'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Review: A Bus Called Heaven

There's just something about this book. In fact, there's a lot of things about it. So many, it's kind of hard to know where to start.

Yes, there's a bus. And a little girl called Stella who falls in love with the bus. It's a dilapidated bus, with junk and trails of both  careworn and neglect. And when Stella insists on taking it home, the entire neighbourhood pitches in, to push the old clunker to the little girl's front yard ...where it sits with its front tyres creeping out onto the pavement.

"There are sure to be regulations," warns Stella's mum, but nobody cares. Instead, they totally revamp the bus - and everyone from all around comes to play, to laugh, to read, to fall in love ... and show old movies. Even some snails and nesting birds move in.

But one Saturday morning, a tow truck arrives. I could feel the sharp intake of breath hurt my lungs when that truck arrived.

"The bus has to go," says the driver. And my heart sank all the way down to my feet.

It's the detail in this book - both through word and image - that takes it from clever to extraordinary. It's something Bob Graham does so well - always - but A Bus Called Heaven just reaches even higher levels. It's in both the things that are said and the things left unsaid.

It's in the language that flows from the tongue without a single misplaced trip-up. It's in the way the people speak - with such natural truth, you think they'll pop from the page like a lift-the-flap, and speak to you.

It's in the hope, the togetherness, the warmth, the fun, the relaxed way Graham brings a multicultural melting pot of people together - an image that typifies Australia - and makes it all work so well. So touchingly. Although this story has little do with Australia per se, it's a book that leaves you feeling patriotically proud, even if the book could easily translate to any world city.

Not only are Graham's images iconically fabulous - particularly his classic penchant for bird's-eye views - they manage to combine tenderness with strength, the mundane with the heavenly, colour with faded light, subtlety with a solid power punch - it's the dichotomy of life that this beloved author/illustrator captures so well in A Bus Called Heaven.

Just heavenly.

Title: A Bus Called Heaven
Author/Illustrator: Bob Graham
Publisher: Walker Books, $27.95 RRP
Publication Date: 1 October 2011
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9781406334197
For ages: 3+
Type: Picture book