June 23, 2011

Red Wagon by Renata Liwska

At Christmas, my mom mentioned to me that the childrens' books she gravitates toward are the sweet books, rather than silly or weird. I thought of the books she loved to read to us - Amanda Pig, Bread and Jam for Frances, Blueberries for Sal, Little House on the Prairie - and realized she was very self-aware.

Red Wagon is one I think my mom would like. It is sweet.

You may recognize the illustrations as similar to the ones in The Loud Book and The Quiet Book, but this is the first book that Renata Liwska has written herself, and it is darling.

In it, Lucy (a little fox (I love books with animal characters, especially when they wear clothes or have hair bows)), gets a new red wagon, and she desperately wants to play with it.

Her mother suggests she uses the wagon to go to the market to pick up vegetables for dinner (apparently these are not carnivorous foxes). Lucy thinks this sounds suspiciously like a chore, but she goes anyway.

At first everything goes smoothly, with a few of her friends joining her on the trip, but then it starts to rain.

And with that rain, the images start to veer away from the text. The text continues to describe her dragging the wagon through the rain, then arriving at the market, gathering vegetables, picking the vegetables up when the wagon overturns, etc, but the images show Lucy's wagon transforming into a pirate ship, a covered wagon, a construction vehicle, and more, as she makes the journey, imagining it into a great adventure.

I love the discrepancies between the very sweet and simple storyline and the gorgeous, imaginative illustrations that show how Lucy is viewing her own trip.

It's the perfect balance between the sweetness my mom likes in a book and the cleverness I crave from a picture book.

Copy checked out from my local library


  1. So, after asking you about finding books at the library, I decided to create a list to take with me. I went back through your archives and added all the books. Tried it out for the first time today. Wasn't able to find any of the actual books you've reviewed (the Mesa library system leaves a little something to be desired), but I picked out some others by the same authors. At least it gave me something to focus on. Thanks for sharing! I'm be sure to add the Red Wagon to my list.

  2. Your mom sounds like my mom - we read all of those books too, and my fondest memories are of the Little House and Francis stories. My mom's favorite picture books are Maj Lindman's Flicka, Ricka, & Dicka and Snip, Snap, & Snurr series, so we grew up with those too. Reading them still gives me that safe and content feeling of childhood.

    If you're a fan of animal characters, you should check out Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin. It's both sweet and has the best pictures - hair bows and all!

  3. Being of your Mom's generation, a few of my daughter's and my favorites: Madeline (I think it's why she's been to Paris three times [what, me jealous???]), Babar, and Corduroy (which she translated into French in high school).

  4. A note is written as a reminder to see if the library has this book.

    I love books with wonderful illustrations.

    Sort of off the subject, but not - when I was working with children in grades 1-4, I found that most of the students were oblivious to illustrations. The only ones (maybe two or three out of each large class) that paid attention at all were the ones who had obviously been read to at home or those with an artistic talent. The rest were so into anything animated that still drawings were completely wasted on them.


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