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As the family car passes roadside attractions, the narrator weaves cement dinosaurs, dismantled carnival rides, and ceramic fortune-tellers into his opus. In his mind, he confronts desperadoes, genies, and a big blackbird with a secret. “I was going to need the greatest horse of all time,” he declares, as he whizzes past a faded advertising statue. “One that could ride on the wind, save the princess, and still keep Dad’s schedule of making Albuquerque by suppertime.”

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Valfre’s vacant, sun-bleached landscapes capture a sense of half-remembered dreams—in one of the images, a satellite dish stands incongruously next to a concrete teepee. A road sign points to “Amherst” and to “Earth.” Do these places really exist, or are they just the child’s fantasy?

But Valfre’s images do exist on this planet—mostly, it seems, in the American Southwest. It is his otherworldly treatment—shimmering high contrast, extreme angles, vistas empty of people—that create the surreal impression.

Relics of vanishing Americana are an easy mark. Anyone with a Polaroid and the time to wander back roads could assemble a similar collection of highway oddities. And not all of these out-of-context photos would be compelling out of the context of this book. But Valfre has cleaned his closet in an inventive manner.

Buckaroo stirs a mood similar to the work of artist Chris Van Allsburg, whose single-page drawings and paintings in books like Jumanji are both meticulously realistic and impossibly fanciful. Like Van Allsburg, Valfre’s story is just spare enough to allow plenty of room for the reader/viewer to wander through the scenery. Anyone who has endured the invincible illogic of parents behind the wheel will appreciate the boy’s plight.

While kids will enjoy the strange pictures, the story is really aimed at those sitting in the front seat—who would be well advised to pull into a rest stop and see what they’ve been missing on the long drive.