Children’s Book of the Week: If I Built a Car

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen

This is one of those books that I’m hesitant to recommend, because it’s such a staple in our lives that I worry you’ll all roll your eyes and say, “Tell me something I don’t know” or whatever hip lingo the kids are using these days. But apparently some of you hadn’t heard about Toot and Puddle* so maybe I need to pull my head out of the book pile and realize that sometimes people do things other than read kid books all day.

We have three of Maine author Chris Van Dusen’s books, and all are wonders of illustration and rhyme (the other two we have are Mr. Magee books, which I may review at a later time; we love those too). If I Built a Car is about a boy named Jack who designs a giant fantastic car, and the book basically takes us on a tour of the car. It’s a fifties modern wonder, with fins and a robot driver, a couch, fireplace, and automatic food machine. Not to mention the ability to dive underwater and fly through the air, and with exhaust that smells like blueberry muffins.

The thing about Van Dusen’s books are the illustrations, which are precise and realistic and cartoonish and wonderful. But the rhyming text is also rollicking and memorable and moves everything along briskly. I love the Mr. Magee books too, but I love the whole sort of secret backstory in this one, of Jack designing his car, and then you can see elements from his toys and the furniture in his room in his final design. The endpapers show some of his rejected designs. You also get the feeling that Jack is modeled on a young Van Dusen, drawing and dreaming the day away. So I definitely also like the message to kids that they should be free to work hard on dreaming up whatever crazy design that lives in their heads (because they’re kids, so when else are they going to have time to do this?).

*My current favorite search term that lands people on this site is “toot and puddle gay?”

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