The Two Cars: A Fabulously Illustrated Picture Book

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The Two Cars by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire front cover

Can you lose and still be a champ?

This is a book that will leave you scratching your head.

It's a bit unnerving, in fact.


It makes me think about the moral of the story every time we read it.

And isn't that the make of a good picture book?

At first glance this may seem a simple, good vs. evil type of fable about two cars that race each other to exhaustion during one moonlit night.

But wait a moment. This fable isn't that basic. It is a story about a race that gently forces you think outside the box.

Was the race even important?

Does it matter who arrives first?

Is new always good and old necessarily bad?

The Two Cars is a book that I love to read, because it discretely questions the given truths that modern society forces upon us.

Fast and flashy is not necessarily best.

And when you think about it, that is a pretty deep lesson to learn for our children in this modern age.

Renowned children's authors Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire authored some of the greatest and most ambitious books for children that you can find.

green and red car parked side to side in garage

Just think of their mythology masterpieces such as D'Aulaire's Book of Greek MythsD'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths and its equally amazing follow-up D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls.

But they also created a number of sometimes overlooked picture books that have a perennial message like this one.

Yes, they are preaching the opposite of what modern society teaches our kids.

The Two Cars tells us that there is more to life than crossing the checkered flag first. 


      I figure the faster I pedal, the faster I can retire.
      Lance Armstrong 

No wonder Lance Armstrong wished to retire. Who wouldn't in his shoes?

He won and that was all that mattered. At least it seemed so for a long time. 

Armstrong apparently thought he would never get caught doping. 

Today's winner-takes-all society is also partly to blame for the Lance Armstrong phenomenon.

We are all interested in who is first. Nobody knows the name of the second-place rider who played by the rules in all seven Tour de France races that Lance won with the help of doping.

illustration of green and red car racing up a hill, scene from The Two Cars
Winning is flashy, so playing by the rules can be a lesson that is easily lost on children.

And that is where great picture books like this come in.

The two cars, parked side by side in a neat garage,  decide one night to go for a race to determine who is the best car on the road.

While the red car admits he is scratched and no longer a flashy vehicle after a hundred thousand miles on the road, he is still sure that he is the best car on the road.

The green car scoffs and explains that he is streamlined, has fresh green paint and an automatic gearshift. He is the best car on the road.

The scene is set for a Tortoise vs. Hare fable involving two cars.

They race. 

One respects the rules and the other doesn't.

But unlike Aesop's fable about the Tortoise and the Hare, in this story the green trickster finishes first. 

He is stopped by police and gets a fine. The red old car is on the verge of winning, but is then stopped by police and while he shows his papers the green car overtakes him and arrives back in the garage first. 

"The policeman looked at the license. He nodded his head and smiled a broad smile... 

"Mister," he said, "I want to congratulate you on your beautiful driving. Not too fast, not too slow and careful around the corners. That's the kind of driving I like to see."

Green car and red car racing up hill and hitting bumpThe story ends with the proud old red car entering the garage. 

He then informs the winning green car: "You won the race, but not the praise. I still think I am the best car on the road. But you will be a fine car when you get older," the red old car tells to his younger green companion. 

Kids will not understand it right away. 

The Two Cars is a book that invites discussion.

Unusual by today's standards. And that is why I think it is a very valuable.

But this is not all.

What elevates this book firmly to classic status is the quality of the retro illustrations. 

Of course, they were modern when they were originally created, but today they have this special fifties charm. 

They are dreamy and so realistic, yet with an out-of-this world quality. 

The Two Cars has one page of color illustrations, followed by a black-and-white page, and so on... This was done probably to save money when the book was originally printed in 1955. 

But the contrast works magically and makes the book an even greater spectacle as it features this contrast between these two types of illustrations. 

I simply adore these old out-of-print children's books that have been reissued by the New York Review Children's Collection. 

I cannot imagine a boy would not love this book. 

As for girls, my daughter enjoys this book enormously too - but I think that she would love it more if it was called The Two Ponies and had two ponies racing. Well, you can't win them all. 

Anyhow, I have yet to find a better teacher and conversation starter than a picture book.

Life truths are more complicated than simply who crosses the checkered flag first. 

Individualism must be fostered, but children should also know we are all supposed to live as constructive members of a civilized society.

Let's celebrate those individuals who play by the rules, because such people make up the best part of humanity. 

The Two Cars is available from bookstores in the US:

 Amazon USA

and from around the world:

The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon DE


  1. A real winner I've never heard of. The 1st 'learn something' picture book to reach my young self was a classic, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

  2. Hi Steve! That is so cool that you love The Little House!

    You know, you just reminded me to read it again to my twins! It's been ages!

    Her book is really fabulous - I loved it on the first reading. And it is a book with a message as you say. (I've even reviewed the book on my blog )

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

    Read Aloud Dad

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  3. Truly a rare gem. Thanks for sharing this one!

  4. Hi Reshama,

    Thanks so much for your comment! It is a rare gem indeed - hope you enjoy it!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @google-58f857394308f9da030cee09fc3936b8:disqus

  5. Thank you, Read Aloud Dad. We enjoyed this one, and I am looking forward to sharing this with some of my preschoolers at work. Perfect timing for our transportation study.

  6. Hi Jenny!

    That's great! I hope your preschoolers will have fun with the book :-)

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @facebook-1016797315:disqus

  7. I love this message in the book. All I see on the sidelines of soccer fields is parents screaming at their kids even when they are winning by a large margin. It's not a pretty sight. I think this is such a great message for all of us!

  8. I have never read it but just ordered it from my library. My favorite line of your post is this: "Anyhow, I have yet to find a better teacher and conversation starter than a picture book." Brilliant! I agree with you and used picture books for just that and to support all areas of my curriculum when I taught 4th grade. Now I write for children and try to convince others that picture books should continue to be used with all age children. Thanks for your interesting post.

  9. Hi PragmaticMom!

    You shared such a great example!

    Sports competitions and soccer games at school demonstrate how parents often send the wrong message to their youngsters.

    The lengths that parents can go to egg on their kids. Not a pretty sight at all!

    Soccer games should be the very venue where we promote fair play and sportsmanship!

    Thanks for your comment :-)

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @twitter-100818788:disqus

  10. Hi Carol,

    Thanks so much for leaving your comment! Wow, you are a children's book author and a former 4th grade teacher ! Perfect combination :-)

    I'm including a link to your site - so that Read Aloud Dad readers can visit!

    Congratulations on your efforts to promote the use of picture books! They are so useful and educational and fun!!

    I hope you will enjoy this "golden oldie" when it arrives from the library!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @twitter-19126625:disqus

  11. Thanks for this post Read Aloud Dad, the summer reading theme in Illinois this year is "Have Book will Travel" and this book would be perfect to build a transportation program off of. I will be passing it onto my co-workers.

  12. Hi Jacqueline!

    That is a great theme to motivate kids to read!

    I love your idea to start a transportation-based reading program with The Two Kids! I'd love to know how it works...

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @f96e60e05377662ba788f978e5a21dbc:disqus

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