Off track? British blogger sees world's ills in Thomas the Tank Engine

There's an insidious force barreling down the tracks toward children everywhere, threatening to turn toddlers into colonizing racists, according to a British blogger who is warning parents of the dangers of ... Thomas the Tank Engine.

Tracy Van Slyke recently let off steam in The Guardian earlier this month, blasting the hit TV series and toy franchise for a litany of sins including sexism, classism, imperialism and racism. The mother of a toddler, Van Slyke believes she saw enough “subversive messages” in the show to make her turn it off for good. And while parents and children who value the lessons of the talking locomotive who holds court on the mythical island of Sodor inspired by the Railway Series of books by British minister William Awdry and his son, Van Slyke sees an evil plot befitting of money-grubbing railroad barons of old.


“If you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages,” Van Slyke chugged. “When the good engines pump out white smoke and the bad engines pump out black smoke — and they are all pumping out smoke — it’s not hard to make the leap into the race territory.”

Van Slyke whined that Thomas and his friends toil endlessly on the Isle of Sodor which “seems to be forever caught in British colonial times.” She said Thomas and his pals are lorded over by their autocratic “imperious, little white boss,” Sir Topham Hatt.

Her other complaint was that the show has few female trains. And she said it was one episode in particular that caused her to put the brakes on Thomas for good. It revolved around a train named James that sought to hide from the other trains because it had a half-finished new coat of paint on, rendering it pink. When caught, Thomas and the other trains viciously laughed and mocked James.

“At first blush, Thomas and his friends seem rather placid and mild,” Van Slyke concluded. “But looks can be deceiving; the constant bent of message about friendship, work, class, gender and race sends my kid the absolute wrong message.”

The owner of Thomas and Friends, HIT Entertainment, issued a statement to in response to Van Slyke’s blog.

“Thomas and Friends is enjoyed by both boys and girls around the world and the Island of Sodor represents a diverse community, which we know appeals to a global audience. Each character, whether engine, vehicle or human, is distinctive, and its these character traints that we know children learn from and respond to. We are constantly developing and evolving storylines to ensure that we create content that preschoolers will relate to and that is appropriate.”

Drexel University professor Charles Williams, a trained child and adolescent psychotherapist, said Van Slyke argument is off track.

“Unless I'm missing something, The Guardian needs to re-evaluate its editorial decisions,” he told “I could think of dozens of other popular children's media and literature that -- through the ages, have edified certain cultural, gender and racial stereotypes (from Fat Albert, to Scooby Doo); however, Thomas the Tank Engine, isn't one of them.”

“Moreover, in the age of bullying and cyber-bullying -- which is deadly serious, children do need to learn that the world can be a cruel place, that yes you can be made fun, as a guy, for wearing pink; and, yes there are children who will treat you poorly and tease you for almost anything, including wearing your bangs at the wrong length,” Williams said. “Children will also grow up to learn that we have bosses that have the power to make us do what they want us to do, when they want it done -- whether we like it or not.”