Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Gouache on French recycled Speckletone
Text set in Opti Powell Old Style
Little, Brown and Company
I love it when interests intersect, but with a medium as wide-ranging and far-reaching as picture books, I shouldn't be at all surprised when they do. Case in point: Woody Guthrie, whom I righteously love, and is one of those artists who seemingly just keeps giving, not even letting something as shitty as death get in the way.
New Baby Train was only recorded for the first time in 1999 by Kim Wilson on the album Daddy O Daddy, and then, five years after that, given the illustrative treatment by Ms. Frazee.
It really shows. I feel that every page is filled with comical body language and fun movement, but is also filled with wonderful details.... the oversized hand-me-downs on the barefoot children, the epic swaths of empty, dusty plains, the great twisting, geometric steel of the locomotive. Lots of texture. I can feel everything with just my eyes, feel the granular dust between my teeth.
If the setting for a Woody Guthrie song is desolate, the language is anything but, and this is no exception. It's tempting to just write out the whole thing, as it's hard to stop once you start.
You know, a lot of people ask me
I bet you'd like to know,
How do brand-new babies
get into the house?
The flowers bring some.
the trees bring some,
the birds bring some,
the cars bring some,
and everything else brings some.
I guess maybe the trains bring some.
And so the story-song begins, and so it goes, following our pint-sized Guthrie stand-in as he infiltrates said Baby Train to observe first-hand this extraordinary engine and report back. The babies are all wearin' their diapers, got their makeshift hobo sticks in hand.
All the little babies are lookin out the windows
wonderin' which house they're
gonna get off at, you know?
It occurs to me now that the whole thing kind of reads like a folksy antithesis to The Polar Express. Regardless, my beautiful wife bought this book when my son - Arlo - was just a few years old, and it has served as a great way to introduce him to the world of Woody Guthrie.