John Cena (text) and Howard McWilliam (illustrator), Elbow Grease vs Motozilla, Puffin Books, October 2019, 40 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760894665
Elbow Grease is not as strong as Tank, as fast as Flash, as smart as Pinball or as brave as Crash but he has something they don’t have…persistence. It may not get the fans going on derby night, but it sure inspires his four brother monster trucks to work harder and never give up on improving their skills.
In this picture book, John Cena has tapped in to the growth mindset philosophy of hard work and persistence improving your skills. Elbow Grease is not celebrated for his skill set but for his ability to persist through hard work, disappointment and failure. His four brothers are seen to be ‘gifted’ with characteristics befitting their names and have a fan base to be envied. However, when they are to confront the mighty, undefeated Motozilla, it is Elbow Grease who comes up with a plan to join forces and ‘practice, practice, practice’.
This action-packed story has other obvious lessons to share with young readers in addition to the growth mindset already mentioned. It refers to teamwork as an ideal component to achieving your goals as well as acknowledging that feelings of self-doubt and envy are emotions those working towards a purpose will experience.
Howard McWilliam’s graphics are bright, animated and cartoonish in nature. Each image is an in-your-face destructive action shot that will appeal to the young adventurous car and monster truck enthusiast. Some of the speech bubble content errs on the side of stereotyping as it is used to emphasise the personal skill of the character, for example smart Pinball recites statistics and impressive vocabulary while big, brave, crazy Crash makes foolish and inane comments. However, these will likely delight the young readership.
With a giant fire-breathing Monster truck in pursuit of little Elbow Grease on the hard cover, this is a picture book that will stand out on the Kindergarten to Year Two classroom library shelf.
Review by Katie Mineeff