I’ll be the first to admit that The Rattlebang Picnic isn’t great literature, even (or perhaps especially) by the standards of children’s picture books, but it’s fun.
When the McTavishes get married, they can afford either a reliable car or children; they decided to compromise on only(!) seven children and a “rattlebang”–a cheap car that coughs and chokes and wheezes and sheds mysterious parts with every bump. Granny McTavish approves of her son’s decision, and supplies them with all the pizza and pancakes the family needs for their picnics. Unfortunately, she prefers to cook things low and slow; this technique is good for pulled pork and pot roast but not for some other things starting with P–there’s a hilarious illustration of a startled shark shattering his teeth on a particularly tough specimen of Granny’s cooking. One day, the family decides to go on a picnic on Mount Fogg, despite Mr. McTavish’s misgivings about the rattlebang’s soundness. The family makes do with a cupcake and apple lunch after Granny’s pizza proves so tough that all the family’s efforts produce only a hole in the middle of same, and settle down for a nap…which is interrupted by the mountain showing its true volcanic colors and erupting. Doubly unfortunately, the rattlebang loses a wheel as the family flees the lava flow but the ever inventive children suggest using that uncuttable pizza as a replacement.
It’s just a lightweight lighthearted fluffy picture book…but it’s one of the few recent picture books I went out of my way to get, along with The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve driven my share of rattlebangs, and wouldn’t mind having a granny along whose pizzas are tough enough to use as car wheels. There’s no deep hidden inner meaning in this book; it’s just a tall tale and a sparsely written one at that, though I love Stephen Kellogg’s illustrations. What to read next? The only thing that springs to mind are Sid Fleischman’s McBroom series of vignettes.