Road Trip! (with a treat for you from Steve Light)

Before my Spriggan was born, a lovely lady at Candlewick sent me a stack of books– including an F&G of one the Changeling has been anticipating ever since the first glimpses appeared online: Road Trip! A Whiskers Hollow Adventure, written and illustrated by Steve Light, one of her all-time favourites. Road Trip! will be released on February 9, and we couldn’t be more excited to get a real, hardcover copy from our local shop. We’ve been fans of Steve Light ever since Swap! (no one does endpapers like Steve Light) and this book is yet another example of Steve Light’s playful and apparently easygoing work, but always with his gorgeous linework and brilliant colours. (Seriously, in this one the endpapers alone are worth the price of admission, but I’m going to make you buy a copy to enjoy them. Probably.) And the timing of this book could not, in my eyes, be more perfect. (Read to the end for something fun, courtesy of Steve Light himself! UPDATE: the art is all spoken for! Thanks to everyone who got a copy and I hope you enjoy your books!)

I’m not showing you the endpapers, though– it would spoil the fun! Well, should I give you a taste?

You know, everyone has a road trip memory. For me, growing up in Remotest Small Canadian Town, with all of our friends and family scattered across the USA, road trips were so much a part of my childhood I never even thought of them as “road trips.” It was just… what you did. All the time. That’s how you got to see people. It didn’t feel dramatic, in other words.

But as I grew older, and especially now with my own kids, I think of a “road trip” as more of an event, and this has been highlighted by the pandemic. Isolated in Brookline, every time we get in the car to go to a nature preserve for a walk– it feels like A Really Big Deal! A Road Trip! Oh, wow! All the way to Concord??? You don’t say! I know we’re not alone: I see fellow cautious families writing captions to Instagram photos like this one (invented, but could be any of mine or my friends’): “I couldn’t take one more day in an apartment– we strapped on our masks, hopped in a car, and drove the half-hour to an empty wildlife refuge! Look at the birds!!!” Steve Light’s Road Trip! reflects this spontaneity, this joy in getting out and about, to a degree that startled me, since it was written pre-pandemic. Until I remembered… there have always been road trips; maybe I just didn’t see them with this clarity until now. But Steve Light did.

Steve Light knows that every good road trip has certain MUSTS: you need someone to look out for the snacks (don’t choose me, I get overwhelmed and pack or buy everything, just in case– ok, maybe choose me), you need someone with a steady head for directions (my husband), and you need someone who’s a planner (for us, that would be the Changeling) and remembers to bring the Band-Aids– just in case!

You also need an impetus: someone who sees a road trip opportunity, and grabs it with both paws: that would be Steve Light’s Bear. Bear is lovely, by the way. Bear is the one with the old truck. Bear has a minor accident, and has to get to Elephant’s Old Junk Tree for a new light. That could just be a chore, right? But not in Bear’s mind! Bear doesn’t grumble: Bear gets together a crew of good friends (Rabbit, who’s in charge of snacks, Mouse with a first-aid kit, and Donkey to provide directions: “Follow me, friends!”) and off they go, headed for adventure!

Let’s pause to look at a few things: First, did you notice the lack of pronouns? This will probably glide right over you as you read, since Steve Light skillfully weaves the text lightly along with gender-neutral characters (something I appreciate since I’ve encountered too much awkward and clumsy pronoun-free text; the effort to let it flow with fully defined characters who are just named and not pronoun-ed is decidedly appreciated, thank you), but readers will find themselves relating to the characters without worrying about gender. Bear is just Bear, right? This is as it should be between friends, and it will allow all children to focus on personality rather than preconceived notions of who you should identify with.

Second, the spontaneity. There’s a special joy to taking a setback and turning it into a pleasure– safely. It makes sense to bring companions on a car-repair journey! Why not make it fun, after all? That’s Bear’s special skill.

Third, Steve Light is just so good at showing, not telling, that you don’t even notice he’s doing it: You can have ten classes on “don’t waste!” or “reduce, reuse, recycle!” or “let’s talk about the importance of sustainability!” Steve Light just has his characters (who are quite simply of unnamed gender, without a lecture on it) take a potential setback and make it a safe pleasure (without preaching about making the best of a bad situation) and use old junk to fix up an old truck– and he does it without ever saying, “Because it’s just so important to save and behave in a sustainable fashion.” Kids will absorb this, feel happy, and enjoy the adventure. And the endpapers– which I refuse to show you. (They’re glorious.) (Should I show you a bit, just a teensy bit?)

I am here to tell you as a mother who has observed remote learning: Kids have had it up to here with “shoulds” by now. Just as you and I want a little light reading between articles on everything miserable, kids need escapism… but they need it to feel relevant. I have no idea how Steve Light knew this type of story was necessary (hey, if you had a line to the future, Steve, couldn’t you have given us a little warning about this past year?), but he managed to produce a fun, light read that’s on the nose.

Your kid, like mine, probably needs to dream of a road trip, a physical escape. Maybe they want a rescue mission, to take something broken and fix it? And maybe they long for companions who fit them like puzzle pieces: someone to be as careful as Mouse, but Mouse needs a nudge from loving Bear to head outside and face something new, while Rabbit takes care they have snacks and Donkey cheers them on to “Follow me, friends!” It’s escape– but such mild escape, such cozy escape! Escape that brings you home at the end of the day, after a lift from the possible blues to a spontaneous adventure.

And for some of us (sadly, not all), even under lockdown a road trip was the only achievable physical escape: over the summer, especially, we’d pack a picnic lunch, we’d pack art supplies so The Young Artist could pause to paint a landscape en plein air (I feel like Steve Light would approve!), and we’d put on good walking shoes. Off to a wildlife preserve, peering through binoculars at the skies! Would we see cool birds? Would we see that cute fawn again?

The long-distance road trips of my childhood had different pleasures: they were planned far ahead, we’d argue heatedly about which music to bring and how many times we could listen to The Magic Flute (and no, I will never forgive my parents for lying and saying it only played on the Trans-Canada Highway, sorry, don’t lie), and there was always a welcoming family member at the end of the trip, whether cousins or a whole variety of aunts and uncles. We can anticipate those vacations again, as we read, but for now– a tiny road trip is still a possibility, and a very real, very hopeful, very friendly escape from our own four walls.

And Steve Light lets us see… where could we go? (Oh, fine, here’s a glimpse of those endpapers– just the teensiest, tiniest taste!)

How cool is this, even in a cropped, poorly lit photo?

I was so grateful to Candlewick for sending me this review copy when I had admitted to them up front that “we all know this is one I’m going to buy anyway” that I reached out to Steve Light before writing this: would he be up for a little something to lighten a few kids’ boredom?

For three lucky readers out there, then, here’s the plan! The first three of you to email me at deborah.furchtgott@gmail.com with proof of purchase of Road Trip! by Steve Light (and, yes, pre-ordering counts, of course!) will get a little something in the mail– just wait for me to say you’ve won, and I’ll ask for your mailing address, anywhere in the world! Steve has sent me three absolutely beautiful 5×7 drawings (picture below) and I have three little doodle pads, the kind the Changeling likes to carry with her for spontaneous drawings. Send me your proof of purchase, and the first three of you will get a drawing and a doodle pad! I’ll let you know if you’ve won and will ask for your address, and I will update the post when all of these are won and in the mail. As usual– I will ship anywhere, worldwide. Do note that the mail is slow these days, but I promise you your package will reach you.

NB: You can make your purchase anywhere, of course: my link is, as always, to my local Children’s Book Shop in Brookline. I would ask you to consider buying local and independent– if you have trouble locating your local shop, I’d be happy to help! But any purchase will count for these goodies– so here we go. Buy a book, send me an email, and I’ll let you know when your drawing and doodle pad are on the way!

Just get a load of these lovely pieces! Don’t you want one? Buy the book and send me an email!

That’s it, folks! Read and enjoy!

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