Friday, January 13, 2012

No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell

His real name is Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, but everyone calls him No. 1. Why? Because he is the absolute No. 1 at car spotting in his small village in a country in Africa. With the men – and many of the women – of the village gone to the city for work, No. 1 lives with his mother, siblings, and grandparents and they and all the people of the village work together to survive and have a happy life.

Each chapter is an episode in No. 1’s life. In the first chapter, he shows his family and the village that his car spotting is more than a hobby and comes up with a unique solution for their broken cart. In No. 1 Goes to Market, No. 1 is innocently enjoying the hard work and the amazing sights and smells of the market when something truly embarrassing happens. Nevertheless, he mans up and mangages to come through for Auntie Fine-Fine. In 7Up, we meet No. 1’s friend Coca-Cola and see how No. 1 almost loses his name by letting his stomach do his thinking. In the final story, No. 1 and the Wheelbarrow, No. 1 and his family have to make painful decisions when Grandmother is very sick and there’s no money for a doctor.

Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus stories introduced us to a little girl in the middle class and the warmth and love of her family. No. 1 introduces to a family that’s on a very different economic level, but still the importance of family shines through the story. No. 1’s inventive determination and gleeful enjoyment of his simple, impoverished life doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities but presents them in an age-appropriate and hopeful way.

Warwick Cadwell’s sketches decorate every page, showing No. 1 and his village and their trials and celebrations. A few quick lines and shading show No. 1’s changing emotions as he solves his family’s problems and the enthusiasm and zest of his family and friends.

Verdict: This slim paperback would make a great read-aloud in a class or program; the story moves in the natural rhythms of a storyteller. It may be difficult to get intermediate readers to pick up this story on their own, since they’re used to chapter books with either nonstop action or fiction about kids in conventional American elementary schools, but promote this to teachers as a read aloud and it will definitely find an audience.

ISBN: 9781610670517; Published September 2011 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher

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