When my own children were toddlers, they didn’t necessarily have a wild fixation on Things That Go Zoom, like a lot of toddlers do. But I’ve certainly been around those children, the ones utterly obsessed with vehicles they see in the world, as well as vehicle toys. Cars. Construction equipment. Trains. Boats. Planes. They zoom. They can race. They can even crash. They not only fascinate a lot of children, but they are also part of a child’s physical and cognitive development – engaging with a toy that zooms and rolls like that is part of tactile, sensory learning. And there are plenty of picture books, old and new, that tap into this fascination. Today, I’ve got four brand-new ones.
For a car book unlike one you’ve seen before, take a look at Our Car, which comes from Polish author and illustrator duo J. M. Brum and Jan Bajtlik. (Brum’s bio says she is an “expert mechanic” herself — bonus!) Readers see a car, “as red as a fire engine,” and a child and father exploring in it. They stop to put on tires; pull a trailer in the summer; watch as a mechanic fixes it; wash it when it’s dirty; etc. The colors here are highly saturated, and one word on each spread is emphasized in a large, bold handwritten type. Bajtlik’s visually distinctive humans are elongated and painted with only black dots for eyes and protruding noses. This wide, horizontally-oriented (much like a car) book is one that uses every bit of space it has. That is, the book’s twist ending — that the child in the story has built a pretend car out of furniture and toys — is on the final endpapers (“Today I get to drive”).
Jeanne Walker Harvey’s Boats on the Bay, illustrated by Grady McFerrin, doesn’t bring readers any kind of a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end about a boat adventure. If you’re looking for that, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But don’t look away from this one, because the illustrations, in particular, are beguiling, bringing to my mind the work of illustrator Evaline Ness. “Boats on the bay get ready for the day,” the book opens, and we see a family on a houseboat. Each successive spread features a different boat on the water. We see a ferry, kayak, tugboat, dredger, fireboat, and more. Harvey’s short, simple sentences, many with internal rhymes (“A fishing boat slogs through the fog”), make this a good fit for emerging readers. This is McFerrin’s debut picture book (I sure do hope he brings us more picture book art), and I’m unsure of the medium used. In spots, it looks like he has used woodcut. Whatever it is, he manages to capture textures you want to reach out and touch. Best of all, just before the boats on the bay are “home for the day” at the book’s close, we are treated to a spectacular gatefold display of a barge setting off fireworks.
Another book whose illustrations feature textures to pore over, a book that will arrive on shelves at the end of next month (just in time for winter), is Deborah Bruss’s Good Morning, Snowplow!, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. (In fact, look closely at the snowflakes in the book to see how carefully each has been crafted.) The two illustrators use acrylic paints, colored pencils, pen, and collage, including what looks like cardboard, to animate Bruss’s story of a snowplow driver who heads out at night, the first snow falling, to clear the roads. Bruss uses rhyming couplets — “Fill the hopper. Test the brakes. Driver’s ready? Wide awake!” — to tell this story, which brings child readers a reminder of how adult caretakers look out for their safety. There’s a lot of snowplow goin’ on here — big wheels, chains, plows, strobe lights, blades, etc. — and there’s also a surprise train-sighting. It’s a cozy and warm story, despite the chill in the air, that culminates in the most glorious thing of all about winter — a snow day. While the children zoom outside to play, the sun rising, our snowplow driver tucks himself into bed.
And don’t forget early next month to keep your eye out for Steve Light’s Builders & Breakers, which the Kirkus review describes as a “visual feast for construction-zone fans.” Oh yes, your vehicle-obsessed child whose eyes get wide at the site of a construction site is going to be all over this book. Light isn’t new to children’s books about vehicles — he’s created a series of appealing board books about vehicles, beginning with Trucks Go in 2008 — and this, though not a board book, is another winner. This one is about the work that goes into the creation of a building. “To build anything,” Light writes in a closing author’s note, “something else must be broken, even if it’s just ground.” (This strikes me as a very profound statement about life in general, but I digress, and I’ll now get back to the topic at hand.) A construction worker heads to his worksite but leaves his lunchbox at home. His children follow to bring it to him, and they stay to watch the workers build and break. There’s engaging onomatopoeia (“rat-a-tat-tat-tat” and “bang bang bang”); there are dinosaur skeletons to spot as a digging machine does its thing down a long, vertical hole; and there are the types of equipment your vehicle- and construction-obsessed child will dig (bad pun intended), such as cranes, wheelbarrows, jackhammers, and more. Light’s finely drawn pen and ink and gouache illustrations especially shine in his depictions of the architecture being formed at the construction site. Inspiring, this one is.
Building. Rolling. Racing. Plowing. Happy reading to the little zoomers out there.
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.
OUR CAR. Text copyright © 2018 by J. M. Brum. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Jan Bajtlik. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York.