Friday, September 26, 2008

Thomas the Tank Engine

Most parents seem to be familiar with Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends on the Island of Sodor. I had heard of Thomas, much like I had heard of Elmo, prior to becoming a mom. The world of Thomas has taken on new meaning to me over the past year.

This blog posting is not about the history of Thomas the Tank Engine, nor is it a synopsis of the many stories by the Reverand W. Awdry. It is also not about the "Thomas Brand", which has somehow saturated the children's market with everything from toy trains to halloween costumes to books and videos to toddler beds and bedding. It almost reminds me of Star Wars for toddlers.

This blog posting is intended to provide some links to information that parents of "Toddlers Addicted To Thomas" (TATT) can turn to for support, for reference, and for some direction in trying to comb through the product marketplace that has become known as "gu-gu" around our house. ("gu-gu" is what "Thomas" sounds like when said with a binky firmly in place)

Without further Ado...

There are a few sites that one needs to be familiar with if you are going to attempt to digest the sheer enormity of Thomas the Tank Engine.

1. Thomas and Friends. This site is hosted by the company that markets the Thomas Brand, Hit Entertainment. This company must be rolling in it. I'm not a financial wizard though, so I will not be reviewing their corporate infrustructure or weighing in on stock options.

2. The obligatory Wiki Reference. From 1945-1972, Rev. W. Awdry wrote the Thomas books. Stepping into his father's footsteps, Christopher Awdry began writing Thomas books that were published from 1983 through the present. Here is a list of their works in full.

3. PBS. In our home, the place to go for Thomas is either the Sprout Channel or Sprout Online. This site has some games and a few videos to watch. This site is great when you need to occupy your child for a few minutes while trying to wrap up an important conference call in your office. Just mind the volume knob on your speakers or everyone will hear the "Toot-Toot" of some useful engines. Duct Tape works -- either on the volume knob or on the child's fingers. (writer's note: that is sarcasm.. please don't duct tape your child's fingers)

Thomas and Friends episodes are only about 5-6 minutes long, which is great for the attention span of an 18 month old, but not great when PBS launches into a show like Dragon Tales that holds NO interest for my 21 month old son. Screaming ensues. For this reason, DVD compilations are recommended. I'm not even going to bother trying to list those -- just go to your local video store and rent one and then return it two weeks late.. like we just did. Now, that video that cost $2.20 is going to suck at least $10 out of us.. just about enough to have bought the DVD for ourselves from Target or Amazon.

4. Toys. There is an incredible history of Thomas the Tank Engine models and toys from over the years. Our current favorite, Thomas the Tank Engine Wooden Railway, offers a dizzying array of wonderfully wholesome wooden tank engines along with their troublesome trucks (their words, not mine) and any train configuration your imagination can dream up. Of course.. for those of you without imagination, there are plenty of pre-fab sets that are just as cool. Now wait.. just because this SOUNDS like a great, wholesome, 1950's era toy.. you know.. the wooden train on the wooden tracks.. no moving parts except your child's imagination.. great stuff.. right? It is.. so whip out that charge card and get ready for the burn when your statement arrives at the end of the month. A serious Thomas hobby is not for the weak checkbook.

5. Reality. Since we are not made of money, we are not one of those families that can (and will) go out and purchase every Thomas item their child desires. Instead, we prefer to use OUR imaginations a bit, as parents. Our son is 21 months old. He LOVES Thomas. We have to limit his TV time and argue with him about that fact. He's not even TWO! Our solution to this addiction is for him to play with his Thomas wooden trains. We started out with two Trains.. Edward and Percy. His grandma bought one of those. The novelty lasted for quite some time. At one point, we added Thomas and a carry case. Again.. happy child. He'd play for hours, without a track, pushing the trains along and clicking their buffers together.

We've now stepped into a new phase. We have made our first track purchase. We have a hybrid track. We purchased the official Sodor Bay Bridge.

FYI -- click on the picture to bring you to the motherload of all Thomas toys. The HIT Entertainment Shop.

Anyway.. we also have some Melissa & Doug tracks that, with some force, can be considered compatible with the thomas tracks. Between the two sets, we have enough track to stream across a room, but not enough to complete a loop. For our 21 month old.. this does not matter in the slightest. He is too concerned with getting the troublesome trucks to link up to their engines properly so that they do not get stuck in the Sodor Bay Bridge. One thing that I can say for these toys is that they sure are durable! The bridge has been chucked across our living room several times now and it looks like new (we can't say the same for our cats).

We plan to procure a train table at some point, second hand. We also plan to pick up additional engines and track pieces second hand, through craigslist or ebay. We make train stations and tunnels out of Duplo lego blocks. Shiela has been murmoring something about paper mache although I have been trying to ignore that. We are going to attempt to enter this new phase of train world development with open eyes and an empty wallet.

We know that at some point, Ben will outgrow these toys. At least, this is what our friends with older children have promised us. Of course.. then we're in for discussions about cell phones and ipods.. I'll take a nice old fashioned wooden train set any day! (if only I could afford it!)

Check out my personal blog at Two Moms and a Baby!


What A Card said...

No! Don't get a train table! It's a waste of space, and a play-constrictor. It's so small, and young kids don't have the ability to plan a track that will circle enough to stay within the confines of the train table.

We got a hand-me-down train table, which we now just use the top right on the ground. Tracks can then run right off the sides of the table...

misstj said...

i agree... our train table is a dry-erase board that sits on the floor, or on a table, or under the couch when we're sick of seeing it. and we draw various scenery on it-lakes, helicopter landings, forests, etc. great alternative!!