For children, toy cars and trucks and trains—the toys that roll—pretty much rock. And child experts also say they can be great for both the physical and cognitive development of children. Naturally, those children obsessed with vehicles and Things That Go Vroom are going to be drawn to books about the same thing. Fortunately, children’s book publishing is happy to fill that need. Some of those books are better than others. Here are some new ones on the best side.
Mark Lee’s What Kind of Car Does a T. Rex Drive?, illustrated by Brian Biggs, may be the most over-the-top picture book adventure of the summer. It’s the story of Uncle Otto’s used car lot and his summer sale. He has the biggest deals in town, but no customers are showing. His niece and nephew, Ava and Mickey, figure everyone is on vacation. But then a Stegosaurus shuffles onto the lot, followed eventually by several other dinosaurs. And while Uncle Otto sweats, wide-eyed but calm and altogether unfazed Ava identifies each creature, and Mickey manages to sell some vehicles. These smart, enterprising children have things handled, thanks very much. Uncle Otto (whose impressive walrus moustache is nearly its own character here) is convinced until the end that he’s the dino expert and re-names his lot “Otto’s Dino Cars.”
Biggs’s textured brush-and-ink illustrations include fun details, such as all the car signs on Uncle Otto’s lot: My favorite one bluntly says, “BUY A CAR.” But the best detail may be that the shadows thrown by the children as they stand in the sun often look themselves like dinosaurs. On all these spreads, we see the goings-on from slightly above all the squat humans, as if we’re tall dinos ourselves, visiting the lot. In each instance of a purchase, the dino drives off in the car, whether he or she fits or not. (Hint: Delightfully, no ever quite fits.) Expect squeals of laughter from young children, especially when the T. Rex drives off in … you guessed it … a monster truck. (It may be a monster truck, but it’s a T. Rex, for crying out loud. This is funny stuff for the preschool set.)
In Brian Pinkney’s Puppy Truck, we meet Carter, who wants a puppy but gets, well … a truck. There it is, with a ribbon around it, Pinkney giving it a puppy-like face. So, what else is a boy to do but put a leash around it? “Vroom beep bark!” They head to the park, where the truck likes to chases squirrels but also where the boy makes a new friend, who shows up the next day with her own new toy truck that looks an awful lot like a cat.
Pinkney consistently does exuberance well, and this book is no exception. The boy is all movement and kinetic, curving lines. The palette is a sunny, summery one. It’s a story that will appeal to not only children who love trucks, but also those who, for one reason or another, cannot have a pet in the home—and the text is one that works for beginning readers. Also, as the Kirkus review notes, this is “an important mirror book for the youngest of black and brown readers,” those who long to see children who look like them simply at play.
All aboard, please, for Trains Run! from the talented George Ella Lyon, former Poet Laureate of Kentucky. Lyon has previously published three such transportation books (Trucks Roll!; Planes Fly!; and Boats Float!), the most recent one written in collaboration with her son Benn Lyon, who joins her once again on this one. This is about trains, trains, and more trains—from toy trains, to “bullet” trains, to subway trains, to more. It’s about trains moving and rumbling and wheezing, as well as the joy of riding one, and it’s written in a pleasing rhyming verse that makes this one a satisfying read-aloud. (There’s also a heaping dose of onomatopoeia with phrases like “chooka-chooka,” “vroom zoom,” and “whoo-oo-whoo!”) The authors directly address readers toward the book’s close: “Don’t you want to try it? / Don’t you want to ride / silver rails, train-track trails, / a friend by your side?”
Artist Mick Wiggins illustrates this one, as he did two of the previous titles, and he gives readers thrilling perspectives (looking up at a train, as if we’re on the tracks); lots of aerial views; a diverse group of train-goers; nontraditional gender roles, such as a couple of spreads with female engineers/workers; and moments of rest, such as a spread that shows a rabbit on an empty track, right next to another track with a train vroom-zooming by. “Trains run!” Indeed. And young train fans will run to re-read this one and take in all the details once again.
“They were new once. And then, they weren’t.” I love these inviting opening lines from Carter Higgins’s Bikes for Sale, illustrated by Zachariah OHora. It’s the story of Maurice, whose bright yellow bike doubles as his lemonade stand. But it’s also the story of thicket-searching Lotta, whose bike (named “Chomper”) serves as her wheels for getting to the woods and collecting sticks, which she then likes to give away. “Everyone loves sticks,” she thinks to herself. “They’re the best thing to collect.” Chomper has a big basket on the back, perfect for stick-collection. I love misfit Lotta and her specialized, wonderfully offbeat hobby.
Each of them, unfortunately, wrecks their ride. “They were new once. And then, they weren’t.” But then there’s … Sid! He finds the bikes and fixes them. When both Maurice and Lotta end up at Sid’s Bikes for Sale (“Abandoned & Discarded Found & Restored”), they not only strike up a friendship; they also find themselves on a new and improved bike and a new set of adventures. Together.
OHora was a first-rate choice for illustrator of this sweet, but never cloying, tale; he brings Maurice’s and Lotta’s community to life with a warm touch. All of these characters—and their detailed, quirky world (with boxes of “FREE STICKS,” how can one go wrong?)—are ones I’d gladly read about again.
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.
BIKES FOR SALE. Text copyright © 2019 by Carter Higgins. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Zachariah OHora and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.