By Edward Valfre
Out of print
There are very few examples of children’s books that use photographs instead of illustrations; there are even fewer that are appealing and fun to read. The Red Balloon is the most well known example and perhaps the one which all others are judged against. For me, the gold standard is Backseat Buckaroo.
With Valfre’s text, his black and white photographs take on a mystical quality. The story is told in the style of private eye monologue and is peppered with cowboy terms. The deadpan humor perfectly complements the curious scenes.
“The backseat of a car is no place for a buckaroo who’s ready for adventure.”
Though our young narrator is unhappy about his position, it’s only a matter of time before things get interesting. The family is a million miles from home when things begin to get strange.
An Indian guide warns the family of trouble ahead and they are able to avoid a face-off with some sneaky desperados. But that’s just the beginning of a string of sudden encounters with unusual characters.
An elephant and a horse are escaping from a roadside carnival; they’re headed to Mexico to sing in a cabaret. They invite the buckaroo to join them but he declines. He can’t sing and he only knows one word of Spanish.
A white rabbit on his way to another story alerts the buckaroo to a princess in need of rescue. Ferocious dinosaurs stand between him and the distressed damsel. Luckily, the dinosaurs are easily bribed with huge amounts of ice-cream and the princess is saved.
The family pushes on and our narrator takes a shot at meeting a genie; passing a magic lamp at 60 miles per hour the boy yells out, “I’ve got a jelly sandwich for anyone granting wishes.” The genie makes his appearance at a gas station down the road and grants Master Buckaroo three wishes.
The boy believes one of his wishes (to sleep in a teepee) is about to come true when the family stops for a snack. He’s given a quarter to spend as he wishes; he visits a fortune teller.
Backseat Buckaroo is a singular picture book that offers humor and adventure on every page.