track.

First it goes down, then it comes back.

Hooking on cars as it goes,

Little Red Train just grows and grows.

After each chant, the "engine" calls for a child to become another "car" to hook onto the train. They hold hands and walk around the group as everyone repeats the chant. The second person calls for a third to hook on, continue until everyone has hooked onto the train.

Guest Speakers

Invite someone with an interest or enthusiasm for trains to come to the library. Some resources include the National Model Railroad Association (http://www.nmra.org/) and the Electric City Trolley Museum Association (http://www.ectma.org/links.html). The Dallas Railway Museum (http://www.dallasrailwaymuseum.com/resources.html) is another great resource. Railroad Museums Worldwide (http://www.railmuseums.com/namerica/TEXAS/) provides a list of Railroad Museums in Texas.


All About Trains for Kids. (55 minutes)

Featured Book

John Henry by Julius Lester.

Books to Display:

Ain't Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson and Marc Aronson.

Hear that Train Whistle Blow! How the Railroad Changed the World by Milton Meltzer.

Big Men, Big Country: A Collection Of American Tall Tales by Paul Robert Walker.

I Hear America Singing!: Folk Songs for American Families collected & arranged by Kathleen Krull.

Introduction of Featured Book

Ask the children what makes a story a tall tale? Ask them to name some tall tales, such as the stories about Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. John Henry is a tall tale about a man who raced against a steam engine to drill through a mountain. Can a man drill through rock faster than a machine? Let’s read and find out.


John Henry by Julius Lester.


Ask questions about the story, such as the ones below, to start a short discussion of the book.

“How do we know at the beginning of the story that this is a tall tale?”

“What is John Henry’s first job with his grandfather’s big hammers?”

“Why does John Henry want to have a contest against the steam drill?”

“Who or what drills the farthest and how long does it take?”

“What happens to John Henry after the contest is over?”

Nonfiction Topics: John Henry and Tall Tales

Use the World Book Encyclopedia, nonfiction books, and web sites to find facts about the nonfiction connections.

John Henry

Read the introduction to the story at the beginning of the book. Discuss whether or not John Henry was a real person. A comprehensive web site focusing on the myth and the man of John Henry was developed by National Public Radio, www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/johnhenry/index.html. More information can be found at this site to enhance the discussion. Share the song “The Ballad of John Henry” with the group. Two potential recordings are John Henry by Mississippi Fred McDowell, available on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54GNI2K3-ec, or “The Ballad of John Henry” sung by Johnny Cash. If possible, show the video segment from Ridin' the Rails: The Great American Train Story, which includes an example of how railroad track was laid and what a steam drill looked like.

More ideas to use with the John Henry story are available in an activity guide at Schlessinger Media, http://www.libraryvideo.com/guides/V6977.pdf

Tall Tales

A tall tale is a story filled with unbelievable events told in a way that sounds factual. While tall tales are not limited to the United States, they are a big part of American folklore. Some tall tales, such as those told about Annie Oakley, may be based in part on truth or actual events. Others, such as those about Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan, are totally made up. John Henry was thought to be totally fictional, but the research of Scott Reynolds Nelson and Marc Aronson shows that there was indeed some fact behind the story.

Tall tales have four main elements:

  1. The main character has a regular job but is larger-than-life or superhuman in his or her abilities.
  2. The character has a problem or problems that he or she solves in a funny way.
  3. Details in the story are exaggerated beyond belief.
  4. The characters use everyday language and are like common people in behavior.

More information and topics for discussion can be found at Tall Tales About the American Frontier, developed by the University of North Carolina at Chappell Hill, http://www.ils.unc.edu/dpr/path/talltales/index.html.


I’ve Been Working on the Railroad


Use the toilet paper kazoos made following the directions in this program or commercially produced kazoos to play this classic railroad song. Lyrics and tune can be found at the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services Kid’s Page, http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/lyrics/railroad.htm.


Chugga-chugga Choo choo! Train Craft

(Adapted by Laura Douglas from BestKidsBooksite.)

  • 11”x 17” construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Glue
  • Cotton balls
  • Crayons,
  • Pen or pencil

Have the children trace their hands and arms on the 11” x 17” piece of construction paper. Each child’s hand will be an engine of a train and his or her arm will become the cars on the train. They should keep their thumbs close to their fingers while tracing their hands. Draw a line where the engine and the cars will divide at the wrist for the engine and halfway down the forearm to make train cars. Cut out the whole train and then cut apart the train engine (hand) and the cars (the forearm). Arrange the engine and the cars on another sheet of construction paper and glue down the pieces. Decorate the train with markers, crayons, and scrap paper. Glue on four or five cotton balls for steam coming out of the smoke stack.

Toilet Paper Tube Kazoo

(By Laura Douglas.)

  • Toilet paper tubes
  • Wax paper
  • Thin rubber bands
  • Scissors

Draw a circle on to the wax paper that is about a half-inch larger than the end of the toilet paper tube. Cut the circle out. Hold the piece of wax paper over the end of the tube and secure it with the rubber band. Keep the paper as smooth and tight as possible. Use the scissors to poke a little hole on the tube just below the rubber band. It may be necessary to trim away a little of the wax paper. Put your lips to the open end of the tube and sing or hum.


“John Henry” on Disney's American Legends (18 minutes)

“John Henry” on The Scrambled States of America and More Stories to Celebrate Our Country (19 minutes)

Ridin' the Rails: The Great American Train Story (52 minutes)

Program Materials

All Aboard! Stories About Trains – Engineer Hat Pattern

Printer Friendly PDF Version (13 KB)

Engineer Hat Pattern - one large hat on sheet

All Aboard! Stories About Trains – Train Window Pattern

Printer Friendly PDF Version (11 KB)

Train Window Pattern - two windows with large black frame border on sheet

Texas Reading Club 2010 Programming Manual / Catch the Reading Express!

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 14, 2011