The No. 1 Car Spotter
written by Atinuke; illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
2011 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
On the continent of Africa, you will find my country. In my country there are many cities, all with skyscrapers, hotels, offices. There are also many smaller towns, all with tap water and electricity and television. Then there is my village, where we only talk about such things.
Thus we are introduced to the engaging character Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, who goes by the name "No. 1". His nickname comes from being the best car spotter in the village and perhaps the world. A car spotter is one who can hear an engine and know what kind of car is approaching. It is a hobby learned from his grandfather. A road runs right by the village, so there is plenty of opportunity for car spotting while working to clear brush, collecting palm nuts for their oil, or sitting under an iroko tree. All of the men enjoy this sport while the women think it is a waste of time. And time cannot be wasted as it is the day before going to market. The people of the village sell the products they have grown and collected in order to buy needed things (salt, kerosene, pencils for school) that cannot be grown or hunted. Disaster strikes the village when the cart for all the goods breaks in half. The only vehicle in the village is a broken down Toyota Corolla that was abandoned long ago. All of the villagers are in despair over the cart, but a spark of an idea comes to No. 1. He runs most of the day to the neighboring town where his older cousin Wale lives. Using ingenuity and laboring all night, Wale and his friends bring to life No. 1's idea. A Toyota "Cowrolla" that runs on cow power.
As with her earlier Anna Hibiscus series, author Atinuke takes us to Africa and connects the reader's heart to wonderful families who love one another, argue, and work together. All four stories in this book are filled with humor and warmth, but also grounded in reality. Life is tough for these villagers, but they manage to survive and thrive despite not having many material possessions. No. 1 and the Wheelbarrow, the last story in the book, is particularly affirming. I love the language in the conversations and the stories behind the names of the characters. I look forward to reading more stories about No. 1 and his family and friends.