THE RACECAR ALPHABET, by Brian Floca
Ages 3 to 7
A Richard Jackson Book | Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Simon & Schuster
An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book selection
A New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection
A Kirkus Reviews Editor's Choice
A Parenting Magazine Best Book of the Year
A Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year
A Children’s Literature Choice Book
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review):
On the title spread, a 1901 Ford bears down on the reader, its determined driver bent on speed--the first of many to come. Alliterative statements take readers through the alphabet and a hundred years of racecars: "Eyes in the audience, each open and eager, expecting excitement (enduring exhaust)./Flat feared and fought, the driver's foe" accompanies a double page spread of 1920s-era racegoers watching as five cars blue by--and one driver kicks a flat tire in frustration. A variety of startling perspectives aided by loose ink drawings and streaky watercolors create an astonishing sense of movement and speed. The humor inherent in much of the text--"X-ray after an accident./'Yelp!'"--may be lost on the preschool set, but not on the patient adults who will be asked to read this offering again--and again--and again. An enthusiastic author's note outlining the history of auto racing and endpapers depicting all the cars with years and makes provide some educational content, but it's the zooming spreads that drive this book. Hold on to your hats!
Floca's picture-book tribute to auto racing looks simple, but many things are going on at once. There is, of course, a race. Also, the alphabetical text often uses alliterative phrases, providing functional fare for phonetics fanatics and fun for everyone else. And finally, each turn of the page represents a time shift. Although a single race appears to proceed throughout the book, the cars, drivers, tracks, and spectators change considerably from the book's opening in 1901, when a Ford chugs along a country road, to the conclusion in 2001, when a Ferrari takes its victory lap around an immense racetrack. Large in scale, the ink-and-watercolor artwork is bold enough to share with a story hour or classroom group, yet young racing fans will find the details absorbing. Floca's introductory note on the history of racing may interest them as well. The clean, spacious book design is thoughtfully planned, right down to the end papers, which show different views of the cars and drivers. An appealing picture book on an unusual subject. —Carolyn Phelan
At letter A (“Automobiles--machines on wheels”), the racecars have spoked wheels, and the drivers sit up high and wear goggles. At letter B, a flag is waved and a race begins. By J, the cars look much more like modern racecars with their long, narrow shape, and by W, the illustration shows a modern NASCAR-style car, which has whacked a wall. At letter Z the checkered flag goes to the champion, unmistakably Formula One’s Michael Schumacher in his red Ferrari F1-2001. In addition to the ABCs and racecar history, Floca also works in numbers, labeling the cars from one to twenty-six. No child will learn the alphabet from this book, but it provides a nifty framework for showcasing racecars over the past one hundred years. A note at the beginning explains the different types of races and the changes over the years, and the endpapers display each car in the race, from red Ford to red Ferrari. The big pages are filled to the edges with color and movement, and Floca’s alliterative text is action-packed (“Racing, rapid riding, rushing, roaring, risking./Steering to cease from sliding, stop from slipping, stay in the lead, speed to the end”). Not many alphabet books convey this kind of excitement, and it’s a special treat for young race fans.
Floca (Five Trucks) brings a whole new meaning to the term "accelerated learning" with this journey through the alphabet, framed as a history of the race car. Although his alliterative text doesn't always possess the purr of a high performance engine ("Curves across the course cause cars to careen and to crowd and come close to colliding"), his crisp watercolor-and-ink spreads never reduce their speed. Starting with the primitive Renaults and Fords at the turn of the 20th century and ending with a streamlined Ferrari Formula 1 of today, Floca zooms the vehicles around the many locales of racing, from the Indy-style oval tracks to the challenging road courses common to Europe. He consistently finds the most dramatic angle, whether a close-up of a 1962 Lotus 25 driver straining against g-forces, or the head-on view of a 1940 BMW 328 as it bears down on the track (all makes are identified on the endpapers). Sidestepping racing's gorier side (the crashes depicted are casualty-free, and "X" depicts the X-ray of a racer's relatively minor leg break), he captures both the blur of action and the meticulous details so important to young fans.
In his opening note, racecar aficionado Brian Floca states that the modern Formula-1 racecar hardly seems related to the early simple models, but Floca traces the history of the sport. Text is organized as an alliterative ABC book (“Passing, outpacing, pressing the pedal and pulling ahead”) while the early letters of the alphabet are illustrated with racers from the early part of the twentieth century. We start with the Ford 999 from 1901 and end tidily a hundred years later with the Ferrari F1-2001. The end papers review and name all of the cars Floca lovingly depicts in loose-line watercolors. The pictures have energy, a variety of perspectives, dramatic use of color and close-up views, and even some humor. While the problematic X is, of course, for x-ray, “Yelp!” states the driver who is in the doctor's office for an “X-ray after an accident” and Z is for Zoom. With all of the many courses, crashes, pit-stops, dashboard details, and racing uniforms depicted, the mostly-boy audiences for the sport and any machine lover will enjoy looking at the pictures while hearing or reading the exuberant text. Nice job, and an attractive package for luring older reluctant readers into print. A sure “Winner, waving wildly!”