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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Warning: Construction (2017 Books) Ahead

A girl could go quite mad.

This is what happens when a blogger has a two-year-old with a penchant for vehicular momentum.  I blame his obsession on the fact that the house next door was leveled and a new one put in its place.  Suddenly my son had a front row seat for the excavator / cement mixer / dump truck / bulldozer show.  Since that time his appreciation has only grown and darned if the publishing industry has done nothing but feed his need for all things construction related.  When I come home after a long day at work he looks up at me with those baby blues asking, “Excavator book?”

What could a mother do?

She could . . . she could . . . she could . . .

She could start establishing criteria.

BEHOLD then!  My masterpiece!  Forged in the fires of reading every possible construction equipment book in the universe multiple times, I give you the criteria by which I shall now judge every new construction equipment book that darkens my door in the future.  And to begin, let us take each of the books I’ve seen thus far in 2017 and determine who is doing it the best.  What book is the BEST construction book of 2017 so far?  First up, the challengers:

All Kinds of Cars by Carl Johanson

allkindsofcars

Beep Beep Beep, Time for Sleep! by Claire Freedman, ill. Richard Smythe

beepbeepbeep

Bulldozer Helps Out by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann

bulldozerhelps1

Dalmation in a Digger by Rebecca Elliott

dalmationdigger

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, ill. Tom Lichtenheld

mightymighty

Old MacDonald’s Things That Go by Jane Clarke, ill. Migy Blanco

oldmacdonaldthings

Ready, Set, Build! by Meg Fleming, ill. Jarvis

readysetbuild1

Now we will judge each and every one of them using the following criteria:

1. Is the construction equipment up-to-date, correctly named, and accurate to its job?

2. If the equipment is anthropomorphized, are there girl vehicles as well as boy vehicles?

3. Does the text match the images?

4. Does it have a story that makes sense or is it just a random series of vehicles?

I won’t apply all of these to each book, since they all won’t apply.  Just the ones that do.

All right.  Time to run the books through the wringer.  Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

All Kinds of Cars by Carl Johanson

allkindsofcars

Swedish!  And yet, if you’d asked me before I checked, I would have said French.  Now when European vehicle books are translated and brought to the American market they tend to do two very interesting and similar things.

1. They will usually show recycling (which is good) and, for whatever reason, mobile pooper scooper motorcycles.  I wish I was kidding about that.

2. The firefighters (which are always all men) wear outfits that are distinctly different from American firefighter outfits.

In the case of this particular book, let’s look at how it handled the criteria, hmmmm?

Is the construction equipment up-to-date, correctly named, and accurate to its job?

Johanson is going the Richard Scarry route with this book.  Which is to say, the Cars and Trucks and Things That Go route.  He has plenty of real equipment that is properly named in this book, doing their jobs correctly.  Then he just makes stuff up.  Igloo Car.  Steam Car.  Chip Car (which they failed to translate to the American market as “French Fry Car”).  The Hip-Hop Car shows a character wearing a do-rag, by the way.  It made me wonder if this word came from the English translation and what the original Swedish term might have been.  As for the construction equipment, it checks off this box well.

Does it have a story that makes sense or is it just a random series of vehicles?

Just random vehicles.  Which is fine.  A lot of kids don’t care (see previous mention of Richard Scarry).

Final Score:  It’s beautiful but does have moments when you wonder if a bit of translating the English translators wouldn’t have been out of place.  Then again, the construction equipment is great, and it’s not just relegated to a single double-page spread.  Those excavators my son loves come up again and again throughout the book, rewarding the patient reader.  So from 1 to 10 I’m going to give this a strong 7.5. 

Next up . . .

Beep Beep Beep, Time for Sleep! by Claire Freedman, ill. Richard Smythe

beepbeepbeep

Another import, this time from Britain.  Better still, there are no mentions of “chips” in this book!  The storyline eschews anthropomorphized trucks (at least in the illustrations, but I’ll get to that) and a multicultural and dual-gendered human cast, which I seriously appreciated. Now for the criteria.

Is the construction equipment up-to-date, correctly named, and accurate to its job?

Well, the most out-of-date equipment to continually show up in picture book is the steam shovel.  None were in evidence here, which was good.  Unfortunately, I’m docking a point for referring to an excavator as a “digger”.  That same excavator is also described as “clawing holes” which is sort of true, but feels weird to say.  A steam roller is called a “road roller” here, and that I have no problem with.  “Steam roller” is a pretty outdated term in and of itself.

If the equipment is anthropomorphized, are there girl vehicles as well as boy vehicles?

No, but see previous statement about girl construction workers and boy construction workers.  That’s actually pretty rare.

Does the text match the images?

Ah.  Well, there’s the rub.  I got the distinct feeling that the text and the images were done with entirely different ideas in mind.  Most of the book is pretty straightforward.  Then, near the end, Freedman starts anthropomorphizing the vehicles.  “Grader yawns and off he lumbers, soon to snore in sleepy slumbers.”  Apparently the vehicles were supposed to have faces all this time.  Only Richard Smythe don’t play that way.  So even when the book says that the vehicles “snuggle down, they’ve worked so hard” or “one by one they fall asleep”, they just looked like regular parked trucks at the end.  It’s a bit disconcerting, to be honest.

Final Score: Obviously this was an attempt to do a goodnight construction vehicle book in the same vein as Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site.  So in that book you had lines like, “He cuts his engine, slows his drum . . .” and here you’ll have “He cuts his motor, dims his light.”  It’s not a copy.  It’s just a bit of repetition in an already packed field.  Freedman’s rhymes don’t scan quite as well as Rinker’s either, and I had a hard time figuring out if that was because of the cross-cultural move.  There’s an early pull-out spread at the beginning of the book that’s a little odd since it feels unearned.  Nice, but unearned.  But in the end, it’s the fact that the trucks are written as if they’re anthropomorphized while the art ignores that fact that was the most problematic.  My score is 4.5. 

Bulldozer Helps Out by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann

bulldozerhelps1

A very pleasant surprise!  American to its core and a sequel, no less.  This is the follow up to Bulldozer’s Big Day.  That book didn’t actually do it for me.  It was a pretty standard set-up of someone thinking everyone forgot their birthday only to find that SURPRISE!  They remembered all along.  That plot’s been around so long that Battle Bunny made fun of it.  This book was a lot different and a big surprise to me.  I did NOT see the surprise reveal coming (though there’s even a clue about it on the cover).  The art was gorgeous, as per usual with Eric Rohmann, and I really liked the writing.

So then . . .

Is the construction equipment up-to-date, correctly named, and accurate to its job?

There is a “Digger Truck” rather than an “Excavator Truck” so that was disappointing.  But otherwise everything seems pretty much on the up-and-up.

If the equipment is anthropomorphized, are there girl vehicles as well as boy vehicles?

Ah!  An excellent question.  And one I don’t have an answer to.  Fleming is very careful not to give almost any vehicle a pronoun.  So you could technically read each and every one of these vehicles as female, if you wanted to.  That’s cool.

Final Score: Unlike a lot of the other construction books here today, this one is probably the most visually pleasing.  There’s a wordless two-page spread here that might honestly take your breath away, it’s so lovely.  The publication page says, “The illustrations for this book were made using relief (block) prints painted in multiple colors, using a relief printmaking process called ‘reduction printing.’  The last plate was the ‘key’ image, which was printed in black over the color.”  You won’t get that level of care and attention in most construction books.  I’m giving this one a high 8.5.

Dalmation in a Digger by Rebecca Elliott

dalmationdiggerIt’s funny.  I see bedtime construction books all over the place, but until I saw Elliott’s book I hadn’t really seen many that showed off the sounds of the equipment.  Diggers Go by Steve Light is the most obvious exception to this rule, of course, but Elliott’s book is notable since it attempts to write in a plot as well.  With mixed results, admittedly.

Is the construction equipment up-to-date, correctly named, and accurate to its job?

It’s called “Dalmation in a Digger” so I’m going to forgive it for not going with “excavator” in this case.  Alliteration is an excellent excuse.

If the equipment is anthropomorphized, are there girl vehicles as well as boy vehicles?

No, the equipment isn’t anthropomorphized here.  The animal workers are, though.  Of these, I was particularly interested in the camel in the crane.  Eyelashes are often the universal symbol for “this character is a girl”.  My daughter actually complained about this in Beep Beep Beep, Time for Sleep! but I’ve never minded it too much.  In this case, the camel is a girl (the eyelashes are here accompanied by a flower on the helmet).  So there you go.

Does it have a story that makes sense or is it just a random series of vehicles?

Sorta?  Not really.  I mean, the story sort of makes sense in that these vehicles are apparently building a treehouse for the doggie hero of this tale.  But how this has been accomplished is vague.  Nothing these trucks are doing in the pages actually matches up with the treehouse itself.  One of my husband’s excavator complaints is that too often in books they’re shown as building something when they’re really more useful in demolition.  That could definitely be said to be the case in this book.

Final Score:  Is the dalmation hero the child of the dalmation in the digger?  Why was the camel the only animal that seemed to be working on the treehouse for most of the book?  It’s a mystery for the ages.  Giving this one a 5.0.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, ill. Tom Lichtenheld

mightymighty

I came to this book’s mighty famous predecessor Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site with some trepidation.  It was nice enough but why were ALL the vehicles male?  Now the sequel has come out and not only does it contain some wonderful callbacks for parents who’ve had to read the book a million times (I, for one, appreciated the “Hey, Pipe Down!” guy turning into the “Hey, Wake Up!” guy) but there are girls galore!  And they’re not all cutesy AND they don’t have long eyelashes!

Is the construction equipment up-to-date, correctly named, and accurate to its job?

Hon, it’s so accurate I may have to start comparing other books to it as the gold standard in the future.  I hadn’t seen a skid-steer loader in a book since that rather wonderful book Digger Dozer Dumper from a couple years ago.  Not only that you’ve a concrete pumper and a front loader and so many more!

If the equipment is anthropomorphized, are there girl vehicles as well as boy vehicles?

Yes indeed.  And they’re wonderful.

Does the text match the images?

It really does.  There’s not a moment of disconnect.

Does it have a story that makes sense or is it just a random series of vehicles?

This may be what I like best about the book.  Anyone that has to face writing a sequel to a massively popular book knows the pressure that goes down.  Rinker tried following up her hit with Steam Train, Dream Train but it couldn’t replicate the magic.  So she’s returned to the construction site, but this time her trick was to add companion vehicles to help the ones we already knew.  Genius!

Final Score: Even the rhymes scan better in this book than they did in the original!  The only point of contention I have with the book is the same one that Kirkus had.  Mainly . . . what the HECK is that structure they were building all this time?  Take a look at it.  It may be modern art, but it sure as heck isn’t a finished building.  Mighty odd.  Otherwise, a near perfect book.  I’m giving it a 9.5.

Old MacDonald’s Things That Go by Jane Clarke, ill. Migy Blanco

oldmacdonaldthings

You’d be forgiven if you got this one a bit mixed up with last year’s Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz.  If I’m not too much mistaken this is another British import.  Lots of bindles in this book, for some reason.  Plus the occasional sombrero.  It’s a catchy take on the song, no question.

Is the construction equipment up-to-date, correctly named, and accurate to its job?

There’s only one piece of equipment in this book, aside from the tractor, and that would be the steam shovel.  Something straight out of Mike Mulligan, it is.  It’s called a digger in this book, and the only way I could justify its existence was if this book was set in the past.  Which, considering the fact that there’s a steam train in here, lots of bindles, and nary a cell phone in sight . . . it’s a working theory.

Does it have a story that makes sense or is it just a random series of vehicles?

Unlike the aforementioned Old MacDonald Had a Truck, this book sort of ignores the idea of making a single story.  The end result isn’t bad. It’s just not quite as engaging.

Final Score: Beware the end of this book if you are prone to shortness of breath.  To pull of the ending would take a LOT of energy, considering how long it is and how intensely you’d have to work to keep a very young audience engaged.  It’s beautiful to look at, by the way.  And maybe it’s not fair to pair it with these other straight-up construction books.  Still, I’m giving it a final score of 6.

Ready, Set, Build! by Meg Fleming, ill. Jarvis

readysetbuild1

A blue pup wants a home for himself and his bird.  This is one of the younger books on this list, and that’s saying something.  Oddly there aren’t that many vehicles in this book.  There is an excavator, happily, though it isn’t named.  So I’m going to skip the criteria this time around and just jump to the final score.

Final Score: It seems a lost opportunity not to fill this book with more construction vehicles.  Ah well.  At least there’s an overall sense of building and creating.  It’s not a bad book.  Just a slight one.  Final score then is 6.5.

Thanks for reading!  And be aware that I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any additional construction books in 2017.  There are more I’ve missed, I’m sure of it.  You’ll see!

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Hi, Betsy. I personally have very little interest in construction books. However, I just had to say that experience of watching a house demolished and a new one built + all the wonderful books you talked about just might plant seeds that could someday lead to an engineering degree or a desire to grow up and drive “big boy toys” for real. You never know . . . . .