WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

Traction Man Is Here
Written by Mini Grey
Random House, 2006, 33 pp, ISBN 13: 978-0-375-83191-1

Never Fear! Traction Man will save the day! Or at least the toast… or the spoons. In the world of school, play seems to have lost its value. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to encourage imaginative play when the forces that be push drill and grill under the guise that children need to prepare for life in a global community. Perhaps that is the reason that Traction Man Is Here has such grand appeal. It embraces the events and episodes of super heroes generated by young minds across the globe. A young boy receives his Christmas wish — an action figure named Traction Man. From the moment he unwraps the package, Traction Man moves into action in many different settings. He saves the farm animals from the Evil Pillows. He uncovers the Lost Sieve while cleaning up after breakfast. In the process, he is attacked by a poisonous dishcloth and rescued by Scrubbing Brush who then becomes his faithful companion. Traction Man survives numerous adventures, but the one Granny presents is most odious — a hand-knitted green “romper suit” with matching hat. How Traction Man survives the mortification of wearing this get-up is heroic indeed.

This story by British illustrator/author Grey will appeal to children in many parts of the world who experience gift giving within warm family relationships. It might be paired with Galimoto (Williams, 1991) in which the child creates not only the events and episodes, but the toy itself. While the situations are culturally diverse, the idea of creative play crosses the boundaries.

Encouraging children to imagine is something we should be doing on a global scale. It is the imagination of the youngest that will play an important role in developing solutions to the problems that plague all who share this planet. The story presents situations that none of us particularly enjoy participating in such as cleaning up after a meal. It notes the importance of developing relationships and working together. It reflects on our own responses to things we are really not all that excited about — like green romper suits — an experience many of us have had. Is this story authentic? Its setting mirrors many homes in the world, but certainly not all. Children who know nothing but war and violence may have difficulty relating to the setting. They still need the invitation to play. There is great caring in this story offered in subtle ways. This caring is what feeds imagination, free thinking, problem solving, and viewing the world as a place of opportunity.

Jean Schroeder, Schumaker Elementary School, Tucson, AZ