Start Your Engines: Books for your Vehicle-Loving Kids

As I was driving to work today, I was struck by how much my son would have once loved all the construction trucks and equipment on RT 66 now. This may mostly have to do with the fact that my son is a second semester senior in high school and I find myself nostalgic about everything these days….but it also reminded me of the period in his life where he loved anything that had wheels. We had a DK truck book that got worn out from reading every single night. “Reading” pretty much involved pointing to photos of various kinds of trucks and saying things like “Giant Excavator.” “Backhoe.” “Concrete Mixer.”  It was not the most exciting phase of parenthood.  If you have a vehicle-loving kid, chance are you have the same book (or one very much like it). To save your sanity, here are some less repetitive vehicle themed books to keep your truck loving kid happy. 

Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car by John Birmingham

Mr. Gumpy wants to take a ride in his car and everyone (a rabbit, a cat, a dog, a sheep, a cow, a goat, chickens, a boy and a girl) want to come. What happens when they get stuck in the mud and no one wants to help? This sweetly old-fashioned book has just the right amount of repetition and silliness to appeal to preschoolers. 

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen 

The boy in this book has grand plans for his fantasy car: a fireplace, a pool, a snack bar and a robot to drive it. The illustrations are a cross between a 1950’s style and something futuristic: kind of a Jetsons vibe. A fun go-along activity is to have your kids draw their own fantasy car. (And don’t miss the other books by Van Dusen: If I Built A House and If I Built A School). 

Demolition by Sally Sutton 

Preschoolers will love the big machines and bright pictures and the abundance of sound words (crack, thwack). The other books in the Construction Crew series (Construction, Roadwork) are also fantastic. 

Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough

Nothing but silliness here. Silliness and lots of rhymes. Duck’s truck is stuck in the muck. Who will help him get it out? A frog in the bog? A sheep in a jeep? A goat in a boat? 

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton 

Both of these classics (Mike Mulligan was published in 1939!) have held the test of time. Watching Maryanne (the Steam Shovel) try to dig more than one hundred men dig in a week is a childhood rite of passage. Katy is less well-known, but also stars a heroic big truck (who happens to be a snowplow) and the intricate illustrations Virginia Lee Burton is known for. 

I Stink by Kate and Jim McMullan 

Starring an endearing garbage truck who loves his job of eating garbage while humans sleep, this brightly colored and noisy book appeals to preschoolers and younger elementary school kids. It’s one of a very popular series, starring different trucks (I’m Dirty, I’m Brave, I’m Mighty). Bonus: It’s also an animated series on Amazon, The Stinky and Dirty Show. 

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw 

This silly somewhat slapstick story tells of five sheep driving around the countryside in a jeep and the mishaps that occur. If your kids like the silly sheep, good news, there are bunches of other books telling of their adventures. 

Freight Train by Donald Crews 

A Caldecott Honor Book in 2011, this one uses bright primary colors, simple text and lots of sound words to bring trains to life for the very young. 

Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride by Kate DiCamillo 

The second in a series (although they don’t have to be read in order), this book stars Mercy Watson, the lovable pig companion of Mr. and Mrs. Watson. Mercy loves driving around in the Watson’s convertible but one crazy day she ends up being behind the wheel and chaos ensues. This is a great transitional book to longer chapter books. The chapters are short and there are fantastic illustrations by Chris Van Dusen. 

Locomotive by Brian Floca

A winner of multiple awards (including the Caldecott Medal) this stunning book is best for older elementary students who are fascinated by trains or who like non-fiction. Floca brings a train ride in 1869 to life in this meticulously researched book. 

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary 

A wonderful chapter book to read-aloud or for upper elementary kids to read to themselves, this classic tells the story of a young mouse named Ralph whose life is changed when a boy and his shiny toy motorcycle come to stay in the Inn that Ralph and his family live in. Cleary wrote this book intentionally to appeal to boys and girls after watching her son play with his toy cars.