I turned to the six-year-old kid standing next to me, reading some book about a white thing that looked like a cross between a hippo and a dropped blob of hand lotion. “Have you seen this shit?” I asked him. “Fuuuuck, look at this fucking thing! It’s goddamn amazing.” I was showing the kid pictures from a book called Halvans 1-2-3, possibly the best car-related kid book I’ve ever seen. The kid just stared at me. Idiot.
That kid was an idiot because here he was, in a bookstore in Sweden, being raised as a Swedish kid, and he has access to what seems to be the best gearhead kid’s books on the planet. And he’s reading freaking Moonin or Moomim or Moomin or whatever the hell that is? In hindsight, I’m glad I smacked the book out of his hands, even if I could understand what his mom was yelling at me.
But forget that kid– let me tell you more about these books. There’s actually two books I happened to look at, and from the perspective of someone who loves cars, kids, illustrations, and especially old air-cooled Volkswagen stuff, these were a revelation.
You can see from these pictures a bit about what this Halvans book is like. It’s written by Arne Norlin and illustrated by Jonas Burman. Essentially, the book seems to be about a kid who is rebuilding an old Karmann-Ghia from parts from a junkyard. That right there is already a good story, but what makes this so amazing is the level of accuracy and charm in the illustrations.
Look at these pages: that twin-carb Type I flat-four engine there is wildly accurate. I can even tell by the lack of heater hoses that it’s a pre-’63 ‘clean air’ engine. The diagrams are some of the best I’ve seen to show, conceptually, how the layout of the engine works, how it connects to the transmission, and so on. There’s even some basics of how to drive stick!
This thing is like a vastly more enchanting Chilton’s repair manual.
There’s so much covered here, so many parts shown, the relationships of the parts explained in such wonderful, kid-friendly detail. And I can’t even read Swedish! There seems to be a whole series of the Halvans books, too. I can’t seem to find any English translations, but this one looks so good I may just try to teach my kid Swedish.
There’s other remarkably good car/kids books, too, and the other one I saw just so happened has some amazing cars, too. Look at this page:
That’s DAF Kalmar! A Dutch-made postal vehicle I happen to love. And there one is, right in this kid’s book, which is called Vägarbete och Fordonstrubbel, which translates to “Roadwork and Vehicle Trouble.” Oh, and there’s a Messerschmitt Kabinroller body hanging up behind it, even. It’s by Emelie Andrén and Salla Savolaine, and, sort of similar to the Halvans one, it’s about fixing/rebuilding cars in a scrapyard.
There’s all kinds of cars shown here, and there’s a good amount of accurate detail, too, perhaps less so than the Halvans book, but still great, and should get a kid interested.
There don’t seem to be English translations of these books yet, which is a shame, I think. These are both books about cars that don’t oversimplify like so many kid’s books tend to do. These respect the information-greedy, spongelike minds of little kids, and feed them lots and lots of great, detailed visual information. Plus, I like that there’s girls as well as boys shown working on the cars; car books for kids in the U.S. tend to be very boy-focused.
If your kid is interested in cars at all, I think these books could be great to get. Use them with the Google Translate app for a phone, and then the whole process will take on a magical quality, as they look at the pictures and then see the words translated through the screen of the phone.
Gearhead kids of Sweden, I hope you know how good you have it.