In his village, Oluwalose Babatunde Benson is known fondly as No 1 for his ability to accurately spot and name passing cars — everything from a Peugeot, to a BMW, to his favourite car, the Firebird. The reader is never told where this village is located, but contextual details suggest that it is somewhere in Nigeria. In addition to being very good at spotting cars, Number 1 is also skillful at coming up with ingenious ideas for solving some of the villagers’ problems. His innovative ideas range from the use of pepper to deter a menacing leopard from stealing the village goats, to a clever idea for helping Mama Coca-Cola turn her akara business into a more profitable one. What works particularly well in this young children’s chapter book is the use of language that effectively captures childhood excitement and wonderment. There is humour in this story on the level of character names and comic scenes that will appeal not only to the younger reader for whom this book is targeted, but also for those adult readers who read the book out loud to a child. Readers will also enjoy the vibrancy of the line drawings that accompany the text and add to what is a balanced and unsentimental celebration of village life. What works less well in this book, however, is the narrative pull connecting the chapters and mini adventures. There is a missed opportunity to consistently thread the main character’s obsession with his cars to that of his clever ideas, especially when one of these clever ideas ultimately leads to his dream of having the Firebird stop in his village. There also seems to be a missed opportunity to challenge the main character’s stereotypes of girls and women, whom he sees as incapable of understanding certain things on the basis of their gender. In contrast, the book effectively challenges some of the stereotyping that adults have of children. The No 1 Car Spotter is one in a series, and a welcome addition to children’s literature where there are still so few stories set in contemporary Africa.
Published in Africa Access Review (May 7, 2013)
Copyright 2013 Africa Access
Reviewed by: Sarah Ladipo Manyika, San Francisco State University