Shark vs Train, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, is an ingeniously creative book that readers of all ages will love. The story is a series of clever competitions between “The Terror of the Ocean,” a shark and “The King of the Tracks,” the train. And the combatants don’t just fight in some boring boxing match, but in many more exciting and strange competitions. Check out this book trailer I created to see some of these.
As you can see, this book is not just hilarious, but exciting too. And it is more than these. Barton and Lichtenheld made sure that every aspect of the book worked together to create the sense of excitement portrayed in the book. For starters, before even getting to the book, the dust jacket gives information about both the shark and the train that gets the reader for what sounds like the fight of the century. The back of the book contains stats for both, just like in a real fight. It tells their favorite colors, blood red and coal black, their disposition, ornery and cantankerous, and even their pet peeves, egocentric trains and smug sharks. It also contains a quote from both the shark and the train that tells the reader who they are and that their ready to fight. Even before getting to the book, the reader knows the characters and is ready for the fight of the century.
From the title page to the end of the book, the shark and train are competing. Each page contains at most a line of text with an illustration (like the one shown) of the shark and the train battling. The text does not devote much time to characterization, but by the time the reader has read through the dust jacket and looked at an illustration or two, the reader already knows the characters. Instead, the text briefly describes the particular competition, such as “trick-or-treating.” The text also does not comment on the winner of each match. This would be disappointing if not for the fantastic illustrations that clearly let the reader know who wins.
This is one of those rare books where every single aspect of the book, from the dust jacket to the text to the illustrations and everything in between has been carefully chosen to create the overall sense of excitement in the book. The only thing missing is for the reader to pick up the book and answer one important question: “Who will you root for?”