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Picture Books for Little Hoons

Brendan McAleer March 25, 2014 Featured, Speed Reads 19 Comments


Being a car guy (or car girl) doesn’t stop when your little one takes his or her first breath. Being a well-rested car guy? Well, that’s something else entirely.

But having kids in your life isn’t the complete life-altering experience that movies and television make it out to be. Sure, you might start taking better care of yourself healthwise, perhaps exercising more and drinking less – or drinking more: people, it’s parenting fluid – but the essential things that are important to you don’t change. Instead, you get to share them with a new, miniature person. One who has lots of questions.

When my daughter was born, I felt my heart grow three sizes in a single day. I held her fragile, warm form close and whispered in her tiny, perfect ear, “Kid, I am going to buy you so many Hot Wheels. Seriously.” But I was also going to do all the other daddy things like changing diapers, and cooking her meals, and chasing her around the playground, and fitting a child seat into a Series II Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead.

I was also going to read to her, and to encourage her to read. I started making a list of books. Here are a few.little-red-racingcarMight as well kick things off with the newest and possibly best book in this list: The Little Red Racing Car. If you haven’t been paying attention, this colourful, accurate picture book had its kickstarter featured everywhere from Road & Track to Petrolicious. As a result, it hit its targets and got published, which is a very good thing indeed.

Unlike many of the other picture books in this list, there aren’t any hippos driving convertible Nascar racers or other fairy-tale nonsense. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch to think that a barn-find 1950s Maserati could be rebuilt at home without much in the way of specialized help, not to mention that putting your kid in the passenger’s seat of one and driving it on public roads is guaranteed to get you on the cover of Negligent Parenting magazine (I’m a lifetime subscriber). However, it’s also much more realistic than other books, and the art has a feel that pays homage to the great racing posters of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.


It’s beautiful, as is the simple story. A father and a son restore something broken and neglected, and make something lasting that they can share. That sort of thing doesn’t have to be a metaphor, it’s just an explanation of why we end up loving these machines.


Next up is a book from my own childhood, one that stands outside time and is good enough to give to your theoretical grandkids. Richard Scarry is a damn genius, and his Biggest Word Book Ever is worth a look here too – Mr. Frumble is exactly what Ralph Wiggum would be if you gave him a license and turned him into a pig.

His best car-related book is Cars and Trucks and Things that Go. There’s a speed-crazed Dingo. There’s a rabbit driving an alligator. There’s a pickle-shaped tanker truck.

scarry1Plus you get to look for Goldbug on each page, all the while learning new words and enjoying the brightly animated artwork. A classic.



The Wheels on the Racecar features further antics from anthropomorphic animals; this time, they’re at the wheel of pseudo-Nascar racers and whizzing round the racetrack. Round and round, round and round, round and round.

Do you not like repetition? Don’t have kids. Do you not like repetition? Don’t have kids. Do you not like repetition? Don’t have kids. Do you not like repetition? Don’t have kids. Do you not like repetition? Don’t have kids. Do you not like repetition? Don’t have kids. Also, if you don’t like the question, “But why?”, don’t have kids.

If you do have kids, know that they simply love books like this. It is, of course, a simple variant on the old Wheels-on-the-bus sing-song, but here at least the cars go zoom, and the drivers go pass. The book helpfully illustrates the actions you can both do together, and we all know the tune. Read this book with your kid in public and you’ll look like a complete idiot. Looking like a complete idiot is one of the chief joys of parenting.



At a very early age, your child will likely want to read by themselves, flipping through the pages and pointing at the pictures. A good book for this sort of activity is the very simple My Car, the chief protagonist of which looks a lot like R&T’s executive editor rendered in MS Paint. His name’s Sam too.

The artwork here is very poor. I made that Horton image in MS Paint, and the author of this book is also apparently a fan of the medium. However, the simplicity and bright colours are fascinating to children, and I particularly enjoyed the schematic that showed Sam’s car to be an early adopter of the BMW i3’s “skateboard” chassis construction.


There’s even a bit of a twist at the end, and it’s short enough to be the one-more-book-before-bed.



Learning the ABC’s is, frankly, usually a matter of dull repetition. A is for apple, B is for boat, M is for the 1911 Marmon Wasp. Wait, what?

While the title of this book, The Racecar Alphabet, doesn’t sound particularly exciting, the content actually is. Aside from an entry illustration showing a Jaguar C-Type and a McLaren M23 among other realistic machinery, the artwork is mostly of 1920s racecars and you can practically hear and smell these great beasts. Everybody has moustaches and goggles – expect your kid to ask hipsters if they drive an early Alfa – and the cars lean forward with speed and acceleration. Things progress through history until a modern Ferrari is taking its victory lap.


A lovely-looking book, and helps your kid out with the basics: not just letters and sounds, but an appreciation for historic racers.


Picture 10

If I Built A Car reminds me a bit of Pixar’s animation in its style, and the story does run like an animated short. Essentially, this is a great one for budding car designers, and will get them running to the crayon cupboard to start drawing their own vehicles.

The kid in the story decides Dad’s car is too boring, and comes up with a vehicle that combines all the best bits of 1950s gee-whizz concept cars. It flies, floats, has a robot chauffeur and an automated snack bar. Neat stuff, and sure to get imaginations fizzing.



Danny the Champion of the World is, perhaps, my favourite Roald Dahl book. In fact, it’s practically worth having kids just so you have an excuse to read The Twits, and The BFG, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aloud to someone who wants to hear them. I said this before about Scarry, but Dahl is also a genius, and his books enthrall and delight with effortless flow.

The reason Danny is my favourite is partially the tale, which is simple and hilarious, but also the way the cars in the book fit the characters. The bad guy, for instance, drives a hoity-toity Rolls-Royce (and gets his comeuppance in it), where the eponymous Danny and his father have a tiny Austin Seven. The scene where Danny actually gets to drive the car – well, I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice to say that it’s one of those books you’ll find yourself reading long after junior has dropped off to sleep.



  • BusBuddha67

    This is fantastic! Omigosh, thank you! My son is almost two-and-a-half and he's definitely a gearhead. Loves spending time playing in my VW bus, loves looking at and talking about trucks and construction vehicles, etc. I love fostering this because I know my dad was this way with me. I am definitely going to nab some of these books for him as soon as possible!

  • cruisintime

    Reading ensures an ongoing Education.

  • nanoop

    Since when do we have useful consumer advice on Hooniverse? This actually fills a gap!

  • OA5599

    It isn't solely about cars, but Go, Dog. Go! is a another classic for hoons beginning to read.

    [youtube 5QED7UCV2mc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QED7UCV2mc youtube]

    Three Pigs' Garage was a big hit in our house, but it must be out of print because even used ones are expensive on Amazon. Pages are really thick, with each one cut to a different shape matching the illustration.

    • FЯeeMan

      "Do you like my hat?" is a frequent question in our household.

      Eldest is in the army, youngest just got his driving permit. That stuff sticks with you!

      • "No, I do not like your hat."

        "Good Bye."

        "Good Bye."

        And I am 54 years old.

    • Go Dog Go will always be one of my all time favorites from when I was a kid.

  • <img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-0oJkoPMEvtc/TqcNsEee1vI/AAAAAAAAAv0/0PCZZnmsIKQ/s400/25102011172.JPG"&gt;

    All the better for bringing littluns up the British Leyland way. (vanity link)

  • Scott "Hi to my family at home!" Pruett and his wife Judy have co-authored four kids books featuring anthropomorphized race cars: Twelve Little Race Cars, Twelve More Little Race Cars, Rookie Racer and Racing Through the Alphabet.

    <img src="http://www.wordweaverbooks.com/images/content_TLRC.jpg&quot; />
    <a href="http://www.wordweaverbooks.com/default.asp” target=”_blank”>http://www.wordweaverbooks.com/default.asp

  • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

    Thanks, Danny is an excellent idea to read to my youngest!

  • JayP2112

    My son has graduated to C&D, Motortrend and whatever else I can get for $3 a year. He has automotive history books, biographies, and a few that are just a little advanced… like O'Rourke's Driving Like Crazy.

  • boostedlegowgn

    I do also read R&T with my daughter, who is one-and-a-half. She calls cars "beeps", and waves to the loud ones.

  • For me, sitting in traffic jams is all about looking for The Gold Bug.

    Have you considered a curriculum in Toad-centric lessons? I'm not a parent but if I was I suppose you could…

    …take a young one on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland…

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/Mr_Toad%27s_Wild_Ride.JPG/250px-Mr_Toad%27s_Wild_Ride.JPG"&gt;

    …and if that memory stays in their head maybe introduce them later, when attention span allows, to the movie on which it's based…

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/62/Wind_in_the_willows_dvd.jpg/220px-Wind_in_the_willows_dvd.jpg"&gt;

    …and even more later, when reading ability allows (and a bit of historic curiosity?) let them read it in the original…

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a4/Wind_in_the_willows.jpg"&gt;

    My fear is that all of this will seem terribly obsolete and low-tech to a child born in the 21st century. But, hey, maybe the kid will totally dig it! A trip to Disneyland, a movie rental, a used book… worth a shot.

  • chrystlubitshi

    This is an excellent article. We already read Richard Scarry to my 17 month old boy. And I know how wonderful the Dahl books are from my childhood. I'll have to look in to some of these others. Thanks!

  • topdeadcentre

    I had lots of Richard Scarry when I was very young. I credit Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss, and the first few seasons of Sesame Street (Oscar was orange before he changed to green!) for me being able to read before I reached kindergarten. And lots of car books in general, which is odd, because my family is generally not car-oriented.

    Danny the Champion of the World was a big favorite, along with Roald Dahl's other children's books. I never really got into his writing for grownups.

    I wonder how many others here have ever heard of "The Buffy-Porson, a Car You Can Build and Drive". The Buffy-Porson is a downhill car sized for about a seven-year-old, that can be built of out plywood and simple hardware (though spoke tricycle wheels are getting harder to find). By the time I got to book, I was too big to fit in the car; I was going to scale up the plans with my grandfather, but we never quite got to the point of building it.

    It was a fairly slim hardcover published in 1973, written by Peter Stevenson (also famous for home-made boat plans and he later invented Cyclekart racing, http://www.cyclekart.com; he passed away in 2012). You can still find this book used, and on http://www.stevensonprojects.com you can buy plans for pedal cars with your choice of MG, Ford delivery truck, Indy racer, a full-size wooden travel trailer, a woody wagon you can build out of a VW Beetle (air-cooled), etc, etc.

    <img src="http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/58/8a/985d225b9da0eb0e08b87110.L.jpg"&gt;

  • mechimike

    Our first child, a girl, is due in June. I just sent my wife the link to this article, and I'm sure some of these books will be soon pouplating our shelves.

    And yes, that girl is going to learn how to hold an oil filter wrench and (a bit later, probably) how to drive stick. I'll start her out on the Yanmar tractor and we'll take it from there…

  • POLAЯ☄JonnyLeaverman

    I use to love Noddy books growing up. I still have this one where apparently a gang of brothers mug him for his threads and his ride.

    <img src="http://enidblytonsociety.co.uk/author/covers/here-comes-noddy-again.jpg&quot; width="600">

    I still have this one where apparently a gang of brothers mug him for his threads and his ride.

    <img src="http://i.crackedcdn.com/phpimages/article/4/6/7/106467_v1.jpg&quot; width="600">

    Almost no racism was involved in the making of this children's book.

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