Many parents are familiar with Lois Lenski's books about characters named "Small" or "Little" transportation devices: Cowboy Small, Fireman Small, Policeman Small or The Little Fire Engine, The Little Train,
... you get the idea. Plus, her characteristic line drawings grace many a children's book, including her own Newbery Winner, Strawberry Girl.
In 1971, three years before her death, Lenski published City Poems
, a collection of previously published and new poems about -- you guessed it -- the city. I actually found this collection in the adult, rather than the children's section of the library, but it is certainly appropriate for the younger set, which I suspect is the target audience anyway.
Lenski's poems are simple, and while I would be hard pressed to call them brilliant, my three year old was quite taken with them, especially (and unsurprisingly) the ones about cars, trucks, subways and taxis. The poems (about 100 in total) address a wide range of urban topics, from litter in the street and smells on the fire escape to libraries and playing ball with dad. Some are quite serious -- poems about gangs or slums -- while others are quite whimsical -- poems about hot dogs or the zoo's bear conversing with the children. While the poems are descriptive and detailed about life in the city, I was sometimes surprised at their straightforwardness, particularly when it came to poems with rather stark themes. For example, a deceptively simple poem about a traffic accident in which a boy on a bike is injured ends with the mundane question, "How did Mom get here?"
The collection is divided into sections such as "I Like the City", "People in the City" and "My Home in the City." The book is long out of print but you might be able to find a copy at your library. I would definitely suggest it for older children who are interested in city life and parents of small children can find some more playful poems, such as those about swings and whirlygigs and hot dogs, to recite aloud. Want More?
Read another review at The Brookeshelf
.The Kirkus Reviews
was not very flattering, and I think, a little unfair.
Other poetry books you might like: A City Is, Sky Scrape/City Scape, City I Love, Mural on Second Avenue and Other City Poems.
Lilian Moore celebrates the city in a 2005 collection of poems, Mural on Second Avenue and Other City Poems. In contrast to the previous poetry collection I highlighted, Moore's short poems stay away from the more gritty aspects of the city. Fortunately, that doesn't make them less interesting. I've never considered myself an expert on poetry and have always felt a little unqualified to judge it but Moore received the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children as well as many positive critical reviews of her work.
The subject matter in this collection ranges from the expected topics of seasons and bridges to the slightly amusing,"How to Go Around a Corner" and department store windows. The poems are all an easy length and mostly written in free verse. One of my favorites was "Forsythia Bush" because it reminded me of my own delight on discovering the beautiful forsythia during my first New York spring ten years ago.
There is nothing
like the sudden
startles the street
Each poem is accompanied by a lovely painted illustration by Roma Karas. The illustrations are clearly based on NYC (as is so often the case), but the poems are not city-specific.
Read about Lilian Moore at The Poetry Foundation.
Visit Roma Karas' website.
Other Poetry Books you might like: Other poetry books you might like: A City Is, Sky Scrape/City Scape, City I Love, City Poems.
Title: Jeannette Claus Saves Christmas
Author: Douglas Rees
Illustrator: Olivier Latyk
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publ. Date: October 5, 2010
Did you know that Santa has a daughter?
I'll just let that tidbit soak in for a bit.
Anyway. Her name is Jeannette and she is a little bit feisty and a very bit cute. One Christmas Eve when her dad has a cold, Jeannette insists on making the yearly round of gift deliveries to all the good little boys and girls. The team of very grumpy reindeer are none too happy about this and manage to strand her on a rooftop in the middle of the trip. Fortunately for Jeannette, this particular rooftop is in a big city where there lives an ample population of stray cats and dogs which she can rally around her. She harnesses a hodgepodge team of these domestic pets to her sleigh and together they lift off into the starry skies.
I admit the idea for this story is pretty cute, even though I can't list the book as among my favorite Christmas reads. (It also uses the word "stupid", which I really hate because it is a word I am constantly trying to get my kids to abandon.) It is rather unclear why the reindeer are so mean-spirited and the conflict with that team is left unresolved. Will the sleigh-team next year be cats and dogs or will Santa go back to the reindeer? It's probably not a detail that is particularly important, but it bothered me.
The city, however, is the crucial point of my reviews and in this book it is of course the only location where Jeannette could have assembled a new team so quickly. The digital illustrations are colorful, but rather uninspiring. In fairness, I did like their retro flavor and the perspective from the snowy rooftops with their water towers and fire escapes.
It might seem as if I don't recommend this book, but that is not the case. Jeannette Claus Saves Christmas is a fun story and both my boys enjoyed it and that is the material point. Pick up a copy at your local library.
Visit the author's website.
View more of the illustrator's work. I really like this illustration of a colorful, snowy city.
Read a review at Miss Print.
Title: Great Joy
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publ. Date: Oct. 9, 2007
It's a pretty safe bet that a book by Kate DiCamillo will be a winner and Great Joy
is no exception. The plot itself is fairly simple, but the power of the book lies in DiCamillo's skillful writing and extraordinary ability to provoke an emotional response in her readers by combining child-like wonder with a compassion for others. I'm not admitting anything, but this book might have made me cry. That's all I'm saying.
From her apartment window, young Frances watches an organ grinder with his monkey who plays every day on the same street corner. She wonders where they go at night, but her mother assures her, "everyone goes somewhere." Frances is unsatisfied with this response and seeks him out to discover he spends his nights on the same corner. On her way to church, Frances invites the man to come and watch her in the Christmas pageant. When he shows up just as Frances delivers her line, she cannot help but be inspired with, "Great Joy!"
I admit I have a soft spot for snowy winter cityscapes. Our entire view of the unnamed city in Great Joy
is of a single street corner at "Fifth and Vine." We view this location from a number of vantage points: from the apartment window, the building stoop, the street, at day, at night and as such we are privy to a variety of perspectives. It's wonderful the way Frances can look out her window and see the world below, thoughtfully considering the lives of the people she sees. Both the text and Ibatoulline's gorgeous illustrations effectively communicate that the city is not a faceless void, but a place for intimacy, compassion and individual relationships to shine. Indeed the backdrop of bustling, ever-changing life brings Frances' and the organ grinder's humanity into sharp relief.
Needless to say, I highly recommend adding this book to your stack of Christmas reading. There is a religious element to the story, but it is not the focus and both religious and secular families will take much away from the book.Want More?
Visit the author's website
Watch an interview with the author as she talks about moving from novels to picture books. At Reading Rockets
I have been wanting to read British author Anthony Browne's Me and You ever since I heard about it on the blogosphere when it was first published last year. However, inexplicably, it took our library a really long time to acquire it.
It was worth the wait.
Browne retells Goldilocks and the Three Bears fairy tale from both the point of view of Goldilocks and the Bears. On the left of each two page spread we see the sepia-toned urban world of Goldilocks, while on the right is the the sunny world of the Bears. The narration is confined to the Bears, who have a single illustration in each spread, while Goldilocks' adventure is told with multiple small images. It might seem that this duality is meant to highlight a urban/rural dichotomy, with a predictable, colorless urban blight contrasted with the bright, cheerful natural world.
But that is only a superficial reading. There are many interesting and subtle details to be found, which add layer upon layer to the story. Look closely and you might notice the bears' home is more suburban than rural, and it's a bit too neat and tidy, with trees manicured to within a inch of their lives. the youngest bear peers out of the window at the beginning and end of the story. It's interesting to imagine what he is looking at, or for. Neither is the treeless city all that it first appears. The animated, glowing gold locks of the heroine hint at life below a gritty urban surface. It's a life which we see fully manifested by the end of the story.
Browne's book is a layered, moving tale about family life and will only improve upon each retelling. One of my favorites.
See the illustrator's studio in this article in The Guardian.
Read a lovely review at My Favourite Books.
Read an interview with the author.
Read about the author at the publisher's website.
Little Kid says: Bear story, again! Again!
Big Kid says: Look at her hair!
I love Lauren Castillo's illustrations and follow her blog, so when I found out latest book Melvin and the Boy was available and not yet in the Brooklyn Library's Catalog, I boldly emailed the library to find out if they were planning on acquiring it. I was impressed that I received a response that very day to say "Yes!" and I was even able to put it on hold before it was even on the shelves.
Well, my very professional review is:
I love it! I love it! I love it!
"The Boy" in the title, narrates his own story, charmingly telling us about his desire for a pet. Unfortunately, his parents give him every excuse in the book (no pun intended): dogs are too big, monkeys are too much work, and birds are too noisy. The Boy, however, sees a lovely, fancy turtle in the park and decides he might be just the thing. He names the turtle Melvin, but by the end of the day, has decided that Melvin might not be happy as a pet. He returns Melvin to the pond, and his friends, knowing that he can still come back and visit whenever he likes.
The Boy of the story is delightfully sweet and appealing, his words expressed simply and honestly. Castillo's text and illustrative style are equally praiseworthy. The urban setting is smoothly integrated into the story. The end pages, which place the turtle in a green foreground against the gray cityscape begin a pattern for the rest of the book. When the Boy walks on the street or is in the park, building and cityscape backdrops rest in sepia or grays while people and pets pop out in a muted color palette.
An author's note about turtles will satisfy curious kids and adults.
Castillo has consolidated the professional reviews in this post.
At Macmillan's website you can print out activity pages for the book (scroll down to the bottom for the link).
Read an interview with the author at Seven Impossible Things.
Read another one of my favorite Castillo-illustrated books, What Happens on Wednesday (written by Emily Jenkins).
Big Kid says: Our teacher has a turtle for a pet.
Little Kid says: That turtle's taking a bath.
Last year New York City finally made beekeeping legal, although there were already many "secret" hives on roofs scattered across the landscape. This may freak some people out, including my 6 year old, to whom I am constantly issuing the reminder, "the bees are interested in the flowers, not you." I, however, think rooftop beekeeping sounds wonderful. But, then again, I'm not allergic to bees.
Lela Nargi's The Honeybee Man celebrates the tradition of urban beekeeping. Fred, our Honeybee Man, is a balding older gentleman who wears blue house slippers and drinks tea on the rooftop. With his cat and dog, he reminds me a bit of Mr. Putter. On the roof of his Brooklyn brownstone he houses three beehives, for Queens Mab, Nefertiti and Boadicea. From his perch high above the city, he watches his bees work and imagines the places them might go. One day it is time to carefully harvest the honey, which he puts into jars and generously shares with his neighbors. The end pages give some additional and interesting information about bees.
I have a super soft spot for well-done collage illustrations and Kyrsten Brooker's shine. The color scheme, which makes the sky rather teal and the buildings a palette of browns, blues and purples is unexpected, but worked for me.
The city is a key player in The Honeybee Man and Brooker gives us multiple perspectives of the rooftop hives and the bees' journey around to the neighboring yards and plants. Nagi reminds us that the city offers a rich experience for our senses. The smells of maple leaves and gasoline, rivers and dust mingle together. Natural worlds come in large and small sizes and growling machine noises contrast with the gentle buzzing of bees. Nagi describes the intimate, tiny detailed world of the bees in the context of a larger city scape which buzzes with people. Brooker's cross section of Fred's home, divided into rectangle-shaped rooms reminds us later of the bees' homes of wood panels filled with tiny hexagonal wax rooms.
A sweet way to learn about beekeeping.
By: Storied Cities,
Blog: Storied Cities
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It seems like I am always writing about books set in New York City! That is not intentional, but there certainly are an abundance of them.
I'm quite surprised I have never come across Where Are You, Little Zack?before. Co-written by Judith Ross Engerle and Stephanie Gordon Tessler, Where Are You, Little Zack? is a classic tale of "lost in the city." The authors have added in a fun counting exercise, so while 3 ducks, Brick and Brack and Thackery Quack search for their brother, they are joined by 4 busy commuters, 5 taxi drivers... you get the idea. They are also joined by 80,000 Yankee fans, but don't worry, you don't have to count that high. Of course, the brothers are united in the end (after traveling on the number 9 train on the number 10 track) and all is well.
Around here, we are big fans of Brian Floca's illustrations, but I think it's interesting he does not list this book on his website. True, it's not as spectacular as his more recent books, such as Moonshot and Ballet for Martha, but his artwork is still appealing. Even while the duck brothers are still searching, little eyes can locate Little Zack playing among the many landmarks of the city. The search also takes the reader to locations high and low, wet and dry, crowded and sparse, and fast and slow around New York. The reader will certainly understand that the city is a varied and interesting place!
This book is lots of fun, and judging by the lack of reviews on Amazon, I'm guessing it's not well-known, which I find surprising. I think it would be a lov
It's possible that with some of my selections I may be stretching the "decidedly urban" tagline of my blog just slightly. But you'll forgive me, right?
In Megan McDonald's The Hinky-Pink we travel to the Florence of Old Italy where Anabel (alas, not Anabella) dreams, not of being a princess, but of the day when she will make a dress for a princess. It's a sensible dream.
Fairy tale lovers will like this one, as will those who enjoy a good, unexpected twist on the more conventional tale. Anabel has been charged with making a dress for the Princess to wear to the Butterfly Ball. However, in order to do so, she must get a good night's sleep, something the Hinky Pink's pinches are preventing. Fortunately, Anabel is clever, as well as sensible, and outsmarts the Hinky Pink.
At the risk of sounding as if I codify books by gender (which I do not), I will say that until now I only knew the author through her "boy" book series about Judy Moody's younger brother, Stink. Likewise I was familiar with Brian Floca's illustrations from several brilliant books about transportation. So it was nice for me to read something a bit more "girly." Are you still with me?
Other than in the opening layout, the city of Florence, or Firenze, as it is labeled in the book, is firmly in the backdrop. Floca cleverly locates Anabel in the larger cityscape with a small word bubble coming from her room. In addition, her position in the tower during her employment as dressmaker-to-the-princess situates her as both of and removed from the city at large.
I'm pretty sure you'll like this one.
Visit either the author's website or the illustrator's website.
If you want an in-depth review read Elizabeth Bird's (of the blog Fuse #8) review
Last year I rounded up a number of Christmas-in-the-City books and will be doing the same this December. My first selection is brand-new to the shelves and quite a treat: Brock Cole's old-fashioned, humorous tale The Money We'll Save.
With all the children busy with their chores, Ma must send Pa to the grocer's with a list. When she gives the warning, "Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny," Pa returns with a young turkey for the family to fatten up for Christmas dinner. "Think of the money we'll save!" he proudly declares. As you might imagine, raising Alfred (as the turkey is now called) is no simple matter. The family experiments with creative ways to keep Alfred from overrunning the apartment, all to humorous effect. Mrs. Schumacher, the neighbor, makes a cameo now and then to complain about the noise and compounding chaos but the family's attachment to Alfred grows and they simply cannot eat him for dinner. What will they do?
Cole's quirky, touching and lively story, set in a nineteenth century tenement apartment, is full of surprises. Other than a few scenes at the market, the action of the story takes place in the family's apartment (or on the fire escape!), emphasizing the intimate nature of the story. End papers show a bevy of hanging laundry in a group of tenement buildings. But while these are people who hang, rather than send their laundry we are never allowed to get bogged down with heavy handed ideas about poverty and hardship. Rather, the lively and appealing illustrations carry us along a wave of joyful, creative and enthusiastic problem solving!
A truly enjoyable holiday read.
Read a review at Waking Brain Cells.
Book Aunt looks at some other Brock Cole books.
I'm guessing you'll see this book reviewed several times in the next few weeks!
Many thanks to the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux, for kindly providing me with a review copy.
The title of Roxie Munro's Christmastime in New York City is self-explanatory. Colorful illustrations of popular New York City Christmas attractions are accompanied only by labels. Despite its simplicity both my boys enjoy looking at the illustrations and talking about what they have seen and what they want to see during the holiday season -- so I thought I'd include it on this blog.
If you live in or love NYC, you might enjoy this book, too.
Roxie Munro's Inside-Outside book series includes the cities Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Visit the author's website.
Big Kid says: Grandma and Grandpa took me to FAO Schwartz once.
Little Kid says: Can we see that?
Lucille Clifton's Everett Anderson's Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming is a gentle little book about a young boy who eagerly awaits Christmas by observing all that is happening around him. For five days before Christmas, he watches the snow fall on the apartments below his 14th story window, looks in store windows, decorates his tree and enjoys a party. Clifton's touching poetry takes us into the young boys' inner life full of wonder and anticipation.
There are a lot of little urban details in this lovely book that city dwellers will appreciate, although the story is easily enjoyed by everyone, no matter where they live. Everett's mom gives a party, which Everett subtly lets us know his downstairs neighbors did not appreciate. There is the careful activity of getting a tree into an elevator and playing in snow covered playgrounds. Jan Spivey Gilchrist's illustrations have a dreamy feel, which is well fitted to Clifton's poetry. Ultimately, however, this is not a book about the city, but about a wide-eyed, observant and well-loved boy.
I found Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming to be a special little book. Written in 1971 and republished in the 1990s, it's now out of print, but if it's in your library's catalog, I recommend checking it out.
Read about Lucille Clifton.
Clifton wrote several other "Everett Anderson's" books you could search out.
When winter is done, read Clifton's The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring, which I reviewed here.
Big Kid says: When are we getting a tree?
Little Kid says: He wants that bicycle.
When I first saw The Golem's Latkes I was skeptical. First, because I find the concept of the Golem a little creepy and second, because I confess I have failed to find many picture books about the Jewish holidays that inspire me. The ones I find in the library all seem to either feel the need to recount every historical detail of the event in full or are about spiders (Sammy, anyone?).
I don't read books about spiders. No matter how good other people say they are. Period.
But I digress.
In Eric Kimmel's latest Hanukkah offering, The Golem's Latkes, Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague crafts the legendary Golem from clay, writes a magical word on his forehead and then sets him to work with household chores. When his housemaid, Basha, requests the Golem to help her get ready for Hanukkah, the Rabbi reluctantly agrees but warns her not to leave the Golem alone or he will never stop working. Basha, impressed by the Golem's cooking skills, instructs him to continue making latkes while she pops out to gossip with her friend. Just for a minute, you understand. The Golem, true to his clay-for-brains form, makes latkes enough to fill the streets of Prague. When Rabbi Judah finally commands him to stop there are enough latkes to have what is essentially a city-wide latke block party -- for eight days. The story ends on the anticipatory high note while Basha contemplates if the Golem may also be skilled in the art of making hamantaschen for Purim.
I'm not an expert on either the Golem or on Jewish narratives so I will not make any authoritative statements about whether or not Rudolf II would actually attend a Hanukkah party given by Rabbi Loew (although I believe he was rather cosmopolitan), or whether or not the Golem would be set to work making latkes in lieu of defending the Jewish ghettos. Not to mention: hello? where did all the potatoes come from? I'm sure there are many narratives and many incarnations of the Golem and his story, so why not have a little fun with it.
The Golem's Latkes is an exceptionally fun read aloud for the holiday. It's playful, quirky and fortunately Aaron Jasiski's Golem is more cute than he is creepy. The setting of medieval Prague can't be beat and I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't like to attend a party with limitless latkes and wagons full of sour cream.
Latkes: they bring people together.
The Whole Megillah has a lightening fast pros and cons of the book.
The New York Times likens the book to Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Eric Kimmel has written loads of other books: find out about them on his website.
Big Kid says: Are you making latkes this year?
Little Kid says: This is the book about cookies.
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