Snowy City: Flying Over Brooklyn

Flying over BrooklynMom says:
Here in NY we have had one of the snowiest Januaries ever. Some folks are tired of the snow. I adore it.  It was on December 26, 1947 that Brooklyn received nearly 26 inches of snow in twelve hours, the heaviest snowfall in that borough's history.  Myron Uhlberg's Flying Over Brooklyn was inspired by his memories of this white winter wonderland as a boy. Even though I still love snow as an adult I have to admit that no one finds more joy in a new snowfall than a child.

When the narrator is picked up by a gust of wind he goes on a fantastical journey over Brooklyn, taking in the landmarks and experiencing the snow with all of his senses. Brooklyn natives will revel in the home-town references, but a knowledge of the borough is not necessary to enjoy the journey, just a love of snow.

The blue-white glow of snow is marvelously captured in the oil paint illustrations by Gerald Fitzgerald (who lives, of all places, on the Isle of Arran!) and the joy on the face of the boy (and the Steeplechase Man) is enough to make anyone smile.

Well, me at least.

Big Kid says: I love snow.

Well said.


Ringing City: The Lonely Phone Booth

The Lonely PhoneboothMom says:
Recently, while reading one of the Henry Huggins books to my 6 year old I found myself having to explain the concept of a phone booth.  Remember when you used to have to wait in line to talk on the phone, or -- better yet -- stand still? If you want to introduce your children to the ancient artifact that is a public telephone booth I suggest Peter Ackerman's book The Lonely Phone Booth to set you on your way. Afterward, you will have to locate your own relic to share the experience with your children of dropping a quarter in the slot. If you are in New York City you can head over to the corner of 100th street and West End Avenue, for there sits the phone booth that almost wasn't.

Accompanied by Max Dalton's colorful mid-century modern illustrations, Ackerman's history of this real life phone booth starts when the booth was an essential part of every neighborhood conversation from the construction worker to the ballerina to the birthday clown. But as strange shiny silver objects (pink for the girl scout) suddenly start appearing as fixtures on everyone's ears and the phone booth goes from pampered to neglected, it worries it will be hauled off to the dump like the other booths. However, an electrical storm (and the mayor's grandma) saves the day by making everyone realize the value of the phone booth.

A clever ensemble of city characters and vibrant illustrations of city life make this a great urban picture book. Not to mention the nostalgia rush for the grown-ups.

Want More? Read this interview with the author.

Big Kid says: That phone booth is still there, right?


Snowy City: Michelangelo's Surprise

Michelangelo's SurpriseMom says:
I have mixed feelings about Tony Parillo's Michelangelo's Surprise. On the one hand, it is set in Florence (who wouldn't love that?) and the historical facts behind the story are very interesting. On the other hand, I found it a bit boring. I don't think my 6 year old did, he seemed to like it, but I simply prefer books with a little more zest and whimsy.  And, well.... plot.

In 1494, Piero de'Medici commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt a spectacular snowman.  Ah, to be rich and have a genius artist at your beck and call. However, the story focuses not on Michelangelo, but instead follows Sandro, a young page, as he searches for his father throughout the palazzo, finally finding him with the famed artist in the courtyard. The author introduces us to various features of the palazzo but there is little excitement. But if your children are interested in Italy, the Renaissance or architecture there might be something in this book to amuse them.

Get it from the library, but don't spend your cash.

Big Kid says: I don't think I could make my snowman look like that.


Detective City: High Rise Private Eyes

The High-Rise Private Eyes #3: The Case of the Puzzling Possum (I Can Read Book 2)Mom says:
The extremely prolific author, Cynthia Rylant, has an easy reader series,  High Rise Private Eyes featuring soft-boiled detectives of the furry variety. There are eight books in the series. They are very dialogue heavy and while they are fun easy readers, I wouldn't necessarily recommend them as a read aloud. Reading dialogue fluently is an important skill for every budding reader to practice, but unless the parent enjoys dramatics, it might not make for the most interesting listening experience. (Although it could be argued that listening to dialogue is important, too. So what do I know?)

Nonetheless, my six year old very much enjoys reading this series on his own. The characters Jack (the "snoop"), and Bunny (the "brains") banter and cajole their way through the city while solving minor crimes, like missing sugar cubes and lost whistles.  Various urban locales are represented such as: apartments, parks, diners and high-class hotels. I've always liked G. Brian Karas' illustrative style, and I think your kids will, too.

So, if you have an early reader, check out a couple of these books for him to test drive.

Big Kid says: Mom, I need #7 next.


Busy City: Chinatown

ChinatownMom says:
Despite living in NYC, when someone says "Chinatown" I always think of San Francisco. William Low's Chinatown, however, is about the New York neighborhood. A young boy takes us on a tour of notable sites in his nabe such as tai chi in the park, ducks hanging in the butcher window, an herbal grocery, all the while imparting to us the wisdom that his grandmother has passed on to him. And what would be a book about Chinatown without Chinese New Year?  The tour end with the lion dance in the parade, the wisdom roles reversing slightly when the boy informs his grandmother, "Gung hay fat choy."--Happy New Year.

This book appeals to me for several reasons: like Henry and the Kite Dragon (also illustrated by Low), there is a strong cross-generational relationship, the colors are vivid (take a look at the cover, the yellow positively glows), and it doesn't come across as "teaching us about Chinatown," instead it shares the experience. Truthfully, I also appreciate the length of the book: not too wordy (always a bonus, when a 2 year old is wrecking havoc nearby).

Low cleverly incorporates some very specific urban experiences: living above a store, crossing in the middle of traffic, subway entrances in the middle of sidewalks. These are all part of a celebrated and vibrant landscape.

There's still time to request this from the library before Chinese New Year, I hope you take a look.

Want more? I haven't read it, but Lion Dancer has photographs of the lunar New Year celebration in New York's Chinatown.

Big Kid says: Let's go to Chinatown again, soon.
Little Kid says: Car!


Soaring City: Henry and the Kite Dragon

Henry & The Kite DragonMom says:
High on my list of great things about the city is the rich diversity. Say what you will about the country, you are unlikely to encounter in a week the variety of cultures that you will see in 5 minutes on the subway. Needless to say, such diversity in close quarters sometimes results in the clash of cultures. However, when people from different backgrounds come together, well.... at the risk of sounding ridiculous..... it's a beautiful thing.

In Bruce Edward Hall's Henry and the Kite Dragon, the city is once again the backdrop for rival groups. Not the Sharks and Jets, but the the kids from Little Italy and the kids in Chinatown. Henry and his Grandfather Chin make beautiful kites, but when they fly near some pigeons, rocks bring the kites down. When Henry and his friends discover the culprits are boys from Little Italy, their first instinct is to "go down there and fight, them." Grandfather Chin, being the wise man that he is, instead suggests they try a different tactic. When they fly their new, splendid dragon kite in the park where the rivals also congregate everyone discovers the source of the trouble and together they find a solution.

I like that this book shows two disparate groups coming together in cooperation and acceptance without being didactic. I also appreciated the quiet but strong presence of the older generation. William Low's illustrations give wonderful perspectives of the city, making the crowded streets of Chinatown, the sweeping rooftop views and green park spaces dramatic and appealing. The story is based on events in 1920 (there is brief note at the start of the book) and the colors and textures of the paintings easily transport us back in time, while still conveying the timelessness of the city.

This would be a good book to read with Chinese New Year on the horizon (as will my next review... stay tuned).

Big Kid says: I liked that one.


Peaceful City: At Night

At NightMom says:
A physically small book with a big-hearted story, At Night by Jonathan Bean is about a girl who can't sleep. Instead, she takes her pillows and goes up to her rooftop garden to enjoy the cool night air where she can imagine herself in the wide world and relax. It is a bit of an urban camping trip. What I love: the lovely watercolor artwork starts local, focusing up close on the girl and her journey up to the rooftop, then expands out to the wider landscape of the city and the water and bridges and lights. It is a lovely representation of the rooftop world of the city, which can be a refreshing, green haven in the summer for those who live in apartments. I also love the way the girl's mom follows her up to the top to watch over her without the girl ever knowing.

On the cover you can see the iconic Brooklyn water tower; the city is New York, but the experience could happen anywhere.

A peaceful bedtime book.

Big Kid says: Why can't we go onto our roof?
Little Kid says: Night sky!


Furry City: Moon Rabbit

Moon RabbitMom says:
Moon Rabbit is one of those "I love the country, you love the city, let's visit but not change places" books. You know the type. City mouse, country mouse, and all that.

What makes this book special, besides the fact that Little Kid LOVES it, are the illustrations. Natalie Russell has used a lovely, muted, palette of colors and a printmaking technique to create a magical atmosphere. Little Rabbit's city reflects Russell's Scottish roots, while the natural world, though simple, includes whimsical touches, such as the patchwork moon and curlicued shadows. The overall feeling of the book is one of gentleness.  I was also charmed by the fact that Little Rabbit has  "favorite cafe," because don't we all?

There is a sequel: Brown Rabbit in the City. I'm sure you can guess the plot, although we haven't got a chance to read it yet.

Little Kid says: Moon Rabbit, again!


Balanced City: Mirette on the High Wire

Mirette on the High WireMom says:
In Mirette on the High Wire, the Great Bellini, a high-wire performer, has lost his courage to walk the wire. By contrast, the young Mirette becomes fascinated by the wire and takes every spare moment to practice. A friendship between the old funambulist (There's a new word for you!) and the young one forms and Bellini confesses his fear to Mirette. When Bellini decides to face his fear and perform again, he finds out too late that he is not quite ready. It takes an act of courage by Mirette to help Bellini find his former strength.  This book resonated on many levels for me: it has a heroine, it is a tale of courage, friendship and perseverance and there are some great button-up boots!

The hustle and bustle of late 19th century Paris forms an excellent backdrop to this story. The urban setting provides the necessary crowds of spectators for the final scene and of course there is something exhilarating about being able to rise above the surge of people and tangle of city building.

Emily Arnold McCully's Caldecott Award winning illustrations reminded me a bit of Toulouse-Lautrec and his vibrant Parisian world of entertainment.

Big Kid says: That looks dangerous.

Want more high wire action? Try Mirette and Bellini Cross Niagara Falls, and The Man Who Walked between the Towers.


Writer's City: Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street

Nothing Ever Happens On 90th StreetMom says:
Sitting on her stoop on 90th street, Eva has writer's block. Fortunately for her, she lives in the city.  In Roni Schotter's Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, we learn that, with a bit of luck and a colorful cast of characters, fantastic and extraordinary things can and do happen.

For me, the most enjoyable aspect of this book was meeting Eva's eccentric neighbors: ballerinas, pizza delivery guys, famous Broadway stars (past and present), moms pushing strollers, etc. The array of individuals passing by a single stoop during the course of the day can only exist in the city.  Each offers her advice about writing: "Stretch... Use your imagination..." says the ballerina. "Add a bit of spice," says her neighbor who is making soup. And just as a writer might urge her story along, Eva sets in motion an amusing cascade of events with her simple "what if?" suggestions to her neighbors.

I'm sure that this book can be used in a classroom setting in conjunction with writing exercises. Oh, yes! Look here and here.

Big Kid says: That girl made a lot of stuff happen.


Artistic City: Tommaso and the Missing Line

Tommaso and the Missing LineMom says:
Tommaso always keeps a drawing in his pocket. But one day a line from the drawing goes missing.

I must admit that this whimsical beginning was all that was needed to capture my attention. Well, that and the tangerine orange page. I adore orange.

In Matteo Pericoli's Tommaso and the Missing Line, Tommaso searches for his missing line throughout his Italian city (I'm not very familiar with Italy, it may be that it is a specific city that I don't recognize.). He meets a dog, a mechanic, a cat, a barber and a cafe proprietor. They have all seen lines, but none has seen his line. Finally he decides he must take a trip to the country where his grandma shows him how to find the line. I can't tell you where it is, I don't want to spoil the charming surprise. And don't blame me if you end up feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

Pericoli's black and white ink drawings are simply addictive and the accents of orange carry you along with Tommaso's quest.

Loved it.

Big Kid says: Can I draw now?


Familial City: What Happens on Wednesdays

What Happens on WednesdaysMom says:
One of my all-time favorite urban picture books! What Happens on Wednesdays is a charming book about the daily routine of a girl living in brownstone Brooklyn.

What I love: both mom and dad have equal parenting roles, the lovely illustrations demonstrate how outdoor routines can still take place even in the dead of winter (a good reminder for those of us in apartments), mom works at home when she is not running about "straightening things", the narrative voice of the child is honest and direct. Phrases which particularly resonate and made me laugh out loud include: "we wake up Daddy, which can take a long time,"  "Mommy reads stories while Daddy empties the dishwasher," and throughout the day, the child reminds her parents that "today is not a kissing day." Of course the day inevitably ends with lots of good night kisses. The depiction of Daddy with his hip/grunge hairstyle and stubble clearly establishes his identity as one of the ubiquitous freelance arty-types which populate our Brooklyn borough.


Big Kid says: No kisses! [Because of course I kissed him while reading!]
Little Kid says: Hugs and kisses! [He still loves kisses.]


Imaginative City: On My Way to Buy Eggs

On My Way to Buy EggsMom says:
There is a certain category of urban picture book which emphasizes the kind of independent adventures a child can have while roaming the neighborhood. Ezra Jack Keats was a master at this. His books were set in New York City, of course, but Chih-Yuan Chen takes us across the world to Taiwan in  On My Way to Buy Eggs. Shau-yu's mother sends her out to buy -- you guessed it -- eggs, and on the way she has the kind of encounters that would pass right by an adult, but to a small child become full of wonder. She follows the shadow made by a cat walking on a roof, looks at the newly colored world through a blue marble and takes on a whole new role when she finds a pair of eye glasses.

The text is simple, but charming, like Shau-yu herself, and I love books like this which celebrate the way a child's spirit takes off when she is given some freedom to explore the city in her own way. The imaginative aspect of the story will be familiar to all young listeners and the glimpses of a Taiwanese neighborhood will provide just the right touch of the exotic.

Big Kid says: She had fun, didn't she?
Little Kid says: Blue!


Farm City: Old MacDonald Had an Aparment House

Old Macdonald Had An Apartment HouseMom says:
Despite the title, this is not a version of the familiar song. In Judi Barrett's Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House, the titular character is the super of a building. When his wife's tomato plant droops due to lack of sunlight in their tiny kitchen, Old MacDonald takes it upon himself to chop down the hedge blocking the light. Encouraged by the results of his ingenuity, the super decides the courtyard would be better as a vegetable garden. As tenants begin to move out, he takes over their apartments for gardens one by one so that the remaining residents find sweet potato vines in their faucets hear cows mooing through the walls.  A much as I would personally love to have a flock of chickens, I think I will leave Old MacDonald's methods to the imagination of picture book creators and stick to the farmer's market. As the hilarity continues, the owner of the building finally shows up, and is understandably upset. However, this being a children's book, slum landlords are always redeemable and the urban farm is saved, so that even city dwellers can now have fresh produce in winter.

In light of the recent urban farming movement, this book, originally written in 1969, takes on a whole new relevancy. It was fun to use this book as a way to discuss where the food we buy comes from and how we can grow our own food without upsetting our neighbors. As as you can see from the cover, there's a bit of a nod to the American Gothic, as well.

Big Kid says: That is crazy. I don't want a cow in my apartment!


Paternal City: Every Friday

Every FridayMom says:
I happened upon Dan Yaccarinos's Every Friday in the library last week; I love finding good books by accident. Every Friday is the tale of a weekly ritual between father and son. Leaving mom and baby at home, the pair set off through their city neighborhood, encountering familiar faces and bustling urban life on their way to their favorite diner for breakfast. I especially loved Yaccarino's illustrations and the way the people stand out against simple line drawings of an appealing urban landscape creating a sense of intimacy, even in the crowded city. The uncomplicated text and simple color scheme lend a nostalgic but very appealing flavor to this charming book. The final line of the book will strike a special note with any child or parent who knows the joy of bond-developing rituals.

Big Kid says: I like walks with dad, too.
Little Kid says: Truck!
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