Review of the Day: My Little Yellow Taxi by Stephen T. Johnson
To succeed in the world of children’s book publishing, an author/artist needs to exhibit a certain level of flexibility. If your first book for kids is a rousing success you may certainly coast on that for a while, but eventually you’ll want to expand your horizons. The best artists out there, be they Paul O. Zelinsky, Maurice Sendak, or Faith Ringgold, know how to switch gears and try entirely new things. I mention all this because I cannot wrap my head around the books of Stephen T. Johnson. If flexibility is a talent then this man’s a veritable contortionist. Look at his past for a moment. He puts out Alphabet City and City By Numbers which were realistic and industrial and clever. Then at the same time there's My Little Blue Robot and My Little Red Toolbox, which made the idea of an interactive book more tangible than ever before. Turn around again and he’s putting out Hoops, Love As Strong As Ginger and The Tie Man’s Miracle, with yet another different look. Finally we come to 2006. On the one hand Mr. Johnson paired with Diane Siebert to put out the magnificently reviewed, Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art. Then you turn around again and in the same year is My Little Yellow Taxi. Taxi, truth be told, will encounter far more fans than Tour America if only be deint of its amusing premise. As long as you are able to break-in the book before your kid gets ahold of it AND you find a way to keep all the pieces together, this may well be the best loved title your entling ever receives.
The book puts the child reader in the driver’s seat of a taxi cab. Literally. Kids are given the chance to operate their very own car. They can check their tire pressure with a removable gauge. They can look in the glove compartment, adjust the shiny shiny mirror, and even place the key in the ignition. This being a taxi and all, kids can also set the fare box so that the taxi is available for rides. Then, as you reach the back of the book, there is a little removable taxi just waiting to be driven over, under, around, and about for the car-loving child’s pleasure. Part book, part interactive toy, what My Little Taxi achieves is the ability to make books fun for book-phobic little ones.
The nice thing about the title is that aside from the fare box, kids that read this book needn’t be familiar with what a taxi cab is. Just as long as they've seen a car, they’ll be happy. And trust me, cars are a continual fascination for some little ones. Often I’ll find myself directing children under the age of three to the car section of the library so that they can stare in wonder at the pictures of shiny automobiles. Put this book in their hands and their interest immediately skyrockets. Of course, in watching kids play with this book I’ve determined that left to their own devices, these future drivers of America haven’t the clearest of ideas on what to do with each page. For example, one kid removed the tire gauge and proceeded to move it about the carpet, making little “vroom vroom” sounds as he did so. Another took the car key and did his darndest to start the tires. With adults at their side, however, this book is a perfect learning tool. Not only is it accurate (albeit with a slightly outdated yellow cab as its guide) but you haven’t lived until you’ve sat in a room of ten librarians all playing “car” and waiting their turn to have a go at it.
The objection to Johnson’s My Little books in the past is the quality of the construction. My Little Taxi, unfortunately, is no different. The book is simultaneously too well put together in some parts, and too poorly constructed in others. Take, for example, the driver’s side door. In one book the door broke clean off of the book itself on a first read, leaving at least one library patron more than a little perturbed. On the opposite side of the spectrum, my co-workers and I were convinced for a very long time that not all the doors in this book actually opened. The glove compartment, for example, seemed welded in place. After some extraordinary tugging and pulling and swearing and crying, however, we were finally able to wrest that little door open. So my advice to you is this: Find the strongest person you know and prior to handing this book to a child make them open every door, window, and tab allowed. Once an item is removed from the book it slides in and out with relative ease. Otherwise I doubt very much that the strength in your four-year-old’s arm is going to make much of a dent here.
Now, we have a circulating copy of My Little Taxi in my library. This may or may not be a mistake. Many of the parts in this book are small. There’s a section that shows kids three different street signs, all of which are removable and all of which are small enough to lose. The problem with My Little Robot (aside from the fact that when you placed a heavy object on top of it you’d hear it squeal) was the missing components. I like to think that this will be less of a problem with My Little Taxi, but keep a sharp eye out at all times just in case.
No, it’s not perfect. No toy with removable parts is perfect. I can’t imagine why a book should be any different. However, I will tell you that exactly one hour after I placed a copy of this book in my library’s display window, a patron walked up to me demanding the title immediately. When I told her that our circulating copies were all checked out she almost begged me to remove the display copy so that her daughter could see it. The book’s a hit with everyone and it pretty much constitutes a sure-fire 100% hit with any and all children under the age of 6 (some would say 8) you hand it to. Worth the clean-up.
Out of print.