A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham

Lynn:  One morning an old abandoned bus appeared outside Stella’s house.  A hand-painted sign that said “Heaven” was stuck on the bus and the neighbors gathered around and they talked – “just a little but they talked.”  Pale Stella who usually had her thumb in her mouth was changed by the bus.  “It could be…ours, she whispered.”  A Bus Called Heaven (Candlewick 2012) is a wonderful exploration of what it means to be a community and the importance of having a place to come together.

First the neighbors push the bus off the street and then they clean the bus, paint it bright colors and turn the inside into a gathering place where everyone is welcome.  Babies explore, children play games, adults meet and share, plan and relax…and for the first time they are a community and Graham’s watercolor palette turns from greys to sunny colors.  But of course a city code has been broken and when a tow truck arrives and takes the bus to the junkyard the entire neighborhood pleads with the boss.  “This one’s for the CRUSHER,” he says but Stella who now has pink in her cheeks, steps in and saves the day.  And soon the bus is installed in a new place where it is clear it will stay as a safe haven and the center of a real community.

This sweet story will be the perfect addition to all those “Our Community” units featured in most kindergarten or first grade classrooms.  Young readers won’t miss the multicultural mix of this community something we are shown rather than told through the illustrations.  I loved the hopeful positive message of this book as much as tiny details of each picture that add both humor realism.  Graham is a master of alternating the small panels and large page drawings to move the story and several of the page turns lead to wonderfully dramatic two page spreads that stopped us in our reading tracks.  The large size makes this good for a class read but kids will find much on closer inspection in quiet re-reads.

Cindy: Think Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks for the younger set. A community changes and the individual residents change while adding a bright spot…a little bus of heaven…to their neighborhood. Do people really come together like this much anymore? I don’t know, but I hope it is possible. That there are pockets of community gardens and community centers where all are welcome. Where each contribute. I’m always a fan of intergenerational books as well…I love seeing a mix of ages interact. And examining the detailed scenes of activity while reflecting on the broader themes was just delightful.

Walker Australia has a great teacher’s guide posted for this book with all sorts of writing and discussion prompts for your students. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for a coloring page so your students can design their own bus! I wonder what they will name theirs? And there’s a list of 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bob Graham. He likes the sound of dogs’ ears flapping! You heard it here first!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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