Bright City: Chanukah Lights Everywhere

Chanukah Lights EverywhereMom says:
Chanukah is just around the corner! In Chanukah Lights Everywhere, the focus is on the secular. Noticeably absent is a retelling of the Chanukah story. Instead, as the lights of the menorah get lit night after night, the child narrator notices other lights around him: the moon, the stars, Christmas lights, etc. The family goes for a walk around their urban neighborhood and enjoy the candlelight from their neighbors' windows.

There is a (very) short synopsis of the Chanukah story in a note at the end of the book, as well as an explanation of the Chanukah candles. This book won't win any awards, but it is a nice change of pace from all the Chanukah picture books which focus on the religious aspect of the holidays.

Big Kid says: When are we going to light our menorah?
Little Kid says: Lights!


Construction City: The Night Worker

The Night WorkerMom says:
What boy wouldn't love to have a dad who supervises a construction site? And better yet, he gets to accompany him one night to see the action. Surrounded by skyscrapers and the energy of the urban night (the city never sleeps, after all), a young boy watches a construction crew at work, and even gets to help drive a yellow loader. No doubt if your kid loves construction machinery (and who doesn't?) he (or she!) will enjoy Kate Banks' The Night Worker.

Big Kid: Hey [Little Kid] this one has construction trucks, you'll love it.
Little Kid: [Silent, in awe of construction trucks.]


Neighborhood City: Riverside Kids

Busybody Nora (Riverside Kids)Mom says:
Sometimes it can be tricky to find a read aloud chapter book with just the right balance for very young audience. I love this post at Daddy Reads on why reading chapter books to 3-6 year old kids is important. When my eldest son was 4 years old he was certainly an experienced listener but longer chapter books were mostly too advanced for his reading comprehension skills.  I wanted subject matter which was recognizable and vocabulary and sentence structure to stretch his limits but not be out of reach.

Russell SproutsSuperduper Teddy (Riverside Kids)Johanna Hurwitz's series about the Riverside Kids hits a great balance. She has a knack for introducing vocabulary in just the right way so that kids can grasp its meaning without having to continually interrupt the story to ask what the new word means (but that's okay, too!) and the stories are charming (i.e. not about brats with attitude) and funny. I found myself laughing at little details -- things that I found amusing as a parent, and as a former kid.

The Riverside Kids are a set of neighbors who live in an apartment building in New York City. I love how the kids show independence, a desire to learn and make friends. The city is a great background for stories about kids learning life skills.

We started with Superduper Teddy, which was perfect since the main character is a 4 year old boy. Teddy is shyer than his gregarious sister, Nora (who has 3 of her own delightful books). Teddy's many adventures include getting his first job taking care of the neighbor's cat, overcoming his fear of going to a birthday party and delighting in his new superhero cape. Besides Nora and Teddy, there are books about their neighbors, Russell and his sister, Elisa. As the series progresses the kids grow up and the chapters become longer, the text slightly more advanced.

Only some of the books in the series are still in print but we found all of them at the library. My son just loved this series and we read all of them straight through. A great beginner read aloud for kids 4 and up.

Want More?
Katie at Secrets & Sharing Soda took an in-depth look at the entire series. Post #1 is about the Nora books. Post #2 is about Teddy. Post #3 is about the Russell books. Post #4 is about Elisa.
Big Kid says: I want to read all the Riverside Kid books.


Musical City: Gabriella's Song

Gabriella's Song (Aladdin Picture Books)Mom says:
It seems that most of the urban picture books I read have a New York City bias. This is not by grand design on my part; it is only natural that my local library would stock such books. As a result of this bias I try to search out books which are set in other cities, and I especially like finding ones set in non-U.S. cities. It's not as easy as it may seem, and most of them I come across by accident. 

Candace Fleming's Gabriella's Song is one of those accidental finds, and it is so lovely. Whereas many city sounds books (like this one) focus on the cacophony of noises made by machines, Fleming draws our attention to gentler noises. The slap-slaps of laundry, the flap-flaps of pigeons, the bump-bumps of the gondolas and other sounds provide the inspiration for Gabriella's singing. In turn, Gabriella's song inspires the people of the city in different ways and brings them all together (The city as a linked community of unique individuals is a popular theme in many picture books.) at an outdoor symphony.

Giselle Potter's illustrations evoke the familiar enchanting feeling that we often get when looking at pictures of an old world city. The scenes show a variety of perspectives of the city and some fun touches: who doesn't love to know that even a brilliant composer hangs his underwear up to dry in his living room?

Big Kid says: Venice only has water instead of streets, right?
Little Kid says: Guitar!
Mom responds: Actually, sweetie, that's a cello.

Want More?
Candace Fleming has a good classroom guide for this book.
Other Venice books which I have yet to read include, Olivia Goes to Venice, Guido's Gondola, This is Venice, Zoe Sophia's Scrapbook, I, Vivaldi


Turkey City: Gracias, A Thanksgiving Turkey

Gracias The Thanksgiving Turkey (Scholastic Bookshelf: Holiday)Mom says:
I admitted in my last post that most Thanksgiving books do not appeal to me but here is one more city-based holiday book to seek out.

In the opening pages of Joy Cowley's Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey, Miguel and his family head out to the train station to pick up a package his father has sent to him. As soon as you read "There was a large box with holes in it. Through one of the holes poked a head with a beak and eyes," you cannot help but roll your eyes at such a ridiculously unrealistic gift for a city boy, but you also laugh because you just know nothing but amusing trouble can come from such a set-up. Although livestock and the city are not always a good match, Miguel's turkey quickly becomes part of the community. As you might imagine, Miguel grows increasingly distressed as others speak of "Gracias," as Miguel has named his friend, and "ovens" in the same sentence. How will this ever be resolved? I found myself pleasantly surprised and amused at the mode of Gracias' rescue. Joe Cepeda's vibrant oil paint illustrations convey are appealing and I like his surprising use of color: purple stoops, pink fences, green and blue buildings are eye-catching but don't seem at all out of place.

Don't worry, all the big Thanksgiving themes are present: family, gratitude, community, celebration, the Macy's parade and poultry. Still, no pilgrims.

The few Spanish words in the text don't interfere with with the understanding of the text, most of them will be familiar anyway, but there is a glossary in the back, just in case.

Big Kid says: I don't think I want a pet turkey.
Little Kid says: Gobble Gobble!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Festive City: Millie and the Thanksgiving Day Parade

Milly And The Macy's Parade (Scholastic Bookshelf: Holiday)Mom says:
Okay, I admit it. I find most books about Thanksgiving a bit... shall we say... tedious. But I enjoyed this one, and not just because of the noses.

Even if you don't live in New York City, you have undoubtedly seen all or part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the television. Most New Yorkers watch it that way, anyhow... what a zoo! Although based on factual events surrounding the parade's beginning in 1924, Shana Corey's Millie and the Thanksgiving Day Parade is about the fictional Millie, a young Polish immigrant, whose father works for Mr. Macy. Millie notices that immigrant families are feeling sad around the holiday season as they miss the traditions of their homelands. The spunky girl encourages Mr. Macy, whom she sees as the most important man in America, to use his powers for good and host a giant street party, and the rest, as they say... is history.

It is fun to look through Brett Helquist's illustrations, which are festive and evoke the period nicely; his drawn characters are visually appealing with terrific noses, and decidedly un-saccharine, a quality I value greatly. The parade looks like a fabulous party, despite the lack of gigantic balloons -- one even this crowd phobic mom, might like to attend.

Although this is a fictional account (Mr. Macy actually died in 1877!), there is an author's note at the end to fill in the blanks. Just as the first Thanksgiving was the coming together of Native Americans and Pilgrims, so too, the Macy's parade was a collaboration between native New Yorkers and recent immigrants. If you're tired of books about turkeys and feasting I recommend you pick up this book.

Big Kid says: That looks fun!
Little Kid says: Whoooo! (That's his elephant noise. There is an elephant in the parade.)


Poetic City: A City Is (Plus a Giveaway)

A City IsMom says:
A collection of short, simple poems written in free verse by Brooklyn's first poet laureate, Norman Rosten, A City Is embraces and celebrates the diversity and appeal of the city: high rise buildings, busy streets, fireworks over the river, changing seasons, sidewalk sports and, like any good kid book, starry nights.

Melanie Hope Greenberg's characteristically vibrant paintings are especially charming. Even if your child has never experienced the city, her illustrations easily convey its vibrancy and excitement. I love the way a mother and child reappear through out the book, emphasizing the way so many diverse city experiences are all connected through the city's inhabitants.

I think some parents are resistant to poetry books as opposed to story books with a single continuous narrative. There is no need to be! This Rosten - Greenberg book is the perfect collaboration to start you off. Each page spread is it's own mini-story and there is much to explore with your child in each accompanying illustration.

Big Kid says: I love the map!
Little Kid says: Beep! Beep! [This is usually his review if the book contains a vehicle of any kind.]

This book is currently out of print, although you may find it in your local bookstore and you can also purchase it at Melanie Hope Greenberg's website. To kick off this blog, I am giving away one copy of A City Is. And it's signed by Greenberg!

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post.

For up to two additional entries you can either:
1. Share this blog on facebook; and/or
2. Mention this blog in a blogpost on your blog (you must leave a comment for each entry -- so up to three comments -- so you get entered in the random number draw properly).

I know that seems like boldfaced shameless self-promotion, but if there is one thing you learn in the city, it is that you have to look out for yourself.

If your profile is not linked to valid email address, you need to leave a valid email in the comment so I can get in touch with you if you win. If you feel uncomfortable leaving your email you can email me directly at storiedcities [at] gmail [dot] com. Since I am shipping the book myself, I am only accepting US Mailing addresses. Thanks for understanding.

Giveaway ends Dec. 1 11:59 pm, EST. I'll announce the winner Dec. 2.

Disclosure: I purchased this book myself because I love it and will ship it to the winner, media mail.


Sleepy City: Night Cars

Night CarsMom says:
Every apartment-dwelling parent knows the tribulations of getting a child to sleep with only a pane of glass separating peaceful slumber from the exciting city. On the other hand, no need to tip-toe when at any moment a firetruck siren could go roaring by!

How Teddy Jam's Night Cars is able to invoke both sleepiness and the hustle and bustle of nighttime traffic is nothing short of magical. After reading so much of the easy, simple poetry that graces the pages of many toddler books, I was at first I was thrown off by Teddy Jam's more subtle rhyme and rhythm. When I started reading it more slowly the graceful cadence came through. Eric Beddows' beautiful illustrations have a slightly old-fashioned feel and make you feel just like you are looking out the window, too.

Something else I appreciated: Dad was in charge of the nighttime routine and took baby out for breakfast. That is one lucky mom!

Little Kid says: Night, night, baby! [He then carried the book around with him for the rest of the evening demanding, "Read a book!"]


Giveaway at Mother Reader

Mother Reader is holding a very generous giveaway this month to promote her ABC Storytime feature. You can learn the details here.


Furry City: Beaver is Lost

Beaver Is LostMom says:
There is a significant sub-genre of urban picture books which feature an outsider getting lost in a vast, anonymous city.  In this book, our outsider is the busy beaver.

A beaver, whose ancestors once inhabited the land now occupied by our Northern cities (this one is inspired by Chicago), is lost. Having ridden too far downstream on a log, he finds himself among the city's more domesticated wildlife: a dog here and there, an inflatable alligator, a swan boat and his zoo-bound cousins. Winding his way through the city, he explores the city's varied water features, searching, no doubt for his beloved river.  Finally, with the help of the city's most populous rodent (can you guess?) he finds he way back to the river, and back to where you can see the stars at night.

Elisha Cooper's Beaver is Lost is told almost exclusively through his gentle and detailed watercolors which capture the beaver's curiosity at his new surroundings and his joy when he finds his way home.

Personally, I love wordless (this book has four words) picture books because they afford the opportunity for parents to encourage children in their verbal storytelling skills.

Big Kid says: Where can we go to see a beaver?
Little Kid says: Meow!
Mom says: Actually, sweetie, that's a beaver.


Magical City: The Magic Rabbit

The Magic RabbitMom says:
This is the book that started it all: The Magic Rabbit by Annette LeBlanc Cate. While reading The Magic Rabbit, I suddenly became very aware of the backdrop of the city as a primary but silent character. I wanted to find more books like this one, books that celebrated the urban environment as a place of magic and adventure.

Cate's book illustrates the devotion of a rabbit assistant and his magician friend to each other when they are accidentally separated on a busy sidewalk. The black and white drawings are detailed and charming so be sure to spend some time looking closely at them... and don't forget to follow the yellow stars!

Big Kid says: I'm glad the rabbit didn't get run over by a car.


Jammed City: Little Blue Truck Leads the Way

Little Blue Truck Leads the WayMom says:
In Alice Schertle's  Little Blue Truck Leads the Way the eponymous character makes his way through the big city. Along the way he meets all sorts of city vehicles from street sweepers to taxis to the mayor's limousine. Much to the truck's chagrin he discovers that city vehicles can be a bit pushy (how very, very realistic!) but the Little Blue Truck's suggestion that everyone follow good manners wins them over (dare to dream!), especially when the mayor gets on board -- literally. The Little Blue Truck becomes the hero of the day by untangling a traffic jam with his kind and gentle demeanor. He leaves the city a kinder, gentler place (no guarantee it will stay that way, however).

What I love most about this book is all the different perspectives of the city that the illustrator gives us. Although I am not sure about the symbolism of the skunks crossing the road at the city limits (are cities stinky?), Jill McElmurry's illustrations provide a wonderful vision of tall buildings, speeding cars and jam-packed sidewalks. We get to see things up close, from far way, from overhead, from underneath, from across the street, from in the street.... you get the idea. This is a great book for both the lover of the city and the lover of all things with wheels -- basically my two boys.

Big Kid says: Look Mom! It says there is a book called Little Blue Truck. Can we read that one, too?
Little Kid says: Beep! Beep!
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