Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

More Than One Way . . .

Decades ago, more than truckers had CB radios in their vehicles.  This was a time before mobile or cell phones.  CB radios provided a sense of security in case of an emergency. (My handle was Book Mama.)  The conversations between truckers were entertaining and informative.  They would often alert drivers of traffic congestion and alternate routes to follow.  Truckers would honk their horns when it was safe to pass and flash their lights when it was good to move back into a lane.  Travelers got the sense they were a part of a highway group who would look out for each other.

Truckers haul goods within a neighborhood, a state, or from one side of the country to another.  They are essential connectors.  In Big Truck Little Island (Candlewick Press, May 3, 2022) written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, a truck becomes the focus of an unexpected complication.  It is children who propose the obvious.

Out on the ocean, one bright summer day,
bound for an island, still five miles away,
a tugboat was towing a truck on a barge---
a truck that was hauling a load, extra large.

The load on the truck was covered, hidden from sight.  After the barge docked on one side of the island, the truck needed to reach the opposite side, an eastern meadow, by traversing a narrow winding road.  Progress was slow, the load weighed twenty plus tons.

The driver was at the beginning of his route when a switchback threw him a curve.  The twenty-plus-ton load shifted and the trailer was no longer under his control.  As luck would have it, the trailer stuck fast in the mud, but now the road was blocked.

Soon four cars, two from the north and two from the south, wanted to pass.  Meg, Barry, Pete, and Sue had things to do.  Parents with patience waning waited.  Meg, Barry, Pete, and Sue left their vehicles and gathered.  They devised a perfect plan.  

As friends and neighbors, they knew what to do.  So, a swim meet, ballet practice, science project, and dog wash were attended on time.  What happened to the truck, you ask?  Like the barge brought it to the island, a wrecker pulled it clear.  That night, the load on the truck's trailer was disclosed to the islanders.  It was a marvelous sight.

Whether read silently or aloud, the words penned by Chris Van Dusen create a lively, inviting cadence.  His rhyming couplets freely flow, forming a tale of cleverness and community.  His definitive word choices take us to a memorable place and time.  Here is a passage.

The trailer was tipping, everything slipping!
The wheels in the way back were no longer gripping!
They skidded and slid off the road and then---

Rendered in gouache, the full color artwork by Chris Van Dusen we see first on the open and matching dust jacket and book case gives us on the front, right side, the dilemma the truck driver and neighbors face.  To the left of the spine, on the back, on a cornflower blue background is an oval image.  On the white canvas, Barry, Meg, Pete, and Sue are assessing the situation and discussing a solution.  The title text on the jacket is varnished.

The pale yellow in the sky on the front of the jacket and case and in the title text is used for the opening and closing endpapers.  A luminescent image precedes the title page.  A blazing sun in a yellow sky fashions a shimmering path on the waterway.  In the distance along the horizon, the tugboat is pulling the truck and trailer on the barge.  With a page turn a double-page picture spreads between the verso and title pages.  We have moved up close to the tug, barge, truck and trailer.  On the far right we can see the island coming into view.  Dolphins dive on the right side of the vehicles as if to guide them.  Seagulls act as guardians.

Chris Van Dusen alternates between double-page images, full-page visuals, and smaller illustrations set in white space.  His representations of the four children waiting in their cars with visions of where they must be are fabulous.  They are set against the rocky walls rising on the side of the road.

His perspectives are stunning, offering us a gorgeous bird's eye view of the island and then we find ourselves feeling as though we are a passenger in the truck when the load shifts, dragging it over the edge of the road.  We experience the shock of the driver, the driver with a MOM tattoo on his arm.  His canine companion looks at the back, equally shocked by the sound.

The hues in his illustrations are breathtaking in their realism.  Near photographic details bring us deeply into the narrative.  Wildlife is present as is island flora like lupines.  The facial expressions on all the characters supply us with a clear understanding of their emotions. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Sue, her sheepdog Bunk and her Mom stopped by the truck crossing the road.  Sue is imaging Bunk at the dog wash.  He had a meeting with a skunk.  Sue's mom has a clothespin on her nose.  Sue is plugging her nose with her fingers as Bunk squeezes through the open window next to her.  Bunk is happy as the proverbial clam.

This book, Big Truck Little Island written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, is based on a real event.  An author's note describes the incident.  If you are seeking a story about community and cooperation, this title is a brilliant choice.  Readers will gasp at the last double-page image.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Chris Van Dusen and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  You will enjoy the informative Q &A section.  Chris Van Dusen has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website, you can download an activity kit and a teacher's guide.  At Penguin Random House, you can view interior illustrations.

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