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Tootle, a young train in training, begins leaving the tracks to cavort in the meadow until engineer Bill figures out a way to lure him back.

24 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1945

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About the author

Gertrude Crampton

49 books11 followers
She received her teaching credentials and graduated from the University of Michigan, she achieved great popularity thanks to a story starring a little locomotive, which became one of the best-selling children's books in the English language.

As of 2001, Tootle was the all-time third best-selling hardcover children's book in English, and Scuffy the Tugboat was the eighth all-time bestseller.

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Community Reviews

5 stars
3,826 (51%)
4 stars
1,683 (22%)
3 stars
1,440 (19%)
2 stars
361 (4%)
1 star
165 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews
Profile Image for Calista.
4,073 reviews31.3k followers
January 3, 2019
An interesting tale about a train growing up. It is all important to stay on the rails, but Tootle likes to get out in the pasture and play in the flowers. The whole town gets together to keep him on the rails.

This feels like a story of society controlling us and keeping us from being individuals to what will serve the community best. It feels like conformity to me.

It’s quite an interesting story and I find it fascinating that it triggers me in certain ways. I do have some rebellious nature in me and part of me wants Tootle to play in the flowers since the engine can.

The nephew likes to pick things out of the home bookshelf to read and this is an oldie. He gave it 3 stars. He isn’t so much into trains, but he picked it out. I give it 3 stars for making me think at least.
Profile Image for Jen Kautt.
18 reviews3 followers
September 13, 2007
Tootle,Tootle, all you wanted to do was "dip and soar" like the butterflies you admired in the meadow of Lower Trainswitch. But Bill, head engineer of the School for Engines and "The Mayor Himself" taught you that it was foolish for an engine to get lost looking at hollyhock flowers when he could be the fastest flyer since "old 300".
Yes, a children's book that touts the importance of the coal blackned lungs of the Industrial Revoultion in place of the Romantic reverance of nature. Work and strict obediance to rules over quiet reflection. Tootle, you're a flyer train- you know your place-now get back to work! And after being tricked by the entire township- he does.
Oi vey. There.Finally my brief critical analysis of a Golden book designed for children some 40-50 years ago. (which probably says a lot in itself about the content)It may be a bit much (okay it IS)but, as a mother has read this story as many times as I have this one,(sometimes as many as three times in one night, and it is, for a bedtime story a long one)over a 3 year period,well it drives one to pick it apart.
And yes, I do tell my four year old that Tootle should be allowed paid holidays in which to view the meadow he so adored,as well as a new set of buffers every six months.
Profile Image for Emelda.
352 reviews9 followers
February 22, 2008
This is quite possibly the worst book written for children. Ever. Joe loves it, but I refuse to read it to him. It's all about "staying on the tracks no matter what." A little engine finds that he likes playing in a meadow, with the birds and bugs and flowers, and the whole town conspires against him to keep him on the track. There's one illustration where he's sobbing and the all white town is gleefully trying to get him out of the meadow. And what the fuck is with the black horse that gets him to come off the tracks at first? Is he supposed to represent the devil- the black nuisance in the all white, orderly little 50's town? Seriously. WTF. Please burn every copy you see of this book. We'll put the last in a museum to show how fucked up we used to be.
1 review
March 12, 2010
My child was wild about this book at at two could pretty much recite it. It's cute and Tootle is adorable. The illustrations are charming. As for those who are so worried that it preaches conformity, please try growing up a bit. It preaches discipline, actually, which is quite different from conformity. My son today is an artist and writer. He has and has always had a great imagination.
57 reviews10 followers
April 20, 2017
Here is how I summarize the themes in this book: Your greatest desire should be to put yourself into the service of a large industrial system, and the best way to get that desire is to rigidly follow all the rules. Literally don't stop to smell the flowers, and don't think outside the box.
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,257 reviews1,132 followers
January 25, 2023
Tootle reminds me of "The Little Blue Engine Stories" by Ursula Hourihane, published in Great Britain shortly after World War Two. They were contemporary with the early "Thomas the Tank Engine books" by the Rev. Awdry, much smaller books which also followed the adventures of various small locomotives of different colours, with faces. Tootle is the American version, from 1945. This is a "Little Golden Book"; a series which was very popular in the USA and Australia. It has colourful illustrations in a cartoonish style, and is associated with the Walt Disney corporation.

The story of Tootle tells how the baby locomotives are trained to do their job, and the most important rule is to Stay On The Rails No Matter What. But Tootle disobeys this rule; he can't resist going to play in the meadow.

Eventually the problem is solved as the mayor of Lower Trainswitch gives everyone a red flag, and they all hide behind bushes and other places in the meadow. Tootle knows he must stop for every red flag, and there are so many that he can't avoid them. He gets very upset, but then sees that Chief Oiler Bill is waving a green flag on the track. Tootles puffs up to the track and everyone cheers. He has now passed the test to be a Flyer, and will always Stay On The Rails No Matter What.

It's a cute little story.
Profile Image for Lewis Manalo.
Author 10 books16 followers
June 22, 2013
If you want to teach your children to conform to the cowardly whims of group think, to embrace conformity, and to "stay on the tracks" outlined by authority, this is the book to give them. Free-thinkers, stay clear of this brightly-colored blot on children's literature.
Profile Image for Clay Davis.
Author 4 books120 followers
August 30, 2021
An all time classic for every age. A very good story about responsibility and safety. Enjoyed the art work on all the pages. This is the best in the youth steampunk genre.
Profile Image for R.A..
Author 32 books89 followers
November 16, 2020
I used to read this all the time! Other than the fact trains can't run off the tracks to have a good time in the meadow, it's a fun read!

Side note: I agree with another review that it does not preach conformity. I think it's a great little story that teaches us to "stay on the right track!"
Profile Image for Jason.
Author 1 book23 followers
September 24, 2013
Some give this 1945 children’s book low ratings for teaching a message of “staying on the rails,” criticizing the implicit message that children should remain within the boundaries set for them instead of exploring all the world has to offer. I give it a low rating for the opposite reason. Boundaries are necessary for joy and usefulness. But despite the main character repeatedly breaking the central rule given to him (a rule designed not just for his own safety, but for the safety of those around him), there are ultimately no consequences for his blatant disobedience. And he only stops being disobedient for selfish reasons. The story ignores the truths that we reap what we sow and that true virtue lies in doing good for its own sake (or, rather, the sake of the God who created and redeemed us).
Profile Image for Saffron Moon.
178 reviews25 followers
January 12, 2022
Work hard. Stay on the track no matter what. Wanting to enjoy a beautiful day by running in the meadows, making daisy chains, having fun, picking buttercups and chasing butterflies is wrong and will be corrected. Side note, the elders of the community have noticed that you have abandoned your prescribed duty as instructed, and have witnessed your playful excursions in the meadows. They want you to know that you were laughed at and you looked ridiculous out there in the meadow playing, but because they have your best interests in mind they have rallied up the entire town to make sure you no longer see any delight in playing in the wild and will readily get you back on track (literally) to a life of routine, discipline, and working for the man for your own good. They want you to understand that social acceptance can only be established by staying on the tracks laid out for you no matter what. Now that all the joy, play, creativity and connection with nature has been eradicated from your childhood, there will be no further distractions permitting you from adopting the role our industrialised society has laid out for you - to become a glorified cog in the machine that needs your dedicated repetitive labour. You have successfully been assimilated inside the working class system. Welcome aboard little Tootle!

Needless to say, in case my tone was not adequately reflected in my sarcastic writing, I found this book to be nothing short of soul-crushing. If the author wanted to introduce the concept of focus and discipline to children, I am sure that the lesson could have been presented in a more inspiring and balanced manner without the Either/Or thinking paradigm. Nature/Wild = Bad versus Industralised Society/Civilized = Good.
Profile Image for Karen.
Author 9 books28 followers
November 9, 2013
I only just recently read this story for the first time, and I have been an adult for many years. Although I had a serious collection of Little Golden Books as a child, my collection did not include this one.

At first as I read this book, I was strongly reminded of Ferdinand the bull, so I liked it. But the ending was very different. If Ferdinand's beloved cork tree had been surrounded by red capes, they might have been the same book. The biggest difference is, Tootles wanted to run the express line and Ferdinand did not want to leave his meadow. While I understand the conformist subtext, I can't hate this story as much as others do. Sometimes we do have to set aside play to achieve our goals. I would like to think that Tootles was occasionally able to still sneak off the trains when he wasn't running the express. At least, that is how I would have written it.

The artwork is joyfully wonderful. Perhaps that is why I am so forgiving of the story itself.
Profile Image for ⚣Michaelle⚣.
3,672 reviews205 followers
March 3, 2016
OMG I hate this fucking book. I can't even believe I took the time to look it up (I was thinking about GOOD stories for impressionable children, I believe) but once I saw it was here I had put in my 2 cents.

My first reaction when reading this to my infant son one night at bedtime was: What. The Actual. Fuck? Maybe it wasn't overtly written as such, but it read to me as, "Don't color outside the lines. Don't try to be different. Stay in your predetermined place. Always obey."

Fuck. That. Noise.

Am I overly critical? I don't think so. It's one of those subliminal messages ingrained early and deep and I'm sick I didn't catch it 'til I was done. All parents make mistakes and I'm just glad he was only 2 months old so that he couldn't internalize that message.

Ugh. Fail.
Profile Image for Annie.
28 reviews6 followers
December 4, 2012
This was personally 10 times better than The Little Engine That Could and deserves 6 stars since I personally found the animations to be much more appealing, however, that is the true original version. I had so much fun with this book and taught me to persevere through difficult times. "I think I can I think I can I think I can!" was the mantra it teaches youth. I can't tell you how many times I read this story. This is a MUST HAVE for any child, in addition to first introducing them to The Little Engine That Could and then if you dare, Thomas the Engine or whatever, but honestly, that is not nearly as cool...
November 28, 2018
On first glance Tootle seems like a cheery train story from the Golden Book glory days sweet enough to introduce to your kids today.
Well no.
This is a story about knowing your place! Forget Joy, you want to work hard you stay on those tracks... no matter what! Don’t stop and smell the roses, don’t ever think about making daisy chains or frolicking in buttercups...
The message this book sends... I don’t know. Let’s make hard workers who don’t ever dare question their place in the world. Not sure I agree with the moral here...
It does however have cute pictures of cheery little trains and your child will love those - that’s why it gets a 2 and not a 1.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nicole Guerra-Coon.
34 reviews9 followers
May 14, 2016
The first few pages of this book are just heartbreakingly cute. Baby trains going to school to be big trains! Tibor Gergely illustrations! But then Tootle takes a turn for the dark side. Basically, the moral is you always need to follow the rules, do not stop to smell the flowers, do not be a non-conformist. It's long and preachy and just kind of sad. My three year old loves this book, but my husband always adds an ending of "but whenever Tootle had a day off, he liked to visit his friend the horse and smell the flowers."
Profile Image for J.
3,027 reviews17 followers
December 7, 2019
When books like this are given such bad reviews and being touted as needing to be burned it makes me angry. I understand not all books are great to have for their messages and that some can be considered outdated but I also most definitely think that the age of a book needs to be taken into consideration before we pass such judgment. Then again we are at the point where we judge our elders for everything that we consider wrong without considering all the facets that have contributed to them being who they are.

Anyway although the story is rather long for a children's story it does capture the history of the engine as it was in 1945. As a result the book's information in some senses captures the trains such as the click-clacking, the red flag waving and the actual engines without the faces can be a historical snapshot of the train yard at the time for readers who haven't seen these trains in action.

At the same time those who like to doubt the book have also not mentioned how well that Bill can see the potential in young Tootle and be encouraging of the young train itself. It is kind of sad that the positive messages sometimes seem to vanish due to the supposed negative messages.

As for the staying on the track no matter what we have to take into consideration that Tootle is suppose to be a kid. And Old Bill is like a teacher who just wants the best for his young ward but at the same time is in charge of the safety of everyone who comes into contact with the trains under his tutelage. No wonder the old man is so insistent upon these trains doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Steam engines are suppose to be able to reach speeds of 126 mph. So if we were to take this into consideration and say that Tootle became such a great engine, that he was going at 126 and decided to jump the tracks then there would be a horrible train accident to his passengers instead of just soup spilling. Why is it that no one has taken this into consideration in their own condemnation of how this book presents its message?

And most of us know that just a small violation just for fun sometimes of the rules that keep us safe can put us so much on the edge of that slippery slope to even worse consequences in which we find it even harder to escape. Then as if we didn't need any more messages for this the townsfolk didn't leave Tootle to find out the consequences dire on his own but helped together to get him back on track.

All in all I have to say that it was the negative reviews that probably have done so much more in helping me to see this book for what it is instead of the book itself. And I guess I will just have to cheer for the outdated engine that could.

By any chance does anyone have any information about the Flyer in the photograph since I can't seem to find anything on it?
35 reviews1 follower
April 10, 2023
Tootle is a cautionary tale about the interplay between the needs of the individual and the needs of society. In a famous quote from Star Trek, Spock suggests that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and I would venture that he would get hearty agreement from the author of Tootle. While it is true that the main role of a train in modern society is to stay on the rails, a construct so ubiquitous that "going off the rails" is quite literally seen as one of the clearest metaphors of screwing up, we do tend to believe that it is possible for an individual to better themselves, in essence to become more than they are.

This tendency to self-betterment is expressed by Tootle over the course of the novel, as unsatisfied with just being another train in a long line of trains, Tootle decides to trailblaze in an attempt to turn the phrase "going off the rails" from a negative to a positive, and while he initially has a great amount of success with his temporary career change from a train on the rails to a wandering caboose off the rails, invariably he ends up returning to the rail, after succumbing to societal pressures leading him back to the life that has been planned for him.

What could Tootle have become had he not been forced back onto the rails to confirm to society's expectations? Sadly, we will never find out, but it seems very clear that had he wanted to make a career change, there were many transferable skills that would have lent themselves to other professions. His love of speed could have allowed him to segue into professional racing, a traditional haven to those with personalities that would shun the status quo. Conservation work would also not have been out of the question given his affinity to wildlife and his clear love of the outdoors. In fact, Tootle may have also become a great artist, given his overall vision for the unique, and also his ability to distinguish between the red and green colours, which is definitely not a given since presumably trains experience colourblindness at a rate similar to humans.

Alas, we will never know what Tootle may have been had he kept off the rails, but I for one choose to believe that whatever it might have been, it would have been spectacular.
Profile Image for Ella.
80 reviews
August 6, 2020
I didn't like this book. There was a terrible ending. I found it interesting that this book was basically just a way to intimidate children into following directions. As someone else stated, the townspeople are all white and not at all racially diverse. Pretty much all of the characters in this book are jerks as well.
Profile Image for Joshua Barnett.
17 reviews
October 27, 2016

Personal Response

I, personally, think this book was very wordy. I read this to my neighbor Bekah who does have ADHD. She did become bored of this book fairly quickly. I found a way around this. I gave her a break around the middle of the book, so she could use the restroom and grab a snack. Then we talked about what happened so far in the book. Bekah said, “I like how he was naughty but his teacher taught him how to be good.” She also compares Tootle to herself, because she sometimes goes off the tracks and has to be helped to get back on track. She also found it really funny how he was smelling the buttercups and racing the black horse.


The plot of Tootle is how a little train, Tootle, wants to be a flyer from Chicago to New York. He is told to not go off the tracks no matter what! A large portion of the book is him going off the tracks and eventually being caught. Finally being shown the error in his ways, he then stays back on the tracks and becomes a flyer.


I would recommend this book to toddlers through second graders. This is because of the simplistic plot and easy vocabulary, sparing the fact of the words, assistant, oilers, and locomotives. The reason I go to second graders is because the book is a little long compared to other Children's books. I would also like to say this book is good for reading to kids with ADHD, it explains that it's okay to go off the tracks every now and again as long the person tries to get back on track.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Maggie.
30 reviews3 followers
September 23, 2010
Tootle is a charming classic little picture book. It seemed to me to be the precursor to Thomas the tank engine, with little locomotives going to school and learning the ropes of steam engine life: stop for the red flags, pulling the dinning car without spilling, and never EVER go off the tracks). The rules are repeated in a fun and silly way for child readers. All the characters are lovely, and the pictures are wonderfully crafty. My only complaint about the book is the main conflict (so maybe it's a big complaint). Tootle, an engine designed to be a flyer, wants to leave the tracks and make daisy chains and chase butterflies, which is just a lovely and wonderful image. But he's not allowed because engines can never ever leave the tracks, so his instructors and the town people hide in the field and throw up red flags everywhere he goes till he get back on the tracks. I find this problematic because it's showing kids that they really just need to fall in line. Also we discussed in class how Ferdinand is such an important children's lit character because he shows a different form of masculinity, and how unfortunate that little Tootle gets conditioned a way from enjoying his love of flowers and butterflies!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
1 review
August 23, 2017
Pulled this one off the shelf to read to my infant today. Nearly split my sides laughing. One must read this book with a dirty mind, if you do that, it is possibly the funniest book of double entendre ever written. On accident of course, but please do yourself a favor and read it this way.

On a more serious note about the book. Most people take a look at it and immediately condemn it for its written message without being able to analyze the story. They look at what is said: "the most important thing is staying on the rails no matter what." and think "oh my God how horrible."

But it's much deeper than that. Toodle is told this, but follows his desire to go off the rails. He has fun and discovers the things he likes. But at great expense and effort, the entire town helps him pass his exams and fulfill his potential, despite the fact that he made mistakes (as far as trains are concerned).

The message is that if you have a support structure and can do well in school, you'll make it in life. Even if you choose to have fun that others say will ruin your life/chances.
Profile Image for Katherine.
235 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2008
As a non-comformist, I was mortified the first time I read this book as an adult (10 years ago). I immediately looked at the original year it was published-- 1945. Smack in the McCarthy Era. No wonder! Red flags? Stay on the rails? Ironically, I now have two preschoolers who love this book. I keep it around so we can eventually have a discussion about its messages. How does one start a discussion with small children about McCarthyism vs. anarchy? I give this book three stars because on one hand, I want to give it 0 for squashing the non-conformist hero, and on the other hand, I want to give it 5 for great illustrations (a train frolicking in a field of wildflowers!), having a pink cover, and debate-worthy historical/ philosophical elements. . .

Oh, and one more thing, Tootle's last words seem to support communism more than warn against it: "Work hard. Always remember to Stop for a Red Flag Waving. But most of all, Stay on the Rails No Matter What."
Profile Image for Ceejay.
558 reviews19 followers
June 11, 2017
I saw this children's book at a library, and instantly remembered the art work! I had my mom read this book to me over and over again in those preschool, can't read days. My original copy had my crayon "add on art work". My big brother loved this story and art, too. We both loved trains, and this story was about Toodles the engine.I noticed that there were complaints about the idea that this little story teaches people to be conformists. Well, after my 7 years in the military I became involved in the anti-war movement, marched for Nixon to be impeached, and fought against nuclear energy (after the Three Mile Island incident, a nuclear plant that was 50 miles from my home).So, I guess I didn't always stay on the rails. Sorry, Toodles!
Profile Image for Sarah Balmer.
75 reviews
December 1, 2017
Modern Fantasy
Ages: 1-6
This tale of a train that gets off track and lost in the nature around him is an interesting one, but has certain messages I'm just not sure about. Overall, this book seems harmless as a story of a way to be disciplined and stay on the rails, which can be good, but I think this book may take it over the line just a little from telling a child to not think outside the box and literally, as Tootle does, not stop and smell the roses. This book can be completely harmless, and most children probably take it as Tootle learning a lesson about listening and staying on tracks, but when read to children on the older end of the reading level spectrum, they may take it a different and possibly conforming way.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews

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