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Beginner's Guide to Thomas the Train and Friends

Updated on March 18, 2015

Who is This Guide For?

This guide is not for children who love Thomas the Train. They already know everything in here, and more. If they could read this, I'm sure they would correct me. They somehow know the difference between Henry and Percy even though they are both green and look really similar.

Instead, this guide is for people who love kids who love Thomas the Train. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, teachers - anyone who would like to be able to carry on a basic conversation with your young friend about his or her passion. I will try to provide a brief overview of the basic characters, and then some of the best Thomas related items (books, train tables, shirts, bedding, you name it) to get for your young friend, if you feel so inclined. I am actually having a hard time thinking of any item that doesn't have a Thomas related version. I would hope shot glasses, but I'm even scared to find that out.

The Basic Thomas and Friends Characters

Even making a decision about who to include here could be considered controversial. But I must forge ahead.

The Varsity Team - these characters are on almost all Thomas merchandise, and in almost all the books you will find about Thomas.

  • Thomas - he's a little blue steam engine, and the center of most of the stories. Life dream: to be a really useful engine.
  • Percy - I think of him as Thomas' best friend. When Thomas gets lost in "Trouble in the Tunnel", Percy goes to save him. If that's not a best friend, I don't know what is. He's a little green steam engine and I think he looks exactly like Thomas, but green.
  • James - Maybe James considers himself Thomas' best friend because they also do hang out a lot. He's a little red steam engine.
  • Gordon - He's a big blue express train. Bigger than Thomas, Percy, and James, and a more pointed nose.
  • Henry - Also an express train. Looks just like Gordon, but green.
  • Toby - Old school type of engine. Not sure how he always gets in the stories, but he pops up in a lot of them. He's brown.
  • Annie and Clarabel - They are the passenger cars that Thomas always pulls. Seem very agreeable.
  • Sir Topham Hatt - He runs the railroad. Seems generally benevolent but also expects all the engines to be really useful. Drinks a lot of coffee.
  • Harold the helicopter - In a lot of the classic stories. Interesting that a helicopter is part of the crew, but no planes.
  • Bertie the bus - He figures in a lot of the stories, including the great race between Thomas and Bertie (spoiler alert - Thomas wins).

Many people love Thomas so much they make their own videos with full stories!

The Secondary Thomas and Friends Characters

Again, this is fairly subjective, but these are the other characters who come up a decent amount, but don't seem to be part of the core crew. You will certainly score extra points with your young friend if you know any of these additional characters.

The junior varsity team:

  • Mavis - a diesel, and they generally seem to make more mischief.
  • Freight cars - they seem to hang out with the diesels, and my favorite part about them is they say "trick trock" (did I mention Thomas is British?)
  • Lady - nice that they actually have a number of female trains (though none are in the main crew). She's a purple train.
  • Bash, Dash, and Ferdinand - they are in Trouble in the Tunnel - we have the book, but apparently there is also a whole movie about this, so it's worth knowing about them.
  • Iron Bert and Iron 'Arry - I just love that the one guy's name is 'Arry, not Harry. Also diesels. The only difference is one has facial hair.
  • Edward - looks so much like Thomas it's confusing and annoying. Seems to feature more in the older Thomas books, but less so now. For example, I rarely see an Edward for sale at a toy store.

All the rest:

There are so many more trains, and there are lots of crazy awesome names, like Peter Sam, and Skarloey, but I can't go into any more detail and still call this a basics guide.

Best Thomas Books to Get as Presents

There are so many, it's really hard to narrow it down, but these are our favorites. It's interesting because there are a lot of Thomas books from different eras and different publishers so the characters look different from book to book. Somehow, the kids still seem to have no problem knowing who's who.

I've picked one from three different styles of Thomas books - within each of these types, there are others that are also fantastic.

  1. A Crack in the Track - I think this one has the nicest drawings, and it's a good long story. I would be great for beginning readers, but little kids love it too. It's a long read, but kids seem to stay interested. The pictures are very detailed and there's lots of fun stuff to talk about on every page. Also a nice moral about working together.
  2. Happy Birthday, Thomas - Also nice drawings. This is from the Step into Reading series of books, and they have a number of other Thomas titles. Less complicated and shorter than Crack in the Track. But a very fun birthday story ending with a surprise party for Thomas thrown by all his friends!
  3. Thomas ABC Book - Different style - actual pictures of what seem to be old versions of toy Thomas trains. Done by Golden Books. Seems to be more British to me than the others. Watch out because Gordon says "poop poop" so if that's just going to encourage your kid to say words you don't want, might want to skip this one.

The Ideal Big Present for Any Thomas the Train Lover

If your future engineer doesn't already have a train table, this is definitely the ideal present. They are a little expensive, but it's amazing the amount of time kids will spend playing at these tables. I used to think they were nothing special, and I could just use our coffee table, but I forgot a few things - (1) I might actually want to use our coffee table sometimes, (2) it's actually really frustrating for your kid when the tracks keep sliding off the table, (3) I would buy pretty much anything to keep him entertained for more than five minutes. Also, I have been really amazed the older he gets about the amount of imaginative play he will do with his trains. And sometimes we clear off the tracks and trains and do car or animal play on the table.

In conclusion, I do think getting a train table is worth it, and you will be your little friend's (and their parents') hero if you get one.

Other Great Thomas Presents

This is a true list of all the other types of Thomas presents my 2 year old son has been given, and he loves all of them. I would say if you are trying to find a simple gift for a kid who loves Thomas, you can't go wrong with any of the following:

  • Trains - Don't worry if you are buying one they already have - my son has multiple Tobys (old Toby and new Toby) as well as multiple Thomases. He loves them all. It's fun to play with them together, and it's great in case one gets lost.
  • Shirts - There are lots and it's fun for kids to have Thomas or his friends on their shirts.
  • Stickers - They are fun and again you don't have to worry if the kid already has them.

Other fun options:

  • Thomas lunch box
  • Thomas sheets and pillow covers or blankets
  • Thomas pajamas
  • Thomas underwear
  • Thomas pillow pets

I could go on and on, but again, I must try to keep this as a basics guide! I hope this has helped let you in on a little of the wonder that is the world of Thomas. Now you can test your knowledge with this quiz below!

Test Your Thomas and Friends Knowledge

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    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Thanks for the comment, billybuc! I thoroughly enjoy all of your hubs, and I'm glad you found me worthy of support :)

      And I definitely did not dream I would be writing about Thomas the Train growing up, nor when I was sitting through three years of law school!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      When you were growing up did you ever dream you would be writing about Thomas the Train? LOL

      Good doesn't apply to me but I believe in supporting other writers, so here I am. :)

    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      RJ - Thank you so much for the very kind comment! I'm so glad you liked it - I worked hard on it! I'm also glad you liked the video - it's definitely a favorite in our household.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 5 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      This is really cute... Nice video. I found I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. I must give this an “Up ONE and awesome.” I'm always your fan! RJ

      Based upon your HUB, you might enjoy this HUB written today…