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The No. 1 Car Spotter
Atinuke; Cadwell, Warwick Johnson (illus.) The No. 1 Car Spotter. London, England: Walker Childrens Paperbacks, 2011. , ISBN Paper 9781406320770 / 1406320773.

Note: "Oluwalase Babatunde Benson is Number 1. He's the Number 1 car spotter in his village. The Number 1 car spotter in the world. He is good at solving all sorts of problems for his village. When the family's cart breaks down and there's no way of bringing goods to market, it's Number 1 who devises the Toyota Cow-rolla and saves the day."--provided by publisher


Oluwalase Babatunde Benson is called No. 1 by the other inhabitants of his village because he is the best car spotter they have. He has learned from his grandfather to identify the vehicles traveling the road past his village on their way to the big city. In the first book of a series, author Atinuke introduces the title character through four stories. The short chapters stand independently of each other, making this book a great option for early readers to tackle the chapter format.

Atinuke's earlier series, featuring the young Anna Hibiscus, established the author's reputation for creating sympathetic characters dealing with universal issues, who find strength in family and community. The No. 1 Car Spotter continues in the same vein. No. 1 is an active and friendly boy and audiences will enjoy his adventures with his best friend, Coca-Cola. Young readers will also relate to No.1's interactions with siblings, parents and grandparents.

In this book, Atinuke once again demonstrates her ability to write appealing stories that include salient themes about contemporary life in Africa. She addresses rural-to-urban migration, rural poverty, the role of community in raising children, the fluidity of family structures and the gendered division of labor. The events Atinuke describes could take place almost anywhere in Africa, although the details she includes make clear that No. 1 lives in a Yoruba-speaking village in Nigeria.

Black-and-white illustrations by Warwick Johnson Caldwell are used extensively throughout the book. His bold and graphic style populates the pages with people, adding intensity and humor to the stories. In the first chapter, titled after the book, No. 1 saves the day by helping the people of his village to get to market to sell their goods. "No. 1 Goes to Market" and "7UP," the next two stories, describe the adventures of No. 1 and Coca-Cola and include wonderful details about life with the women who keep the village running. No. 1 and the Wheelbarrow, the final chapter, tells the story of No. 1's father, who must work in the city to support his family. It tackles more difficult subjects, such as poverty, family separation and illness, which parents and teachers may want to discuss with young readers.

Atinuke has succeeded in creating a richly detailed and realistic world for young readers who are most likely encountering rural Africa for the first time through No. 1 and his village. Readers, young and old, will especially appreciate the sense of community and continuity that Atinuke evokes in The No. 1 Car Spotter.

Published in Africa Access Review (February 9, 2013)

Copyright 2013 Africa Access

Rating: HR Grade: E / M Type: Book

Reviewed by: Regan Buck Bardeen, U.C.L.A

Subject: West Africa / Nigeria / Fiction / CABA Notable