Henry Cole’s illustrations were the highlight for me. They are energetic and bright and his experience as an illustrator of over 100 picture books is evident in the dynamic layouts and lively line drawings. I couldn’t help but root for little Maxi as I looked through the book. Especially important to me is Cole’s nod toward the cosmopolitan nature of many big cities with the inclusion of a wide variety of townspeople in the backgrounds of the images.
I found the plot to be a bit thin in places, and I was left with several unanswered questions: Who is driving Maxi? If children are leaving ice cream and mustard stains on Maxi’s interior, wouldn’t he still be dirty even after the car wash? Most significantly, what is the role of the “taxi gal” who tells Maxi he is too dirty? Is he supposed to be attracted to her? If so, why isn’t she mentioned again? If not, why mention that she is a gal (a detail which Cole emphasizes with long eyelashes, the almost ubiquitous symbol for femininity among anthropomorphized cartoon characters)? Of course, this is a fantastic story, and there is a long tradition of children’s stories about driverless vehicles, but I can imagine these and other questions coming up with curious child readers.
Though Upton’s meter is relatively consistent, at times I wonder whether the book really needed to rhyme. Some lines are strong (“Max was so sad,/ Down streamed his tears,/ And his swish-swishing wipers/ Turned dirt into smears”) but others strike me as rather forced (“Max told the whole story—/ Of his kind, new friend,/ And the big bath that splashed him—/ front, middle, and end!”). Upton’s writing is at its best with Maxi’s onomatopoetic “zooming” and “zipping,” or the car wash’s “pish-pish” and “blip-blop” noises, sounds which often encourage expressive and participatory reading with young children.
I could see this book being a helpful discussion starter for children before they go through their first car wash, an experience that can be a bit overwhelming. (As someone who gets just a wee bit claustrophobic in car washes, I found the three spreads devoted to the car wash scene both realistic and reassuring.) More broadly, I would recommend this book to any active young readers who love both vehicles and zooming and zipping their way through books.