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A high-speed adventure of mechanics, teamwork and friendship

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Published on Sun, Sep 13, 2015

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


The book illustrated by Martin Sodomka and written by Saskia Lacey

BOOK REVIEW HOW TO BUILD A CAR A high-speed adventure of mechanics, teamwork and friendship Illustrated by: Martin Sodomka Written by: Saskia Lacey Walter Foster Jr, 2015 an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, USA Inc. ISBN 13: 978-1-63322-040-9 $14.95 US / £9.99 UK / $17.95 CAN Review by Doug Stokes When I got the publisher’s email asking if LA Car would like to review a kid’s book about a mouse, a bird, and a frog building an automobile, all I had to do was take one look at one of the sample pages that came along with the note to instantly email back my one-word answer, “Sure!” And, if we were doing one-word book reviews, “How To Build A Car” would be: Charming! Here’s why, car people. This little book, aimed at the 6 year and over crowd is just plain fun, the writing is bright and playful, it has illustrations to fall into and the payoff is that the protagonist Eli (“the dreamer”) is much more than that. As it turns out, Eli’s lucid, out-loud dreaming is, really a gentle form of leadership that not only imagines wonderful stuff (like building a real car so he can take his friends to see the world) but that gets things done because his friends catch his bubbling enthusiasm, believe, and do. So there they are: Eli, a visionary mouse who’s favorite car is a ZR-1 Corvette and who has the burning desire to actually build a real car; Phoebe, a tiny sparrow with a big brain, and (it seems) quite a bit of design and drafting experience (who thinks that the Rolls Royce Wraith is quite the very coolest of all cars); and Hank, the friendly junk yard owner who “Radar-like” has a line on all sorts of the good stuff that the trio needs to actually build Eli’s dream car. (And oh, by the way, Hank’s a very big fan of the Jaguar C-X75). Of course you’ve already noticed the sample pages that are running with this review. And yes, right, they are beautiful. I hope you understand that as we did, it’s perfectly okay to run your first lap through this book just taking in the tiny details of Martin Sodomka’s wonderfully rich illustrations. They’re very easy for a car person to understand at an almost primal level.


Illustrated by Martin Sodomka

The illustrator’s style is a classic combination of line, detail, and subtle shading that carries the story along perfectly as the aptly-named “Scrap Pack” (that’s Eli, Phoebe, and Hank) design, source, and build an altogether lovely sports cars that looks a little (to me) like a 1954 Kaiser Darrin that’s been equipped with conventional doors. The book fully celebrates what its subtitle promises: mechanics, teamwork, and friendship. The lessons are not didactic, but gentle, supportive, and (here comes that word again) charming. Not exactly “The Wind in the Willows”, these three and their assorted friends are not totally, inexorably car-mad like Mister Toad. But make no mistake, everyone (mouse, bird, and frog) here inventoried is totally into it, and very, very (very) enthusiastic. Yeah, that’s a very “euro post-war”* looking chassis with its torque tube and leaf spring swing axel rear suspension. And the little three-cylinder engine they “source” is, well, almost quaint. There’s a carburetor (with a “vaporizer”) and drum brakes (remember this dream machine is being built from scavenged parts) and the body panels are hand-formed beaten out using a wooden buck. Oh yeah, the spark plugs for this little three-cylinder engine look more like diesel glow plugs (or fuel injectors to some). But the wonderful drawings, and the bright, encouraging, inspiring words that accompany them in this little book make it all somehow wonderfully plausible. Of late we’re being told that the younger generation doesn’t really care about cars the way that we did (and still do!). It’s said that they don’t see them as a crucial part of their culture—they are no longer something to be thought about, wished for, designed, worked on, dreamt about. Simply an appliance. (Gut check: How many of us have hailed an “Uber” ride to go anywhere? That’s what I thought.) No, I’m not thinking that this book might change that tide; but for the right kid, I think this one could be the automotive version of treasured classics like “Where the Wild Things Are” or “A Wish for Wings That Work”**. I don’t read many children’s books, and review even fewer, but this one catches my LA Car eye like few I’ve ever seen.

BW head draw

- Doug Stokes

POST: Happily, the last page of this one gives hope that there are further adventures of these three mis-matched musketeers afoot: …There we find our little friend Eli, his dream of wheeled mobility fulfilled, watching a beautiful little bi-plane fly by and smiling THAT smile. Even from the printed page, you can hear the gears whirring in his head, and you KNOW that’s there’s a certain frog and a sparrow who are about to be drawn into another great adventure … personally, I can’t wait. - DS *I made that observation before finding out that the book’s illustrator Martin Sodomka is based in the Czech Republic. **And, you’re right; I’m too old to have owned either of these two equally-wonderful books as a child. That did not preclude me from reading and very much enjoying both books. Got something to say? Add your Facebook comment regarding this article here. To order this book on Amazon, click here.

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