One of the pleasures of reading picture books for the first time is the way they renew our sense of discovery. Picture books are sprints, but the best ones create richly evocative worlds, compressing time and experience into something that reflects or approximates essential elements of our lived encounters. The first time I read Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey‘s THE OLD TRUCK, a feeling of immense poignancy washed over me. I blinked back tears and tried to sound “normal” as I finished speaking the last page. That’s what an incredible picture book can do.
The Pumphrey brothers’ book is direct, simple, and fundamental, but also mysterious. Emotionally, THE OLD TRUCK exists firmly in a maternal/parental space or cadence, but who is the steadying and fortifying mother? I think it is the truck–which was there at the beginning, when a pregnant mother is about to give birth, and is there at the end, when the daughter of that mother is now a mother of her own little girl and raising her on the same farm. I also loved seeing a black family centered in this farming story.
The eponymous truck is akin to a tutelary spirit, a household god. And like our gods and watchful spirits, it both gives and receives, supporting the family with its labor, but also in need of rest, repair, and perhaps most importantly dreaming. The truck’s imagination feeds the girl’s imagination. The girl’s imagination, translated into creativity, into hard work, feeds and preserves the family and the family’s way of life.
THE OLD TRUCK is one of those books I’m tempted to keep talking and talking about, but I’ll stop. Go and see for yourself. And scoop up their about-to-be released PB: SOMEWHERE IN THE BAYOU.