There is much to be said for simplicity. The elegant understated picture book that contains peaceful moments of serenity with the idea that a child might get lost in the image of a single field during a snowstorm, say, for hours at a time. Yes indeed. Nothing like it. There is much to be said for simplicity, but let me level with you. When I was a kid I liked quiet books, but only when my craving for the wild, colorful, frantic, and fast-paced had been fulfilled. It’s easy to swallow Tasha Tudor when you’ve supped first on some Seuss and Scarry. Part of what I love about picture books is that there’s room for all kinds. The long and the short. The classic and the new. The understated and, in this particular case, the overwhelming. Brian Biggs has brought to life the literary equivalent of Pop Rocks and Pixie Stix dissolved into Jolt Cola. A hugely entertaining, entirely loving citywide romp that puts the author/illustrator on the map and (I predict) will be impossible to pries from the hands of many a vehicular loving tot.
In the first few panels we see a boy and his father hop into their car and take off. Onto highways, off ramps, and finally into the big city. The two take note as they drive of all the kinds of vehicles they see. Different kinds of cars and bicycles. An array of motor homes and motorcycles. Trains and trucks. Buses and subways. Basically if you can think of the method of ground transportation, it’s in here somewhere. Biggs breaks up his incredibly detailed city scenes with close examinations of the vehicles in question. You might see the different parts the bicycle on one page or the way a motorcycle comes together on another. Finally, we learn about the duo’s ultimate destination and then it’s a quick jaunt home yet again.
No surprise that Mr. Biggs loved to pieces his copy of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go when he was a kid. This book feels like nothing so much as the lovechild of Richard Scarry and Robert Crumb with a healthy dose of Mark Alan Stamaty for spice. I explain. The Scarry comparison is obvious. One of the great joys of his books is that in the midst of great big city scenes you can find small storylines and continuing gags. Like Scarry, Biggs makes a point of identifying vehicles of different types and kinds. Yet he also has little hidden details that kids will love to find. I’m thinking specifically of the birds wearing hats. Every big complicated scene in the book (and I checked) contains at least one bird wearing a hat. So there’s a certain kind of child who will pore over this book page by page, searching for these birds and their unexpectedly stylish headgear. The numbers 1 to 100 appear throughout the book too, so try to find them all! As for my Robert Crumb comparison, his Mr. Natural may not make a direct appearance in this book, but it sure looks like a lot of his various family members and relations got in somehow. Finally, it’s hard to read this book without thinking about the remarkable (not to say mildly insane) classic work of seventies insanity Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty. It may be black and white but what it lacks in saturation it makes up for in sheer detail. Consider pairing that book with this one if you’re feeling like experiencing what it must feel like to pop your eyeballs in a dishwasher for a while.
Of course the difference between Biggs and Scarry is in the details. Not the fact that both of them do details (in fact Biggs seems even more dedicated to callbacks and surprises that Scarry was) but rather that Mr. Biggs is a fan of the shout-out. It must be very satisfying to be a friend of Mr. Biggs. Like fellow illustrator Dan Santat, the man is not afraid to fill his pages with names that I suspect refer often to real people. I was convinced of this when I noticed near the back of the book that the streetcar at the end is traveling towards Bray Avenue. Donna Bray’s imprint is the one printing this book, remember. After realizing that I decided that this book must be chock full of in-jokes. Not a problem in the least, but it does mean that Mr. Biggs will have to created The Annotated Everything Goes on Land someday to satisfy the curiosity of his yet unborn fans.
I think what really shines through in this book, though, is the creator’s sheer love for cities. I know the title is ostensibly about vehicles and modes of transportation, but you look at the care taken with each scene and it feels like nothing so much as a love song to city living. The busyness and excitement of the different scenes just make you feel like you want to take a trip there. Yes, I’d like to visit Le Pont de Sevres Bakery or Thrift Town. I’d want to try the subway system or hear the buskers. Biggs just sort of identifies the best parts of city living and renders what could be overwhelming and scary into the merely fun and full. There’s something to be said for that. He’s like an anti-Ezra Jack Keats (in a good way, I mean).
The back of the book tells you right upfront that this is just the first in a series that will later include books where everything goes into the air and then into the sea. Indeed Biggs makes a sly allusion to that himself on the very last page. There you can see a stop sign and below it a picture of a plane with an arrow. Clearly we’re proceeding to the airport next. My fingers are firmly crossed for a zeppelin (since Biggs met my penny-farthing desires, I have every reason in the world to believe that he will make it so).
I envision the future of this book as an answer to those parents who want something like Richard Scarry but who also want hidden details along the lines of Where’s Waldo? and Walter Wick‘s books. I could probably go on for a couple more paragraphs discussing all the stuff Mr. Biggs has hidden in this book, but what fun would that be for you? Best that you locate yourself your own copy and enjoy it that way. Everything Goes on Land is sort of the perfect gift book for a child, any child, regardless of a predisposition for vehicular transportation or not. It’s just fun on a bunch of different levels. Give it to the kid who has a parent that’s sick and tired of rereading picture books. Odds are it’ll become their favorite book too.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
I can talk all day but it’s the video that drills it home.