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Arts and Culture

The Children's Bookshelf: Railway Jack

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RAILWAY JACK: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon written by K.T. Johnston and illustrated by Cesar Samaniego is a story from the 1870s about a railroad worker in South Africa and his very smart and totally loyal service animal.

Jim Wade checked each train when it rolled into the station. When he had an accident, however, and lost both of his legs up to the knee, his life drastically changed. He built himself a pair of wooden legs and persuaded the company to keep him on as a signalman. In his new position he would switch incoming trains to the right tracks by pulling down the correct levers. It was hard work.

One day at the market he saw a baboon named Jack assisting a cart driven by oxen. The baboon was so incredible that Jim bought him. As a service animal Jack was both eager to learn and very smart. “When an engineer blew his whistle once, he wanted track One to Port Elizabeth. Jim held up one finger and taught Jack to pull the first lever.” Jack caught on to all of it quickly and was soon able to count the whistles from the train engineer himself and pull the proper lever!

The illustrations are rich in color, give the reader a sense of Jack’s great desire to learn and verify the love Jim had for Jack and Jack had for Jim. The back material is superbly packed with photographs of Jack, a timeline, a list of internet resources and an interesting essay on the History of Service Animals.

Railway Jack: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon written by K T Johnstone and illustrated by Cesar Samaniego is designed for middle grade readers 8-12 years of age (Capstone Editions, 2020).

Activity Questions for RAILWAY JACK

What characteristics did Jack have that made him such a fine service animal for Jim? Study the illustrations and spot one that particularly stands out for you as showing how much Jack loved Jim.  Be sure to look at Jack’s eyes, facial expression, gaze and body language. Give the selected illustration a meaningful title---it can be funny or serious.

Jim has excellent creative problem-solving abilities throughout this book. For instance, he makes himself a pair of wooden legs, talks the railway into giving him another job, realizes that Jack could be a real help to him and defends Jack’s abilities when passengers complain that it is not safe to allow a baboon to change the tracks.  Draw your own illustration of one of these situations.

Do you know anyone who has a service animal? Have you ever seen a person with a service animal on the street? Do you know any other stories or films about service animals? Do some research online and write a three paragraph story about your favorite service animal.