The Obligatory Vehicle Book

I coined this term back when I was starting to plan my future-kid’s future-library, and figure its origin story will be a decent filler post so that I can stop feeling bad about how I haven’t had time to finish any of my almost-finished reviews or look at this blog for a month.  (Not that anyone’s reading yet, so I don’t have to feel very bad, but still.)

I wanted to get a jump on the library planning back before I knew whether the little bean was going to be a son or a daughter.  Before my book choices were influenced – consciously and subconsciously – by that knowledge. For instance, better go ahead and buy some of my favorite books with female protagonists before I knew whether the fetus had testes and might be in fear of girl cooties by the time he was old enough to read them; and also better buy some books about vehicles before I knew whether or not the fetus had ovaries. (It seems to be much cooler for girls to own/read books about boys than vice versa, so I wasn’t worried about that.)

Also, because at the time I was super-pissed about how some of my in-laws kept going on about the “natural” affinity that toddler boys have for trucks and tractors and stuff like that. Blah, blah, blah, Little Cousin’s sisters never cared about cars, but look at how he’s so fascinated by those wheels! Oh, haha, now he’s crashing his new truck into people’s legs! What a little man!

And I’m like, we just invented cars, so if that’s genetic, that happened really fast. And I refuse to believe that “liking transportation” is somehow tied to a Y chromosome. Or else we wouldn’t have horses in the “girly” category, now would we? Also, does nobody remember how a couple Christmases ago Little Cousin’s sisters were driving Matchbox cars everywhere, including on my head? And their parents kept anxiously reprimanding them for the cars-on-people’s-heads thing? I mean, OK, personal space is something we all have to learn about, but on the other hand I was like, “It’s fine, I’m playing too, I’m pretending to be a mountain”. I was not going, “It’s fine, I don’t mind if he randomly crashes his truck into my ankles, ow”, because I actually was not playing too. But in that case all the reprimanding was on me.

But noooooo!  We are a liberal family who does not subscribe to rigid gender norms! Nobody was preventing his sisters from playing with the Matchbox cars! So obviously if they are not interested in things-with-engines anymore, it’s their chromosomes, not their environment. *headdesk*


And then I thought, if I have a son someday and am raising him in a two-mom/zero-dad house, it might actually be good to also put some extra effort into offering him some stereotypically male-coded pursuits, too. In case his playground cred needs it or something.

So that was really two resolutions in favor of Books About Vehicles, regardless of what any ultrasounds might show.

Thing was, I didn’t really have any must-buy vehicle books in my head when I made either of these resolutions (except possibly Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, which I remember fondly from my childhood).  Because as noted above, vehicles are not really My Thing. Fortunately, there are lots of books for children about vehicles. The Obligatory Vehicle Book appears to be one of the big baby book genres. (Along with Animals/Farm, Baby Photos, Nursery Rhyme, Silly Poetry, and Numbers/Alphabet/Colors/Shapes.  I’m not counting the books targeted at an older crowd and reprinted as board books.) We’ve been able to check out lots of excellent vehicle books from the library, and have found a few to purchase besides, like Roadwork and Freight Train. Yay!

Anyway, that’s the long and ranty explanation of why I keep referring to Obligatory Vehicle Books.


“Freight Train”, by Donald Crews

This review was originally written about a month ago. Since then, our copy of Freight Train has joined the reliable standbys. The Offspring also likes to “read” it alone in their carseat.

Wikipedia tells me that Crews’ father was, among other jobs, a railway man. Which (if true) may explain some of the deep knowledge and love that fills this apparently-simple book.

The short version of this review is: This book is awesome, I think everyone should buy it and shelve it next to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It’s a good foundation for colors, train car names, and American poetry. Oh, and it presents the color black in a positive light, as the color of the steam engine. And is a classic by a Black author.

The long version is going to have a lot of personal tangents and basically boil down to the same thing, with added grumpiness about not knowing about it until recently even though it was published in 1979 and is now an indisputable classic.  (We have the 1996 Greenwillow edition.)  If you want a more on-topic review, there’s a good one over on the School Library Journal site:  (Oh, and for the record, to the question posed in Elizabeth Bird’s review, no.  This young parent did not assume the art was computer-generated and am completely unsurprised to hear it’s done with stencils.)
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Superhero Easy-readers for a Girl, Part Three: What I Eventually Bought

Here are parts One and Two

All in all, I was pretty happy with the books I finally selected, though I’ve had some second thoughts.  I’m particularly interested that all of the books I finally chose were titled for male superheroes with women in sidekick roles.  Now, I had a lot of legit reasons for that, like the recommended age-range of the titles in question.  But I also wonder how much was subconsciously influenced by an internalized bias towards “boy books”. Continue reading