The best books about trains

Kate McGovern Author Of Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen
By Kate McGovern

Who am I?

I took my first cross-country train ride with my mom when I was seven years old. That gave me the train bug. Since then, I’ve been across the United States three times via rail, across Europe, and all over northern India with my husband, too. I think train travel is a very special way to see a place. You’re going past backyards and back roads. You see the whole landscape, and you meet so many people you wouldn’t otherwise. I’ve never set out to write a “train book,” but trains play an important role in two of my three novels. I can’t get away from them, even in my imagination. 

I wrote...

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen

By Kate McGovern,

Book cover of Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen

What is my book about?

Maple Mehta-Cohen has been keeping a secret: she can’t read all that well. She has an impressive vocabulary and loves dictating stories into her recorder—especially the adventures of a daring sleuth who’s half Indian and half Jewish like Maple herself—but words on the page just don’t seem to make sense to her. Despite all Maple’s clever tricks to hide her troubles with reading, her teacher is on to her, and now Maple has to repeat fifth grade. Maple is devastated—what will her friends think? 

But as Maple navigates the loss of old friendships, the possibility of new ones, and facing her reading challenges head-on, her deception becomes harder to keep up. Can Maple begin to recognize her own strengths, and to love herself—and her brain—just the way she is? 

The books I picked & why

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Train I Ride

By Paul Mosier,

Book cover of Train I Ride

Why this book?

Rydr is on her way from California to Chicago via rail, to meet a relative who will take care of her now that her grandmother no longer can. What I love most about this book—aside from the fact that it takes place on the California Zephyr, one of my very favorite train rides in the world—is that Rydr’s experience is so influenced by the strangers she meets on the train. That’s why I love train travel so much: you never know who you’re going to meet. And you almost always end up sharing a meal and a story with someone you would never have met otherwise. 

Murder on the Orient Express

By Agatha Christie,

Book cover of Murder on the Orient Express

Why this book?

The all-time classic train mystery! I love a good mystery, and a train is the perfect setting for it. You’re stuck in a tin tube with a bunch of strangers, after all. What could go wrong? I re-read this novel while riding an overnight train from the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India back down to Delhi. It feels dated, of course, but the intrigue holds up, and I especially love how the setting of the train itself is the most important character in the book. (Fun fact: This book plays a key role in Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen, my recent middle-grade novel.)

The Boxcar Children

By Gertrude Chandler Warner, L. Kate Deal (illustrator),

Book cover of The Boxcar Children

Why this book?

I loved this series as a kid. I didn’t have any siblings close to my age, so I was a fan of “big family” novels, stories where groups of siblings go on adventures, solve mysteries, get into trouble, and generally enjoy life together. In the Boxcar Children, the four Alden kids make a home for themselves in an abandoned railroad car in the woods. The adventures abound from there.

Time Out Great Train Journeys of the World (Time Out Guides)

By Time Out (editor),

Book cover of Time Out Great Train Journeys of the World (Time Out Guides)

Why this book?

Yes, this is a guidebook. Why do I love it so much? It’s the next best thing to actually riding a train. My bucket list of dream train rides is very long, and with two young kids, a couple of jobs, and currently an ongoing global pandemic, it’ll probably take me a while to get to all of them. Until then, I can immerse myself in the photos and descriptions in this book. 

Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure

By Monisha Rajesh,

Book cover of Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure

Why this book?

I read Monisha Rajesh’s earlier travel memoir, Around India in 80 Trains, while planning my own train journey in India. In this one, she circumvents the entire globe (technically more than once in terms of mileage). It’s the kind of book I wish I’d written myself because I would love to do a train journey like this! I love Rajesh’s descriptions of the places she passes through and the people she meets along the way, and of course, how it changes her to see the world through this lens.

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