Title: The No.1 Car Spotter
Illustrator: Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Publisher: Kane Miller 2011 (US), Walker Publishing 2010 (Great Britain)
Themes: Family, Village Life, Understanding the world around
Come meet Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, better known as No. 1, and journey into a new world, a village in Africa. Take in the sight of the iroko tree that Grandfather sits under, the delicious smells of akara from Mama Coca-Cola’s roadside stand, but be sure to have your running shoes on to keep up with No 1.’s adventures.
No. 1 Car Spotter is the first book in a chapter series geared towards boys by Nigerian born author Atinuke. The book is composed of four stories which seamlessly flow from one to the next. No. 1 is an energetic, curious, helpful young boy trying to find his place in village life.
In the first story we learn that No 1 lives with a large extended family and his day is filled with collecting firewood, herding the goats, and other family errands. But he has a special talent, naming the cars that drive by just the sound of the motor; it has earned him the name the No 1 Car Spotter. However, this talent is frowned upon by the village ladies after all it does not get the work done. But No 1 will prove them wrong, when their village cart breaks down the night before market day. He comes up with an ingenious solution involving a broken down Toyota Corolla and some cows. Maybe having knowledge of cars isn’t so bad.
Next we are taken to the marketplace where a nosey No 1 follows his sister to the cosmetic stand, only to get caught, and later is told to purchase lipstick for an Auntie. How embarrassing.
No. 1’s best friend’s mom, Mama Coca-Cola, runs a roadside stand. No 1 loves her food and helps them out for the day by fetching soft drinks, since he knows he will get to have a large, belly-bursting meal at the end of the day. The next day something unexpected happens, the village starts calling him 7up. This is not good as 7up is the number two soft drink. No. 1 returns to his daily chores as he likes being number 1 and realizes he is irreplaceable to the village.
In the last story, the family is faced with an illness. Grandmother is very and they do not have enough money to take her to the doctor. One day an NGO volunteer worker gives the village two wheelbarrows and tells No. 1 they must use it to make village life better and not sell it. Papa takes the wheelbarrows to the city and is able to send money home for a doctor. No 1 at first takes the NGO’s words literally and is upset that Papa took the wheelbarrows to the city. Later Uncle explains that Papa is able to get a job in the city now and send home money to make Grandmother better. With Grandmother better and able to watch the little kids, the aunties are able to work the field, so the village can have food next year. No 1 realizes the wheelbarrows did help make life better for the village after all; their lives are all interconnected.
No 1’s world may seem foreign but the themes are universal. The speaking voice of the characters is true to that world; it may take readers a few pages to get acclimated.
Stay tuned next week for my review of the latest book in the series, No 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird.
These books are not readily available in many public libraries. If your local library does not have it I recommend using your library’s interlibrary system if possible. It is well worth the wait.