A review of Atinuke’s newest book

posted in: Atinuke | 12

The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird is the most recently published book by Atinuke, who we’ve been celebrating this week with an interview and a look at the books which influenced her on her journey to becoming an author.

It’s the second book (in a planned series of six) following the life and times of No. 1, an optimistic and creative boy in a modern African village, who has a knack for leftfield solutions to problems and major expertise when it comes to identifying cars approaching his village from a distance (a practise an African blog reader of mine has told me is indeed a favourite past-time of young boys she knows and sees).

In the first book about No. 1 (which I reviewed here) we met his best friend, Coca-Cola and the extended family which surrounds him, and witnessed the crucial, beautiful, good-humoured way his community worked together to get through good times and bad times for the benefit of everyone. This theme is continued in The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird, where each chapter explores a different event in the life and times of Oluwalase Babatunde Benson (as No. 1 is officially named, though you’ll never hear him actually called that).

You’ll read about how the village unites against the threat of leopards who have been stealing goats, how the day is saved when a flood in rainy season threatens to stop all traffic passing the village (traffic is vital for those in the village who sell goods and food at the roadside), and what happens when one of the village’s traditional mud homes is replaced by a modern concrete building.

You’ll see contemporary rural and urban African side by side, with some interesting commentary on the wisdom of traditional ways as opposed to the supposed benefits of modernity. You’ll see how, even if it takes the spark of a boy with “electricity” in his head to come up with a way round an obstacle, we actually need a community around us to lead a rich life full of warmth and meaning.

The book is a fast, funny and exciting read and with a story per chapter it makes a great book for a newly independent reader to enjoy and use to gain confidence in their abilities. Nearly every other page features an illustration (by Warwick Johnson Cadwell), and these further transport the reader to a place they may not be familiar with, but will very soon feel at home with.

Warwick Johnson Cadwell‘s illustrations couldn’t be a better match for Atinuke’s text. What Lauren Tobia does for Anna Hibiscus, Warwick Johnson Cadwell easily matches for No. 1.

A Pontiac Firebird Coupe

Throughout this book there are repeated sightings of a Pontiac Firebird on the road which runs alongside No. 1’s village. It is the only such car in the country and it belongs to a professor from the city. It’s not surprising that No.1 is fascinated by this special car, and so when, as the book draws to a close, he is rewarded for his ingenuity with a ride in the car of his dreams we turn the last page with a smile on our faces as big as the smile on his.

We made our own Pontiac Firebird to read this lovely book in. Using large bits of cardboard taped to bamboo canes we created our doors. A broomhandle with a circular piece of cardboard sufficed as our steering wheel.

Whilst we made our Firebird we listened to some of our favourite albums from Africa – music by Ali Farka Toure, Oumou Sangare, and Amadou and Mariam.

There is a track called Pontiac Firebird 82 if you really want to listen to it – I didn’t download it as didn’t suit us, but it might just suit one of you!

Other activities you could be inspired to get up to having read The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird include:

  • Learning how to cook Akara, a food which features prominently in this book. Here’s a recipe.
  • Playing I-Spy with cars – you could use the official book, or make up your own version.
  • Watching a slideshow of photos from Nigeria (or any other part of Africa) – if you go to Flickr, type in your search terms eg Nigeria, village and then select “slideshow” on the top right. Not all the photos will be brilliant (though you can improve the likelihood of this by selecting to sort by “Interesting” on the top left side of the screen), but I’ve found it a great way to get a flavour of a place/places I will never be able to visit in person.

  • Over the last three days what have you enjoyed most when reading about Atinuke, her books and the books that inspired her?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, reflect my own and honest opinion.

    12 Responses

    1. choxbox

      The red car looks fab!

      Look forward to this book and the rest of the series 🙂
      Thanks to Atinuke and you, for bringing all this to us.

    2. Zoe

      Stacey, Choxbox, It’s been a joy to share Atinuke’s thoughts and books with you this week 🙂 I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it too.

    3. se7en

      Love your car guys!!! How fantastic is that!!! Great post, great week!!! I’ll tell you how the car spotting works here: We live on the edge of a parking lot, where there is a bus stop – buses seldom come but it is where you can stand and hope someone will pick you up and take you to your destination… The bus stop is the closest stop to the beach and we have a township about 8km up the road – just too far for little legs to walk. In the summer the kids from the township come down to the beach to play… and they stop at the edge of the parking lot at the end of the day … hoping for a lorry or a van to give them all a lift home, they always get lucky!!!. Very often they ask us for bread while they wait and my older boys join them for a chat and a bit of soccer in the parking lot. Anyway this is where they hone their car spotting skills… They take turns: one guy checks out what car is passing and the others shut their eyes and guess from the sound of the engines roaring past. They are pretty good at it!!!

    4. Zoe

      Ahh Se7en thanks SO much for sharing the joys of car spotting with us! – Great to be able to picture it in my head 🙂

    5. Darshana Khiani

      Sounds just as good as the first book! Now if only I could find it at a US library. Maybe I’ll get some gift cards for Xmas and just go buy it.
      Thanks for the tidbit that car spotting is a pastime. That wasn’t strongly conveyed in the first book. I enjoyed the first part of the interview where Atinuke answered questions about Anna Hibiscus. The second part about which books influenced was interesting, but since I am not familiar with most of the books, it was harder to understand the exact influence it had on Atinuke.

      Thanks for a great week of posts!

    6. Zoe

      Thanks Darshana, hopefully you’ll be able to find some of Atinuke’s inspirations in the library as well as this book (though I’m not sure it has even been released in the US already).

    7. Ali B

      Lovely posts. I can see what she means about the ordinary-extraordinary nature of Milly Molly Mandy and Katie Morag, and how that applies to Anna Hibiscus. I’m going to reserve No 1 Car Spotter now!

    8. Zoe

      I hope you love it when you get it Ali, it was one of the New York Times picks of the year (I think – can’t remember exactly which big US daily selected it)

    9. tricia sullivan

      Thanks for all the wonderful insight into Atinuke’s work! I love how your kids really get into it. The photos are great.

      I’m looking forward to introducing my kids to more books by this author. Bookmarking your site, too–many thanks 🙂

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