In today’s tough times filled with unemployment woes and economic downturns, The Can Man is all too real a story. Once a neighbor with a job – and a real name, Mr. Peters – the homeless man everyone just calls The Can Man wanders the neighborhood collecting cans for the deposit refunds. Tim’s parents remember he lived in apartment 3C. “‘[H]e couldn’t find another job,” Tim’s mother explains. “He’s been down on his luck for quite awhile now.’”
Returning the The Can Man’s wave with a smile, Tim gets a great idea. Since his parents can’t afford the skateboard he really wants for his birthday, Tim decides he’ll get the money on his own … by collecting cans. He works hard after school and even on the weekend, getting that much closer to the prize skateboard. One rainy Saturday, he runs into The Can Man, and notices his near empty cart … When Tim tells The Can Man that he’s collecting for a birthday skateboard, The Can Man reveals he “‘wouldn’t mind a new coat before the snow starts flying.’” Of course, Tim learns the age-old lesson that giving is better than getting … and good things come to those who least expect it, too!
While Laura E. Williams‘ story sweetly offers a memorable lesson (always so necessary even now in our gimme, gimme culture of instant gratification), what makes this title a standout are the carefully thought-out details of Craig Orback‘s illustrations. Like Williams herself, Tim is hapa Asian American – his mother is Asian American while his father is African American. The family’s kitchen reflects both cultures, with an Asian fan on the wall, and a hanging towel made of African-inspired patterned cloth. Tim’s local bakery captures the diversity of his neighborhood. Tim’s friend Mike who already has a cool board also is cool enough to wear all his protective gear. And when Tim finally gets his birthday wish, he’s just as protectedly cool, too!
To Williams’ few hundred words, Orback seamlessly adds a few thousand more with his pictures. The result is a definitively noteworthy collaboration indeed.