“Life in the Seven Kingdoms is never dull . . .” 

–Jen McConnel, School Library Journal


Welcome Aboard! Are You Ready to Make New Friends?

Train travel is always an adventure and sometimes you don’t have the words you need. Last year, we accidentally missed our train to Paris, then made some new friends, even though we didn’t speak the same language. Here’s the story for you, plus a few games to keep the kids entertained on your next trip.

Thalys red train in station

Here’s the Belgian Thalys train in the station. These red trains cover the fast routes between Cologne, Germany and Paris, France, among other places. Since I took this photo, Thalys has become part of Eurostar, known for routes to London through the tunnel in the Channel–“Chunnel”. 

I’m an author, not an illustrator, but I still travel with colored pencils for brainstorming, revising, sketching, and making friends.

Here's the layout of our fancy seating, after we missed the first train.

where we were sitting on the train showing the fold out tables and emergency hammer

We weren’t the only ones confused when our original train changed platforms. (The moral of the story is: check the train number.) So, it was a very happy collection of people who were re-located to this four-plex.

We didn’t have a common language, so we smiled at each other. The mom and two kids nodded when we asked if they were from the Ukraine. Then I sketched our fancy new red seats with curved backrests, with my colored pencils.

They’re watercolor pencils, so they’re really nice to sketch with. You can add water with a travel paintbrush, but I usually don’t.

The young girl was playing with some kind of tablet-device until she noticed my pencils. Then she pulled out her markers.

Two can play at this game!

Game On!

doodle games to play with paper and pencils. They work even without a common language

My mom used to play travel games with us, so I have two standards. (Thanks, Mom!)

The first one is called “Squares”. You fill up a sheet with dots and take turns connecting two dots at a time. If your line completes a box, you get to draw another line.

Have you ever played? It’s highly strategic. No, seriously!

It was tricky to explain without any language, but we took turns, back and forth. Mom and daughter looking puzzled, and me waiting for them to get it.

The mom’s face lit up. “Quadratico!” she said and broke into another language to explain to her daughter.  Squares. 🙂



the game of squiggle is about using your imagination to make quick art

After a bit, we got tired of Quadratico, even with the spiffy new name.

Squiggle is hard to explain, but easy to demonstrate. I drew a “squiggle” and pushed my notebook over to my husband, who obligingly made it into an octopus.

Then I drew another squiggle, and passed the notebook to my young neighbor across the table. (Drawing in pink.) Here are the results from “Round 1”.

electric hand dryer on the train

Hey, this train has an electric hand drier in the bathroom. Cool!



Making new friends is always an adventure!

When we got off the Thalys in Paris, the mom thanked me, but you know what I really remember?

After the family passed us, the girl threw us a quick smile over her shoulder. We couldn’t talk to each other, but we understood each other.

Nice to meet you, friend! 

Safe Travels!

Giant Trouble: The Mystery of the Magic Beans is the story I wrote because of train stories like this one.

I’m starting to believe that the little things–Quadratico!–are much more powerful than we think.

Prince William of Marigold is the eleven-year-old hero of Giant Trouble: The Mystery of the Magic Beans. When he shares some small things–what could be dangerous about a comic strip?–they get him into huge trouble.

He’s hoping his comics can help him get out again!