Keep on Trucking 

A cement mixer and his pals whoop it up in Jon Scieszka's "Trucktown" series for kids.

The characters in Jon Scieszka's "Trucktown" series of illustrated books for kids five and under are eccentric and adorable. They display character traits that we can all recognize in our own friends and families. They just happen to be trucks. Dump Truck Dan is a showoff; his brother Payloader Pete is fiercely loyal. Cement Mixer Melvin is a worrywart; Gabriella Garbage Truck "knows everyone and everything" and, despite her odor, "she's a social butterfly and maybe a bit of a know-it-all," Scieszka muses, "but still a blast to have around." Monster Truck Max is a troublemaker. Tow Truck Ted "is smart — really smart. He knows more about truck mechanics, repair, history, and even truck mythology than anybody else." As a problem-solver, "he's always got a plan." Wrecker Rosie is "sweet and clumsy. ... But beneath all that noise and wreckage there is also a very big heart." Somehow, even grownups will find themselves eager to believe this, thanks to Scieszka's zippy text and the talents of illustrators David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon.

These vehicles are packed with personality, and they're part of Scieszka's mission to encourage boys to read. Back in Michigan, "I grew up with five brothers. I taught elementary school for ten years. I've been writing books for kids for fifteen years. And I've been thinking a lot about why boys might not like reading." He suspects that it's because, in school, "boys often have to read books they don't really like. They don't get to choose what they want to read. And what they do like to read" — such as magazines, comics, and web sites — "people often tell them is not really reading." He created GuysRead.com, a web-based literacy program that recommends books and strategies (and offers printable bookmarks, posters, and stickers) for males of all ages who don't ever have to open The Lovely Bones if they don't want to. At Barnes & Noble in Walnut Creek (1149 S. Main St., Walnut Creek) on Monday, Jan. 28, Scieszka introduces his latest, Trucktown: Smash! Crash! 4 p.m., BarnesandNoble.com

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