A bus called Heaven by Bob Graham
Walker Books, 2011. ISBN 1 4063 3419 7
(Ages 5+) Highly recommended. Picture book. Finding a bus called Heaven left in their street is the impetus for many of the neighbourhood to come together to make it into a community centre. People who have rarely spoken, club together to clean it out and add carpets, games and furniture for all to use. Boys found using spray cans on the bus at night are invited back the next day to paint the bus. One family shows their slides while others set up market stalls in the busy street nearby. All is cooperative and neighbourly until one day a council worker comes long with his tow truck and takes the bus away to a place where it will be recycled.
The community is distraught, but one young girl, Stella, points out the baby birds about to hatch in a nest in the engine, and challenges the council worker to a game of table football.
With another story of people taking matters into their own hands, Bob Graham masterly lets us think this is a simple story, but it is much more. There are overlays of city life, of the mix of cultures in cities, living side by side. There are hints of loneliness and isolation, of communities coming together, of people taking action where they see a wrong, of idealism and hope for the future. Bob Graham's books make me smile, sometimes even laugh out loud, but always make me hold a thought about the future of our world being safe in the hands of children.
And of course, his recognisable illustrations give a marvellous recreation of a city with its telegraph lines and endless traffic, with isolated pockets of people living in small houses sandwiched between factories and office towers. The strong colours of the people and the bus stand out against the grey blue wash of the buildings that surround their lives.
Never didactic or preachy, Bob Graham's stories revolve around the ordinary, the everyday. The people who inhabit his stories are instantly recognised by the reader as most like themselves, going about their lives as best they can.