BACKHOE JOE
Written by Lori Alexander
Illustrated by Craig Cameron
(Harper Collins Children’s Books; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

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Taking the traditional “rescuing a lost pet” theme and turning it right on its head, debut picture book author Lori Alexander has succeeded in writing an engaging and original story about an anthropomorphic piece of excavating equipment. With a son who was wild about trucks and a new puppy to train, Alexander found inspiration along with a clever angle. She combined the two things into one fluid, funny tale that both parents and kids will adore.

Nolan, while rock collecting, meets the lost backhoe and it doesn’t take long for the little lad to realize he’s just found his new pet. “Nolan had always wanted a pet backhoe.” Shy at first, Backhoe Joe begins to enjoy his new friend’s company. Nolan knows he’s a keeper. “Look what followed me home,” Nolan says to his parents. Now he’s got to convince his mom and dad that a pet backhoe is easy to look after. But is that even possible after Backhoe Joe’s just leaked all over the driveway? It certainly seems like training this piece of bright yellow equipment is going to be a daunting task! Kids are going to love all the surprises Alexander has in store. In fact they probably won’t mind when Joe gets reunited with his owner because it’s not the last time he’ll be seeing his friend. But the best part is that there’s still yet another twist that is super satisfying even for grownups!

The illustrations are a joy to look at. Cameron’s created several scenes where the digger’s awkward movements while trying to behave like Nolan’s pet feel believable. Readers will appreciate how hard Backhoe Joe is trying to be a good, but his bulky size is prohibitive. All the while though, the colors and expressions on the characters’ faces are cheerful and optimistic. And that’s what I enjoyed most about Backhoe Joe. It’s a positive picture book with an upbeat message about friendship and responsibility that will draw youngsters in and keep them eagerly turning the pages.

Read a sample of the book here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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