Smash! Crash! is the first of a new 50 book extravaganza about "Trucktown" being published by Simon & Schuster. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka is the author and creator of the series, with titles co-illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. The series will include picture books, board books, early readers, pop-ups, and a webkinz-like online world. The idea behind the series, an idea central to Scieszka's career, is that books should be about things that kids find fun. And, after attending a reading by the author yesterday at Hicklebee's, I have it on first-hand experience that kids think that Smash! Crash! is fun. (Photo below taken and generously shared by Susan Taylor Brown.)
The characters in Smash! Crash! are trucks, of various types. The main characters in the story are Jack Truck (a red flatbed) and Dump Truck Dan. They are surrounded by other quirky trucks like Izzy Ice Cream Truck, Tow Truck Ted, and Gabriella Garbage Truck. The kids in the audience for the reading especially liked Monster Truck Max, with his many eyes, and Rescue Rita, a baby ambulance with one tooth.
The story follows Jack and Dan as they make their way around the city, smashing things up whenever they can. Their smashing is loud and vigorous, but usually has surprisingly positive results. For example, they smash a bunch of dump detritus into the shape of a pirate ship and play on it. The two friends spend the book on the run from an unseen, big voice calling "Hey you two. I want you." But in the end, when the voice catches up with them, they find one more opportunity to do what they love -- smash and crash.
The text is sometimes poetic, with refrains like:
Jack and Dan hit the road.
"Got to go!"
There's enough repetition to give kids the chance to predict what's going to happen on the next page, with phrases like "Come on and..." at the end of one page, and "Smash! Crash!" on the next. SMASH and CRASH are written in big, bold, dramatic letters, letters that virtually cry out for yelling. This is not a passive book, but rather one that begs for read-aloud and audience participation. It's not a bedtime book, but is an excellent choice for storytime.
The digitally rendered illustrations are colorful, over-the-top, and engaging. Each truck's personality is conveyed through headlight eyes and grillwork mouths and other endearing quirks (the pink garbage trucks carries a teddy bear wherever she goes, though it's not mentioned in the text). I can easily picture these illustrations animated for television (though I'm glad that the books will come first). The pictures are vibrant and lively, with the action visually pulling kids' attention from one page to the next. And in a special visual treat, there is one page that folds out, upwards, to display the tall Wrecking Crane Rosie.
I love the fact that several of the trucks are girl trucks, including the garbage truck, grader, and wrecking crane, trucks that might, stereotypically, have been considered masculine. Grader Kit, for example, has purple tires and long eyelashes and is quite feminine, as trucks go. I think that it goes without saying that a series about trucktown, beginning with a book about smashing things, will appeal to many preschool boys. But I think that this well-executed, brightly colored book will also appeal to girls.
The story and vocabulary in Smash! Crash! may not be complex enough to hold the attention of elementary school kids, unless they can be in a big group, yelling "Smash! Crash!" at will. But I think that this book is destined to please many, many preschoolers. It's going on my mental list of "can't miss picture books to give as gifts." Highly recommended, and a lot of fun.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.