Big Truck, Little Island

By Chris Van Dusen. Candlewick Press, 2022. 32 pages. $17.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 3–8.

Through sun-splashed pages, a tugboat pulls its oversize load onto a small island off the coast of Maine. The gooseneck trailer truck faces a twisty, narrow trip all across the island. What is its mission? The load is completely covered. Partway along, a switchback is too tricky, and the truck slides into mud, blocking the entire road. Cars are backed up on both ends. People have places to go, but how can they get past? Parents are steaming.

The children climb out of their vehicles and convene to find a solution. They all know each other, so why not trade cars for the day? The parents agreeing, all are soon on their way. Pete, Barry, Meg, and Sue get to their appointments on time. Later a tow truck pulls the big rig out of the mud, and the driver with his pet dog for company trundles onward.

This is certainly a truck book: there are tugboats, cars, and a van, the tow truck, and exaggerated close-ups of the big rig itself, all done in brilliant cartoon colors. The author/illustrator begins his story even before the title page, showing in the distance a tugboat pulling a barge with an extra-large covered load. Vivid gouache paintings include close-ups and gull’s-eye views as the truck moves along a narrow road toward its destination. Tiny details on every page make re-reading a treat, as do the vocabulary-expanding words found in the author’s rhyming couplets:

The barge reached the ramp. The truck trundled off.
It bucked up the bridge with a wheeze and a cough.

Words like twisty and treacherous beg to be read aloud, and they go far beyond the basic vocabulary of early readers. This story even has a surprise ending! But the picture book also has a big message about the effectiveness of common sense, friendship, and cooperation. These elements of community building are made clear when the children gather to work out their problem.

The book is based on a true event that happened on Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine. A photo and description appear on the last page. It is doubtless easier to build a friendly community in a small location, but this example can inspire others. To live in a community of loving friends is a great blessing, which is well worth the effort. In this story, resourceful children show how it’s done.

Margaret Walden reads incessantly in Lakewood, Ohio, a city that has a very good library. She and her husband, Leslie, are members of Cleveland (Ohio) Meeting and its Library Committee.

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