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"Wheels of Change" Book Reviews

 | Jan 18, 2012

The first month of the year is often a time for reflecting on previous years and resolving to make changes in ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes those changes start with one small act and then another, rippling outward into larger changes that eventually spawn movements and effect social change such as what happened with the civil rights movement. Sometimes the wheels of change come in the form of innovations in different areas such as transportation. Men and women use wheels to move or take to the air, and crossing an entire continent is something that may be accomplished within a day. Because they move and aren’t static, young readers are often intrigued by books that feature cars, trucks, anything with wheels that move. Books that literally feature cars and bicycles or wheels in some form or fashion are a lot more ubiquitous than you might think. For this week’s installment of book reviews, members of the International Reading Associaton's Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group have amassed a fleet of books literally about wheels. In the next two installments of the book review column, we’ll review books that describe how quickly the wheels of change may turn in history or in the lives of fictional characters, often prompting them to change their minds or their actions.

Grades K-3

LaReau, Kara. (2011). Otto the boy who loved cars. Illus. by Scott Magoon. New York: Roaring Brook.

Otto book cover imageThere once was a boy named Otto who simply couldn’t get enough of vehicles that move on wheels. He played car games, read car stories and even ate a car cereal, appropriately named Wheelies. He lived and breathed cars. One morning Otto awoke and found he was a car. At breakfast, he tried to say, “Pass the Wheelies,” but instead out came, “Honk-honk, HONK!” (unpaginated). Because a car is too large to fit on a school bus, Otto had to drive himself to school. Terrible traffic en route forced him to arrive quite late, and he spent the morning idling in the time out corner, waiting for recess. On the playground Otto couldn’t play with the other children because, of course, cars can’t play. He couldn’t even eat what his mother made for dinner because cars can’t eat the food mothers prepare. Otto began to realize that he couldn’t do any of the things he normally did—play, draw or read. Maybe it was time for the auto-loving boy to switch gears. Most children will laugh at this fantasy adventure and consider branching out from their own obsessions with stuffed animals, dolls, Legos or video games.
- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Medina, Meg. (2011). Tia Isa wants a car. Illus. by Claudio Munoz. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Tia Isa book cover imageLiving in the city without family members or access to the beach is hard. Tia Isa knows that it is important to save money to bring the rest of their family to the United States, but still, she longs for a used car, and she knows exactly what kind of wheeled vehicle she wants. She dreams of one that is as green as the ocean she longs to see, the ocean that reminds her of her island home and the family members she misses. While her brother scoffs at the idea of Tia Isa ever being able to amass enough money to reach her goal, her niece is inspired by the project and takes on chores for the neighbors so that they can save money faster. Once they have enough money, Tia Isa finds a used car—green, of course--that is big enough to take the whole family wherever they want to go. Before they head off to the beach, they tape a photograph of the family on the car’s dashboard. In a positive, endearing fashion this story reminds readers that some things are worth the wait and that dreams aren't as ridiculous as others might say. The pencil, watercolor, and ink illustrations are drawn in soft hues, creating a sentimental artistic quality to a story that reminds readers of the freedom a car of one's own affords and the necessity of setting goals.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Ransome, James E. (2011). New red bike! New York: Holiday House.

New Red Bike book cover imageAfter opening the cover of this picture book, readers will be captivated by the first end page with a shiny new bike with a red bow attached to the handlebars. In the next pages Tom, the owner of the new red bike, practices riding his brand-new red bike with his helmet on. He rides up and down the street. He rides around in circles. He zooms down hills, around curves and then returns home. He is so excited about his new present that he travels to his friend Sam’s house. When he turns his back to knock on the house, his new bike disappears. Tom looks everywhere. He looks around the house and under it. He looks up, down, behind and all around. All of a sudden he hears WHIZZZ. Guess who is riding Tom’s shiny new bike? They end up taking turns, sharing the new red bike. The last end page continues the story as Tom and Sam ride off together. Clearly, while two wheels can make better friends than none, four wheels and two bikes with two boys present plenty of possibilities. This straight-forward book could easily inspire children to write their own new present stories and remind them to share what they have with their friends.
- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Rinker, Sherri Duskey. (2011). Goodnight, goodnight, construction site. Illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site book cover imageWho knows what it is, but there’s something about big trucks and construction sites that fascinates youngsters. This picture book written in rhyming text describing the work that occurs at a construction site will intrigue them and require multiple readings. Construction sites are busy places, filled with plenty of action and noise, but eventually even machines need to cease their labor. As the day winds down, the trucks complete their final tasks. The crane truck raises and places one last beam. The cement mixer pours out one last load. The story follows the big trucks typically found on a construction site, including the ever-fascinating dump trucks, bulldozers, and excavators, as they shut down for the day, satisfied with a job well-done. After all that labor, the machines certainly deserve a rest. The large wax oil pastel illustrations create a peaceful setting as night approaches that contrasts vividly with the motion-filled illustrations of the trucks in motion throughout the day. The cover with the excavator gently cradling the moon is particularly effective in personifying the monstrous machines. Young readers won’t be the only ones who enjoy reading this book about vehicles with very big wheels.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Stein, Peter. (2011). Cars galore. Illus. by Bob Staake. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Cars Galore book cover image“Black car, green car, nice car, mean car. Near car, far car. Whoa! Bizarre car!” (unpaginated). The rollicking verse in this colorful picture book will delight anyone who loves moving vehicles. There are fast cars, slow cars, big cars and small cars. And, of course, there are tall cars, short cars and fun-filled fort cars. All of the automobiles are traveling on dark black asphalt roads that crisscross the book’s pages, inviting young children to trace and follow the vehicles with their fingers. One double page spread resembles rush hour traffic with “Cars and cars and yet still MORE cars! (unpaginated). Another page notes rusty, dusty, hunk-of-junk cars that sometime stink and smell. One humorous illustration displays, “Jazz car, soul car, rock’n’roll car. Blues car, song car. Sing-along car!” (unpaginated). In conclusion, a car with a family including a young child takes off on a, “Fun drive, sun drive, gotta-run drive! Dream drive, cool drive…Someday you’ll drive!” (unpaginated). Young readers will enjoy this vivid, vicarious road trip.
- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Sweet, Melissa. (2011). Balloons over Broadway.

Balloons Over Broadway book cover imageUp, up, high in the sky go those enormous, colorful balloons during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. Young readers will be intrigued to learn that the balloons haven’t always been a part of the parade. In fact, these floating, "upside down marionettes" (unpaginated) first appeared in 1928, the innovation of a brilliant puppeteer, Tony Sarg, who came up with the idea to have balloons replace the zoo animals who once rode in cages on wagons in the city streets, often frightening the children along the parade route. The goauche, collage, and mixed media illustrations are filled with a vibrancy that attests to life’s joys and extraordinary detail, providing readers with the perfect bird's eye view of the parade. Some illustrations make it seem as though residents of the city’s high rises can nod at the balloons as they float right outside their windows. At some points, it's hard to decide whether the balloons have a mind of their own and are in charge of their handlers or if their handlers are actually controlling them. Additional information about the book’s artwork and the man responsible for this popular parade innovation can be found in the back matter.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Viva, Frank. (2011). Along a long road. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Along a Long Road book cover imageUsing Adobe Illustrator, the author/illustrator of this picture book has created a continuous thirty-five-foot-long piece of art that comprises the book’s pages as well as drawing by hand the display type for its text. A cyclist travels upon an orange path laid out against a black background, along a very long road, that moves across the countryside. At first, the road is fairly straight, moving through stands of trees, but then it winds up and down, around a town, and through a tunnel. The bicyclist pedals unwaveringly along his route, moving slowly and quickly, by turns, passing through urban and rural settings, at one point, even crossing a bridge. Of course, he encounters a bump or two along the way, but after a brief rest, he climbs back on and pedals off. The illustrations show some of the sites he passes along the trip (amusement parks, clothing on a clothesline flapping in the breeze, passersby waving him on his way), but for this rider, the pleasure of the ride seems to be what matters. Young readers will surely love following the strip that marks his journey. Once they reach the book’s final pages, they’ll want to start their journey all over again, just as the rider does.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 4-5

Atinuke. (2011). The no 1 car spotter: Best in the village—maybe in the world! Illus. by Warwick Johnson Cadwell. Tulsa, OK: Kane Miller.

The No 1 Car Spotter book cover imageOluwalase Babatunde Benson—better known as No. 1—lives close to a busy road where many cars drive past his village in an unnamed country “on the continent of Africa” (p. 7). His hobby is spotting cars. As a baby he stayed with his grandfather under an iroko tree watching the road. Grandfather taught him the ABC’s, 123’s and how to spot cars such as the Peugeot, Passat and Porsche. Somehow, No. 1 can even spot cars before he sees them. From the sound of their engine, running sweet or backfiring, he knows them. In this brief novel with only four chapters, young readers will learn how wheels improve village life and make a difference in the lives of No. 1’s family. For example, an abandoned Toyota Corolla, with four good tires, is converted into a cart to help his family transport baskets of yams, oranges, mangos, plantains and dried fish to sell at the Saturday market. Two wheelbarrows help No. 1’s Papa begin a new business of carrying people’s goods from one place to another. And, lastly, No. 1 notices when tourist buses travel on the main road. He tells Mama Coca-Cola, who then begins frying akara, a blend of beans, onions and chili peppers, to sell to the hungry passengers when they stop. Simple ink drawings illustrate the different turns and moves in No. 1’s unique and car-filled life.
- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Grades 6-8

Blackwood, Gary L. (2010). Around the world in 100 days. New York: Dutton.

The ambitious son of adventurer Phileas Fogg, Harry, is all too aware of his father’s feats of daring, and he accepts a bet that he can drive The Flash, his steam-powered motorcar, around the world in only 100 days. In the tradition of the Jules Verne classic, this 1891 high-speed adventure will have readers throttling their engine as the car races across several continents and bodies of water to the finish line in London. When the book begins, Harry has been arrested for reckless driving. To his father’s dismay, he enjoys driving almost as much as he enjoys tinkering with car engines with his talented mechanic friend Johnny. With his father’s financial backing, Harry sets off on his journey, knowing that this is one bet he must win since losing means he must bow to his father’s dictates and take up a more suitable profession for a gentleman. Racing off with Johnny and two other companions, both of whom may not be trustworthy—Charles Hardiman who comes along to make sure he follows all the bet’s conditions, and Elizabeth, a reporter—Harry must race against time but also against possible sabotage from within. Around the world they go, frightening many pedestrians who have never seen a car before. Harry and crew have all sorts of adventures and humorous moments along the way, but they are ever mindful of the goal of reaching London in time to win the bet.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Macy, Sue. Wheels of change: How women rode the bicycle to freedom (with a few flat tires along the way. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Wheels of Change book cover imageThis is an incredibly informative book that makes history—er, herstory, in this case—a treat to read while pointing out that even the seemingly smallest of innovations in transportation can make a huge difference in lives. Macy shows how the invention and subsequent popularity of the bicycle led to more freedom for men and women. Suddenly, women in particular gained the mobility they had lacked and were able to move from place to place on their own. That increased mobility resulted in a need for more freedom, often in the form of less restrictive clothing so that riding a bicycle was not hampered by clothing that became caught in its wheels. Macy reports these historical developments with great glee, writing as though the events she is describing from the 1880s and 1890s happened yesterday. She even includes detours, details about record-setting women cyclists, and some of the comments made by those who opposed the bicycle because of its tendency to encourage girls along sinful pathways. The book contains photographs as well as trading cards, advertisements, magazine covers, song lyrics, and newspaper clippings about bicycles. Back matter includes a graphic in the shape of a wheel showing the history of cycling and women's history. Obviously, many women rode their bikes to freedom, and this book shows how that happened. Readers may enjoy watching a two-minute clip about how bicycles helped women wheel their way to increased independence at the author’s website at http://suemacy.com/.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

 

 

 

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