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Picture Books About Cars, Trucks and Other Things That Clank, Roar and Move Fast

Category: Art & Culture,Books

SMALL WALT AND MO THE TOW (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 40 pp., $17.99; ages 4 to 8), from Elizabeth Verdick and Marc Rosenthal, is the follow-up to (yes) “Small Walt,” in which snowplow Walt, with driver Gus, earns a spot alongside the big plows, despite doubts about Walt’s size. In this outing, Walt and Gus, making their rounds, see a car skid into a snow-filled ditch. Can they help? Despite his can-do spirit, Walt must now learn to deal with his limitations: “My plow is tough, / but it’s not enough.” The, from over the horizon, appears Mo the Tow, driven by “the lady in blue — Sue.” (Are women in blue a trend?) Mo and Sue are the pair with the hardware and skills to perform this rescue — except it turns out they can’t quite reach the stranded car; first they’ll need some snow cleared. Are Walt and Gus up to it? No spoliers. Suffice to say all these characters have something useful they like to do and that they do well, and each has limits, too, making this a story about teamwork as well as pluck. Verdick and Rosenthal may not be clearing new ground with these lessons, but what they plow, they plow well. The characters are appealing, and the language is active and satisfying, with plenty of onomatopoeia. Good luck saying RUGGAROOOM BRUMMAHUM 10 times fast, but your audience will enjoy hearing you try.

The flap copy tells us that “Small Walt” has been called “reminiscent of Virginia Burton’s classics,” and this book will be, too; the cover design practically dares you not to think of “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.” Rosenthal’s drawings feel like a contemporary take on Burton’s spirit, though, rather than something derivative: Burton, after an espresso. The lines and colors are direct, cheerful and effective. They look like the work of someone in a good mood, and it put me in a good mood to look at them.

J. M. Brum and Jan Bajtlik’s OUR CAR (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 32 pp., $16.99; ages 2 to 6) introduces a father, a son and the little red car they love. The drawings are digital, done in bold colors and simple shapes. (I might have guessed pastel, had one image not been recolored and reused multiple times on the title page and opening spread.) Father, the driver, and son, the passenger, are presences more than characters, just enough there to help us project ourselves into the book. “Our Car” has little interest in the actual mechanics of automobiles, yet it cuts, joyfully, straight to the things that thrill about cars; the book is a distilled dose of speed and color. The troubles that come with cars are here, too. When its engine needs work, this car “screeches like a wild animal,” and teeth, eyes and even plodding feet appear, mysterious and terrific.

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