Shark VS. Train by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld

Captain’s Log: Module 5

Port of Call: Barton, Chris, & Lichtenheld, Tom. (2010). Shark vs. train. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.

A shark and a train face each other in a display of bravado

Shark VS. Train cover

First Lines:  “SHARK VS. TRAIN Who will win?

 Well, that depends on if they’re…

in the ocean… 

or on railroad tracks.

If they’re on a seesaw…” 

Summary: Two little boys are playing and each picks up a different toy. Naturally, they then have to decide whose toy is best, in this case, shark vs. train. The ensuing competitions are all entertaining and ridiculous, illustrated cleverly and embellished with frequent humourous quips from the shark and train involved. In the end, the boys are called to lunch, and the competition is put on hold. (Until  fate pits shark vs. train against each other once more!) 

First Impressions: When I saw the title of this book on my booklist, I immediately started snickering. The title is funny, and reminds me of ‘CRAB BATTLE’ or ‘LOBSTER VS. MAGNET’ comedy on the internet. The title is an instant hook that makes you wonder ‘what the heck could be inside that book?’ and ‘who wins?’. 

Suggestions for use:  If there is a lesson to be learned from this story, it might be that each individual (be they shark or train) has scenarios in which they excel and scenarios in which they will fail, but there is a balance of each. I would use this story for its entertainment value – it’s a very cute rendition of the way children play and compete together – and it’s very funny and creative. I also think this book would be a good way to teach a lesson about healthy competition. In Shark VS. Train both shark and train take turns ‘winning’ the different scenarios.  This book can also teach us to laugh at our failures, and see the humor in them without getting too discouraged to go on and try something new.

The train successfully toasts the marshmallows over its smokestack, but the shark has drenched his with seawater

Roasting marshmallows...


From the Washington Post: “Also not to be missed is Lichtenheld’s visually clever take on the power of play in Chris Barton’s “Shark vs. Train.” Two lively young lads excavate the toy box. One grabs a shark (“GRRRRR”), the other a train (“CHUGRRR-CHUG”), and each instantly disappears into his chosen persona. Who wins the ensuing battles depends entirely on who chooses the game. Riding in a hot air balloon? Train’s weight sends him plunging earthward (“AAAiieee!”). Roasting marshmallows? Shark’s drippy fins put out the fire (“drat!”). And if detente and lunch are synonymous, well, that’s what kids (and happy endings) are all about.” Kristi Jemtegaard 

 Jemtegaard, K. (2010) Washington Post review of Shark VS. Train. Retrieved September 4th, 2010 from

 From the San Francisco Review: “Literature, sports, politics… they all have their great rivalries, ones where competition stirs the spirit of the masses and drives the contenders to greater heights than ever. And to the pantheon of truly epic rivalries, Chris Barton proudly introduces two new worthy combatants in Shark Vs. Train

 As shark and train do battle in pie-eating contests, card games, and physical and intellectual challenges of all kinds, they learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, even coming to question where the rivalry came from in the first place. Tom Lichtenheld’s illustrations are marvelously simple, offering funny little background details for the sharp-eyed reader while never detracting from the main imagery. 

Shark has smashed all the bowling pins

It depends on whether they're bowling...

 I could choose to see all kinds of context behind those words and images–a battle between the makings of man and the forces of nature, technology matching wits with the best evolution has to offer–but, come on, it’s a kid’s book. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. 

 Shark Vs. Train is the best struggle to come out of nowhere since “Monkey vs. Robot.” I just couldn’t bring myself to pick a side.” – Glenn Dallas  

 Dallas, G. (2010) San Francisco Book Review of Shark VS. Train. Retrieved September 4th, 2010 from