Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth (9780545852821, Amazon)
It is race day for Mama Lion and Tigey. Tigey works on their car while Mama Lion reminds him that winning isn’t everything. In fact, she may have spotted just the right prize for Tigey and it isn’t the big trophy. When the race starts, Mama Lion and Tigey are immediately in the lead. Unfortunately though, when swerving to avoid an obstacle, their wheel comes off. Nicely, one of their competitors, the Flying Pandinis stops and helps them repair their car. They are soon passed though by Bun Bun who is scattering seeds as she rides her motorcycle and the Knitted Monkeys who are always a little naughty. As they race toward the finish line, Mama Lion and Tigey have a decision to make. Should they win the race?
Muth is the author of the acclaimed Zen Shorts series of books. It’s a joy to see him use those same ideas and concepts in a picture book about racing that is also about so much more. Muth has embedded Buddhist thought and ideals in this picture book in a way that is natural and never didactic. This is a picture book with a message that is so deeply ingrained in story itself that the message flows and never feels forced. The characters of Mama Lion and Tigey along with the other toy animals are dynamic and complex. This is a rich picture book that turns the concept of winning entirely on its head.
Muth’s illustrations have a zingy energy to them that matches the subject matter beautifully. They are filled with animals that are clearly toys. The Knitted Monkey team is exactly that. The Flying Pandinis are small round stuffed pandas. Mama Lion and Tigey are clearly beloved stuffed animals with whiskers, buttons and of course racing goggles.
A truly special picture book, this one is for those kids who love racing and those who love toys and those who love a great read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Home in the Rain by Bob Graham (9780763692698, Amazon)
Francie and her mother are headed home from Grandma’s house. It rains and rains. It rains enough that a big truck washes their car into a picnic area. Nearby, the rain hits rabbits, mice and a hawk. It rains on fishermen and ducks. Francie and her mother wait in the car, the windows steaming up. Francie writes their names on the windows. She asks her mother what her new baby sister’s name will be when she arrives, but her mother doesn’t know yet. They eat a picnic in the car together and then they pull back onto the road and continue home. When they stop to get gas, Francie’s mother decides on her little sister’s name and the sun returns to light their way home.
Graham has written a lovely picture book that is more complicated than it seems. It is the story of a little red car heading home. It’s the story of a family about to get one person bigger. It is the story of names and inspiration. It’s the story of rain and water and weather. Graham ties all of these elements together into one precious rain-soaked bundle that really works. It is bursting with the love of family on every page.
Graham’s illustrations are done in his signature style. The characters are people of color and their car becomes a haven and a busy room filled with small details. The book then pulls away to the countryside and their small car seen from above. The rain sweeps the pages and the animals appear. The play of close comfort in the car with wide scenery captures the wildness of the storm and strengthens the intimacy of the family.
A special book that looks at those delicate moments before the birth of a new baby, this picture book celebrates family and storms. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars. They dream of one day having their own garage. Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics. El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms. Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars. Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders. So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter. Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do. This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.
Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture. Her characters are clever done. The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too. The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space. The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.
The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all. Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging.
This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli
Sam wins every race, so he’s not worried at all at the big race. His best friend Maggie is racing too, but Sam know that he is the best. He quickly leaves everyone behind, except for Maggie who stays right with him and then wins the race! Sam is devastated. He didn’t sleep at all before the next race and is so distracted that he’s late starting the race! Even starting after everyone else though, he quickly takes the lead. But then, he sees a flock of chicks on the roadway and though he can get around them safely, he worries about the other racers not seeing them in time. So Sam stops and saves the chicks who ride along with him to finish the race. Sam finishes last, but as he approaches the finish line he can hear people cheering – for him!
Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for his first book The Watermelon Seed, Pizzoli has a knack for using simple language for big ideas. His books are straight forward and have a classic feel about them, perfect for the smallest children. At the same time, his books are not predictable. I thought this book might deal with jealousy as its primary focus, but it changed in the middle of the book to be more about good decision making and being a good friend. I appreciate that he was able to pivot a simple story like this into something with depth. That takes real skill.
Just like his writing, Pizzoli’s art is simple. He uses strong lines and bright colors to really create a feel that is distinctly his own. This book fairly glows with yellow on the page, sunny and bright as the racers speed on the page. Other pages with different emotions have different colors, something that really works to convey a change in feeling directly.
Another winner from Pizzoli, this book will appeal to children interested in cars and racing immediately but is also a great book about making good choices. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
This collaboration between two masters of children’s poetry will transport you to new and different places. Filled with cars that are amazing and wild, the humor-filled poems will delight. Visit the times of the dinosaurs, underwater driving, cars made of paper or shoes. Even cars made from bathtubs and bugs. The poetry flows fast and furious, a perfect pace for young car enthusiasts who may be surprised at how much they enjoy poems.
Lewis and Florian write with a single hand here, the poems flowing naturally from one to the other, the styles of each forming one cohesive whole. They use humor to great effect both in the titles of the poems and throughout, delighting with puns and word play. The poems are also very brief, perfect for young readers to enjoy or even memorize.
The art by Holmes plays up the humor in the poems. His busy active style has lots of motion and zany combinations. The dinosaur car looks like it could reach right off the page and grab you, the ocean page will have you floating along merrily, and the blueprint style of the contents page sets the tone early.
Perfect poems to share aloud with a class, this one may get lost in poetry collections but marketed correctly should zoom off of library shelves. Beep beep!
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Bang by Leo Timmers
Using only the word “bang” throughout, this nearly-wordless picture book is a humor-filled delight. In a series of car crashes, one after another, the story is told. It all starts with a deer who isn’t paying any attention, since he’s reading this book while driving. Then comes the truck full of chickens driven by a pig. Then a fashionable giraffe in an orange sportster. A hungry alligator with a truck full of tires follows. And more and more. After each car enters the page, there is an enormous bang, and then each new car impacts all of the others in new ways. Colors change, items move from one vehicle to another, and merry chaos reigns.
Timmers fills his wordless book with wonderful details that make lingering on the pages a must. You even start guessing from the introduction of the new elements about what will happen to the other vehicles in line. The final fold-out page with all of the vehicles in a row is great fun to look at and makes for a grand finale.
Timmers’ art is quirky and bright. The vehicles are all completely unique, formatted to fit the bulk of a pig, or the height of a giraffe. The pages are filled with bright colors and lots of action. As each new vehicle comes onto the page, there is wonderful moment before you know what happens. This pacing is perfection and all thanks to the art.
Jolly and very funny, this is a picture book that children who enjoy vehicles or large crashes will adore. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.
Moo! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Told in just a couple of words, this picture book is one wild ride. When the farmer puts a sign up that says that his car is for sale, it catches the attention of a cow nearby. She jumps right in and starts off driving up hill and down: Moooooooooooooooo. But then disaster strikes: Moo! And she lands in trouble with the police. She tries to explain herself, but the officer just sends her back home, walking. When the farmer finds out, what is a cow to do? You will just have to see how this romp of a picture book ends.
The partnership between author and illustrator is so seamless that I not sure who came up with the concepts. The text in the book is entirely animal noises and is so simple that any small child will be able to read it on their own after just one shared reading. Who knew that “moo” could say so much! The illustrations are simple as well, and play up the jolly humor of the book.
A simple book perfect for storytime, expect lots of giggles on this joy ride. Appropriate for ages 1-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall
Turn to the first page of this picture book and you will see people waiting at a bus stop. Another page turn has them aboard the bus and only two words: “Red bus.” The next page has a red car join the red bus and readers will see two people dashing for the bus stop. By the time the bus reaches its next stop, the page is filled not only with a yellow van, yellow car, the red car and the red bus, but the people running for the bus have dropped their teddy bear. As the pages turn, the road gets more crowded with vehicles and it becomes all the more fun to figure out what the story is on the side of the road. The only words in the book describe the colors of the vehicles and name the vehicles themselves, otherwise it is more of a wordless book as the complicated action takes place in pictures only.
Steggall has created a picture book that really plays with the reader. At first, I thought it was going to be a very simple color and vehicle book for toddlers, but it is something much more. The intricate cut paper illustrations tell the story along the roadside, as each page turn moves the reader further down the road. There is a wonderful sense of motion to the entire book. The vehicles appear in patterns with colors and sorts of vehicles.
This is a delight of a read, surprising in its depth and yet fully appropriate for the youngest reader who enjoys cars and trucks. This is one to linger over and discuss, talking about the story that is told wordlessly, perfect for curling up with your special little one. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Everything Goes in the Air by Brian Biggs
Brian Biggs has several new books out which is great news for youngsters who love cars, trucks and airplanes. Everything Goes in the Air takes Henry and his family on an airplane ride. Readers get to visit a bustling airport, where they can search for lost babies. From vintage airplanes to modern ones, we learn about the different parts of a place and the various types they come in. Modern airport security is explained, then the book turns to helicopters and hot air balloons. Just before takeoff, children get to see inside the cockpit and marvel at the crowded airspace. Then it’s up, up and away!
Biggs’ crowded pages show the hustle and hurry of an airport. His friendly art and seek-and-find activities will keep children busy exploring the pages. Information is given in small bits, mostly through conversations that are shown in cartoon bubbles. This is a marvelously fun and exciting way to explore airplanes and airports.
A great pick for a plane ride, or to help prepare children for an upcoming flight, this book has such detailed illustrations that it is best shared with just one child at a time. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Everything Goes: 123 Beep Beep Beep!: A Counting Book by Brian Biggs
Everything Goes: Stop! Go!: A Book of Opposites by Brian Biggs
These two board books simplify the busy style of Biggs into books that are more appropriate for toddlers. Here the bright colors and cartoon-style illustrations pop. The counting book goes up to ten, each page offering a different sort of vehicle to count. They range from RVs to busses. The opposites book again uses vehicles to show things like dirty and clean, old and new, ending with stop and go.
Very young children who enjoy cars, trucks and other vehicles will love these board books. Expect the basic text to be accompanied with lots of motor sounds from the audience! Appropriate for ages 1-3.
All items reviewed from copies received from Balzer + Bray.