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One of the funniest picture books you'll ever peruse
on January 23, 2004
Because this book won a 2003 Caldecott Honor, you're probably going to hear a lot of people complaining about it. "Oh the art isn't beautiful". "Oh my four-year-old child could've drawn it". "Oh it isn't Caldecott-worthy" (whatever that may mean). The fact of the matter is, I was a little shocked too. This book won a Caldecott honor? The one where an amusing pigeon tries every bit of persuasion he can think of to wheedle himself into the driving seat of a bus? Now I've loved this book since it was first published. When I first read it I laughed out loud. Quick! Recite the children's books you love that make you laugh out loud! Not so easy to think of, are they? So I've returned to this little treasure in the hopes of discovering why that Caldecott nominating committee loved this book as much as my pretty self. Could it have been the artwork? Deceptively simple is the best way to describe its style. The pigeon isn't exactly a Michaelangelo. He's drawn with thick black lines, shaded in with blue and yellow. But has a Michaelangelo ever really amused you? Look a little closer at this pigeon and you realize the book's genius. His oversized eyeballs exquisitely display every emotion possible. From sweet and innocent to consumed with an all-encompassing rage. The pages wherein the pigeon completely freaks out and screams at the top of his lungs, "LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!" is the temper tantrum of a two-year-old rendered into an aviary form.
But do kids like this book? Well, ladies and gentlemen, the answer is yes. In fact, clever readers let the kids hearing this tale say, "NO!" every time the pigeon tries a new tactic. When the pigeon says, "Please", the kids say no. When the pigeon says, "I tell you what: I'll just steer", the kids say no. When the pigeon says, "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's play `Drive the Bus'. I'll go first", the kids say no. And when Mr. Pigeon collapses in a fury, the kids do not relent. Finally, they have been placed in the position of their parents. They get to tell someone exactly what he cannot do. And they love it.
In the end, it's hilarious. Who can resist this foul when he pulls every trick out of his feathery bag? From, "How `bout I give you five bucks", to a mock-innocent wide-eyed, "I have dreams you know!". In the end, the pigeon goes on to bigger and better dreams (complete with CB radio) and the children reading the story know they've participated in the happy ending. Joy all around. Is this book deserving of a Caldecott Honor? No ladies and gentlemen. It is deserving of a Caldecott MEDAL. But like the pigeon's, this is just a dream.