Help RIF

Did you know that the Republican House wants to eliminate ALL funding for RIF?


Read this and this contact your senators.

p.s. Of course there are so many other funding proposals that are deplorable, but since this is a book blog, it's what I'm focusing on.


Shopping City: Natalie and Naughtily

Natalie & NaughtilyWhen I was a kid the big city department store was a place of wonder. So much stuff! So many new and interesting things to be explored! What could be more intriguing than roaming unattended around the many, many floors of the high style department store? Living in one, perhaps?

In Vincent X. Kirsch's Natalie & Naughtily the eponymous twin girls live on the top floor of the fictitious big city department store, Nopps. One day Natalie and Naughtily decide to help out at the store. On each floor familiar department store goods and services are given whimsical twists. Would you like to sample Mischief #5? Try out the new-and-improved-automatic-flying-rainbow-making-umbrella? If so, Natalie and Naughtily can help you. Or maybe not... the customer service line grows longer and longer and the two girls "help out".

The story is fun; maybe not outstanding, but not every book can be, right? I thought, from the title, that the story would focus on the differences between the two girls. It was mentioned in the first few pages, but then pushed aside during the journey up to the top of the store. I was reminded a bit of Eloise, although of course Eloise is in a hotel -- but the idea of mischievous girls roaming around in a splendid big city high rise business, in which they also happen to live. Like Eloise, it's an unusual living arrangement, which looks so enticing to us outsiders. And also like Eloise there are no parents present, but they chat it up with the department store personnel (who have great descriptive names like Mr. Iceberger and Mr. Spygoggle.).

What really makes this book enjoyable are the wonderfully detailed illustrations. The portray just how fantastical department stores might look to children. Most of the illustrations are inside the store, but there are several which clearly set the action within the big city. Adventure inside and out! One of my favorites was a picture of the two girls standing in the park with the the city buildings behind them. It's reminiscent of Central Park, of course.

I'm not big on shopping, but a trip to Nopps would be a delight.

Want more?
Check out the Amazon page, which has 4 two page spreads to view.
The official website has fun tidbits about secret facts and hidden games in the book.
Visit the author's blog. (He was just at Books of Wonder, and I missed it!)
Don't miss the fun Facebook page that the twins keep! (If my link doesn't work, you can find a link here)

Big Kid says: I like the toy department the best.


Poetic City: City I Love

City I LoveCity I Love is a collection of short poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins about -- you guessed it -- the city. My two year old loves, loves, loves this book, which I find slightly odd since it's not really a book I would think of for two year olds. However, that says something about the aural appeal of this collection. The poems are all in free verse and describe various city experiences, like catching a taxi on a rain day, people watching on the subway, driving over a strong, elegant bridge, pigeons on rooftops, blazing lights in the nights and watching skyscrapers being built.

I was quite impressed with Hopkins' ability to distill each city experience into such clear and vivid pictures. They beg to be read aloud. Take the poem, "Snow City":

Snow glides quietly
Filling the air
                 with a magical
         hush --
But tomorrow the snow
        will make everyone frown
For streets will be filled
       with a magical
      M U S H.

While reading "City Summer", I started to feel just like I do on a hot, sultry summer day, "It is so hot./So hot./So very hot..."

I love that the collection of poems do not focus on a single city -- in fact none are city specific. The illustrations take us on a trip around the world with a backpacking dog and his bird companion. Each poem's illustrations (by Marcellus Hall) transports us to a new city and the endpapers are a map so little readers can locate the various cities in the world.

Pick up a copy and read it aloud, kids from the city will be reminded of home and kids in the country will want to visit. 

Want more?
After writing this I discovered Elizabeth Bird's review, and thought, oh why did I even bother? I should have just linked to hers.
See a few of the two page spreads at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Read an interview with the artist.
Visit Marcellus Hall's website.
Read my review of another city poems book, A City Is.

Big Kid says: I like the subway poem.
Little Kid says: City book, please!


Where's Walrus? Givaway Winner

Where's Walrus?Thanks to everyone who entered! I used Random.org to pick three winners (see below). Please send me your snail mail via email to storiedcities [at] gmail [dot] com.

For those of you who didn't win, I'm having another giveaway soon, so watch this space.

The winners are:

Random Sequence Generator

Here is your sequence:
Timestamp: 2011-02-21 17:22:39 UTC

#26:  Andrea, who said, "My son is the same way - almost everything involves something with wheels. The wordless picture book Chalk by Bill Thomson does capture his interest. I'll have to check into more wordless books - thanks for the review!"

#3: Even in Australia, who said, "Pick me, pick me! :-)"

#22: Carrie, who said, "This book looks super cute and I would love to win a copy to share with my boys!"


Familial City: Tell Me a Mitzi

Tell Me a MitziI remember Lore Segal's  Tell Me a Mitzi so vividly (almost every detail!) from my childhood. I didn't grow up in the city but, for me, it was one of two books which formed a primal image of what life in the city must be like (the other book was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler).

A "Mitzi" is a story about a girl named Mitzi, and there are three of them in this book. In the first, when Mitzi and her younger brother Jacob wake up and find their parents still asleep they decide to go to grandma's apartment. All by herself, Mitzi gets the both of them ready, out the door and into a taxi, only to find they don't know grandma's address. It's interesting to note that when I heard this story as a child I thought nothing strange about the doorman saying goodbye to the children as they left. As an adult I wondered, "What? Why doesn't that doorman stop them? He's just going to let two small children wander the city? Alone???" That would spoil the story, of course. The story's charm lies in that the children are perfectly independent -- well, almost.

There is a coziness to the stories without being saccharine. The family takes care of each other but without singing "Kumbaya". In the second story everyone gets a cold and the resulting personalities of sick patients reveal themselves. In the third, Mitzi, Jacob and their father watch a presidential motorcade, and the tantrum of a two year old provides an amusing twist.

The city is New York, but Harriet Pincus does not include any landmarks in her colorful illustrations so the cityscape could stand in for any in your child's imagination, as it did in mine.  The expressions on faces (such as Mitzi's dad when he comes home with a cold) are priceless and Pincus includes funny little details: Mitzi's parents sleep in twin bunny beds!

I'm surprised to find it out of print, but fortunately I have an old copy, and I bet you can find it in the library. It received all sorts of accolades including a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year and A School Library Journal Best of the Best Books ("Best of the Best", I love that).

Want More?
Last year, Vintage Books My Kid Loves  posted about Mitzi, and you can see some of the artwork, here.
Visit Lore Segal's website.

Big Kid says: I like the taxi ride.


Traveller's City: Dodsworth

Dodsworth in New YorkI tend to prefer books which use the city as a backdrop for the action of the story, rather than books which are about a particular city. Yet, I know there is a desire for parents to find books which will introduce famous cities to their children, perhaps hoping that it will instill an appreciation for and curiousity about other places, or a desire to visit other lands.

Tim Egan's Dodsworth easy reader series does a great job of introducing young readers to famous cities but without taking them on a boring walking tour. The delightfully quirky Dodsworth and his stowaway duck sidekick reminded me of a screwball comedy duo. Each humorous book follows the pair on their misadventures through each city. I liked the details Egan slips in, like how everyone on Fifth Avenue is smartly dressed, or how the duck inadvertently creates an impressionist painting in Paris by dancing on his artwork. Currently available are Dodsworth in New York, Dodsworth in Paris, and Dodsworth in London. Dodsworth in Rome is up next (April 2011), and after that...? I vote for Dodsworth in Madrid.

Dodsworth in Rome (The Dodsworth Series)This reminds me, I need to get my passport renewed.

Big Kid says: I can't wait for Dodsworth in Rome!


Hidden City: Alphabet City

Alphabet CityI'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the huge stack of books I want to write about on this blog. In order to avoid my usual response, which would be to write nothing at all, I will choose a simple book.

Even though it's simple, it's still great. I've already written about Stephen T. Johnson's City by Numbers, but his Alphabet City is also worth taking a look at.  At least, the Caldecott judges thought so, for they awarded it an Honor Medal.

There are certainly numerous alphabet books out there, so why pick up this one? I suppose one answer would be that it challenges you to see everyday objects as letters: the Brooklyn Bridge is an M, the curve of a railing is a J, and so forth. However, Johnson's illustrations are so extraordinary -- they border on photography -- that  the letter hunt is really a vehicle for exploring beauty in the public urban environment. In fact, I found I was examining the overall composition of the urban objects, rather than actually searching for the letters.

Although, the book is called Alphabet City, most objects will be familiar to non-city kids: lamp posts, leaves on a sidewalk, telephone poles, park benches.  Check it out, you will be inspired to take a look around you.

Want More? 
Take a look at the author's website. He has done some interesting public art projects, including  murals at the Dekalb subway station in Brooklyn and a proposal for the World Trade Center Memorial.

Big Kid says: That must be in the train station.
Little Kid says: A!


Newsworthy City: Paperboy

PaperboyMary Kay Kroeger and Louise Borden's Paperboy belongs in a subcategory of urban picture books I like to call "books about enterprising, hard-working and independent city kids of previous generations." (It's a long title for a subcategory, I know!) The paperboy on the street corner shouting "Extra! Extra!" is one of those disappeared phenomenons you really wish still existed but the modern technological world makes impossible. Like daily milk deliveries in glass bottles (I wonder if there is an urban picture book about that?). But I find there is something comforting about reading book in which such things still existed. Is that just me or do others feel that way, too?

Anyhow, back to the book. In 1927 Cincinnati, the whole city is gearing up for a big boxing match. The paperboys are all placing bets and Willie's working class neighborhood is backing Jack Dempsey. But when Jack Dempsey loses, Willie is the only paperboy who shows up for work.  Even though no one wants to buy a paper with the lousy news spread across its front, Willie's boss rewards him for his dedication and work ethic by giving him the best corner.

Even though I'm glad my sons won't have to sell papers in order to keep the family from going hungry, it's hard not to like a book about a boy who shows such kind-hearted dedication. The camaraderie of the neighborhood boys is pretty infectious, too and I love books which show kids having independent lives on the city streets.

As usual, Ted Lewin's illustrations shine. I think my favorite must be the night scene in which the cars and streetcars have gathered on the eve of the big fight. Or perhaps the one in which four girls (yes, girls!) are excitedly watching the match. It's hard to choose a favorite, actually. The boxers are always in black and white, while "real life" takes place in color as if to emphasis where the real action of the story lies.

You might wonder that a book about paperboys and boxing in Cincinnati could be so entertaining, we certainly found it to be so. Of course paperboys and boxing are just the vehicles through with a story about family, spirit and the rewards of not giving up shine through. An author's note will fill any non-boxing fans (like me) in on the historical match between Dempsey and Gene Tunney.

Want more?
Visit Ted Lewin's website (you'll be seeing more of his books on this blog!).

Big Kid says: Why are there no paperboys anymore?


Zoo City: Where's Walrus? (Plus a GIVEAWAY)

I am always very much relieved when my 2 year old's latest book obsession does not involve cars and trucks... or trains and planes ...  or anything with wheels, really. Ever since we received Steven Savage's new wordless picture book, Where's Walrus? a week or so ago, he has been constantly pulling it off the shelf to read, thus relieving me of the task of making vehicular sound effects while reading to him.

Using the same minimalist retro graphic style he employed in Lauren Thompson's Polar Bear Night (a New York Times Best Illustrated Book), Savage has created the wonderfully simple and wordless Where's Walrus?.  A walrus sneaks out through the zoo gates, and in order to evade the zookeeper he disguises himself by donning the various hats of his fellow city inhabitants such as construction worker, fountain mermaid, plein air painter.... etc.
Anyone who has visited a zoo can imagine life must be rather dull for the animals. What walrus wouldn't dream of getting up on stage with the dance hall girls or sitting down to coffee and donuts at the local diner? There are so many things to see and do in the city, after all!  Perhaps the walrus was looking for his true calling? If so, he might remember the old saying, "there's no place like home."  He can't resist the siren call of the water, but this time there is a spectacular twist, tuck, forward pike and splash and life in the zoo won't be quite as boring anymore.

Don't underestimate the value of a good wordless picture book. There ends up being a lot of interaction between reader and listener. One of my sessions with the little guy went something like this:

"Where's Walrus?" 
"Right there!" 
"What hat is he wearing?" 
"Yes, a construction worker hat." 

With a wordless book, there is no hurry to get back to the text or turn the page until all discussion about the picture is finished.

This book is brand new to the shelves and you are sure to enjoy it.

Want more? 
Visit Steven Savage's website.
Watch the trailer below. It truly captures the spirit of the book.

How to Enter the Giveaway to win one of three Where's Walrus? books:
  • Leave one comment below.
  • If your email is not linked to your profile, or you do not have a blog where I can contact you, you must leave a valid email
  • Anonymous entries will not be considered.
  • U.S. addresses only.
  • Giveaway ends 11:59 pm Feb. 20. Three winners will be announced Feb. 21. If the winner(s) do not get in contact with me within 48 hours of the announcement I will pick a new winner(s).
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes, but it in no way influenced my review.


Blizzard City: The Snow Walker

The Snow Walker (On My Own History)Mom says,
Margaret K. and Charles M. Wetterer's easy reader The Snow Walker is a much more successful story about the 1888 Blizzard than City of Snow, which I reviewed yesterdayThe Snow Walker, instead of taking an overall view of the city in the throes of a blizzard, follows the story of 12 year old Bronx resident, Milton Daub.

The enterprising young Milton becomes a local hero when he cleverly fashions a pair of snowshoes to walk over to the corner store to fetch some milk for his family. The snow is so high that the shopkeeper hands him the milk though the second story window. On the way home, Milton's neighbors ask him for help and supplies. I read this book myself before giving it to my oldest son to read on his own and I must confess that I was a little worried for Milton's safety! The Wetterer's certainly captured the sense of danger of being out in such horrendous weather conditions!

I also liked that the story celebrated the independent courage and spirit of a 12 year old taking the initiative to help his family and neighbors despite the danger to himself.  It shows the way a single city neighborhood can become a close knit community, helping and relying on each other. Neighborliness is not just for the country folks!

The book includes author's notes before and after the story. It would make a good read aloud, although it is marketed as an easy reader.

The Snowshoeing Adventure of Milton Daub, Blizzard Trekker (History's Kid Heroes)Want More?
See yesterday's post for more Blizzard of '88 resources.
Oddly, this book has been adapted into a graphic novel! The Snowshoeing Adventures of Milton Daub, Blizzard Trekker.
The Schoolchildren's Blizzard. Another On My Own History book, about a Blizzard in January 1888 in Nebraska. It would be interesting to read the books side by side and compare the experiences of the children. (ALSO made into a graphic novel!!)

Big Kid: I want some snowshoes.


Blizzard City: City of Snow

City of Snow: The Great Blizzard of 1888Mom says:
This week's snow and ice storm may be inconvenient, but  it is nothing compared to the thirty-six hours of relentless snow that hit the city in March, 1888! The Blizzard of '88 is generally considered to be the worst storm ever to hit the Northeastern seaboard.

Linda Oatman High's City of Snow: The Great Blizzard of 1888 is a book to read for the illustrations, not for the text. In fact, I ended up simply paraphrasing. The free and often awkward verse goes on and on, and you might not get to the end of the book unless you start narrating the pictures yourself.  It's a shame because it is a great subject for a picture book. That said, we thoroughly enjoyed studying and discussing Laura Francesca Filippucci's detailed illustrations of a city under siege.  They have an old-fashioned feel to them and rather put me in mind of Currier and Ives. It's easy to use the illustrations as talking points, both as to how such a storm would have affected the lives of city dwellers, but also how life was different in 1888. Anyone for milk delivery by horse-pulled wagon? Not so easy in the middle of a blizzard.

And, like any good picture book based on real events, there are historical notes at the end.

I recommend getting this from the library during the snowy season, you'll like the illustrations, and who knows, maybe you might even like the verse. What do I know?

Want More?
Try these books: Terrible Storm (picture book about the storm in rural Massachusetts),  Blizzard: The Storm that Changed America (loads of photos), The Children's Blizzard (high school/adult --CORRECTION, this is about the tragic January 1888 Blizzard in the midwest)
Read about the impact of the storm on the Subway.
Visit Virtual NY for some oral histories.
Other NYC Winter Storms in history.

Big Kid says: I wish it would snow for three days today.
Little Kid says: Boat!
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