I love when children's books leave you with a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort. I mean, they are supposed to be lighthearted and cheerful, and for the most part they are. However, sometimes you come across one that just doesn't seem all there, and though you may not be able to put your finger on it, you know deep down that there is something inherently wrong with the book you are reading. That was my experience when reading the children's book CHARLIE THE CHOO-CHOO, and though it may seem like I didn't enjoy my experience, I assure you, I did. For those of you who are Stephen King fans, you may recognize this book from King's "Dark Tower" series, which may explain why this book isn't your average "Blue's Clues" type of story.
CHARLIE THE CHOO-CHOO, written by Beryl Evans and illustrated by Ned Dameron, centers around Engineer Bob. Bob has a little secret that he hasn't told anyone. His train engine, Charlie the Choo-Choo, is alive...and also his best friend. Together they come face to face with new technology in the modern world and through thick and thin, they stay together till the end. If you have read the "Dark Tower" series, you may recognize CHARLIE THE CHOO-CHOO as the picture book that shows up in Book Three, "The Waste Lands", written by the character Beryl Evans. Having not read the "Dark Tower" series, I wasn't aware that Beryl Evans wasn't an actual person but a character within the series and a pseudonym that Stephen King uses. With that said, CHARLIE THE CHOO-CHOO was written by the one and only Stephen King himself.
As I'm sure you could tell in the synopsis above, the plot of this story isn't too complicated or deep. Bob the Engineer loves his train Charlie and they form a close and lasting relationship despite newer trail models coming in and replacing the older ones. The story itself isn't scary or terrifying, but there is something beneath the surface that gnaws as your subconscious. Maybe it's because of the illustrations, the creepy grin that's plastered on Charlie's face with the large, almost sinister-like eyes that follow your every move. Charlie the Choo-Choo doe snot give me the warm and fuzzy feelings that I would expect from a children's book, instead, it makes me want to back away and not get on Charlie's bad side. He seems sinister in nature with a fake facade of kindness that he only uses when the circumstances call for it. Engineer Bob, on the other hand, is a ray of sunshine, a good guy who cares about his trains and making sure all those that ride them have a good experience. That's why it's so odd that he's paired with Charlie because you would think that Bob would want to stay away from anything that gives off negative energy, unless that is, he gives people, and things, the benefit of the doubt.
Am I over-exaggerating the book a bit? Sure, but that is what's fun about it. It's hard not to read a Stephen King book and not immediately think of the horrors that could unfold. To me, that's part of the enjoyment, and one of the reasons I thoroughly appreciated CHARLIE THE CHOO-CHOO. I was able to come up with my own narrative, using the key figures, and with that my imagination ran with it. Is this a book you could read to your kids at the end of a long day, sure, absolutely! They may even love the creepy illustrations themselves! However, don't be surprised if down the line, your child comes to you and tells you that Charlie scares them, because God damn is he creepy. For those who are hardcore fans of King's "Dark Tower" series, I'm sure this book will resonate with you in a different way than it did with me. But, after reading CHARLIE THE CHOO-CHOO, I have decided to pick up the "Dark Tower" series so that I can meet Beryl Evans myself and see where this story comes into play. Until then, I will continue to have nightmares of Charlie the Choo-Choo.
CHARLIE THE CHOO-CHOO is now available from Simon & Schuster's at their website HERE.