Since I started this blog project I have become intrigued by the many different ways the city can figure in a picture book. The city is not always the star of the show, sometimes it remains quiet, in the background. Yet it is always there, creating an aura of adventure.
Amy Hest's The Purple Coat, is not about the city. Gabrielle wants, this year, to have a purple coat, not a navy blue one like she has always had. The book is a charming story of how Gabrielle and her grandfather come up with a new idea for her coat and how they convince her mother to compromise on the new color.
What interested me most about the book is the role the city plays. Every fall, Gabrielle and her mother take two trains, arriving through busy Penn Station in New York City where Gabrielle's grandfather is a tailor "on the twenty-eighth floor in a fancy office building that is even taller than that. " By the time the pair reach the tailor's shop in an elevator that is "too fast and too crowded" the city has retreated into the background. The rest of the action may take place in the quiet seclusion of grandfather's shop, but the city is still there. Illustrator Amy Schwartz has wisely included frequent glimpses of the city out the the windows. One of my favorite moments in the book is when the grandfather, contemplating Gabrielle's request for a purple coat, stands looking out the window at the city. It's as if the city, with all of its infinite variety of people and places provides the perfect reminder that one need not always have the same blue coat every year.
The beginning of this book reminded me of how exciting I found trips to the city when I was young (in my case it was San Francisco). The excitement of heading off to the city and the strangeness of the crowds must have added to Gabrielle's nervousness of asking for a purple coat.
The big city and a new purple coat: it's what every girl dreams of.
Read A New Coat for Anna, a very different story set in a post-WWII European city (Berlin?). Someone (not me) should write a comparison of the two books.
Visit Amy Hest's website.
Read an interview with Amy Schwartz at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Big Kid says: They had to take two trains to get to Penn Station? I wonder what train they took to the shop. That sign says the 1, 2 and 3. [You can see where his interest lies... not with purple coats.]