Monday, November 28, 2011

Cybils Nominee: The No. 1 Car Spotter

The majority of early chapter books feature protagonists very much like their readers. Yes, Clementine might live in a basement apartment in Brooklyn and Stuey Lewis in a suburban house, but their day-to-day experiences are a reassuringly mix of  recognizable families, friends, and routines. The name of Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, the hero of Atinuke's latest chapter book, provides a strong clue that readers will be entering new territory.

Benson lives with his extended family in a compound in a rural village somewhere in Africa. There are many chores to be done, and he's kept busy fetching water for the cows, collecting firewood, and running errands for family members. His free time is spent not playing video games or watching TV or throwing a baseball, but spotting cars. Not many cars pass by the village, but of the one that do, Benson spots before seeing them, recognizing the different makes from the sounds of their engines. His prowess earns him the nickname, No. 1 Car Spotter, or No. 1, for short.

Atinuke, a Nigerian-born storyteller now living in the UK, shares several stories about No. 1. The first, my favorite, begins with a calamity. The family's cart breaks, and now there is no way to bring the produce and goods to market the next day. No. 1 gets a brilliant idea, one that features an old, dilapidated Toyota Corolla, and the whole community gets together to make his vision a reality.

The other stories in this collection take readers to the market place, where they see an embarrassed No. 1 attempt to buy lipstick for his busy aunt, and to stay with his best friend, 7 Up, where he so enjoys his friend's mother's cooking that he forgets to come home. The final story deals with the illness of the family's grandmother and the very real worry of not having enough money to get her the medicine and help she needs. Throughout this book, the humor of each situation shines through, as does the bond between the members of this large and boisterous family.

All four stories introduce young readers to a world way different from theirs. But although the setting and customs may be foreign, the way families unite to help one another in bad times and to rejoice in good will, hopefully, be very familiar indeed.  

This book was nominated for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, and this review reflects my opinion only.

The No. 1 Car Spotter
by Atinuke
illustrations by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Kane/Miller, 112 pages
Published: 2011


  1. I have heard great things about this book - thank for your review - I will have to pick it up soon!

  2. Ooh! I loved this book, and have just finished reading the 2nd No.1 book with my girls - my review goes up on Thursday...