Brian Floca figured out something for "The Racecar Alphabet" that a lot of author/illustrators could benefit from remembering. If you're writing a book, be it alphabet, fairy tale, or plain old run-of-the-mill fiction, and your story is about a non-fiction subject, do adults like me a favor and include some factual information at the beginning for them to bone up on. That way, when they read this book to their hepped up five-year-olds, they'll avoid the embarrassment of a blank stare that comes when a preschooler asks, "Why are the racecars driving through a city and not a racetrack?". It's funny, but the only real problem I've had with this book is that it IS an alphabet book. If it were not, it would probably have a much wider audience. Sometimes the choices an author makes are more confining than they can anticipate. Doesn't make the book bad, though.
The book's endpapers consist of eighteen racecars dating between a 1901 Ford 999 to a souped up 2001 Ferrari F1-2001. On the front endpapers, the cars face towards the reader. On the back endpapers they face away. The fact that Floca took the time to make a change that most people won't even notice is a great way of understanding this book. Floca is, if nothing else, meticulous. After a quick note on, "One Hundred Years of Racecars" we reach the title page and an image of a man driving a very clunky, mighty dirty car down a dirt road. The first double page spread reads, "Automobiles - machines on wheels". And we're off! Each letter begins a sentence that describes the racecar attitude right from the start. Sometimes these sentences are alliterative jolts of energy like, "Flat feared and fought, the driver's foe". Sometimes (as in the case of an injured driver) they're a single word. "Yelp!". By the end of the book we have witnessed a variety of different cars over the years and an increasingly complex sport.
My husband just looked over my shoulder as I was writing this review and felt it necessary to point out that it is really difficult to draw cars. Now imagine drawing a shockingly wide variety of them. You have to be able to distinguish a car that was clearly popular in 1976 to its hoity-toity 1992 equivalent. So well done there, Mr. Floca. My husband also points out that the book completely skips over the period of history where moonshiners started racing their cars in the Southern hills. No such tribute to these racing pioneers appears in this book. You may be relieved or outraged as you see fit.
In my experience, "The Racecar Alphabet" is hampered only by the word "Alphabet" in its title. Intelligent preschoolers who're into automobiles will pass on this book because they think the alphabet is too babyish for them. I often want to explain to them that the alphabet aspect of this publication is hardly the focus. You wouldn't even necessarily know it was there unless someone pointed it out to you! My pleas fall on deaf ears, though, and I wish that Floca had been a little less original in his formatting. An odd wish.
Brian Floca is, at this point in history, probably best known for the illustrations he's done for Avi's mighty popular (and well-written) "Poppy" series. For kids that are just a bit too young for Avi's mouse tales, however, "The Racecar Alphabet" will serve as an excellent introduction to Floca's work. Technically adept, informative, and a lot of fun, this is one car title that deserves to be on any racing fan's shelf. A great beginning for the burgeoning NASCAR fan (and a good book to boot).