The No. 1 Car Spotter
Atinuke, author
Warwick Johnson Cadwell, illustrator
Walker Books (U.K.); Kane Miller (U. S.)
2011

I have Betsy Bird over at Fuse #8 to thank for first mentioning Anna Hibiscus (and for that I’m eternally grateful–we are BIG Anna fans around here). So, when I hear Atinuke had a boy book coming out, I bought it. I don’t buy too many books, but it will take some time for this to trickle down to our public library.

And I’m so glad I did! I think I *might* like No. 1 Car Spotter better than Anna! It’s a toss up, really, but I think Atinuke’s style in this book is even more approachable for American readers. Her storytelling cadence is still there, making this a terrific read aloud, but it also flows a bit more like a traditional chapter book as far as each chapter opening goes–so newly independent readers will sail right through it.

The No. 1 Car Spotter is a boy who lives in an African village–a poor African village–with his large extended family. Most of the men have gone to the city to find work (to buy their kids shoes and send them to school), and No. 1 and his peers are at home helping the women farm, sell items at the market, and survive their hard life. But that hard life has its adventures, too, and No. 1 helps to save the day (albeit sometimes by accident). No. 1 is tempted to grumble and shirk work like most any kid of my acquaintance, but he ends up realizing why the work he does is important and how much it helps the family. Atinuke doesn’t shove this “lesson” in our faces, though. It’s a subtle outworking of the plot, and I get the feeling that she’s simply revealing some important cultural understandings more than preaching to anyone.

The illustrations are quirky, there are lots of fun car mentions in this book, No. 1 has some funny experiences (such as when he’s supposed to be buying lipstick, but doesn’t know what lipstick is), and there is a poignant moment when the respected grandmother is deathly ill. Through it all, there’s a respect for persons (especially the grownups), an understanding of the way life is, and No. 1’s amazing talent for spotting cars!

This is an early chapter book that early elementary kids who are reading independently will read easily. As I mentioned earlier, it also will make a great read aloud–better, in some ways, than Anna Hibiscus because the chapters are a little shorter. Check out Betsy Bird’s review of No. 1 and see the author reading a portion in a video link!

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