Monday 9 April 2012

The No.1 Car Spotter, by Atinuke - reviewed by John Dougherty

Most of the books I read when I was a child were about middle-class English children. When a child from another culture appeared it was generally their otherness rather than their childness that was the issue - except, of course when they were notionally children from another culture but behaved pretty much like middle-class English children with funny names. Similarly, those other cultures - when they appeared - were normally reduced to their differences from British culture.

That’s just one reason to celebrate Atinuke, who in Oluwase Babatunde Benson (better known as No. 1, the No.1 car spotter in the village) has created a character who is very much a real boy first and foremost, but who is also an authentic African child, living in a modern African village, and is therefore - to the best of my knowledge - pretty much unique in children’s literature.

The young European reader will be intrigued by some of the facts of life which No.1 takes for granted. Whilst he and his mother and sister and grandmother live together in the village, “my father, of course, lives in the city” like all the other men of working age. When Grandmother falls ill, she needs money before the doctor will see her. The entire village travels to market together to sell their home-grown produce.

Yet what makes this lovely little book really special is not the insight into life in semi-rural Africa, but No.1 himself. He’s enthusiastic, affectionate, creative, independent, dependable - the sort of child everyone would like to have as a friend - and readers will identify with him at least as much as they’ll be intrigued by his lifestyle.

The book is made up of 4 short stories about No.1’s life and family. In the first, the village cart breaks just as it’s due to be loaded for market, and only No.1’s quick thinking saves the day. In the second, Auntie Fine-Fine puts No.1 in an embarrassing position when she sends him to buy lipstick for her. The third story tells of how No.1 almost loses his prized nickname when greed for his friend Coca-Cola’s mother’s cooking leads him to desert his chores; whilst the fourth poses an interesting moral dilemma for No.1 when a way of finding the money for the doctor presents itself.

These are great little stories, told in a distinctive voice, perfect for reading aloud or alone. Yes, they’re educational, insofar as they’ll challenge the reader to think beyond his or her own culture and living conditions, but most importantly, they’re a lot of fun. And from the look of this video of Atinuke reading from the book, so is their author. It's thoroughly recommended, and I'm hoping there'll be more to follow this and its recently-published sequel, The No.1 Car Spotter and the Firebird.



Penny Dolan said...

Now THIS sounds a totally fantastic book (and sequel) so well done Walker Books! Can't wait to get hold of a copy.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

The school I work in London has a lot of West African children and parents who will love these stories.Thank you John

Pippa Goodhart said...

Oh, I want to read that book! How refreshing! Thank you, John, for bringing it to our attention.

Pippa Goodhart said...

And now I've bought and read it, and it's as good as you said. thank you.

John Dougherty said...

And those comments show exactly why we wanted to set up a review section on the site in the first place!!! Thank you.

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