If a large chunk of your life has never been consumed with the responsibility of keeping a toddler occupied, then the simple elegance of this children’s book might be lost on you. If it has though, then you’ll likely recognize immediately the cleverness and simple elegance of Mike Vago’s Train. Marketed to kids aged 4 to 8, this is a book and a toy. It’s a plastic train (and you may or may not know how much kids obsess over trains at that age) that cannot be lost. It is a block book that will fascinate preschoolers as well as their intoxicant-enjoying parents.
The titular train awaits the reader in the station when the book is opened. It can than be pushed along a track, across the page, through a tunnel onto the next page, and so on throughout the length of the book. All without ever leaving the track. Vago—whose name you might recognize from the byline of many A.V. Club articles—was tinkering with the concept for close to a decade before its ultimate publication earlier this week.
“I made the first working prototype with a bent paper clip as the train, and it worked. [Workman Publishing] was very excited about the idea, and more or less ready to put a check in my hand,” Vago explained to The A.V. Club via email, even though he also writes for The A.V. Club. “But the prototype had some issues. It was made of cardstock, not cardboard, and the train would tear up the page every time there was a seam. … I made prototype after prototype, and each one I made worked less well than the one before.”
Eventually, a new editor on the project suggested making it a board book, like his first book, The Miniature Book Of Miniature Golf, “and it all fell into place almost immediately,” Vago said. “Of course, ‘immediately’ was after eight years of failed attempts, so my no-longer-train-obsessed kids are now 11 and 8, and have aged out of the target audience.”
Train—co-created with writer Lorraine Freeney and illustrator Matt Rockefeller—is available through Workman Publishing.