10.05.2011

Familial City: Mimmy and Sophie

I my last post I reviewed The Doll Shop Downstairs, which stars daughters of Jewish Russian immigrants enduring reduced economic circumstances in early 20th Century Manhattan. In today's double feature I introduce you to sisters (only two this time), granddaughters of Jewish Russian immigrants in depression-era 1930s Brooklyn.

The inspiration for Miriam Cohen's two books about sisters Mimmy and Sophie came from her own girlhood in Brooklyn. Side by side the books are physically very different. The first Mimmy & Sophie,is a large picture book, every inch filled with colorful illustrations in a storyboard layout.  The sequel, Mimmy and Sophie All Around the Town, is an early-level chapter book with numerous black and white line-drawn illustrations. Tomas F. Yezerski illustrated both books.

Both books, however, are separated into short stories. Each short story could stand by itself, but strung together they paint a lively portrait of two girls who explore their neighborhood with each other, their friends and their extended family. Their adventures include a trip to Coney Island, a journey on the trolley to visit their grandparents on Pitkin Avenue, a visit to the cinema, as well as varied experiences on their block like a visit from the ice cream truck, sisterly spats and playing school with friends. My favorite vignette was the family vacation: a picnic on Brooklyn Bridge, from which they watched the sun like a "melting raspberry Popsicle on the water." I wouldn't say that these are technically the best written stories I've ever read, but they certainly have their fair share of charm, liveliness and family love. The trap in a book like this is to wallow in a pool of sentimental nostalgia and thankfully Cohen avoids doing that.

As you might imagine, the city, especially Brooklyn, is a key player in the story. Not only are specific places referenced throughout, but the environment in which the neighborhood children explore is defined by its "urban-ness." You don't find many alley-ways full of trash treasure in the countryside, for example. It's only in a tightly packed city that children can gather at a moment's notice on a stoop for an impromptu game of school.  And, like many "kids in the city" books, the children seem to have an awful lot of adventures without their parents present! Yezerski's illustrations keep us well situated in the city at all times. There's nary an empty sidewalk or vista without an apartment building.

My guess is that you and your kids will enjoy reading these together.

Want More?
Mimmy & Sophie was awarded a Parent's Choice award.
Visit the illustrator's website and see some of the pages.

Little Kid says: Popsicle book! Popsicle book!
Big Kid says: They don't have trolleys like that now.

4 comments:

Raising a Happy Child said...

This made me think nostalgically of my own free range childhood in a big city. Boy, how the times have changed!

JaneA said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. I live in London (a big city) and just recently returned from a trip to New York (another big city), and now my imagination is popping with ideas. Thanks for reviewing kids books about cities!

MaryAnne said...

These books sound great!

Have you read the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor? I haven't read them since I was a kid, so I don't know how dated they might seem today, but if I remember correctly they felt like a pretty authentic description of living in a Jewish family (of all girls, until they have sixth child who is a son in a later book) in the Lower East Side in the early 20th century.

Megan D. Neal said...

Oh, I'll bet my girls would love these!

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