Sometimes you see a picture book for very young readers done so well that you want to yawp about it, but it won’t be released for a while. So your patience is tested as you wait until it hits library and bookstore shelves. That is the case with me and The Bus Is For Us!, written by former British Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen and illustrated by Gillian Tyler. As I understand it, it’s on shelves this week, and it just begs to be paired with Marianne Dubuc’s The Bus Ride, so let’s look at both books today.
What I love, in particular, about Rosen’s book is that on the surface it’s a simple rhyming story about riding the bus. But it can be much more. It’s a story that made me think about mass transportation and working together to take care of the planet, as well as a story that has something to say about diversity and, well…simply working together. All of this is so subtle you can’t point to it, but it’s all there, underneath.
The book’s narrator is a sort of Every Child. “When it starts to rain, I like the train,” says one child, and even though the point of view remains first-person (“I do, of course, like riding a horse,” we read later), readers then see another child. The children touch upon real modes of transportation (cars, boats, sleighs, etc.), but some of them take flights of fancy. One imagines riding on a giant fish. Another sits on a cloud. One even flies to the moon in a hot-air balloon. But the repeated refrain that readers occasionally stop to re-visit—“But the best is the bus. The bus is for us.”—brings all the children together onto one vehicle—until, in the end, they’re all perched upon a double-decker bus and merrily barrelin’ down the road.
Gillian Tyler’s illustrations are sunny and cheerful. Her work often reminds me of Polly Dunbar’s (one of my favorite illustrators), but here it has more of its own unique Tyler-stamp on it. And though it’s really hard to include diversity in illustrations like this that feature big groups of children (here we have children of many ethnicities) without making it look like a Benetton ad, circa 1985, Tyler really makes it work. The bus is for us, after all. Everyone, that is. And I may be reading too much into this—and who knows if Tyler set out to do this—but when I see the spreads with groups of children on the bus and I see that the African-American girl is sitting up front, I can’t help but think of Rosa Parks. And I love that, whether it was intended or not.
It’s a wonderful book, and I know from experience—just last weekend, in fact, at Parnassus Books in Nashville—that it can be a storytime hit. This book even managed to calm down and draw the focus of some very fussy toddlers.
Marianne Dubuc’s The Bus Ride is equally delightful and was originally published in French last year. This horizontally oriented picture book introduces us on the first spread to a young girl, holding hands with her mother, waiting to board the approaching bus. She’s wearing a red sweater and holding a basket, if that brings to mind any fairy-tale heroines for you. The bus includes a wondrous bunch of creatures—a knitting cat, a tiny mouse with a briefcase, a bear in rain boots, a sloth being a sloth (that is to say he sleeps through the entire trip), and more. The girl feels so proud. It’s the first time she’s riding the bus by herself.
This is a story all about the journey itself, and it’s a treat. Readers share in the girl’s wonder at the sights she sees and creatures she meets on the bus. A wolf family steps onto the vehicle, and she shares a cookie with the smallest wolf. Children will enjoy the trip through the tunnel, where Dubuc brings us a spread full of shadows. When the bus riders re-emerge, things have shifted. “Something isn’t quite right,” the girl wonders. “How did I get here?! And where’s my cookie?”
But, most exciting of all, eventually the girls stops a thief—the wily fox. And when she meets her grandmother at the end, she tells her that she has so many stories to tell her about her bus ride. Well, you bet she does. She single-handedly scared off a pickpocket. “Stealing is wrong. Everyone knows that,” she had told him. Many child readers will delight in this—Clara, the crimestopper! (Shall we say the wily fox was bus-ted? Sorry, but I can’t resist the bad joke.)
You’re guaranteed a good trip with both books. Hop on board.
THE BUS IS FOR US. Text copyright © 2015 by Michael Rosen. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Gillian Tyler. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.
THE BUS RIDE. Copyright © 2014 by Marianne Dubuc. English translation © 2015 by Kids Can Press, Tonawanda, NY. Spread here used by permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.