2.20.2011

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.

5 comments:

Lindsay N. Currie said...

So funny, we have the same reaction to a lot of things. I was just reading a book with my son that takes place in our hometown, Chicago and two of the children in it travel by public transportation to the Art Institute alone. Whaaa?

Even in Australia said...

Another blog I read has talked about this book as an old favorite too, and just reviewed the Dodsworth books today! So I'm putting you in touch with each other.

http://annieandaunt.blogspot.com/2011/02/wanderlust.html?showComment=1298326493695#c533198983189914020

Annie@annieandaunt said...

I'm the other blogger Rachel is talking about above -- so glad to see someone else remembering Mitzi with such love! Did you read Tell Me a Trudy, too? I'd forgotten it, but bought it second-hand for my daughter for Christmas, and it is also a perfect book. In one story, Trudy and her little brother Jacob (apparently all little brothers are named Jacob) get Superman to come get the robbers out of their bathroom. It's pretty epic.

Ellen said...

wow, this sounds so good, as does the trudy story mentioned above!!! it's funny that both books that taught you about city life had kids wandering around independently beyond what they were supposed to be doing.

i remember the mixed up files and am sure i read it many times.... i don't remember mitzi but i definitely DO have something in my head about a "take me to grandma's" and not knowing the address....

it's all strange and blurry because i actually tried very hard, multiple times, to run away to grandma's house, so part of it may be me imagining that same scene in my own head.

speaking of which, i can tell you from kid-life experience - in real life, the doorman does buzz mom and does not wave goodbye and let kids roam the city unattended.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I've never heard of this book, but it really sounds interesting. By the way I was hoping to find Dodsworth and just now noticed that I didn't enter the name correctly (I was going for Dogworth). Off to try again.

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