I must have been a total pain when I was a pre-school child. I would snub any book that didn’t have a car, plane or some other kind of mechanised transport in it somewhere. Yet I still had a voracious appetite for printed matter, like a flesh and blood version of Johnny 5, constantly demanding more input.
But my parents were able to judge my requirements with uncanny precision. I would like to introduce to you the first storybook I ever fell in love with. The Little Red Metro; For Sale, by Avril Rowlands
This was the only episode in the series that I ever owned, and I read it many hundreds of times. Even today it stands up well as a modern fable about patience and hopefulness, richly illustrated and sharply written. The series tells the story of the eponymous car, an Austin Metro (evidently an early HL model, if you want to get tied down with the details), from its birth through to its family life. This particular episode deals with the longing for acceptance and, well, love.
For me as a four year old, reading “For Sale” was a heart-rending experience. It must be horrible as a car, sitting in a showroom, waiting to find a home and not knowing how long it would take. How I felt for the Metro as it was prodded and poked by a succession of potential suitors, each dismissing it for reasons flimsier than British Leyland build quality.
A key quality of the book was the character development, far stronger than you might find in a Thomas The Tank Engine book or something like that. The personalities of each of the cars were succinctly illustrated; as well as the minor parts played by the humans we had the sweetly naïve lead character of the Metro and the snooty, aristocratic wine-coloured Rover.
But the show was stolen by the Brown Allegro. Sitting on a raised platform, draped with bunting and an embarrassing “Car Of The Week” placard, the Allegro was the very embodiment of forlorn hopelessness. Illustrated as sitting there with a tear welling up in the corner of its headlamp, the Allegro tore at the heartstrings, lamenting that it was obsolete and discontinued; car of the week, but certainly not flavour of the month. The reader wanted to march straight into that fictional showroom, throw your arms around the Allegro and take it home for the happy life all cars yearn for.
Naturally, for our hero, the Metro, there’s a happy ending, so children could breathe a deep sigh of relief.
This fantastic series was launched in 1984, and didn’t continue for very long, there were only four episodes, all long out of print. A blessing, really, as “Little Red Metro Gets Callously Handed In On The Scrappage Scheme” would have been a harrowing read indeed.
The Little Red Metro, by Avril Rowlands, For Sale was published by Macmillan Children's Books. ISBN 0 333 37033 3