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Find more Vehicles in Series Nonfiction
Vehicles are a perennial favorite among young readers, and publishers have met this need in a variety of ways. While motorcycles, Maseratis, and monster trucks aren’t on typical school curricula, these high-interest series about vehicles still promote reading and inspire curiosity.
The Big Picture
As one might expect, vehicle series for beginning readers often cover a range of traditional transportation vehicles. For emerging readers, Cherry Lakes’ Watch It Go series uses repetitive sentences to build fluency. Go Plane! (2019) begins with “Here is the plane’s nose” and continues with similar sentences, such as “Here is the plane’s wing.” Large, crisp photos display the individual parts of planes, with the same treatment given to trucks, fire trucks, and trains in other volumes. Bellwether’s Machines with Power! series adds a little more text to introduce construction vehicles and ships. Accompanied by photos of cranes at work, Cranes (2021) highlights this machine’s parts and ability to lift and move big loads, with labels facilitating comprehension. Capstone’s Transportation in My Community series also uses one or two sentences of text but incorporates even more vocabulary in books about airplanes, boats, trains, and other traditional transportation. Buses (2019), for example, looks at several kinds of buses (school, city, coach, etc.), their uses, and how they work, with colorful photos displaying scenes in- and outside of them. A concluding time line offers a brief history of buses in the U.S.
The majority of vehicles series, however, focus on a type of vehicle. As the series name suggests, Bearport’s Farmer Llama’s Farm Machines, for early elementary school students, concentrates on farm vehicles. In Combines (2021), an illustrated farmer-llama named Aggie serves as a guide and tells readers how this vehicle works to gather crops and what farming was like before its invention. Several diagrams point out combine parts and their uses. From jeeps and trucks to dirt bikes and military vehicles, Rourke’s Off-Road Vehicles series covers a range of vehicles, but all are geared for off-road work and adventure. With thrilling descriptions, action-packed photos, and mud-track graphics, ATVs (2020) describes to upper-elementary and middle-school readers the vehicles’ use in farming, recreation, the military, and competitions.
Still other series take a more specific approach. Rather than depict a spectrum of military vehicles, Black Rabbit’s Air Power series spotlights military aircraft from around the world. In an early-reader format, MH-53E Sea Dragon (2020) uses short text passages, colorful photos, and numerous infographics to explain the development and use of this military helicopter, which sweeps the seas to find and destroy mines. Similarly, this publisher’s Epic Cars series spotlights certain makes and models, with titles like DBS Superleggera (2021) to satisfy admirers of specific sports cars. Although ABDO’s Xtreme Speed series includes cars, planes, trains, and seemingly standard modes of transportation, it focuses on the speediest models. The World’s Fastest Boats (2020), for example, gives example after example of record-breaking boats, complete with photos of them in action. For any aspiring boat pilots, it also describes safety protocols and equipment.
While vehicle series in and of themselves already convey a STEM topic, some series actively incorporate a STEM component. Lerner’s Military Machines series doesn’t just introduce vehicles like fighter jets, submarines, and tanks to elementary students, it emphasizes the engineering behind them. In How Aircraft Carriers Work (2019), for example, readers learn about this kind of ship’s special equipment, such as a catapult that launches jets and nuclear reactors that power the vessel. Topping off the informational text are numerous color photos and a full-page diagram of a carrier. Employing more detailed text, Mitchell Lane’s Monster Machines series for elementary readers explains the engineering and technology of some of the world’s greatest working vehicles, such as the Japanese bullet train and the Sikorsky S-92 Helicopter. Arctic Icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent (2020) shows, through text and photos, how its design helps the Canadian ship clear blocked ice and supply Arctic villages.
To imagine vehicles on the horizon, upper-elementary and middle-school readers need only look to Mitchell Lane’s Futuristic Electric Vehicles series, which reveals it’s not just cars that will increasingly run on electricity but airplanes, buses, trains, and more. Accompanied by photos and artists’ conceptions, Futuristic Electric Trucks (2020) communicates current electric truck options, the challenges and advantages of designing electric trucks, and the future of this mode of transportation. Capstone’s Tech on Wheels series offers similar information about electric, concept, and self-driving cars as well as the technology involved in race cars, off-road vehicles, and amphibious vehicles.
The best feature in vehicles series and what most engages students, particularly reluctant readers, is the visuals. With sleek photos that rival many car advertisements, ABDO’s Car Stars series introduces some of the world’s most coveted luxury cars in an early reader format. In McLaren F1 (2019), for instance, short, accessible text and close-up photos of the car’s interior and exterior offer details about its limited production, design, and speed. Bellwether’s Full Throttle series for upper-elementary and middle-school students also uses crisp photos and splashes of vibrant colors to show off fast and popular vehicles, such as stock cars, dirt bikes, and monster trucks. Hot Rods (2019) not only relates the history and design of these cars but presents them as “rolling works of art.”
Other series rely more on infographics, like Black Rabbit’s Wild Ride series, which introduces early elementary readers to stock cars, Formula 1 cars, dirt bikes, and other high-speed vehicles. In addition to a full-page diagram, sidebars, and vocabulary boxes, Motorcycles (2020) features a weight comparison chart and a map of popular motorcycle companies. Black Rabbit’s Epic Cars series, which spotlights famous sports cars, uses similar infographics with longer text for upper-elementary and middle-school readers. The terms vehicles and adorable may seem incongruous, but the diggers, rescue vehicles, tractors, and trucks with delightful cartoon faces in Rosen’s elementary Busy Machines series exude charm. Rescue Vehicles (2021) describes both a variety of these vehicles and situations in which they’re needed, such as on the water, in a fire, or in a snowstorm, through chunked text and labeled parts.
While considering vehicles series, it’s worth noting gender representation. Many series remain dominated by depictions of men, but some make an effort to include women at the wheel. Bulldozers (2019), for example, part of ABDO’s Construction Machines series for early readers (part of its Dash! imprint), has a full-page photo of a female driver. Scholastic’s elementary Be an Expert! series goes even further, as diverse children pose questions to transportation experts; Mighty Trains (2020) not only includes a female child and expert in the Q&A but ends with a full-page diagram of a woman train conductor outfitted in “expert gear.” With so many photos of vehicles and helmeted drivers across series, however, it’s often difficult to identify any gender. How Fighter Jets Work (2019) in Lerner’s Military Machines series comprises multiple photos of women pilots, and even with photos of just aircraft, the text refers to the pilot as “she.” These ongoing changes, as well as the variety of vehicle books and their attention-grabbing visuals, continue to make vehicles series appealing to all kinds of readers.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond (Va.).
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