The No. 1 Car Spotter
by Atinuke; illus. by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Primary, Intermediate Kane Miller 112 pp.
9/11 Paper ed. 978-1-61067-051-7 $5.99
Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, called No. 1, is the best car spotter in his African village. His unnamed country has cities and towns with skyscrapers, hotels, offices, tap water, electricity, and televisions, but in his village they “only talk about such things.” In their limited spare time, No. 1 and his grandfather sit by the side of the road, calling out the makes and models of cars. “It is what we men do…What Grandfather does not know about spotting cars is not to know.” In the first story of four, when the village’s only market cart breaks, it’s No. 1’s ingenuity, the seeds of which have been planted by his grandfather, that saves the village (aptly, the solution involves a disabled car). One of Atinuke’s gifts is her ability to tell her stories with humor while introducing serious topics to younger readers. Here, we meet a boy who learns to face the challenges of life in a village where the men have left to seek work in the city. Whether it’s helping to man the market stall, shopping for lipstick for Auntie Fine-Fine, working for food, or worrying about his sick grandmother’s lack of money for a doctor, we see a boy who is willing to pitch in and to think about solutions. Stylized black-and-white illustrations have the energy to match No. 1. Frequent perspective changes, exaggerated facial features, and light pen line add movement, giving readers the idea that No. 1 and his friends are always moving, always ready for the next assignment. A welcome addition to the very small selection of books — particularly early chapter books — about modern Africa.
From the November/December 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.