The title on the cover is a clue to the tale—“JUNK” is rendered in a rusty-colored scribbly style, while “YARD” is a light green with a grassy pattern—but the ultimate message is murky.
A frowning sun looks down on a yard full of junk where there’s not even enough room for a tree to take root. Austin’s scribbly digital illustrations are visually busy, full of discarded junky objects that are half recognizable, the rest of the pile taken up with patterned shapes. Mice scramble through the junkyard while two giant Munching Machines take on the job of eating everything. “They crunch boxcars, jelly jars, / crooked airplane wings. / And five dirty dump trucks / filled with curly metal springs.” Troublingly, though, they also slurp up tankers of oil and “tubs of toxic waste,” magically getting rid of it. The clean white background slowly begins to dominate, the two robots sweeping the yard clean for something new: trees and flowers, a garden, a playground, a mountain, a lake. But the final illustration seems to incorporate some of the junk in the new play space. Did the robots reuse those items? Is this recycling at work? The message is that garbage is bad and needs to be cleaned up, but it also seems to suggest that this is simple and never mentions anything about reducing what one uses and throws away.
While some kids will be fascinated with the robotic Munching Machines, the takeaway is unclear, and the represented ease of getting rid of garbage is certainly wrong. (Picture book. 4-8)