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Monday, September 3, 2012

a bus called heaven, written and illustrated by Bob Graham. Candlewick, Random House. 2012. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"Stella changed, too.
She took her thumb from
her mouth, where it usually
lived, and said, "Mommy, that
old bus is as sad as a whale
on a beach. Then she pushed
open the door and climbed on board.
Stella, the color of moonlight,
stood among the bottles, cans and

I love the way Bob Graham sets his audience to thinking before his stories begin. Flipping a pale pink endpaper we see a street, a gathered crowd, a bit of a traffic snafu, and a broken-down bus:

"Abandoned. The bus appeared
one morning from a sea of traffic -
right outside Stella's house,
where no bus should be.
Tired, old, and sick,
it had a hand-painted sign on it,
held down with packing tape.
The sign said, Heaven."

And so it sat in Stella's neighborhood, in a no parking zone, with plenty of curious onlookers passing by. It brought a change to the street, and to Stella. People began to share conversation, to take time for their neighbors, to visit back and forth. It was Stella, an ethereal little girl, who stepped aboard first and in a entranced whisper said, "It could be...ours." With help from those gathered, they push it off the street and into Stella's yard (where the front sticks out a little).

Heaven makes a difference in the life of this multicultural community. Everyone takes a part in cleaning it, painting it, finding furniture for the comfort of one and all.  It even has pets...a dog and a goldfish.  As the bus settles into its new home, weeds, snails and sparrows become welcome guests. It is a community center of the best kind:

"Babies crawled,
people laughed,
kids fought,
grandads scratched dogs,
meetings were planned,
couples met,
and the Fingles showed their vacation pictures." 

Then, the city steps in with its regulations and talk of 'obstruction.' A two truck hauls Heaven to the junkyard -

Alarmed members of the community follow. Once there, Stella makes a deal with the boss and comes through for her family, friends and neighbors. With more than a little help the bus finds a new home, where it will be safe and welcome.

I have quite a collection of Bob Graham's books and am thrilled to add this beautifully designed tale. As with each of his previous stories, his rich watercolors invite repeated visits. With each return to this detailed, people-filled, light-infused world, I find something new and lovely. Filled with charm, constantly changing perspective, and subtle use of light and shadow, he brings Stella's world to our attention and shows us, while never telling us, that people and their actions are the heart of a vibrant community life.  It can start with one small child. Bravo, Stella!

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