Hit the Road, Jack by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Opening this book, I was surprised that it was not based on the song at all. Instead, this is a tribute to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Jack in this picture book is a jackrabbit who longs to travel America. So he leaves New York and rides his bicycle to Boston and then Buffalo. Pennsylvania and Cleveland are next with Detroit too. Jack spends some time in Chicago before heading back into the countryside and hopping a train. A car carries him to the Great Plains and Mount Rushmore. He sees the Rockies and the desert mesas before arriving at the Golden Gate. Jack has reached his west coast destination, but the road still calls.
Burleigh takes the picture book done in verse to another level here. Never forced, always brimming with honesty and joy, this verse rhymes but does so in a sophisticated way. It has all of the rhythm of the beat poets inside of it too, paying double homage to Kerouac both in subject and style. Young readers will explore the United States in this book, but even better, they will get a feel for what makes America great.
MacDonald’s illustrations have a playfulness and joy that matches the text well. Done with a vintage feel, Jack has huge ears but is more human than rabbit most of the time. Shown in his leather jacket and rolled-up jeans, Jack is the ideal companion on the road.
This is a special book where subject matter and form combine to create something all the more amazing. It may be difficult to get this into the hands of the right kids, but it is worth the challenge for a book this good. It will also make a great book to share with elementary classes studying the United States. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.