Summer City: Around Our Way On Neighbor's Day

Around Our Way on Neighbors' Day
Yes, yes, short post, I know, but have you seen the heat index?

Tameka Fryer Brown's Around Our Way On Neighbor's Day is a summer tour around the block. Both Brown's poetry and Charlotte Riley-Webb's illustrations are high energy, taking us on a fast-paced tour of a neighborhood block in summer. Arguments in barbershops, lemonade stands, corner bodegas, outdoor art and chess, spontaneous potlucks and double dutch. These are some of the day's festive activities. Even in the evening, filled with laughter and music, the pace doesn't slow down much.

As both the author and illustrator live in the south, this is an urban neighborhood picture book, which is not inspired by New York City! How refreshing.

Want More?
Read an interview with the author at SLJ.
Read a conversation with the author at Cynsations.
Read a review and link round-up at Multiculturalism Rocks!
Watch the book trailer at YouTube.
Visit the author's website.
Visit the illustrator's website.

Big Kid says: What is "hooping?"


Poetic City: Sky Scrape/City Scape

Sky Scrape/City Scape: Poems of City LifeSky Scrape/City Scape: Poems of City Life is a collection of poems curated by Jane Yolen. Yolen includes several of her own poems but Langston Huges, Lucille Clifton, Leland B. Jacobs, Eve Merriam and many others. As you would except, the poems range in length and style and since they are (for the most part) arranged a few per page, parents can choose to read all of the poems or choose one at a time.

Poem subjects range all over the city from graffiti to subways to street cleaners and even the city dump. Yolen has chosen poems that are lively and positive. The poems make you excited about the city.  Many children's books end with some sort of ode to bedtime and Yolen chooses Norma Farmer's "Manhattan Lullaby," in which "city children sleep,/ lulled by rumble, babble, beep." It is a good choice.

Although the illustrations and some of the poems are obviously inspired by New York, it is not a collection which exists solely for residents of that city. Ken Conlon's chalk and oil pastel illustrations add color and vibrancy and successfully complement the lively poems.

If you like poetry, is a good selection for read aloud time.

Want More?
Visit Jane Yolen's website.
Read other city poems in A City Is and City I Love.

Big Kid says: Read the subway one again.
Little Kid says: Bus! Bus!


Dark City: Blackout

BlackoutThis is another book that is getting moved to the front of my review queue, partly because it is so fabulous, and partly because someone else has put it on hold from the library so I have to return it. John Rocco's Blackout is brand-new to the shelves and you may have seen it making it's rounds in internetland. In fact, it has been written about so much that there is hardly any point in my writing about it... and yet here I am.

The recent hot weather and my inability to run the a/c due to my 2 year old's opinion that playing with it buttons is a hilarious activity has reminded me of my first city blackout experience. It is also the one on which this book is based. In 2003, the huge Northeast power failure that shut down places from Ohio to New York. I remember walking home and feeling so incredibly fortunate that I was not on the subway at the time! I have an irrational fear of being trapped underground, and being stuck on the subway at such a moment would not have been good for my sanity.

While the overall "message" of the book is that families have more fun together rather than sitting separately in front of various electronic machines, the city scenes are a joy to look at. At the start of the book, the city is "loud and hot." But during the blackout, it's clear that while the city is still loud and hot, the noises are voices rather than machines, and the heat is mitigated with ice cream and fire hydrants rather than air conditioners.  One of the city details that appealed to me most was when the family went up to the rooftops to see the stars and the neighbors had a "block party in the sky." I wonder if non-city dwellers realize how much of a role the rooftops of buildings play in urban culture. I certainly didn't know before I moved to NYC.

In any case, there's no need to wait for a blackout to enjoy this book.

Want More?
Read a more thorough review at NY Times.
Read an interview and see more lovely artwork at Seven Impossible Things or E. Dulemba's blog.
Watch the (very cute) trailer on you tube.
Enjoy another rooftops-at-night book, At Night.

Big Kid says: Let's turn off the lights.
Little Kid says: Night sky! Where's the moon?


Working City: Peppe the Lamplighter

Peppe the LamplighterI like urban picture books that take us back in time. There is nothing romantic, of course, about having to work hard in order to scrape by, nor is that phenomenon confined to the past. However, I simply like the way these books get us thinking about lives other than our own.

Inspired by stories of her grandfather as a young boy, Elisa Bartone transports us to a turn of the century Mulberry Street tenement in her book, Peppe the Lamplighter. Young Peppe's father is ill and with no mother, Peppe must work to support his eight sisters. Peppe works hard and finds joy in lighting the street lamps and feels important. Unfortunately, Peppe's father does not approve of his job as a lamplighter, accusing him of taking a job that is beneath him that will never lead to anything. However,  as is often the case in many a story, a crisis arises, whereas the resolution depends upon the validation of the protagonist's labor.

In short, Peppe's father comes around.

Ted Lewin's Caldecott Honor illustrations are perfect for this story. His color palette of browns, blues and yellows makes the streets of New York's Little Italy come alive, but keeps it suitably somber. It is hard to forget the people on the city streets live a life of struggle. Urban interiors like butcher shops, bars and tenements are suitably detailed and seem like noisy, well-lived in spaces. Streets are lined with buildings on which the details like shutters, iron work balconies, open windows and hanging laundry team up with vertical telephone poles to create a crowded but spirited atmosphere.

After reading Peppe the Lamplighter, there are a lot of themes to discuss: acceptance, hard work, the trials of immigrants, devotion. However, the best reason to read it might just be to learn the real life names of Peppe's eight sisters.

Want More?
Visit Ted Lewin's website.
Learn about Little Italy at the Tenement Museum.
Read another book which features Little Italy (along with Chinatown), Henry and the Kite Dragon.

Big Kid says: What were the lamps made out of? What did he light to get the flame? Gas?


Companion City: The Teddy Bear

The Teddy BearIn David McPhail's The Teddy Bear a young boy looses his beloved teddy bear in a diner. The lost bear, taken out with the trash, is adopted by a homeless man. At first the bear misses the boy, but starts to enjoy life in the city with his new companion. One day, many months later, the boy sees the bear, left alone on a bench by the man and reclaims him. When the homeless man finds his bear missing he becomes very upset. Showing compassion and kindness, the boy returns the special friend to his new owner.

It might be hard to picture my own child willingly giving up his precious possession to another person, but that makes the reading of this story all the more important. I was expecting this to be another lost and found toy book, in which a child is joyfully reunited with his precious object and all is well with the world, but it is more than that. This is a gentle story about kindness, loneliness and the need for us to reach out to each other. The boy's willingness to approach the homeless man when his parents simply want to run away reminds us that children often look past rough appearances to see the beautiful.

Those of us who live in the city are always reminded of those living without a home of their own. The Teddy Bear is a lovely way of initiating a conversation with your child about the needs of others.

Want More?
Read an interview with the author.
On the theme of homelessness, read The Family Under the Bridge.
On the theme of lost toys, read La La Rose.
On the theme of lost bears in the city read, When You Meet a Bear on Broadway.

Big Kid says: Why did the man want to keep the bear?
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