Thursday, November 11, 2010

[PB BOOK STUDY] Thinking Outside of the Toy Box with Shark Vs. Train

In a comment on my last post, Holly asked, "Once you come up with an idea (because I'm constantly coming up with titles), how do you develop it and ensure there will be conflict and a satisfactory ending? It seems many good pbs have catchy endings." Thanks, Holly for the seeds to a wonderful topic and possible further discussion.  

While it only answers the question in part, I thought the following book would prove a helpful example: SHARK vs. TRAIN by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld. <Beware of Plot Spoilers>

Summary: A shark and a train compete in a series of contests on a seesaw, in hot air balloons, bowling, shooting baskets, playing hide-and-seek, and more.

While I do like to consider myself to be somewhat "psychic," I think it was easy to figure out the origin and development of this idea, without the benefit of any psychic ability. 

IDEA/As inferred from the pictures (and the text, and the summary), while digging in a toy box, two little boys each select an object (one a shark and one a train) and have several contests. I think it's easy to see where this idea came from because it so closely resembles the imaginative play I have watched between children, or even a child playing with two objects.

CONFLICT/It's obvious that the author used the tried and true method of "What If?" which really worked in this case. For example, "What if the train had to fight shark underwater?" and "What if shark had to fight train on the railroad tracks?" This is clever because it not only provides conflict, but a fun opportunity for children to easily guess who would win. Other what if scenarios are equally as fun (and you can see the use of opposities, here as well). "What if...they're on a seesaw?" "...or a hot air balloon?" In a see saw, shark would loose and go flying into the air because he is too light, and in the hot air balloon, train would sink and lose because he is too heavy. Other examples are just plan silly, where train wins at running a lemonstand, because the lemonade at Shark's underwater lemonstand is too watery! LOL

You'll have to read the book to see all the other clever examples for yourself. I'm certain you'll agree that it's a simple idea, simply executed, and simply delightful!

ENDING/Like all good endings, this one touches upon the beginning. In this case, literally! Someone calls the boys for lunch and they toss Shark and Train back into the toy box where they began. Also, like good endings, the story doesn't feel ended. Speech bubbles show Shark saying "Next time, you're history, soot-spewer." Train replies, "Next time, you're sunk, squid-slurper." So the battle between Shark and Train and a world of possibilities continues beyond the last page.

Well, that's all for now. I hope this one example at least puts you on the right track.


  1. I looooove SHARK vs. TRAIN. I think you're right that it really embraces the "what if" factor and uses play as inspiration. I think what I most appreciate about it is that it follows a pattern for a while, but changes things up before it becomes too repetitive. And it's just plain hilarious.

  2. Hi, Anna! So nice to see you here! Thanks for adding that bit about "changing it up before it becomes too repetitive." So true!
    And in case anyone over here at the playground isn't following PiBoIdMo, check out what Anna has to say over there for further inspiration:

  3. Ha-ha! "I hope this one example at least puts you on the right track." Nice pun, whether intended or not. I love that book. I bought it for my son. The pictures REALLY make it come alive. And I love the VERY ending where the judges say, "So who won?" And the other replies, "I lost track." Oh, golly, there's that pun again!

  4. I loved that pun, Christie, and yes, forgive me -- I used it intentionally. ROTFL Hugs!!! BTW, I don't have a little boy, but I'm buying it for myself :)