An Ode to Cars Galore: The Wackiest Picture Book in the Last Ten Years
I have, what you might call, a penchant for the peculiar. Particularly as it applies to books for children. To my mind, it is easy, oh so easy, to write a book that follows the “rules”. Color within the lines. Be nice to your fellow humans. Pick up after yourself. It is also easy, odd as it may sound, to go overboard with nuttiness in your children’s book. The problem with this, though, is that you run the risk of alienating your intended audience. The books that walk this fine line between eye-popping creativity and kid-friendly writing are to be commended. Why in 2017 alone I’ve seen books where Nietzsche canters with delicious fruit, evil slugs are destroyed by all-too-lucky unicorns, sentient boats house superheroes, and so many more. But to be frank with you, my favorite oddities are the books that seem sane and sound on the surface only to reveal a core of Dali-esque Dadaism with only the slightest of prodding here or there. Ladies and gentlemen, may I be so bold as to introduce you to . . .
Cars Galore by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake
Originally published in 2009 the book may be vaguely familiar to you. Perhaps you’ve seen its sequels Toys Galore and this year’s newest offering, Trucks Galore. Nice books one and all, but neither of those follow-ups can hold a candle to what Stein and Staake (with the bulk of credit going to Staake) did in the original. And to show you what they did, I’m going to have to show you a lot of pictures. Jon Scieszka once said that he considered P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog, Go the strangest little Zen picture book he’d ever encountered. I see the man’s point, but clearly he never read this one multiple times to a toddler.
Let’s take a looksee, shall we?
Yes, we’ll be examining the board book edition this evening. I feel it’s one of the most effective picture-book-to-board-book transitions I’ve seen in years. Right up there with the Goodnight, Gorilla adaptation (I know, high praise).
In this opening sequence we immediately learn a few things:
- Peter Stein pretty much opened the door wide for whatever illustrator he was to be paired with. That he ended up with Staake is just his own pure good luck.
- Staake does not care if you have to hunt and peck for each one of the cars listed here. No, he isn’t going to put them in order on the page. This ain’t One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish we’re dealing with here, people. Yer gonna have to be awake every single time you read this to a toddler. Staake’s orders.
- Staake is also laying the groundwork for the rest of the book. Check out that “bizarre car”. Note the Mickey Mouse ears on top of two pairs of Viking helmets perched on the nose of the vehicle. This is only the beginning.
Now we’re getting into it. And yes, the images here are strange. You might think I’d point out something keen about the “Has-it-all car” which is clearly packed to the gills with stuff. However, I am MUCH more intrigued by the “Rev-’em-up-and-make-’em-ROAR car” which features, of all things, a lion in an Uncle Sam hat. Why the hat? That is the least of our concerns.
This is the “rock n’ roll car” that comes two pages later. I just like that the name of the band is “The Spahhnkies”.
And at last we come to it. The page that made me say, “What the heck is going on here?” First off, why is Uncle Sam driving a car of one hundred feet (fifty per page . . . I counted) with a penguin co-pilot? Why is the driver of the “incomplete car” a bear? And can anyone really look at that shark and not wonder A. How did it get a sporting yet somehow evil roadster? and B. Does anyone else think of the classic Eddie Izzard bit about Noah’s Ark and sharks when looking at this? I do love that the animals on said Ark look concerned for the turtles (who are going to get up . . . how exactly?) but that at least half of them are pretending not to be:
You can’t fool me rhinos! I know you care!
Then we get to this:
I mean, do I really have to tell you what throws me in this sequence? How about the duck wearing the Abraham Lincoln hat carrying an umbrella, seated in a roadster, while a wayward panda clings for dear life at the back? Here’s the kicker: Duck Lincoln isn’t even the driver. He’s being chauffeured. There is NOTHING in the text that could have led one to come up with this image. So at this point, I basically fell in love with the book.
Carsick rhinos didn’t hurt matters any.
Finally, I like the inclusion of the outhouse (a worse idea you’d be hard put to come up with re: packing for a trip). And you can’t see it very well, but the life saver has the words “S.S.Butterfly” on it. Surely this is a Bob Staake in-joke, but I like to think it refers to the SS (Stainless Steel) Butterfly Valves one might find on, oh say, a kitchen sink.
I have made my case. The information is placed before you. Even if it were not darned catchy and fun to read, can you not agree that this is bound to be one of the most wackadoodle picture books ever to be placed in the hands of our innocent youth? Stein and Staake, I commend you, sirs. I commend you for your commitment to superfluous folderol. May future books follow your example.
Now you tell me your own favorite picture books that take an idea to the extreme. Extra points if someone mentions Who Needs Donuts?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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