It’s funny you don’t see so many black and white picture books around. I suppose this has been focus tested at the highest levels of the industry, so I’m not about to argue with the numbers. There is conceivably also a pretty thick sheaf of neuroscientific evidence to recommend the color fuchsia as a learning tool, or selling tool, hopefully all at once. With our window of picture book relevance reportedly shrinking before the call of higher literacy, this seems like a pretty good time saver then – “move ‘em out, move ‘em out,” like they used to say in a burrito kitchen where I once worked – though you are ever more likely to overlook a modest classic like Night Driving (by John Coy, with shadowy black and white pencil illustrations from Peter McCarty), or to mistake it for something that somebody left behind while they were out shopping.
Because that is both the promise and the pitfall of judging this book by its cover, where drowsy stretches of uneventfullness appear to extend behind, and in front of a father and son in their puttering roadster. And it’s not just the car which seems to date back from The Sixties: a jukebox plays cowboy songs in an all night diner, a waitress wisecracks, and a lot of the conversation here between this father and son sounds deeply suggestible in a way that we probably associate with bygone eras. The boy sits in the front seat. They listen to baseball on the radio. They play letter games – B is for Babe Ruth, not Barry Bonds.
And yet most of this still happens when you strip away the particulars. People still drive unthinkable distances in the middle of the night to set up a tent with a view of the mountains. They still change tires with a jack, and flash their headlights to communicate (no app for that on the horizon). And I think they still listen to baseball through the wide open stretches of this country, even if that is no longer the cultural touchstone it was.
Still, make no mistake – here are the moments worth remembering all these years later. Because you get the feeling that the boy in this story is all grown up now, and possibly a father himself. That this book refuses to traffic in all of the usual insecurities and exclamations is one of its stubborn appeals, but so too is the unspoken affection between two characters who are plainly delighted to be spending so many consecutive hours in one another’s company – wherever the road may lead them. Particularly now in this season of fleeting congratulations. Happy Father’s Day, everyone. We’re almost there.