Updated: Aug 19, 2021
I wish I could tell you that the idea for The Train Rolls On was completely original, but it wasn’t. In reality, I borrowed ideas from others, combined them, and made them my own. Because I largely drew upon other books and people when coming up with the idea, I cannot take all of the credit for it. That is why I’d like to share (and give due credit to) each source of inspiration and explain how they all came together to create this magical story.
1. The Little Engine That Could
It’s probably obvious, but the characters and theme of The Train Rolls On were heavily influenced by one of my all-time favorite children's books, The Little Engine That Could. My parents read it to me countless times as a child, and I now enjoy reading it with my daughter, Avery. I love that it combines trains, zoo animals, and toys to teach children about kindness and perseverance. It is an undeniable classic and likely always will be.
Upon reading The Little Engine That Could with Avery, however, I often found myself wondering what a modern version of the story would look (and sound) like. I wondered if a short, rhyming text paired with bold, modern illustrations would capture her attention even more. At the time, I had no concrete plans for writing a book, but I had, on more than one occasion, considered attempting to update and recreate this classic train adventure.
The characters and theme of The Train Rolls On were heavily influenced by one of my all-time favorite children's books, The Little Engine That Could.
2. Karma Wilson’s “Bear” Books
Separately, while reading with Avery, I discovered a rhyme scheme that I absolutely fell in love with. Of all the rhyming picture books that Avery and I enjoy, one of my favorite authors is Karma Wilson. She is a master of rhyme and meter, and I adore her series of “Bear” books that includes The Bear Snores On, The Bear Says Thanks, The Bear Feels Scared, etc. From the first book that we read, I was hooked on their cadence and catchy refrain. So, when I started writing children’s stories, I was determined to write a story that used a similar format. I didn’t have any idea what that story would be about. I just knew that I wanted to write SOMETHING that had a similar rhyme scheme and cadence.
3. Avery’s Friend, The Train-Lover
One of Avery’s close friends LOVES trains (especially Thomas The Train), and he has tons of train-related toys that Avery gets to play with whenever we visit (when get-togethers were a thing, that is). When we invited him to Avery’s 2nd birthday party last fall, he gifted her a train set that quickly became one of her favorite toys. As a parent who strives to expose my daughter to a variety of entertainment options and to provide her with toys that satisfy whatever interests she has (be it dolls or dinosaurs, tea sets or trains), his gift made me realize that I had not done a very good job of introducing Avery to vehicles. So, shortly after her birthday party, I began searching for vehicle-related books and toys, and I made a concerted effort to expose her to them in order to gauge her level of interest.
4. Library Search For Books About Trains
When I started searching for library books about trains, I quickly found that there was no shortage of books on this topic. However, I also discovered that fiction books about trains (specifically train adventure stories) were very hard to come by. They were constantly checked out and often needed to be reserved weeks in advance. At one point during my search, I said to myself “I should just write my own story about trains,” but this was a fleeting thought that didn’t amount to anything until…
Shortly thereafter, I had what I would consider a “lightbulb moment” while I was standing in my living room one afternoon. Avery had just gone down for a nap, and I was preparing for some much-needed personal time. Then, all of a sudden, it hit me. In a moment of clarity, I was able to connect all of these seemingly random dots of inspiration. At that moment, I knew that I should write an adventure story about a determined train who was carrying animals to the zoo. I also knew that the main theme of the book would be perseverance and that it would the perfect opportunity to mimic the format of Karma Wilson’s “Bear” books by using the catchphrase “…THE TRAIN ROLLS ON.” I’m not sure why, but everything just clicked.
In a moment of clarity, I was able to connect all of these seemingly random dots of inspiration. I'm not sure why, but everything just clicked.
Writing The Story
That was all the inspiration I needed. I immediately sat down and outlined the story and determined what obstacles the train would encounter during its trip to the zoo. By the time Avery woke up from her nap, I had the major plot points and characters all figured out. The only thing left to do was...well, write the story.
Over the next 2-3 weeks, I wrote most of the text, taking time off here and there to write other stories and to enjoy time with family over the holidays. Eventually, I got to a point where I was stuck, so I decided to put the manuscript away for a while. Then, in January (when I finally committed to researching a means of publication), I circled back to the story and finished it, knowing that it was at least a contender for the book I intended to publish. I took the manuscript as far as I could alone, and then I hired a professional editor, Sarah Fabiny (photo right), to help me bring the story home.
As you can see, this story did not originate from a single idea or inspiration. Rather, it represents the culmination of many ideas and experiences that came together in a most serendipitous way. I will never forget the feeling I had at the precise moment that all of these sources of inspiration collided and the idea for this book was born, and I will be forever grateful to each source of inspiration for the role they played in starting me down this path. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to act on that inspiration and create this book, and I can only hope that I will be lucky enough to have more of these “inspired moments” throughout my writing journey.
I’m curious. Have you ever experienced a “lightbulb moment” such as this? If so, what did that moment allow you to achieve? I'd love to read your comments below.
For more information about how I started writing children's books in the first place, check out My Road To Writing Children's Books here. To learn more about the start of my self-publishing journey, read my welcome blog here.