7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #648: Featuring Robert Neubecker

h1 July 28th, 2019 by jules


There’s been a long history of anthropomorphic vehicles in children’s books and in children’s entertainment — from Little Toot and Pedro to Cars. Robert Neubecker’s Little Smokey (Knopf, August 2019) provides a modern twist with an environmental edge, given the frequency of forest fires in this country.

Everyone has a job at the Nif-C, or National Interagency Fire Center. There’s Buster the air tanker, who sprays water on forest fires; Bruno the water scooper, who retrieves water from rivers and lakes for attacking flames; and Bertha the Very Large Air Tanker, who carries fire retardant. The hero of the book’s title starts the story without a name, because at Nif-C, “you have to earn your name.” When the summer gets hot and “the country grows dry,” the planes take off with a giant roar. The little plane is told she can’t help, but she practices her flying nonetheless. When a fire spreads into a canyon yet the big planes are unable to attack it, the little plane begs: “I can fly fast! I can fly low! I can help! Please let me go!” Indeed, she’s small enough to pour water down in just the right place, allowing the bigger planes to soar in and wrap things up. The little plane flies back, feeling triumphant and covered in smoke — and is dubbed, finally, Little Smokey.

Neubecker’s landscapes-afire spreads are breathtaking and dramatic. There is an almost inevitably retro look to these illustrations featuring animated planes, but Neubecker also keeps things modern with a diverse cast of humans on the runways, as well as female mechanics. But the determined planes are the real stars of the show, and children will root for the little plane that could. In the spread where she finally gets to fly to the blazing fires, we even see what looks like her tongue stuck out to the side in concentration. (That is pictured below.) I love it.

Appended is information about how wildfires start; who fights them; what the reader can do to help avoid them; and more. Here are some spreads so that Neubecker’s art can do the talking.


“Bertha is the biggest plane. …”
(Click to enlarge spread and read text in its entirety)


“She practices her flying, venturing farther into the forest each day. …”
(Click to enlarge spread and read text in its entirety)


“The wind comes up. Flash! Flare! …”
(Click to enlarge spread and read text in its entirety)



(Click first image to see spread in its entirety)



(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


“The little plane pours water down, down. …”
(Click to enlarge spread and read text in its entirety)


LITTLE SMOKEY. Copyright © 2019 by Robert Neubecker. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) A four-mile, early-morning hike with a friend and our daughters earlier this week.

2) This open letter.

3) Dark. I’m mildly to moderately OBSESSED.

4) Nearing the end of my picture book grad course. Hope my students have enjoyed it.

5) I’m traveling to Concord, Mass, today and will see co-workers whose company I enjoy but only see in person once a year.

6) New novels you can’t wait to crack open. …

7) … and if I’m going to be stuck on a plane today, I think I’ll do just that.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

16 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #648: Featuring Robert Neubecker”

  1. Oh, my goodness, Jules, I have to have this book. It’s pure perfection. Thank you for highlighting it. Thank you for sharing the open letter. I had not seen it yet. Everyday there is so much discord in the news, I am thankful for people who are using their voices for good. I wish I could take your picture book grad class. Safe travels today and happy reading.

    My kicks:

    1. For having a body that allows me to keep on landscaping and gardening.
    2. Water
    3. Marvelous MG and PB read this week
    4. Breezes to help keep the bugs at bay
    5. Farm fresh fruits and vegetables
    6. Friends
    7. Walking the miles with Mulan

    Have a wonderful week everyone.

  2. I love those simple, happy, healthy, (and book-filled) kicks. Have a good week, Margie. Hugs to Mulan.

  3. Oh wow, the book. Right now southern Oregon is in flames. We need Little Smoky. Thank you.
    Jules, traveling mercies. I have Nickel Boys waiting for me at Beach Books, my coastal bookstore.
    Margie, I’m curious what books. Love Mulan, she’s such a sweet companion.
    My kicks:
    1. Reading on the deck under the umbrelka.
    2. Saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It didn’t disappoint.
    3. Cleaning, sorting, and reducing boxes sitting in my garahe.
    4. Friend gatherings.
    5. Walking.
    6. Three photos accepted into the Oregon State Fair.(juried show).
    7. Tomorrow my book club meets for lunch and our annual trip to a local book store in search of books for the coming year.
    Have a great week.

  4. Fly by! Hello, imps and planes and pets!

    Dark is wonderful. Jules, let me know where you are in the series now so I don’t spoil anything. Safe travels!

    Hi Margie and Mulan!

    Home: Congrats!

    My kicks for the past week:

  5. Jone, congrats on the photos, and have fun on your annual bookstore trip. That sounds fun.

    Little Willow, we started season two and got three eps in, I think it was (because we are VERY EAGER TO SEE IT). But we’re waiting on our daughters to catch up. They are almost done with season one. When they’re done with one, we’ll probably start over with two and then complete it. Clear as mud? I find it doesn’t hurt to see each episode twice anyway. We are antsy to keep going but are waiting patiently on them. … Glad you had a kicky week!

    I’ll be offline for a couple days, so if I don’t respond soon, dear Imps, that’s why.

  6. Jules: It’s so good. Awesome that your whole family watches it! Keep me posted as you go through the season! Yes, watching it twice is worth it.

  7. Jone: I’ve written about most of the PB on my blog. I am trying to put together a long MG post but until then in the past ten days I’ve read, Song for a Whale, Game of Stars, The Miraculous, Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray, Survivor Girl, The Revenge of the EngiNerds, How High the Moon, Midsummer’s Mayhem, Genesis Begins Again and I just finished Scary Stories for Young Foxes which I am going to write a post about right now.

  8. Will do, LW.

    Margie, Scary Stories … is the next one I’ll be reading aloud to my girls. I’m excited to start it.

  9. Jules: There is one chapter which was really, really hard for me to read. House of Trix is creepier than creepy. Let me know how you all feel when you are done. Please.

  10. Will do, Margie!

  11. Thanks for all the hard work. Appreciate the brushes, which are very well done. Keep up the good work.

  12. […] blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books. The above blogs were posted at 7-Imp on July 28, 2019 and July 21, 2019, […]

  13. Great post.

  14. Thanks for the information

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  16. Hahahaha. I am lost in my childhood memories after reading. When I am kid, I love reading comics so much. Still, I am reading but not having so much time to read and now I have kids. hahahha

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