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Machines Go to Work in the City

machines go to work in the city

And now for something completely different.

William Low’s work involves details, details and more details. This offering is for the young reader who loves trucks and machinery. It does not disappoint. Following the pattern he introduced in Machines Go To Work, the straight-talkin’ text introduces a piece of machinery and ends with a question. The question is answered when the reader opens a gate-fold which reveals the answer to show (and tell) more about the machinery.

Rich, saturated hues focus the eye on the city machines and the men and women fixing what is broken. The gate-folds are impeccably designed, making it a challenge to see where the flap begins and ends. The final scene of the New York City night skyline involves two folds that open to create a spectacular plane’s-eye view.

William Low has used acrylics and oils as well as digital work in his many books. As far as I can tell, digital art is featured here. (I could find no reference to the medium in the book or on the illustrator’s website, but one of the Amazon review blurbs identified it at digital.) One thing I really appreciate about Low’s work is that you really can’t tell HOW it was created. The brushstrokes, however they are made, add depth, life, and create delicious shadows. I love the details he includes, the texture he accomplishes and the love he has for the city and the machines that keep it humming.

There has been a lot of chatter over the past few years about digitally-created art. Does it matter to you how art is created? Should it matter to the committee?


Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Margaret Wilson says:

    What a great review! Already ordered it — we can’t seem to get enough machine and truck books at our house. And in terms of your question, I think art can be beautiful, no matter how created . . . And no, I don’t think it should matter to the committee unless the quality stinks! Thanks, Robin!

  2. I don’t think it should matter at all how the art is created. Just how it looks and does it work for that particular book.
    I grabbed one of our library’s copies to look at this today and the textures and saturated colors are just gorgeous. Although it has nothing to do with the Caldecott criteria, I also love that we see a variety of skin tones and gender parity. I see what you mean about the flaps being so well designed that where they end doesn’t disrupt the illustrations. While I think it’s cool that the flaps don’t all open the same way, that they open in the direction that makes sense for the illustration, I see practically this is a problem as our copy (which was acquired in August) is already ripped badly on the tunnel flap in such a way that it seems clear to me a child expected that flap to fold out (as the previous two flaps did) instead of down. The crane flap and the final flap (the two other flaps that fold out differently) are both ripped slightly as well.
    It’s great that the questions in the text actually lead to additional information – they don’t give the answer in the question, but require some thought. And that final spread of diagrams (and the crane on the CIP page) will be catnip to machine enthusiasts.
    Over at Heavy Medal in the comments on “It’s Written in the Stars” there’s been a discussion of whether non-fiction has a harder time being recognized because readers unconsciously associate an emotional response (rather than an intellectual one) with quality. I wonder if a book like this faces the same issue in the Caldecott race. If you look historically at the winners I say yes it has a challenge to face – biographies show up, but you don’t see much other non-fiction (A group biography with So You Want to Be President in 2001, but then I’m back to maybe The Glorious Flight in 1984, but I haven’t read that one so it could be a biography). Honors show a much better variety (Red Sings from Treetops in 2010; Gone Wild in 2007; Song of the Water Boatman in 2006, etc. – really something most years it seems)
    Low’s illustrations are beautiful (I mean, check out that sunset at the airport!) and the style works for the content, but there’s no one character to identify with, there’s no moving storyline. Can it compete against the more narrative fare out there? Can’t wait to see!

  3. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    The non-fiction question is a very good one. To add to your list, on “my” year, we had Dave the Potter as an honor book. (biography)

    I appreciate your sharp eyes and I will be stealing the phrase “catnip to machine enthusiasts.” Wish I had penned it! You are right that the variety of skin tones and gender parity is not specifically part of the criteria, but it does add to the authenticity, doesn’t it ? I think it deepens the story in a subtle way.

    NOW, the question of flap books and die cuts and other “novelty” designs is a tricky one. I don’t know how a book with die-cuts or flaps would be discussed in committee, but I am sure it will be.

    Let me bore you with the parts of the criteria that might pertain to this:
    Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
    Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
    Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.”

    I think I could make a pretty good argument that the hidden picture adds to the story by helping the reader interpret the story/concept and that the style is completely appropriate for the child audience.

  4. It’s so fun to listen to all the pride and ownership in the award blogs about each blogger’s year on whatever committee! Be sure I did not forget Dave the Potter – I was leaving out biographies because I think they are more similar to the fiction/narrative books than non-fiction. If you add biographies back in there’s winners and honors all over the place!

    I’m so glad you brought up the criteria – as I was finishing up, I kept thinking – I wish I had pulled up the post with the basic criteria so I could analyze vs. those, but by then I’d been nattering on so long I’d run out of time. I think we could definitely discuss the variety of skin tones and gender parity under “Excellence of pictorial interpretation” – here’s a portrayal of an urban community that takes these diversities – which would be likely to occur there – into account.

    When I went to put a review in goodreads after looking at the book for this post, I was surprised to see that the first couple reviews specifically mention that they thought the questions were too hard (something I appreciated it). They felt the text fell down on the job compared to the pictures. I wonder if partly they were imagining a preschool/storytime audience – and I do think the questions might be hard for that crowd, but I was imagining a slightly older audience. K-2nd or so? Although I think of flaps as appealing to that preschool crowd in particular. What did others think of the text?

    Someone also pointed out that the diagram at the back didn’t include all the machines in the illustrations and had some extras (I think they were referring to the street sweeper which is only pictured on the title page). Would this cause issues as well?

  5. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    The text is discussed when it detracts from the illustrations. (From the criteria: “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the illustration, but other components of a book are to be considered especially when they make a book less effective as a children’s picture book. Such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc.”) Like you, I think the questions are just fine. Anyone who has talked to a truck-obsessed four year old knows they are asking tough questions all the time! I trust readers to find the right book, even if the reader is a preschooler. For the record, my second graders pore over this. I gave this to a four year old and his mom assures me he asks for it again and again.
    I don’t see any missing machines–the tower crane is on the copyright page (the next page) and the street sweeper is not part of the actual text. While any part of the book can be discussed, I do not see that as a problem. But, I am not on the committee. (darn)
    One thing I didn’t mention at first, but I love, is that the paper cover is different from the hardcover. I like little bonuses like that. (That’s just me.)
    Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:
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