The usually dynamic McMullan duo (I Stink!, 2002) stalls with their sixth title, which stars an uber-confident train that accepts a challenge to race an equally self-assured sports car.
Before the trek from Sacramento to Chicago can begin, the freight is loaded with a boisterous call-and-response rhythm: “LUMBER? FLATCAR! YARD CREW? Hop to! / BRICKS? GONDOLA! STEEL? COIL CAR! GAS? TANK CAR! // GRAVEL BIN? Open the HATCH! HOPPER? Catch!” Then they are off: the car vrooming and the train hurtling with a “Chooka chooka chooka chooka.” The freight train impresses as it tunnels through rock, plows through snow and zooms past traffic, all the while pulling cars full of everything from frozen treats to pizza ingredients. The illustrations have a pleasingly retro touch. The sleek, red car contrasts nicely with the hulking, bright-blue mass of the freight engine as they traverse full-bleed spreads drenched in saturated colors of the landscape. Words flash in various bright hues accenting the many sound effects that comprise most of the frenetic text. This textual energy works well from a compositional standpoint, but it does pose difficulties for reading aloud. This, combined with a certain sense of overfamiliarity, keeps the book from rising to the top.
Preschoolers will most likely warm to the good-natured competition between car and train, and parents and teachers will appreciate the friendly conclusion. But for those looking for a standout title in the multitude of things-that-go stories, there is little here that would warrant a repeat journey. (Picture book. 3-5)