Category: Children's Books

Finn-Ole Heinrich
Dita Zipfel
Halina Kirschner (Illustrator)

Trecker kommt mit
[Tractor's Coming Too]

Storybook

The thousand lives of a tractor. Hymn to a farmyard machine and its diminutive champion

TRACTOR’S COMING TOO is a picture book that amounts to a kind of ultimatum; it is the manifesto of a dedicated team that offers unhesitating background support - no: foreground support - to the nameless young hero of the story: a team consisting quite simply of the sentences fashioned and marshalled by the book’s two authors, Finn-Ole Heinrich and Dita Zipfel. Reinforcing them are Halina Kirschner’s unambiguous, provocative illustrations: richly and vividly coloured in screenprint style, they sit squarely, boldly on the page, defying anyone to ignore them. The father pronounces, the son replies. The father relativises, the son insists. The situation is as clear as daylight: the family - father, mother, child (perhaps two children) - are moving house. Moving from the country to the city. The removal van is due at the weekend: ‘Let’s start packing.’
The son’s response: ‘Blow packing! I say: did that ages ago! There’s one thing I’m taking, and one thing only: Tractor. Because everything’s completely pointless without Tractor. TRACTOR’S COMING TOO! Or I’m staying here.’ - Everything sorted, then. All done and dusted, apparently. Except that the boy’s not sorted. There he sits, with his arms firmly folded and his head in a cardboard box, surrounded by open boxes, random toys, and a swirl of thoughts. One thing is clear, though: he’s not going anywhere without Tractor.
Anyone who has been a small child themself (and that should include most of us), or anyone who has witnessed the passionate attachments of their own children or grandchildren during their pre-school years, will know the fascination that this particular kind of vehicle holds for young boys in particular. After ‘Mummy’, ‘Daddy’, ‘poo’, ‘car’ and ‘brum-brum’, one of the next few words is very likely to be ‘tractor’. If subsequently in the locality mounds of earth or heaps of sand need to be tackled, levelled, bulldozed or re-deployed, then Tractor with his big bucket on the front will be needed before the tipper truck can do its work. Such things are an essential part of the child’s preparation for a successful life. And countless other tasks arise for Tractor during a child’s early years. And if it so happens that there’s also a real tractor standing there in the barn nearby: what heaven!
This is the privileged starting point for the book’s stubborn little hero: there’s a REAL tractor out in the barn! And with it a thousand real-life possibilities: whizzing about; just standing still; looking on; chugging through the woods; digging a hole for a lake; driving a tunnel through the mountain. ‘But what about in the city?’ his Papa asks - and his son replies: ‘What sort of a place is that if there’s no room for Tractor?? What an earth are you thinking of? [...]  TRACTOR’S COMING TOO!’
Our little tractor driver - of whom the illustrations depicting him in the tractor’s driving seat show at most his mop of hair and the tip of his nose - instantly turns himself into a passionate if rough and ready poet: ‘Fun in the fields, noises in the night, off into the deep dark woods, roaring through rot and rust and rubbish.’ He then launches into an equally lyrical hymn to Tractor’s potential feats in the city, and it’s a sheer delight for the reader to recite the words that Heinrich and Zipfel have put in his mouth with such great care.
It’s all as clear as daylight. And so is the story’s message: there’s nothing to match the stubbornness of a little tractor driver. And that’s the way it’s been for generations. For there’s nothing to match a varied and colourful life in the countryside, complete with cows, geese - and Tractor. And if it has to be city life, then only with... (see above!) But neither the particular issue nor the message is the most important characteristic of this picture book. No: what stands out is its unique combination of madcap poetry, jauntily rhythmic sentences, and a sharply focused, no-nonsense pictorial idiom, all of which give it a cheeky, cheerful, bullish air and a sense of being true to life - albeit the outcome of the communicative interaction is left completely open. 
 
Siggi Seuß

By Siggi Seuß, 26.10.2018

​Siggi Seuß, freelance journalist, radio script writer and translator, has been writing reviews of books for children and young people for many years.

Translated by John Reddick