A Bus Called Heaven
by Bob Graham; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Candlewick 40 pp.
3/12 978-0-7636-5893-9 $16.99
“The bus brought change to Stella’s street…Stella changed, too.” It’s quiet, pale Stella who takes her thumb out of her mouth and steps onto the bus that has been abandoned outside her house, claiming it for the whole neighborhood. “‘It could be…ours,’ she whispered.” And it’s Heaven (according to the sign taped on to the front of the bus) that provides this ethnically diverse, lower-middle-class group of people space to build a community. Everyone pitches in: cleaning the broken-down, trash-filled vehicle; giving it a cheery paint job (designed by Stella, carried out by two of the Street Ratz gang caught tagging the bus); and donating furniture, a goldfish and a dog, Mrs. Stavros’s bus-shaped cake, books, and Stella’s old table soccer game. Tough bikers, a rabbi, little kids, old people, an imam — all co-exist companionably in Heaven. Graham’s inviting ink and watercolor illustrations vary perspectives dynamically. Close-up, detailed panels celebrate difference, while expansive single- and double-page views pull back to place this little urban utopia in a bleak industrial landscape. Heaven is threatened when a tow truck shows up in the midst of the “music and dancing…picnics and laughter” to haul the “obstruction” to the junkyard. But Stella’s passion (and her impressive table soccer skills) helps win over the junkyard boss and win back the bus. Here, when a priest, a rabbi, and an imam step onto a bus called Heaven, it’s not a joke. It’s simply the way life should be.
From the May/June 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.