The Thomas the Tank Engine Man

The Thomas the Tank Engine Man: The Life of Reverend W. Awdry by Brian Sibley (Lion Books, 2015)

This is the 20th anniversary edition of the biography of Rev. Awdry originally published in 1995, coincidentally the year I remember as the peak of Thomas mania in my household. The 1990’s were a period of resurgence of interest in the Railway Series for young children because that is when the books came to American television. As I learned from this fascinating book, the books I read to my three year old daughter were originally published in the 1940s and 1950s. In fact, the Rev. Wilbert Awdry’s son Christopher took over the series in the 1980s; Rev. Awdry died in 1997.  The book is full of details about Wilbert Awdry’s life as a Church of England clergyman, father of three children, and writer of the series of children’s books about anthropomorphic steam engines that continues to be popular today. At the Philadelphia Flower Show yesterday there was a track layout with Thomas, Henry, James, Gordon and Percy that had toddlers very excited. Rev. Awdry, not surprisingly a lifelong model railroad enthusiast, would have been pleased. Sibley’s biography, with chapter headings in keeping with the railway theme and dozens of photographs, provided much insight into the book production process and in particular the succession of illustrators responsible for the iconic colorful engines that became my daughter’s favorite toys.

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