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Railway Jack by KT Johnston

Railway Jack

post written by Emma Filbrun

Railway Jack by KT JohnstonTitle: Railway Jack
Author: KT Johnston
Major Themes: Baboons, South Africa, Service Animals, Trains, Animal Stories, Picture Books, 19th Century, Africa
Synopsis: After losing his legs in a railway accident, Jim needed help—and found it in the form of a smart baboon!

Several years ago, I found a book titled African Animal Tales in a secondhand shop. One of the stories in this book was about a baboon who helped a man in South Africa. My boys loved that story. Recently when I was looking through the titles offered for review, I noticed Railway Jack, and recognized it as the same story. I read it to my 7- and 4-year-olds this afternoon. They were as intrigued by the story as their older brothers had been!

Jim, who inspected trains in a small station in the far south of South Africa, lost his legs in an accident. After he made himself wooden legs and learned to get around again, he was given the job of switching tracks for the trains. There were still many things that were difficult for him to do, however, so when he saw a baboon named Jack working for a man in town, he bought the animal and trained him to do the work that he needed done.

The baboon watched his master very closely, and soon figured out what the train whistles meant. Soon, he began doing the jobs that were indicated by the whistle code. A horrified passenger reported to the train authorities that a baboon was switching tracks—but the ensuing investigation proved that he didn’t make a mistake! The railroad officially hired Jack, and paid him with fruits and vegetables.

This is a beautifully illustrated book. The full-color paintings are slightly stylized, but, in my opinion, very attractive. At the end of the book are an author’s note about the research she did for the book, some photographs of Jack working, a brief history of service animals, and some discussion questions. Who would enjoy this book? Any child who loves animals or trains! I would like to have it on my shelf.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley, and these are my honest thoughts about it.

WARNING: Page 37 talks about primates, and lumps humans with apes.

Age Levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 3 – 4, 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9, 8 – 12


Links to buy Railway Jack:

Amazon: Hardcover

AbeBooks: View Choices on

Book Depository: Hardcover


Baboons, South Africa, Service Animals, Trains, Animal Stories, Picture Books, 19th Century, Africa

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