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RS Reviews: Really Useful Engines - Making the Familiar Unique

Really Useful Engines

Reviewed by Casey Jones

When I was a kid, one of my favourite places to go at the mall in my hometown was the Coles bookstore. It was at Coles that I got my first book in the Railway Series, Really Useful Engines by Christopher Awdry. While the original copy of the book is no longer with me (I gave to a friend who is also a fan of the series), I still enjoy it to this day and even purchased a new copy for myself. The wonderful thing that I loved about Christopher Awdry’s book is how much it is like a Railway Series book by his father, the Rev. W. Awdry, while still showing reader’s a unique view of the world of the Island of Sodor.

Christopher Awdry’s Really Useful Engines is the twenty-seventh book in the Railway Series and Christopher Awdry’s first attempt at the series since his father retired from writing the books in the 1970s. Really Useful Engines is a collection of stories about Thomas, Percy, and Duck: Thomas gives chase to some thieve who rob the Ffarquhar stationmaster’s house; Percy helps Tom Tipper the postman with some interesting results; and Duck has a run in with the Flying Kipper (literally). These three engines come together in the final story Triple Header to pull the express in Gordon’s place, learning that somethings are not always as easy as they look.

One thing that stands out is how the book reminiscent of the Rev. W. Awdry’s books whilst still displaying Christopher’s own writing style. Both Really Useful Engines and the Rev. Awdry’s first book The Three Railway Engines have a similar structure with three separate stories to highlight the main characters while the final story ties everything together. The stories Stop Thief, Mind that Bike, Fish, and Triple Header all have the feeling of a Railway Series story but what sets this and later books apart is Christopher Awdry’s attention to the technical knowledge. A Rev. W. Awdry version of the story “Fish” would not worry about explaining a tail lamp on the train; Duck would just exclaim that the tail lamp was not in sight and the story would carry on. This shows that Christopher Awdry is aware of his audience, the children of 1980s Britain are not the same as 1940 and 50s Britain and thus would not be as aware of certain railway terminology as in the past.

Secondly, the illustrations in Really Useful Engines are just as reminiscent of earlier Railway Series. Clive Spong, whose bright, colourful pictures remind readers of earlier books in the series illustrated by C. Reginald Dalby, illustrated Really Useful Engines and his work while not perfect (Thomas having his original running board design) will go on to develop more as the series progresses through the 1980s and 1990s. Spong is able to combine the bright world that Dalby made with his illustrations while showing a busy industrial world that is reminiscent of later illustrators of the Rev. W. Awdry's books.

In conclusion, Christopher Awdry’s Really Useful Engines is a great debut for Christopher Awdry. Both the writing and illustrations are reminiscent of the original run by the Rev. W. Awdry while highlighting the unique styles of Christopher Awdry and Clive Spong, a collaboration that would continue for the next fourteen books. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to start reading the works of Christopher Awdry.


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