Author Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld may have been promoting their newest bedtime book, but the dozen or so small fans who turned up one recent April afternoon at The Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., to see them during their recently concluded 10-day tour, didn’t appear to be slowing down for naptime.
Maybe this is not so surprising. Rinker and Lichtenheld are creating books meant for active kids, after all. Rinker’s own rarely sleeping, truck-loving son was the inspiration for the bestselling Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, all about working vehicles winding down at the end of the day. And their new collaboration, Steam Train, Dream Train, has pages filled with noisy stuff kids love, like zoo animals, dinosaurs, racecars – and, obviously, a train.
But that afternoon, it was difficult to even get an exact count on the number of kids as excited little bodies zoomed in and out of the room and around the store:
One boy dressed in robot pajamas wanted Rinker to quit reading Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and try a Spider-Man picture book he selected instead. Another tot climbed around Lichtenheld’s easel as he illustrated a silly story involving a pickle, a prickly cactus, a bear, a trampoline and a parachute. And there was the sweet, smiling girl who interrupted Lichtenheld to give his legs a goodbye hug before toddling out of the room.
Despite these distractions, the author and illustrator kept their show chugging along: as they quickly moved from activity to activity – showing slides, reading Construction Site, illustrating the pickle story, reading Steam Train – they asked their young fans to make heavy-lifting noises and train sounds.
And then came the afternoon’s highlight: bookstore staffers offered crayons so that kids could learn the step-by-step process for drawing a train of their own. Pragmatically, they started with what Lichtenheld called “rectangle practice.”
Given the earlier antics, this turned out to be a relatively focused activity. Rinker drew along with the kids at the easel as Lichtenheld provided instructions and encouragement. “You’re doing great, buddy,” he said to one young artist, before tossing a compliment to his collaborator, too: “Even Sherri’s doing pretty well.”
When they finished, kids heard of the raffle for a digger plush toy that would be held after the event (at other stops, book-branded train whistles were the big prize). This caused one boy to momentarily panic that he'd missed his chance to enter. “Already done, dude,” his mother reassured him.
After a high-speed half hour, Rinker and Lichtenheld were still smiling, chatting, and joking with kids and parents as they moved on to the book signing part of the event. But both actually looked fairly ready for a nap of their own – no bedtime story required.