Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Snow Job! Small Walt by Elizabeth Verdick

BRRRR! The night air is cold and wet.

The city plows stand staunchly in a row, ready to fight the snow.

And in that doughty cadre is the smallest of all, Little Walt, new to the fleet and yet to prove his mettle against the snowfalls of winter. But he's ready to go, and when Gus, his driver, goes through the fitness checklist, he finds Little Walt's plugs are sparking with the best of them and his salt loader is filled to the brim.

The other drivers spurn Little Walt as too puny for the expected big storm, so Gus offers to take the little guy out for his trial run.

"Try to keep up, Small Stuff," Hank honks from the controls of the biggest plow.

"Grrrr!" Walt's engine growls.

Gus steers Walt into all the tight places where the big boys cannot go. The bridge is icy and the ramps are dicey, but Walt proves his mettle as he clears and salts.

Scraaaaatch, scraaaaape!

Little Walt scatters the salt, and as the job turns into an all-nighter, he soldiers on through slush and muck!

"Don't get stuck!" Gus warns.

And then they come to The Hill. Gus opines that the drifts are the biggest he's ever seen. Can Little Walt plow all the way up that high, high hill, and even if he does ...

... there's that downside of the big hill. To Little Walt it looks like an Olympic ski jump. Even Gus considers calling a halt. Should they stop at the top? Should a plow and salter ever falter?

But Walt stays to steer the course and pass his trial by ice, in Elizabeth Verdick's Small Walt (Simon and Schuster, 2017), and he wins his own blue ribbon (Gus's blue scarf) on their triumphant return and secures an honored place in the fleet. Author Verdick makes good use of occasional rhyme, alliterative language, and plenty of funny onomatopoetic engine sounds to lend tension and drama to her narrative, and artist Marc Rosenthal generates plenty of identification for young readers with his anthropomorphic machines, especially Walt, the little guy who goes up against the big boys and holds his own with gumption and grit. Rosenthal's cozy, colored-pencil illustrations have the charming retro revival look of books in the style of Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could (Original Classic Edition) and recent books such as Rinker's Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Dewdney's Little Excavator.

Although the basic tale of the little big machine that could is a a well-plowed story premise, Verdick and Rosenthal show that there's still a place for the youngster to prove that he or she can do big things. Determined and lovable, Little Walt shares literary parking space with Hardy Gramatsky's Little Toot and Virginia Lee Burton's Katy the snow plow and Mike Mulligan's steam shovel, and, oh yes, Watty Piper's little steam engine that could, too, in a new read-aloud for the snowy season. And like that classic steam shovel with lots of heart, here, too, there's that heart-warming loyalty between man and machine that manages to move and melt even the snow and ice of winter.

There's always room for one more little storybook hero who perseveres, and Booklist says, ... "libraries should make room for this one, too. It's really the story of a little guy who gets a tough job done, and little children will root for him all the way."

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