Kid's Stuff -- Books About Trucks & Cars
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"Matthew's Truck"
Written by Katherine Ayers
Illustrated by Hideko Takahashi
(Candlewick, 2005)

An excellent entry into the boys-love-trucks genre. (Although, I kinda wish there were more girls-love-trucks out there as well...) Matthew is, well, a little boy who loves to play with his yellow toy truck. He imagines himself driving it around and doing all kinds of work stuff... The twist is that in his imagination, Matthew is driving a toy-sized truck, not a big one, cruising around his living room, underneath tables and chairs,down the stairs and along the kitchen countertop. The artwork is bright, simple and appealing, and works perfectly with the straightforward, understated text. I like this one -- it's really about imagination and fantasy play, and less about kicking up big clouds of mud and going vrooom, vrooom, vrooom while destroying a hillside somewhere. Definitely worth checking out. (B+)

"The Bridge Is Up"
Written by Babs Bell
Illustrated by Rob Hefferan
(Harper Collins, 2004)

Geared towards the littlest readers, this is colorfully illustrated and light on plot: a moveable bridge is in the up position, and traffic has to wait until it comes back down. One by one the various commuters arrive -- a bus, a car, a bicycle, etc. -- with each (animal driven) vehicle waiting its turn until the final joyous release when they can go, go, go! Kids who are fascinated with machines will like this, also those who like repetitive text... Good, kinetic fun, lots of pretty colors. (B-)

"Katy And The Big Snow"
Written by Virginia Lee Burton
Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
(Houghton Mifflin, 1943)

Another story about hard work, pluck and pride in a job well done, though this time around -- in the middle of the Second World War -- the tone is one of pure, undaunted optimism. Katy, the giant-sized snowplow who digs out an entire town after the biggest blizzard ever, is a pure, 100% All-American hero. (Indeed, the book could be seen as a parable for the War itself, with American might bringing civilization back to a frozen, dead world...) Technology and humanity combine in the form of the cheerful Katy, who likes nothing better than to work hard and feel useful... The book will appeal to kids who like big machines, and also following details: a map of the snowbound city is printed at the front of the book, so you can track Katy's progress as she digs out one road after another. Also nice for kids living in the Northeast and Midwest, where big blizzards are a regular part of life -- this shows both how nature can pin our ears back and how we're able to dig ourselves out and get traffic humming again. Love the old-fashioned artwork, and the old-fashioned story. It's also neat that the hero is female, even though the story is very macho. (B)

"Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel"
Written by Virginia Lee Burton
Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
(Houghton Mifflin, 1939)

Burton's books are definitely from another era, celebrating hard work, determination and pride in labor, and also in thrall to the power of the still-booming industrial revolution. There's a whiff of the hardships of the Great Depression here, as well, in this Paul Bunyan-esque tall tale of a rugged fella who can dig as much with his good, old steam shovel as a hundred men can in one day, and yet they have been displaced and made redundant by the new diesel machines. Still, they find a job that they can prove themselves on, and though it's their last project together Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne (the steam shovel) go out in a blaze of glory. Like Burton's later work, The Old House, this book asserts the value of honoring our past, particularly things that are being discarded in the rush towards modernity, and yet it also recognizes the inevitability of change. Obviously the story works on more than one level, as proved by the book's enduring popularity with little kids -- if it was just a preachy morality tale, it wouldn't still be in print, more than six decades after it was written. The bottom line: little kids who like big machines will dig this book. (Pardon the pun...!) (B-)

"Henry's Amazing Machine"
Written by Dayle Ann Dodds
Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooks
(Melanie Kroupa/Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2004)

This is a fun book, though probably best for a slightly older age group (5-6, maybe?)... Flashy, fun collages show the amazing machine of the title, a super-duper contraption built by a mechanically-inclined boy named Henry, whose clock-and-gear-ridden gizmo gets so big it chases him and his family right out of the house. Everybody in town loves the machine, although after a few years of living in a treehouse, Henry's parents finally lay down the law and tell him it's time to dismantle the device. You need a long attention span to get through this book (and a taste for modern illustrations) but it's pretty fun... Best of all are the zippy, adverb-filled passages that decribe all the things the machine can do. Funny and absurd, in a way that kids can enjoy. (B+)

"Good Night, Engines"
Written by Denise Dowling Mortenson
Illustrated by Melissa Iwai
(Clarion, 2003)

A simple, colorful celebration of all things vehicular... This book alternates between double-page spreads with carpet-level views of a boy playing with his cars, trucks, planes, etc. and realistic pages that show the world he imagines as he plays with his toys. Not much to the text, but the book will probably ring true for kids who are into machines and things that "go!" (Followed in 2007 by the sequel, Wake Up, Engines!) (B)

"Wake Up, Engines!"
Written by Denise Dowling Mortenson
Illustrated by Melissa Iwai
(Clarion, 2007)

In this companion to Good Night, Engines, Ms. Mortenson again explores the world of things with wheels and engines that go vroooom. Cars, trucks, school buses, helicopters and planes all go zipping by, both in the outside world and in the playtime of a pre-preschool boy with a lot of cool toys. There are a couple of places where the text seems a bit too technical (For example, I have no idea what half of this passage means: "Traffic chopper, rooftop nest./Rotors spinning, preflight test./Volume heavy, morning glare./Cleared for takeoff. THUMP! THUMP! Air." But then again, we read a lot of books about ballet shoes and bunny rabbits, so we might not be the target audience... ) Anyway, I imagine for those who are cog-crazy and wild about wheels, this colorful book might be a real wowzer. Worth checking out if big machines are your thing. (B)

"A Fire Engine For Ruthie"
Written by Leslea Newman
Illustrated by Cyd Moore
(Clarion, 2004)

When Ruthie goes for a long visit to her grandmother's house, Nana has a bunch of great activities planned out, but the trouble is they're all too girly for Ruthie, who is a bit of a tomboy. Nana wants to play dress-up and give Ruthie her old dolls, and do arts-and-crafts projects, but Ruthie keeps trying to hook up with the kid next door, a boy who has toy trucks and trains and motorcycles to play with. It takes several days for Nana to catch on, and though her feelings are a little hurt at first, she finally takes Ruthie over for a playdate, where all three of them have a great time playing with all those great toys that have wheels. This book certainly wears its message on its sleeve, but still a nice story. The ending, where Nana gets into their playtime, is cool, and the day-by-day, step-by-step structure helps build the narrative. Nice artwork, too. Whether you're reading to a boy, a tomboy or a girly-girl, this is a cool story about how adults can learn to listen and find out what their kids are really interested in... Also nice for all the alterna- and nontraditional types out there. Recommended! (A)

"William The Vehicle King"
Written by Laura P. Newton
Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers
(Bradbury Press, 1987)

A little boy plays with his toy cars, trucks, fire engines and construction vehicles... By the book's end he's created a whole city inside his bedroom, which we get to see from shag-carpet level. The boy's loyal cat, who hung out with him the whole time, gets a big tummy rub at the end of the day... And then bites a yellow pickup truck when nobody is looking. Not an amazing text, but a nice representation of car-filled imaginative play. Heartwarming and cute. (B)

"Alphabeep: A Zipping, Zooming ABC"
Written by Debora Pearson
Illustrated by Edward Miller
(Holiday House, 2003)

A stylish, lively alphabet book with a vehicular twist... I thought this looked like fun, but my daughter was completely disinterested, so I can't say I really was able to properly field test it. It seemed cool to me, though. Kids who are into cars, trucks and trains will probably really dig this one. (PS - "Z" is for "Zamboni," of course!) (B)

"Car Wash"
Written by Sandra Steen
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
(G. P. Putnam, 2001)

A giddy celebration of the joys of going through a carwash, as seen through the eyes a pair of small children. The artwork -- a combination of pastel, crayon and collage -- is delightful, although the text is a little spotty. This is one of those books where adult readers have to do a lot of extra work, interpreting what the author is trying to say, and match it up with the images. Part of it is that in addition to doing swooshy, swooshy drip-drip-splash sound effects, Steen also throws in a big metaphor -- the kids imagine that their car is a submarine and that the car wash is an undersea adventure. Scrubbing mops become octopi, the wind jets are a hurricane, etc. It's kinda cool, but it doesn't make sense right away, and littler readers might quickly get lost. It's pretty to look at, though: the images really pop out at you! (B-)

Written by Anastasia Suen
Illustrated by Wade Zaharas
(Viking, 1999)

An evocative, but choppy, celebration of all kinds of people and vehicles that deliver things around the world, from newspaper boys and handtrucks to tanker ships and cargo planes. The colorful artwork is full of energy and enthusiasm, although the text is mysteriously vague and doesn't really explain the theme very well. (Adult readers have to do a lot of extra work transform this into a coherent narrative...) Readers who are already deeply into big machines and the mechanics of the work world will enjoy this, but as an introductory book, it's pretty fuzzy around the edges. Didn't quite work for me. (C+)

"Red Light, Green Light"
Written by Anastasia Suen
Illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
(Harcourt/Gulliver, 2005)

This is a brightly-colored book about cars and driving, seen from a child's-eye view, as vast expressways and cityscapes are built out of wooden blocks and other toys. The rhyming text is only so-so; likewise, the cartoonish artwork by Ken Wilson-Max (whose work I like) isn't really his best -- it seems a bit rushed and cluttered. I know this is a playful, celebratory book, but it didn't really click with the folks in our household... (C+)

"Monster Trucks"
Written by Mark Todd
Illustrated by Mark Todd
(Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

A rambunctious, joyful celebration of big, powerful trucks. The cartoonish, anthropomorphized drawings show us bulldozers, semis, snowplows, garbage trucks, forklifts, diggers, concrete mixers and more... A rowdy refrain, "monster trucks! monster trucks!" starts out each page, which makes the transition from page to page easy and fluid. Unfortunately, the rhymes that follow are often awkward and ungainly -- Todd seems more interested in imparting information about what each truck does than he is in making the poetic meter scan well. It's a shame, because he's so close so often; a little more editing or maybe input from a few poet pals would have helped a lot. Still, this is a really fun book, and vehicle freaks will love it. Recommended! (B)

"Digger Man"
Written by Andrea Zimmerman
Illustrated by David Clemesha
(Henry Holt & Co., 2003)

This is a great book for kids who love construction equipment, and earth-moving devices in particular. The artwork is vivid, bold and very clear, showing a happy, cartoon-like boy driving a giant yellow loader, lifting rocks, hauling scrap metal, building a park, and even giving his baby brother a ride. (My favorite panel is of him plowing through a muddy lot, with wet earth spraying across the pages...) One teeny problem I have, and it's probably because I'm a sheepish, overly sensitive, Berkeley-liberal type, but why do they call these machines "diggers" instead of "loaders"? It just sounds uncomfortably close to a certain racial epithet, and makes me a little uncomfortable. Personally, I wouldn't want my kid running around the park yelling about anything that rhymes in that general vicinity. Besides, that's not what they call them -- at least not on the John Deere website! Other than that, though, this is a great book... Kids who are into wheels will, well, really dig it. (B)

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