The Roads Taken: Kids’ love of things that go puts transportation books front and center | Great Books

In today’s children’s picture book market, there are some exciting and unexpected rides for young vehicle-loving readers to check out—stories about family, how roads work, or how kids around the world get from one location to another.

The Digger and the Duckling by Joseph Kuefler © 2022, courtesy of HarperCollins

Kids go. These days, they’re going to new places or revisiting locales and people they have not seen in years. These books can help them get to where they want to go—and help adults keep up with them!

If books can transport young readers to different places, transportation books show them the way. In today’s children’s picture book market, there are some exciting and unexpected rides for young vehicle-loving readers to check out—stories about family, how roads work, or how kids around the world get from one location to another.

Seemingly always on the go, transportation stories can also give kids a safe space to slow down—to feel represented, counted, and seen. The scope of transportation is bigger than cars and trucks, and the books selected here are just some of the ways authors and illustrators use familiar vehicles—bicycles, motorcycles, trucks, cars, trains, boats, even feet—to create inclusive, representative stories full of fun, hope, and imagination.

So, where will young readers go next? Anywhere—and how exciting is that?

Bailey, Linda. Carson Crosses Canada. illus. by Kass Reich. Tundra. 2020. ISBN 9780735266353.
K-Gr 2–Carson is a dog whose human Annie takes him on a trip across Canada in their car. While the road trip is fun and full of wonderful scenes of Canada as illustrated by Reich, this book is a great chance to explore what exactly goes into making a road trip happen. Annie, Carson’s somewhat elderly human, packs their belongings and piles a lot of them on top of the car. And as they drive along, Bailey weaves in typical road trip issues: Carson grows restless with the time it’s taking, even though they stop for souvenirs and bathroom breaks. Carson and Annie’s trip is also a touching story about friendship and how transportation can bring people who need each other together.

Charles, Tami. My Day With the Panye. illus. by Sara Palacios. Candlewick. 2021. ISBN 9780763697495.
K-Gr 2–How do families around the globe get their groceries home from the market? For some families in Haiti, return trips from the market are made possible by the panye—a basket balanced on the head. In accessible and lovely prose, Charles shares the story of a young Haitian girl learning from her maman how to transport her family’s groceries using a traditional panye. Readers will feel the joy and beauty of Haiti with Palacios’s illustrations that showcase the graceful movement and athletic balance of learning to transport the panye and its treasures home.

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Overground Railroad. illus. by James Ransome. Holiday House. 2022. ISBN 9780823451197.
K-Gr 3–Sometimes a mode of transportation moves people to safety and freedom. That’s the story young Ruth Ellen tells as her family leaves their life in the South in secret for a new life in New York. Bold, colorful artwork mirrors detailed, clear prose capturing the complexity of this family trip through the narration of a young Black girl. An exciting and emotional story, and a wonderful read to explore with young readers how people might find hope through transportation.

Gilbert, Frances. Go, Girls, Go! illus. by Allison Black. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2019. ISBN 97815344248.
PreS-Gr 3–Girls race cars, fly planes, drive trucks, and captain boats. The typically gendered play of boys and girls is joyfully rewritten and illustrated brilliantly by Black, whose graphic, bold, and bright pages make transportation accessible and exciting for all kids. Great for story time reads with lots of fun vehicle sounds to make and the refrain “Go, girls, go!” will have kids—and adults—chanting right along with the book.

Holub, Joan. Runaway Signs. illus. by Alison Farrell. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. 2020. ISBN 9780399172250.
K-Gr 3–Young readers will get as carried away as the road signs that take a vacation in Holub’s Runaway Signs. The signs take a trip through town, getting to see new sights—away from their usual static homes—and even visiting an amusement park, until, of course, their absence becomes a problem for the cars and pedestrians in town. Kids will learn what all those signs mean and just how important they are to the vehicles, pedestrians, and even construction workers sharing the roads. Farrell’s colorful, animated illustrations bring fun and silly vibrance to a seemingly boring and perhaps under-appreciated feature of the roads.

Khan, Naaz. Room for Everyone. illus. by Mercè López. S. & S./Atheneum. 2021. ISBN 9781534431393.
PreS-Gr 2–The daladala is one crowded bus and Khan squeezes us in for the ride to Zanzibar’s Nungwi Beach. Told through the eyes of young Musa, who is confounded by how many people, animals, and things fit into the daladala, this is a story crammed with rhyming and counting. López’s artwork is bold and full of local Zanzibar details—like seven kitenge umbrellas, eight sugarcanes, and nine tender coconuts. This book is a riot to read aloud.

Kuefler, Joseph. The Digger and the Duckling. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2022. ISBN 9780063062542.
PreS-Gr 2–Trucks can feel big and intimidating. But Kuefler writes a big truck story brimming with tenderness and complexity. An orphaned duckling wanders onto the construction site one day, causing confusion to the big trucks who have lots of work to get done. Even as his coworkers and friends grow irritated by the duckling’s presence on the construction site, Digger refuses to give in to peer pressure, recognizing the duckling’s vulnerability. After a while, the crew comes around and builds a sort of family, centered on caring for the duckling. Kuefler’s illustrations are spellbinding and easy to decipher in their sparse, graphic style, and the story’s main components are delivered with gentleness and compassion, so that young readers will feel part of this truck-duck family, too.

Quintero, Isabel. My Papi Has a Motorcycle. illus. by Zeke Peña. Penguin/Kokila. 2019. ISBN 9780525553410.
K-Gr 2–Peña’s sunset-colored palette complements Quintero’s rich, sensory-filled story of a daughter, her papi, and his motorcycle. Told through the eyes of the young girl, this story highlights the ways modes of transportation are often more than their vehicular parts—they are layered stories, cobbled together by culture, locality, and family. As Papi and his daughter zig and zag through town, young readers are introduced to a world of memories, history, and connection. A great opportunity for young readers to read bilingual stories and for story time listeners to make all manner of motorcycle noises!

Robeson, Teresa. Two Bicycles in Beijing. illus. by Junyi Wu. Albert Whitman. 2020. ISBN 9780807507643.
Gr 1-3–Bicycles are an important mode of transportation for lots of people, and Robeson takes young readers for an unexpected ride: A red bicycle narrates the story! Wu illustrates this tale of a bicycle’s ride through Beijing on a mission to find its yellow bicycle friend. Telling this tale from the perspective of a bike is an excellent narrative device, especially for exploratory and imaginative storytelling with children, beautifully accompanied by Wu’s dreamy, soft drawings.

Sterer, Gideon. From Ed’s to Ned’s. illus. by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Knopf. 2020. ISBN 9780525648062.
PreS-Gr 1–This title takes transportation to new heights, lengths, speeds, and depths. How about “parachute from Ed’s to Ned’s” or “cannon blast from Beth’s to Luke’s”? Gorgeous illustrations fill the pages and showcase the many ways friends can get around and connect with one another. Direct, pared-down text and alliteration make for a fun read-aloud—“Zip to Zev’s” and “Fly to Fred’s”—and encourage young readers to listen for letters and imagine just what wonderful means of transportation they could use to get to their own friends’ homes.

Verdick, Elizabeth. Small Walt. illus. by Marc Rosenthal. S. & S. 2017. ISBN 9781481448451.
K-Gr 3–Children go along on the snowy, early morning ride of a brave and kind snowplow. Verdick writes a sweet story of Walt, the smallest of snowplows, who just wants a chance to prove his might and worth among the snowplow crew. Faced with mounds of snow, icy roads, and slippery hills, Walt is committed to his task of clearing the roads and making them safe for cars and trucks to drive. Rosenthal’s artwork feels intimate, in a wintry, cold way, giving this story a lovely crisp feeling.

Vilela, Fernando. Along the Tapajós. tr. from Spanish by Daniel Hahn. Amazon Crossing. 2019. ISBN 9781542008686.
K-Gr 3–What if a trip to school meant passing by alligators, porpoises, and anacondas? Vilela’s story of living along the Amazon River opens with two kids boating to school. They share how important water transportation is in their community. Flood seasons require moving the entire village to safe, dry land each year. The book offers the chance to meet those living and traveling in different ways than they might be used to—making this a great book to add to any collection.

Woodgate, Harry. Grandad’s Camper. little bee. 2021. ISBN 9781499811933.
PreS-Gr 2–Imagine getting to live and ride around in a house. That’s what Grandad and Gramps did in Woodgate’s intergenerational, LGBTQIA+ story. Grandad shares photographs and memories about Gramps, who has passed away, with his granddaughter, telling her about their fun travels together in the camper they shared. Woodgate’s playful rainbow palette brings Grandad’s old memories to life again—and the granddaughter gives Grandad a whole future full of new camper-based adventures, as they drive around making their own memories.

Jessica Schriver is a PhD candidate in childhood studies at Rutgers University, Camden, NJ.


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