How It Works: Tractor / How It Works: Rocket by Amelia Hepworth, illustrated by David Semple. Tiger Tales, 9781680106510, 2021
Format: Board book
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or Starred review) 3; 3
What did you like about the book? In six cutaway spreads, each of these British imports introduces a vehicle “made up of many different parts”, and encourages readers to “find out how it works”. The die-cuts— which diminish in size in How It Works: Rocket— are best matched with the subtractive process of rocket staging; in both titles, the typical size and shape of the cuts makes them ideal for small hands. Semple’s bright, attractive illustrations succeed in reducing complex machinery to bare essentials; they also incorporate numerous familiar— and noisy!— animals, providing an entry-point for those readers drawn to organic machinery. The UK-based illustrator’s sea gulls (which appear in both titles) cross the pond without incident, and should be familiar to residents of America’s heartland; in particular, black-headed gulls stand in effortlessly for the Franklin’s gulls that breed on America’s northern prairies. In the tradition of Clement Hurd (Goodnight Moon) and Blanca Gómez (Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse), Semple also hides a mouse in every spread, and just cleverly enough to challenge— but not frustrate— young readers.
Anything you didn’t like about it? As informational books, these titles work well; as informational board books, they’re just a bit mystifying. Writing at a higher level than the format’s usual fare, Hepworth occasionally introduces specialized terminology using other specialized terminology: “[t]he farmer uses a hitch to attach different equipment to the back of the tractor”, and “[a] manure spreader helps to fertilize the fields”. In other places, terminology is introduced in the illustrations, but not the text proper: although the “Service tower” is indicated as such in the illustration, in the text Hepworth notes only that “[rockets] are very tall, so astronauts have to climb a special tower to get into them”; at that, the definition of “astronaut” is never supplied, only to be inferred.
The cutaway design that works well for How It Works: Rocket is less happily suited to How It Works: Tractor. Readers are deprived of a visual representation of the attachment of equipment to the tractor hitch, with the baler, manure spreader, and plow relegated to text clouds.
To whom would you recommend this book? Caregivers of toddlers mesmerized by the machines in question; specialized library collections serving older children, where the format is desirable (e.g. children’s hospitals, some ELL programs).
Who should buy this book? Worth considering for larger board book collections at early childhood education centers and public libraries.
Where would you shelve it? Board books
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Zeb Wimsatt, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA
Date of review: 18 June 2021