Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, May 6, 2016

Across Generations

Both grandfathers were gone before I was old enough to have any memory of them but they each left me priceless legacies.  My paternal grandfather was in the hospital after a heart attack when he heard me crying.  He told my parents "You'll never be able to keep Margie down.'  Those words have carried me through more than one tough time.  When my mother was four years old her father died as a result of a work-related accident but he handcrafted a wooden rattle, intricately fitted together, for her when she was born.  I still have it.  I use it in telling a particular tale.

Grandparents bring special gifts to the relationships they build with their grandchildren.  Their wisdom and views have stood the test of time.  They have an understanding of the truly important things in life.  A Fire Truck Named Red (Farrar Straus Giroux, May 3, 2016) written by Randall De Seve with pictures by Bob Staake is a story about the power of remembering and passing those memories from one generation to the next.

This is the shiny new fire truck Rowan wanted for his birthday.

It sat front and center in a store window.  It is the next best thing to having a real fire truck.  The ladder, hose, siren and lights are operational; extending, squirting, blinking and screaming "here we come to the rescue."  It moves without a sound down streets like a true hero.

What Rowan gets for his birthday is not the fire truck in the store window.  His grandfather gives him a fire truck named Red he had as a boy.  It has definitely seen better days.  His disappointment is so fierce Rowan barely hears his grandfather's promise to make it as good as new.

Together in his workshop Papa begins the transformation and the storytelling for Rowan.  His recollections are as vivid as if they are happening in the here and now.  As young Papa and Red race to a nearby tree a wayward feline is rescued.  When Papa happens to mention strength and elephants, Rowan's curiosity is piqued.  A trip to the circus results in a two-way waterworks session.

Just in the nick of time, the tanks on Red are refilled as disaster strikes the local library.  Before he knows what is happening Rowan and young Papa are riding on Red, streaming past traffic in less than ideal weather conditions.  Teamwork prevails.  And the fire truck named Red is exactly right for Rowan.

As we read and watch the connection between Papa and Rowan grow we are increasingly mindful of Randall De Seve's very real experiences with listening and reading stories.  She begins by establishing a strong link to Rowan.  At one time or another we have all longed for a special toy.

She then helps us understand the love Papa has for his childhood fire truck and for his grandson.  By blending conversations, reminisces and narration we feel the emotional attachment soar between Rowan, his grandfather and the fire truck named Red.  We become part of Papa's past right along with Rowan.  Readers will sense a rhythm as Rowan prompts each retelling with the words,

"So what did you do?"

Here is a sample passage.

Rowan looked over a Papa's cat, Fritz.
Cats are boring, he thought.
Still, he knew how to be polite.
"So what did you do?"
"Red and I rushed to the scene!
"Red's ladder reached all the way up---
and we got that scared cat down.
Poor thing kicked and clawed the 
whole way. The cat was nearly as
strong as the elephants."

The dust jacket presents Papa's fire truck named Red, a well-loved vehicle.  The stylized lettering on Red makes reference to Papa and his toy racing from one adventure to another.  To the left, on the back an illustration similar to one in the interior shows Rowan dejectedly but respectfully watching his grandfather resurrect the truck in his garage workshop.  Papa is already speaking as a storyteller with eyes closed for the moment in remembrance.

The opening and closing endpapers are bold and bright in fire-engine red.  Tiny visuals of Red pepper the pages.  The image on the front of the jacket is replicated on crisp white for the title page.  As De Seve introduces the story in words, Bob Staake does in cheerful two-pages illustrations, the second a detailed portrait of the fancy new fire truck.  This contrasts sharply with the image of Red as the gift Rowan receives.

For many of the single page pictures Staake uses a thinly striped background in either yellow, blue or red. The real treat for readers is his depiction of Papa's boyhood memories rendered in sepia tones spanning across one and more and sometimes two pages.  They look as though they are pages from a book layered on the present representations with Rowan looking and reading them and eventually whisked away into one of them.

One wonderful thing about the work of Bob Staake endears readers to his books; his characters' round faces and features.  He is able to convey a range of emotions with his clever placement of lines.  I am not sure how he was able to do it, but whenever Red is shown, you expect it to, softly but with purpose and speed, drive right off the page.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Across the top in brown tones are Red and young Papa spraying water on the thirsty and hot elephants in the circus.  As several performers and the ringmaster watch, the larger of the elephants is shooting water back at Papa.  Below present-day Papa is speaking to a happy Rowan.  On the workbench a slowly improving Red sits.

Whether they will willingly admit it or not grandchildren love to hear about the adventures their grandparents had as children.  A Fire Truck Named Red written by Randall De Seve with pictures by Bob Staake bridges any gap there might be between generations with love and story.  The text and images pair exquisitely to take us from present to past and back again with ease.  This is a must read title.

To explore the websites and work of Randall De Seve and Bob Staake please follow the links attached to their names.  By accessing the publisher's website you can view seven interior illustrations.  At TeachingBooks.net you can listen to a pronunciation of Randall De Seve's name.   You can read more about this title through guest posts by Randall De Seve at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher and Mundie Kids hosted by Katie.  UPDATE:  Randall De Seve wrote a wonderful guest post at the Nerdy Book Club on May 8, 2016.


  1. I have my paternal grandmother's, my Nonna's pasta machine and cheese grater, as well as her cedar chest (which I use as a coffee table); and a cabinet built by my maternal grandfather, who was a carpenter. They are near & dear to me :)

  2. I know exactly what you mean Maria. I have my father's dresser he had when he was a little boy and my mother's tiny little rocking chair she had as a little girl. There are precious stories attached to each one of these just like this book.

  3. I loved Randall de Seve's Toy Boat. Looking forward to reading A Fire Truck Named Red. Sounds wonderful!

    1. I love Toy Boat too, Robin. I know you will love Red also. She has a way with words and her illustrators in both books are great.