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My Bus

My BusIn my opinion, My Bus (a companion book to Byron Barton’s My Car) is a perfect preschool book. But is it too simple to get a Caldecott award?

First we meet Joe, the bus driver. “I am Joe. This is my car. This is my bus.” As he drives his bus into town, five dogs and five cats board the bus one, two, three, and four at a time. Then they get off in threes (one dog and two cats, two dogs and one cat) to board other vehicles until just one dog is left. “I drive one dog home. My dog! Bow wow.” The solidly built characters and settings invite pointing and participating. Each animal is a different color for easy identification, and each is visible enough to count, whether on or off the bus. There’s no need to even mention the words “addition” and “subtraction.” The only lesson here is to understand what happens when something is taken away from a group.

Now about the art.

When My Car came out back in 2001, I was dismayed at first to see visible pixels around the edges of some of the computer-drawn shapes. Later, I decided that I was being a digital artist snob. We all think visible brushstrokes add character in analog art, so why smooth out the digital medium with super-high resolutions and pretend it’s something else?

Medium aside, there’s plenty more to look at in this art. Barton could have given his characters smiling faces, but he smartly chose not to. The bus driver and each animal looks serious, and the cats look just a little scared — as well they might riding around with all those dogs. And anyway, who smiles while riding a bus? No one outside of ads and children’s illustrations. These animals are all busy going about their days, just as the child being read to is busy counting and naming animals and vehicles.

Barton has such a fine-tuned feel for his audience. He knows how much detail is enough to keep interest and how much might be too much. This kind of book is all about composition and color choices. The bus, however simply drawn, works. It sits on its wheels in just the right way to give it real mass, and the perspective changes accurately in each scene. The colors are bright and cheerful without crossing the line into garish. This is so difficult to accomplish. Give it a try and you’ll see.

So. Do I think this has a chance at the Caldecott Medal? Not really, but I would stand up and applaud the committee if they gave it an honor. It begs the question: can a book’s art be too simple to win the award? The year I served on the committee we gave the medal to Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henkes’s first foray into preschool books. In some ways, that book was simpler than this one, but it also had a bit more going on, including some thematic nods to a more mature audience, such as a recurring circle motif.

I fear My Bus will appear too simple for the Caldecott, but I think it has a strong chance at a Geisel. What do you think?

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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Comments

  1. I hadn’t thought of it for the Caldecott (and forgot that it was so new) but it’s a hit at my toddler storytimes – I’ve already used it twice, and it’s got that magical combination of vehicles + animals + counting. Hmm, I’ll have to give it a closer look.

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