Familial City: The Saturdays

The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet)It's quite trendy these days to proclaim that one is a "Free-Range Parent," but of course such a term was never necessary when everyone already was a so-called "free-range kid." A perfect example of this is Elizabeth Enright's 1941 classic, The Saturdays, in which all the kids, aged 6 to 13 are allowed roam about New York City by themselves. Well, the 6 year old was not supposed to go out by himself, but... still!

In The Saturdays, the four Melendy children live in NYC and decided to form a club in which each Saturday they pool their allowance and take turns spending an entire Saturday doing whatever they want. Mona goes to the beauty salon, Randy an art gallery, Rush goes to the opera (A 12 year old boy chooses the opera!!) and Oliver sneaks out to see the circus. Along the way they have many unexpected adventures and a strong supporting cast of characters adds to the entertainment. In addition to the independent Saturdays the children experience they spend several Saturdays together exploring the city, and finally heading off to spend their summer by the beach.

New York City plays an important role in the Melendy's life. Enright describes the family's typical brownstone in detail, and the children must navigate the streets on their independent adventures. One chapter is dedicated to a delightful and amusing excursion in Central Park and the zoo and it is fun to think about the differences between the NYC of 1941 and that of today. For example, Oliver goes to the circus at Madison Square Garden's old location at 50th and 8th Ave -- a detail my map-loving 6 year old was quick to point out. But when Oliver is helped home by a mounted policeman, my son then pointed out that police officers in the city still ride on horseback in some locations.

While reading this book to my six year old, I couldn't help thinking about how these kids were having wonderful adventures that they could only have because they didn't have any electronic tranquilizers like video games and you tube to keep them busy and indoors. We recently gave up TV in our own home and I have already noticed the creative difference, so it was fresh on my mind. The Melendy children have a healthy sense of independence and self-reliance, but Enright also surrounds the children with caring adults who support and guide them at important moments.

This was one of the most enjoyable chapter books I have read aloud to my son and I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't like it. Best as a read aloud for ages 6 and up or read alone for ages 8 and up. Pick it up as fast as you can.

Want More?
We are looking forward to reading the rest of the Melendy children's adventures in The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two.
Secrets and Sharing Soda also has a nice review of The Saturdays.

Big Kid says: My favorite Saturday was the one with the coal gas.


Suspension City: Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing

Twenty-One Elephants and Still StandingWalking over the Brooklyn Bridge is a classic New York City experience. A truly iconic structure, it is first suspension bridge built in the United States. It's hard to imagine a time when the only way to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan was by boat!

April Jones Prince's Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing takes us back in time to when the Brooklyn Bridge was built and people worried about its safety. Prince bases her story on an actual event: in 1884 P. T. Barnum decided to demonstrate his confidence in the bridge by marching his precious circus elephants across it. Prince's story is more informative than creative, but the light-handed text written in a free-style poetic form is still likely to hold children's attention during read-alouds.

Francois Roca's illustrations felt grand, but I was left wanting more from them. However, there are some interesting views of the bridge. I like the spread of the to-be-completed bridge spanning across the river above steamboats and sailboats. An author's note gives a bit of information about the real story.

If you like bridges and circuses this book is worth a look, but get it from the library.

Want More?
Read another picture book on the same subject: Twenty-One Elephants (my review coming soon!)
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: Do the elephants ever go across the bridge now? [Nope, now they go through the Midtown Tunnel!]


Friendly City: Chicken and Cat

Chicken And CatMy new favorite NYC city book!

Sara Varon's clever story of two friends exploring the city is a delight. In Chicken and Cat, Cat comes to live with his friend Chicken. At first, Cat is put off. He sees gray buildings, trash on the street, rats and (gasp!) dogs. But Chicken shows Cat some of the delights of the city, such as biking to Central Park, riding the F Train to Coney Island, and relaxing in a row boat. And yet... Cat is still dissatisfied with the view from his window. Spotting a daffodil in a storefront sparks and idea and Cat and Chicken get to work improving the view. After some hard work, there are smiles all around.

Varon tells her story with wordless, comics style illustrations. I was charmed by seemingly small details such as the dotted line leading from Cat's eyes to the things he didn't like seeing, the steaming cup of coffee in Central Park, a nametag on the shopkeeper (I have a feeling that the names on shops are an inside joke) and Chicken's sunburn. At Coney Island, it is amusing that Chicken and Cat wear full body swim suits, while at all other times they tour the city in their birthday suits - although Cat mysteriously has pockets! Fortunately Varon's illustrative style is expressive, witty and playful without being saccharine.

The story is set in New York City, with local references but this charming story of friendship, cooperation and inspiration will appeal to all kids from city or country.

Want More?
Read the sequel, Chicken and Cat Clean Up, in which Chicken and Cat have adventures while working for their cleaning service business. It's a fun sequel.
Visit the author's site, Chickenopolis.
Read a great, thorough review (with more illustrations) at Every Day Is Like Wednesday.

Big Kid says: The Chicken didn't put on sunscreen!
Little Kid says: That's the J Train.


Familial City: Me and You

Me and YouI have been wanting to read British author Anthony Browne's Me and You ever since I heard about it on the blogosphere when it was first published last year. However, inexplicably, it took our library a really long time to acquire it.

It was worth the wait.

Browne retells Goldilocks and the Three Bears fairy tale from both the point of view of Goldilocks and the Bears. On the left of each two page spread we see the sepia-toned urban world of Goldilocks, while on the right is the the sunny world of the Bears.  The narration is confined to the Bears, who have a single illustration in each spread, while Goldilocks' adventure is told with multiple small images. It might seem that this duality is meant to highlight a urban/rural dichotomy, with a predictable, colorless urban blight contrasted with the bright, cheerful natural world.

But that is only a superficial reading. There are many interesting and subtle details to be found, which add layer upon layer to the story. Look closely and you might notice the bears' home is more suburban than rural, and it's a bit too neat and tidy, with trees manicured to within a inch of their lives. the youngest bear peers out of the window at the beginning and end of the story. It's interesting to imagine what he is looking at, or for. Neither is the treeless city all that it first appears.  The animated, glowing gold locks of the heroine hint at life below a gritty urban surface. It's a life which we see fully manifested by the end of the story.

Browne's book is a layered, moving tale about family life and will only improve upon each retelling. One of my favorites.

Want More?
See the illustrator's studio in this article in The Guardian.
Read a lovely review at My Favourite Books.
Read an interview with the author.
Read about the author at the publisher's website.

Little Kid says: Bear story, again! Again!
Big Kid says: Look at her hair!


Musical City: The Saturday Kid

The Saturday KidI have a soft spot for picture books with period settings. They generally make everything seem more romantic. Of course life in the 1930s was in no way romantic, but there's no need to be reminded of it in every children's picture book, right?

In Edward Sorel and Cheryl Carlesimo's The Saturday Kid, Leo loves Saturdays, because that is when he gets to go to the movies. After the neighborhood bully, Morty gets him thrown out of the theater, Leo spends his time day dreaming of ways to get back at him. In his fantasies, Leo plays out hero rolls from his favorite swashbuckler, gangster or flying ace films. But its Leo's musical talent lands him a real life movie role which finally puts Morty in his place.

From the opening image of Leo at the front of an El train zooming over glorious pre-war buildings, Sorel's book is jam-packed with city scenes. Small apartment rooms on fourth floor walk-ups always have city views, the streets are crowded, theaters are lavishly huge and the automat is a nice treat. Leo thinks looking into other people's apartment windows is just like watching a movie! I suppose that is one way to spin it.

There are some nods to the turbulent times of the 1930s. For example, Leo passes through Union Square, which is full of angry looking people making speeches. I also loved the end papers which show the staff at Loew's Paradise, from the Elevator Operator to the Chief Usher, all in their incredibly dapper uniforms!

Want More?
View Edward Sorel's covers for The New Yorker or his website.
Cheryl Carlesimo blogs at The Huffington Post.

Big Kid: That is not what movie theaters look like inside.


Silly City: How Do You Wokka-Wokka?

How Do You Wokka-Wokka?
Another short post... it's summer, you know.

In Elizabeth Bluemle's How Do You Wokka-Wokka?, neighborhood kids dance and shimmy past brownstones, skyscrapers and taxis. This book celebrates that crazy way kids move and play. You don't always need an open field to hop, skip rope, climb and hang out with your friends. Sometimes the sidewalk is just as inspiring, but it does help to have lots of silly, rhyming words. My kids really enjoyed the silly language and Randy Cecil's illustrations are wonderfully representative of the amazing ways kids seem to be able to move their bodies (unlike us old fogies). His pictures also capture the way living in such close proximity with your neighbors fosters a unique and wonderful camaraderie.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
One teacher has an entire website dedicated to her Wokka-Wokka lesson plan.
Read a review at The Happy Nappy Bookseller.

Little Kid says: Wokka-Wokka!


Hot City: Cool Ali

Cool AliSorry I've been gone for so long. I think my brain melted in the heat wave. It's not quite re-solidified yet, but fortunately I have a few posts already drafted.

In the city, hot Summer weather brings neighbors out onto stoops and sidewalks. In Nancy Poydar's Cool Ali, Ali uses the power of sidewalk chalk to create an oasis for her neighbors. A beach umbrella here, a puddle to cool off some toes there, even a wind to bring some much needed breeze. When rain brings relief, Ali discovers the ephemeral nature of her drawings -- and that art can be made anywhere.

I enjoyed how this book depicted the neighborhood residents as a community, enjoying a summer day. The first half of the book focuses on the immediate sidewalk where Ali and her friends gather, but a nice illustration half-way through shows the residents within the larger city. And of course, what would summer be without sidewalk chalk?

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Read some more summer themed books I've reviewed.

Big Kid: I need some new Sidewalk Chalk.
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