I have a dream. My dream is that just one room of my house does not have a toy car or truck in it, not even a tiny one “parked” under a dresser, as they are likely to be found. They are in the shower (a car wash, naturally). They are in the kitchen cabinets (delivery truck). They are in pockets, where they are often found as the washing machine starts making alarming banging noises. When we started with the “things that go” phase there wasn’t a lack of books… photographic, stories, interactive. The issue was there were too many and bringing them home became an exercise in trial and error.
Over my protests, one child only really liked—for a time—photographic books with labels (no story) so he could learn all the trucks’ names. (I know there is a difference between a digger and an excavator, but please don’t put me to the test about which is which—ask him). To save my sanity I tried to find as many fire truck books as I could to fan the flames (yes, pun intended) and make bedtime reading a little more enjoyable for me than labeling all the equipment on a fire truck (although it is good know that fire trucks come with axes—and here I thought they broke down doors with…. well, now that I think about it, I guess you would need something like an ax).
The road to truck books is paved with a vast array of choices. We read The Fisher-Price Little People’s Planes, Cars, Trucks, and Trains and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which seemed like a very good place to start. We read the photographic My First Trucks. We even read the charming, old-fashioned Lois Lenski books like The Little Train. And we moved on to other books, like Red Truck and Sheep in a Jeep.
We read them all. He seemed to love them all. I can tell you that basically all vehicle books with a plot have either an A or a B story: either the truck gets stuck and they have to get it out, or the trucks are all building something together.
I get asked a lot—and I wonder a lot, as part of my job—why some books become a phenomenon and others don’t. What made one picture book vault over the others? I was interviewing someone once who said, “I want to find the next Harry Potter book.” I didn’t hire her. Not because she wanted to find another publishing sensation (sign me up for that, please!), but because when I asked her what about that she wanted to replicate she said, “The whole magical wizard world.” Books that get replicated sometimes work… there’s a certain loose plot line that works on many a bestseller. But books that are just replicated replacing A with B most often fall flat. Good writing and good storytelling should be a requirement for something that flies out the door, but what makes a great book is that it hits on something familiar yet brings a fresh take to it.
At first glance, Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site looked like a nice construction book. I flipped through it when I saw it in the bookstore and, sighing over yet another construction book, passed it over. When it hit the bestseller lists and stayed there, I wanted to take another look. This time I brought it home and the first night we read it through three times in a row. And then I got it; sure, it was another truck book. But this one has a different, fresh take. It’s a celebration of trucks doing their special jobs, then tucking in and resting as they go to sleep. Simple. And yet, wait a sec: A truck book that didn’t end with a siren? A truck book that didn’t wind up my sleepy (ish) child? A truck book that celebrated that it was fine to dig and roll but even trucks needed to rest? A truck book that actually had a plot? Oh, this worked. This worked on so many levels, from the absolutely delightfully lovely illustrations (yes, trucks sleep with teddy bears!) to the lullaby-like verse that helps lull a truck fanatic to “Relax your wheels your stacks and backs.” It’s not trucks lite. It gets the detailed function and the movement of all the pieces of equipment, enough so that it will absolutely work on even an advanced truck enthusiast (the one who refuses to read the “baby books” about trucks, even though the baby will like reading it, too).
I met the illustrator Tom Lichtenheld once at a conference, briefly. I am always mindful in these moments to not say something idiotic like, “Hey, we get into bed with you every night.” In the end I simply introduced myself. When I went home and told my kids, my son wanted to know why I didn’t invite him over for a playdate.
The author, Sherri Duskey Rinker, according to her bio, has children and her stories were written for them. I’m going to go out on a limb that one night after reading about another stuck truck she got fed up, took pen to paper, and wrote this book. And millions of parents with trucks parked in every crevice of their homes rejoiced.
And now, our favorite toddler truck/train/vehicle books:
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
As the sun sets behind the big construction site, all the hardworking trucks get ready to say goodnight. One by one, Crane Truck, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck, Bulldozer, and Excavator finish their work and lie down to rest—so they’ll be ready for another day of rough and tough construction play! With irresistible artwork by best-selling illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and sweet, rhyming text, this book will have truck lovers of all ages begging for more.
by Byron Barton
With prose as clean as Sam’s the narrator’s shiny engine, Byron Barton, the celebrated creator of numerous picture books for very young children, including Trucks, My Bus, and Building a House, explores transportation, the parts of a car, signs and signals, night and day, community, and occupations.
Bright, graphic artwork invites readers to count, name colors and shapes, and follow Sam and his car as they drive through a bustling world from Sam’s home in the country to his job in the city. The surprise ending is a gem!
by Donald Crews
What is large (or small), bright yellow, and filled with students? School Bus! Climb aboard and let Donald Crews take you to school — and home again.
I dump it in, I smash it down, I drive around the trashy town.
Meet Mr. Gilly. He cleans up Trashy Town. He does it with a big smile and a big truck–which is sure to make him a hero with all the children in the neighborhood. David Clemesha and Andrea Zimmerman have created a rhythmic, repeatable refrain that will roll off the lips of every child. Dan Yaccarino’s dynamic art puts the zip in Mr. Gilly’s stride and adds style and charm to trash collection.
Cars, Trucks, and Things That Go
The station wagon, the tow truck, the garbage truck and the bulldozer. Every manner of machinery that moves is riotously depicted in this classic favorite. As the pig family head to the beach for a picnic, they encounter every vehicle known, from the forklift to the locomotive, and many vehicles that are not as common, from the pumpkin car to the broom-o-cycle. Each detailed spread provides tremendous opportunity to make up stories and describe situations. Will Officer Flossy catch Dingo? Will Rollo Rabbit catch his runaway steamroller? And with literally hundreds of things to look at, youngsters will spend hours trying to find Goldbug on every page.
The Little Train
by Lois Lenski
Mr. Small does it all!
In this adventure, Engineer Small drives his little train from Tinytown to the city-and back. Along the way, the little train passes tunnels and stops at stations to pick up cargo and passengers.
Presented in full color for the first time, Lois Lenski’s The Little Train will delight a whole new generation of readers as they learn all about the ins and outs of a working train.