Review Blog

Oct 22 2019

Elbow Grease by John Cena

cover image

Illus. by Howard McWilliam. Penguin Random House, 2019. ISBN: 9781760894658.
(Age: 3-8) Board Book. Themes: Monster Trucks, Persistence, Determination. This is the board book edition of the same title published in 2018. The series features five monster truck brothers: Flash is all about speed, Pinball is intelligent and strategic, Tank is big and tough and Crash is courageous. The littlest, an electric truck named Elbow Grease, doesn't have any of these obvious characteristics but he remains optimistic and cheery because he has gumption and never, ever gives up. Their mechanic is a young woman, a welcome departure from the usual image of car sports being a male-only zone. When Elbow Grease shares his dream of one day being a monster truck star his brothers laugh and jeer: 'You're too slow'; 'You're too small'; 'Your technique and experience are insufficient . . . ' Determined to prove them wrong Elbow Grease zooms off to the Grand Prix by himself. He is 'bashed and smashed and even caught on fire a little bit, but still - HE KEPT ON GOING!' The other trucks then realise that they can only learn new skills if they stick at it: 'a little Elbow Grease goes a long way!'
There are many speech bubbles showing the dialogue of the trucks, which highlight their individual personalities, but these are disjointed from the main text and make the pages very busy. Apart from one page the story can be read and understood very well without them so they seem a completely unnecessary addition, especially in this board book format aimed at younger children. In addition, some people may be uncomfortable with how Elbow Grease calls the other trucks 'jalopies', a word which many children may be unfamiliar with, but is clearly meant as an insult. Additionally, it is hard to preach not to stereotype and to broaden your skills when you have stereotyped your characters by name, appearance and behaviour. There is a nice message about persistence though and young kids who like monster trucks will love the illustrations and the action.
Nicole Nelson

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