The Old Truck

I’m worried.

My task here is to review The Old Truck by brothers Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey. But the book contains such a breathtaking amount of Caldecott-worthy elements, I’m concerned that I might not give each one its due before my time and space run out.

Here goes . . .

The story is timeless without being nostalgic. Over time, a red truck goes from trusty farm workhorse to worn-out beater. As its usefulness on the farm declines, the old truck dreams of adventures on the high seas, in the air, and in outer space. Just when the truck seems destined to remain an abandoned hunk of rust, a new farmer comes of age to resurrect the old truck, revive the farm, and continue the family legacy.

The art was created by hand, with digital assembly and color. The Pumphrey brothers made over 250 stamps that were used throughout the book. (You can learn more about the process at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.) The art has life — but also precision. The Caldecott criteria values “excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed,” and with each vibrant, bold spread, The Old Truck displays this excellence. 

The book is telling three stories simultaneously: the story of the old truck, of course, but also the story of a farm and of a family. The spare text allows the illustrations to carry a lot of the storytelling, something the Caldecott committee always loves to see (per the criteria: “delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures”). Through the illustrations, we see the farm family grow and change, showing details not spelled out in the text.

After a couple of readings, I noticed something astounding: the position of the old truck never changes from page to page. There it sits, on the lower right-hand side of each spread. It’s a move reminiscent of the 1943 Caldecott Medal winner The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Re-reading the book after making this discovery is a treat, watching how each spread unfolds around the truck, including in a wordless spread where the image of the truck doesn't appear at all. A cleverly employed negative space represents the truck covered in snow. In less capable hands, the positioning of the truck could become monotonous, but here it comes across as a clever repetition, with the reader enjoying the delightful results. 

The Old Truck is the sort of book that the committee is going to love discussing. The Caldecott-y elements stack one on top of another until there’s nothing left to do but give it an award. 

Wait. Can I talk about the beautiful old truck cover stamp hidden under the dust jacket (which matches the position of the old truck in the book)? Can I talk about how the story beautifully, gently, begins with a wordless sequence before the title page? See why I was worried about not getting to it all?

Not only do I think this book is deserving of a Caldecott, but it should be a book that people use to teach about how picture books work. I don’t use this word lightly: it’s a masterpiece.

Here is the book, read aloud by Jarrett and Jerome themselves. 

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of The Old Truck]


Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker
Michigan elementary-school librarian Travis Jonker is the author of the 100 Scope Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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Julie Danielson

Thanks again, Travis, for contributing to Calling Caldecott and sharing your thoughts on this one. I've spent a lot of time with it too, and it's deceptively simple, isn't it? There's a lot going on (as you pointed out), and it's also good to see an addition to the (small) stack of books about Black farmers.

Posted : Oct 04, 2020 04:47

Allison Khoury

I really appreciate this review. Thank you. This is a beautiful and heartfelt book. As the year goes on, I keep finding new books to love and my list of Caldecott hopefuls grows out of control. But this book keeps staying at the top.

Posted : Sep 21, 2020 05:03


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