Bus Stops, by Taro Gomi

Bus Stops Well, THAT was a long hiatus, but I (Vicky) am baaaaack! My dashboard says I haven’t posted anything since November 2011, but I have a pretty great excuse. I’ve since had two little boys of my own, who are now almost two and a half years old. (Yes, they are twins. Yes, they are identical. Yes, we were surprised. No, twins don’t run in our families.) So now, despite the diminished brain-matter that motherhood is supposed to bring about, I feel extra-qualified to review books aimed at preschoolers! But I have to be careful not to let my judgment be clouded by nostalgia and emotion over the fact that I’ve read some of these books over and over (and over and over again) to my own children. Or the opposite: the fact that I’ve read some of these books over and over (and over and over again) makes me want to throw them onto a high shelf and forget their existence — or at least convince my kids that they no longer exist. Bus Stops is a book that falls into both categories. I picked it up for my boys because we commute daily together by bus to work and daycare — a 25-minute-or-so ride downtown and back which still, miraculously, keeps them entertained and engaged. I never carry toys or books or snacks on our bus rides, because I think my head would explode from the organizational challenge of doing so. Instead, they sit in their double stroller and talk to me and talk to each other and look at the people getting on and off and the vehicles and landmarks and signs passing by and comment loudly on it all. “Another truck! Big truck! WHITE TRUCK!” Sometimes they sing songs in unison, or two different songs at once. Sometimes they discuss the sartorial choices of their fellow passengers. (“Black coat, black coat, blue hat, white bag…”)  And each stop is always the same, routine and comforting, marking the rhythm of our days. (See what I mean? Nostalgia!) Bus Stops has the same soothing, predictable rhythm: “The bus stops at a baseball field. Ten baseball players jog off.” “The bus stops at a hospital. A nurse comes out to meet it.” “The bus stops at a movie set. An actor runs off.” The illustrations are simple and strangely absorbing. I don’t know anything about drawing, but I can Google, and I know that Taro Gomi is highly prolific and much-loved. It clearly takes place in Japan, over a sprawling urban route, and each page can be pored over for details. That baseball field — my kids love counting the players (there are more than 10 in total), but it’s also fun to spot the tiny white dog. The hospital scene features a patient mummified in bandages from head to toe, and a clearly ill man as green as Frankenstein. On the movie set, there is a woman dressed as a geisha and another as a ninja. The boys love the book and ask for it often. I don’t know if they know that it somewhat mirrors their experience, or if they just like it because they like all transportation vehicles (“Bus!” is one of their first, and favourite, words.) In any case, there is nothing as homey and satisfying as the third-last page (“The bus stops outside our house. We get off.”) or the conclusive peace of the last one: “Goodnight, bus.” Reading Ages:  It can be read to a 1- or 2-year-old. And a 4-year-old learning to read on her own could read it, but would the story be too simple for her? Rating:  B+. See, I’m trying to separate my own emotional attachment to the book from my assessment of it. I love the illustrations, but there is not much in the storyline to attract the interest of most preschoolers, unless they like buses. Favourite bus stop: The restaurant, where a mechanic dashes off, presumably to eat a takeaway katsudon made by the mustachioed chef at the outdoor stand. There is also a truck with a live cow in the back, who unfortunately will probably be turned into lunch.

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