Written and Illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Kids Can Press, 2014
“Bye, Mom! Yes, I know! I’ll be good.”
The plot in a nutshell: A girl rides an interesting bus to her grandma’s house.
Clara waves goodbye to her mother as the bus pulls away. It’s the first time she’s ridden the bus on her own. Other passengers get on and off the bus as it stops. A goat in overalls gives her a flower. As the bus goes through the forest, it picks up a family of wolves and Clara befriends one of their children, sharing some of the cookies her mother packed. The bus goes through a tunnel and Clara waves goodbye to her wolf friend as he gets off at the next stop. She spies a thief trying to steal from a passenger and speaks up, scaring him away. She gathers up her things and gets off the bus at her stop, happy to see her grandma waiting for her, and anxious to tell her everything she saw on the bus ride.
Author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc has put a lot of layers into this book. If you look at it from the standpoint of ‘a little girl in a red coat takes a basket of things to her grandma and encounters a wolf on her way through the wood,’ it’s clearly a Little Red Riding Hood story. But it also isn’t, because the outcomes are very different here. Clara (whose name we only know because it’s listed on the book’s jacket) can clearly take care of herself and ends up befriending the wolf, even going so far as to give him her address so they can get together to play later on. (As you may imagine, this facet of the book draws harsh criticism online.)
The delightful artwork drives the story, with the only text being Clara’s words and thoughts, which let us experience the bus ride from her point of view. The physical book itself even contributes to the story, as it’s longer than the normal picture book, making it perfect for the inside of a bus. All the other anthropomorphic animals on the bus have their own stories in this book and I recommend reading through several times, following a different character through their personal experience on the bus. (For example, just check out all of the sloth’s different sleeping positions!) I particularly loved the newspaper headlines, which comment on things happening on the bus and add some comic touches that are not to be missed. If you can set aside your sense of worry about a child riding a bus alone, there are lots of reasons to recommend this book.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are always interesting things and people all around you, so keep your eyes and mind open.