I knew just from the cover that I would love Under the Hood by French illustrator Christophe Merlin. A lift the flap book about featuring animal mechanics with Tibor Gergly-esque retro illustrations sounds like a recipe for success to me! What I didn't expect was the fabulous paper engineering and the droll sense of humor Mr Merlin brings to this book. With its thick, creamy pages I wouldn't hesitate to give this to a little one as young as three.
Although only six two-page spreads make up Under the Hood, there is a lot going on in this charming book. Mr Bear, who fortunately owns a garage, needs to fix his car with the help (or not) of his friends Crocodile and Mouse. Each flap opens to reveal another flap to be lifted, and sometimes another after that! When Mr Bear opens the doors to his garage, we see a tarp covering a car. Lifting the flap that is the tarp reveals a car with a passenger door that is also a flap. In the spread above, lifting the flap of the trunk reveals the tail of Crocodile while lifting the tail of Crocodile reveals the source of the mysterious Brmm sound that Mr Bear hears before starting the car.
My favorite spread, which I could not find a way to scan, shows Mr Bear and Crocodile, tools in hand, about to take a look at Mr Bear's car. The hood, door and trunk are all flaps. The double page spread flips up to reveal the car up on the lift and dripping oil into Crocodile's snout. There is even a flap on this page showing the underside of the engine. When opened, a pair of red underwear can be seen amongst the gears. Another great spread shows us just what is inside Mr Bear's toolbox...
There is even a sliding piece that moves a car ahead in a drag race. The final page of Under the Hood shows a sturdy red tow truck driven by Crocodile. Opening the final gatefold in the book reveals Mr Bear in his car as he is being towed back to the garage, happily munching his lunch. I don't think I've ever seen a lift-the-flap book that brings such style and creativity to the genre. And, as a children's bookseller and the mother of two boys, I can tell you that the "Things That Go" section of the bookstore is dominated by trains and trucks and there is always more room for a book about cars, especially when there are tools and tow trucks involved!