Review: “Route 66: In Search of Ghosts and Treasures”

Route 66 Ghosts and Treasures cover

A new Route 66 book designed mostly for children finds a way to explain what still exists on the Mother Road and what is gone.

Adults also might find pleasure with the text by Phyllis Chandler Grey and illustrations by Texas Tim Webb in “Route 66: In Search of Ghosts and Treasures” (hardback, 66 pages, Artist Row Publishing, $19.99 retail).

That’s because Grey obviously did research on Route 66. Webb’s unique illustrations — which seem made with Magic Marker — exude a sort of child-like quality but are not simplistic.

The gist of the book is a family taking a Route 66 trip from Chicago to Los Angeles in a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible nicknamed Dinah (after Dinah Store and her famous “See the USA in your Chevrolet” commercials).

During breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s restaurant in Chicago, Grandma gives her grandchildren a “treasure box” of memorabilia she collected during Route 66 trips in the 1950s and ’60s. The family is retracing Grandma’s journey to see what’s left on the Mother Road, and Dinah and the treasure box help give those kids a feel of what she experienced.

Route 66 Ghosts excerpt

Route 66 Ghosts excerpt 2

The “golden treasures” in the book are Route 66’s historic landmarks that survived to the present day, plus places that arose after U.S. 66 was decommissioned in 1985 (such as Pops in Arcadia, Oklahoma).

The “ghosts” are places that closed or were torn down but linger in memory, such as the long-gone Regal Reptile Ranch in Oklahoma and the closed-but-still-standing Red Cedar Inn in Missouri. Also, the book mentions Route 66 ambassadors who died in recent years, such as Gary Turner and Wanda Queenan.

The author overlooked the death of Annabelle Russell, even though Harley and Annabelle of Mediocre Music Makers in Erick, Oklahoma, are prominently mentioned and illustrated by Webb in a caricature that will bring a smile to those who met them. Another oversight is Meteor City in Arizona, described as an operating business but has been closed for years and is crumbling into one of the book’s ghosts.

I appreciated how much Route 66 history Grey deftly included the book, which is why a fair number of adults might enjoy it, especially newbies. Hence, the book cover lists it as “for ages 5 to 105.”

Grey said in an email “Route 66: In Search of Ghosts and Treasures” tested well in focus groups with small children. But it’s my opinion — and shared by my former schoolteacher spouse — the text is too dense for 5-year-olds. Books for children that age generally contain 30 or fewer words per page. Each page in Gray’s book has many dozens of words. I suspect the book’s writing is more suitable for children 10 years old and up.

(Disclosure: Gray is advertising “Route 66: In Search of Ghosts and Treasures” on Route 66 News. I did not read the book until after the advertisement began running.)

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