Stopping to taste the gingersnaps
Sweet and spicy gingersnaps make the world a better place. Or at least, they’re a starting point in Mara Rockliff’s second picture book, The Busiest Street in Town. Agatha May Walker wants to bring some cookies to her neighbor Eulalie, but when she starts to cross the street, the speeding traffic on Rushmore Boulevard won’t stop for her: cars and trucks just keep on roaring, zipping and rumbling past (the frequent use of onomatopoeia makes this a fun read-aloud).
Undaunted, Agatha carries out her yellow wingback chair and becomes a human roadblock, forcing traffic to slow down around her and offering gingersnaps to the passing drivers. Soon Eulalie joins her, bearing a piano stool, a card table and a Parcheesi set. Eventually, traffic slows, and other neighbors venture into the street for gingersnaps and a turn at the Parcheesi set. Flowers get planted along the street, and children play hopscotch. Traffic was slower, but “no one minded,” Rockliff writes. “If you drove too fast, you couldn’t smell the honeysuckle. You wouldn’t hear the music of the mariachi band. Worst of all, you’d miss the chance to sample one of Agatha May Walker’s sweet and spicy gingersnaps.”
Sarah McMenemy’s mixed-media illustrations are beautiful and evoke midcentury modern: men and women wear hats and long coats; children are dressed in pinafores. Though they’re completely charming, in some ways this choice makes the message of The Busiest Street in Town seem less directed to our contemporary lifestyles—when in truth we could all use encouragement to slow down. Still, this detail is not likely to register with young readers, who will be drawn into a fun, absorbing story that proves faster isn’t always better.