3.29.2011

Beyond Madeline: Children's Books set in Paris

Updated: CLICK HERE to see all a round-up  of Paris picture and chapter books for children.


I'm a little bit excited: I've been stockpiling books set in Paris. We all know about Madeline, but what other children's picture and chapter books are set in Paris? Starting this Friday I'm going to begin "April in Paris."

Although I do have a stack of books I am planning on including (fingers crossed I have time to review them all), I would love it if you would pass on the titles of your favorite children's books set in Paris, especially if they are not to be found under "Paris (France) -- fiction" in the Library Card Catalog.

To get ready for the journey, you might want to start with three books I've already posted about:
Adèle and Simon, Dodsworth in Paris and Mirette and the High Wire
Adèle & Simon Dodsworth in ParisMirette on the High Wire

Can you think of a better place to spend April?

CLICK HERE to see all my reviews of Paris picture and chapter books for children.

3.28.2011

Colorful City: The Purple Coat

The Purple Coat (Reading Rainbow Books)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.

Want More?
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.]

3.26.2011

Cool City: The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring (Picture Puffins)It sure doesn't feel like Spring here in New York City right now, so it must be a perfect time to read Lucille Clifton's The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring.

Everybody's talking about, but where is it? "Look here, man," King Shabazz says to his friend Tony Polito, "I'm goin to get me some of this Spring." And with that, the two boys set out on a mission around their urban neighborhood to locate the mysterious season. In fact, the illusive Spring ends up being so enticing the boys venture further than they ever have before... even past the corner with the streetlight. Their perseverance pays off when they find Spring: it's small, but for the boys it is beautiful and exciting.

The setting for this book is the inner city of the 1970s, but it's not a grim place. Illustrator Brinton Turkle fills the city streets with a variety of people engaged in everyday activities like delivering the mail and eating at diners. There are yummy b-b-q smells and colorful stained glass windows at the Church of the Solid Rock.

I think even kids who are unfamiliar with the city will be able to relate to the earnestness with which the boys set out on their search. Put it on your to-read list this Spring.

Want More?
Read a terrific and thoughtful review at a wrung sponge.
Read about Lucille Clifton at The Poetry Foundation, or in her obituary in the New York Times.
Learn about the illustrator.

Big Kid says: I love Spring. I also want to find a bird's nest.

3.25.2011

Rescue City: The Cats in Krasinski Square

The Cats in Krasinski SquareI picked this book off the library shelf because I saw that it was about cats, and we love cat books around here. Well, it turned out to be quite serious subject matter. I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to talking to my eldest son about serious topics. There are certain things about WWII I just don't think a 6 year old needs to know yet.

I'm not a creative writer, but I'm guessing it is fairly difficult to write a children's picture book set in the WWII Warsaw Ghetto, and even more difficult to write such a book that would not be too frightening for this age. Karen Hesse's The Cats in Krasinski Square avoids both. Hesse based her book on an article she read abut cats who outsmarted the Gestapo at a Warsaw train station. In Hesse's book, a young girl narrates a story in which a plan to smuggle food inside the Ghetto is almost thwarted by the Gestapo. The heroes of the story are the cats, who confuse the Gestapo's dogs at the station.

Hesse's soft and lyrical text, as well as Wendy Watson's gentle palette, mitigate the harsh reality of the Warsaw Ghetto. Hesse's attention to the cats' loyalty and reciprocated love for their human companions is a wise choice and helps make the topic approachable for parents like me. Even as I was still debating whether or not to read it to my 6 year old, he picked it out and read it himself. The suggested age range is grades 3-5.

It's a well-written book about a sensitive topic. I hope you remember this book when your children begin learning about World War II.


Want More?
Even in Australia left a comment below suggesting this terrific review which also talks about another book about cats and the Holocaust.
Read more about the author.
Visit the illustrator's webpage. She illustrated one of my favorite childhood books: Father Fox's Penny Rhymes.
Bearing Witness Through Picture Books: a list of books about the Holocaust at School Library Journal.
Never Forget focuses on books for children about the Holocaust.

Big Kid says: I like those cats.

3.22.2011

Commuter City: Rush Hour

Rush Hour Starting in the morning when everyone wakes up, yawning and ending at night, when "moms and dads are home at last," Christine Loomis' Rush Hour is a rhythmic, rhyming whirlwind tour of the adventure that is every city commuter's day.

Little Kid is so obsessed with this book, he can "read" it page by page to himself. I'm not surprised. Loomis' uses words guaranteed to give any toddler and preschooler a heady buzz: "Whizzing, zipping, clickety clack, rumbling, roaring, jiggling, jumping, left turn, right turn, backing, bumping."

Mari Takabayashi's illustrations are busy, busy, busy, reflecting the crowds and bustle of the city. What I like best is the immense variety of experiences she illustrates. For example, when "people have begun their jobs,"  she doesn't stop at the standard police officer, teacher and business person -- there are more than 20 careers pictured. There are small details one might not normally think about: a man retrieves his mail from a row of apartment post boxes, a kitchen lacks adequate counter space, in the middle of the day, subway platforms are much emptier. It's the kind of city life detail I enjoy seeing in urban picture books.

Even though the city depicted is New York, none of the text is specific to NYC. I almost wish that the pictures were more city-generic, but of course my boys like to recognize the buses and trains they see everyday.

If your kid loves things with wheels, this book is sure to be a hit. But you might have to read it 12 dozen times.

Fair warning.


Want more?
Visit the illustrator's website.
Watch this you tube video of a crowded subway in Japan. Can you imagine if we had these white gloved "helpers" in NYC!

Little Kid says: Rush Hour, please!

3.20.2011

Wild City: Urban Animals (Plus a Giveaway)

Urban AnimalsThink city animals only exist in the park and zoo?

Think again.

Isabel Hill's wonderful book, Urban Animals takes you on a fantastical treasure hunt through New York City's architecture for animals lurking in doorways, propping up flagpoles and gazing down from cornices. Seahorses, dogs, bunnies, even donkeys are watching over the city's citizens as they head to work, home and the park. Looking through the photographs, my workaholic husband exclaimed, "I pass that building everyday and never noticed!" The back of the book includes a glossary of architectural terms and the locations of each animal featured so you can go and see them for yourself, which we will because some of the animals are in our neighborhood!

Want More?
Visit Isabel Hill's website.
Read another book about Architecture Animals.

Big Kid says: I love the elephant.
Little Kid says: Fish!

Giveaway:
I have a signed paperback copy of this book that I bought from the author at the Brooklyn Museum's Children's Book Fair. Please leave one comment below and I will pick a winner at random. Comments close on March 31 at 11:59 EST.
How to Enter:
  • Leave one comment below.
  • If your email is not linked to your profile, or you do not have a blog where I can contact you, you must leave a valid email
  • Anonymous entries will not be considered.
  • International addresses welcome.
  • Giveaway ends 11:59 pm EST March 31. The winner will be announced April 1. If the winner does not get in contact with me within 48 hours of the announcement I will pick a new winner.

3.18.2011

Artistic City: Jamaica Louise James

Jamaica Louise JamesIf you have ever ridden the NYC Subway you know that some of the stations have some fantastic artwork. I'm a bit sad that my local station is on the boring side. It would be so great to get on the train everyday if the platform looked like this.

In Amy Hest's Jamaica Louise James, the title character also takes the train from a boring platform. In fact her Grammy is the ticket agent. While Jamaica Lousie James (can I call her JLJ for short?) does like the hot pink subway seats, she decries the grouchy grownups and the boring tiled walls. JLJ takes matters into her own hands and creates artwork for the station as a surprise for her Grammy. It perks up both the boring tiles and sullen commuter faces.

There are nice little references to the city scattered throughout the text. For example, JLJ sits "on the top step of our building, where everyone can see her," and she cuddles with her family at night, while "the city quiets down." Many of Sheila White Samton's color-saturated illustrations are interiors (home and subway), but there are a few nice simultaneous views of above and below ground. I especially like one nighttime illustration of JLJ high in her apartment building watching her Grammy descend the subway stairs.

Would that we could all have train stations as cheerful as Jamaica Louise James'.

Want more?
See some of the great platform art of NYC's MTA
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: Hey! We have this book in our art classroom!

3.14.2011

Robot City: Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World)

It might be fair to say that most kids, in their free play, have invented stories about robots or monsters that have gotten out of control. Perhaps they have gone on rampages and destroyed Lego towns or block cities. In the thoroughly engaging Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the WorldOh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World), Mac Barnett and Dan Santat illustrate this imaginary world.

The young protagonist has built a robot for the science fair, which is on a rampage, destroying buildings and terrorizing citizens in its wake. Our genius scientist chases it all over the city, but finally decides the only solution is to invent a new, better, bigger, more powerful creature. Our heroine's plan is successful... maybe even too successful.

What I love: the genius protagonist is a girl (and her awesome glasses), the city is a hodgepodge of Western and Japanese elements, the imagery invokes Japanese B horror movies (right down to the vertical white lines of the "film"), the subtle humor, the retro graphic novel quality to the layout and the fun robot blueprint end pages.

After you read this with your kids, you might want to protect those Lego cities, because some serious imaginative play is going to take place.

Want More? 
Dan Santat discusses his inspirations for the book jacket on his blog.
Visit Mac Barnett's website.
Read a terrific article, see the artwork and watch the trailer at Seven Impossible Things.
Read a review by Geek Dad.

Big Kid says: Cool!
Little Kid says: Toad!

3.13.2011

Horse City: Stable

StableI admit it: I just don't like horses. I should, I know. But I don't. After reading Ted Lewin's Stable, even I started to think maybe I'm missing out. Certainly my kids do like to watch the horses who occasionally trot through Prospect Park. maybe there is something to this horse thing. If your child loves horses (and most do!) I recommend you pick up a copy of this book.

Lewin tells the story of horses in the city in a very straightforward manner. He begins by showing us in black and white illustrations what the role of horses was in times past. Fast forwarding to the present (and color), he takes us on a tour of Kensington Stables in Brooklyn, introducing us to horses named Spin Doctor and S'mores. The focus is on the relationship of the children to the horses -- some come by for pony rides, others for lessons and there is even a therapeutic riding program for special needs children. Lewin also introduces us to the various people who keep the stable running, from the farrier to the owner. The story ending is a bit melancholy, suggesting that the stable will soon be torn down.... but it's still there.

As always, Ted Lewin's illustrations shine and on the end pages are the names and illustrations of all the Kensington Stables horses.

Will I become a horse lover? I doubt it, but my kids and I certainly enjoyed this book.

Want More?
Visit the Kensington Stables website.
Read another review at The Fourth Musketeer.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: It would be fun to go see those horses.
Little Kid says: Horse in the park!

3.12.2011

Dog City: Detective LaRue, Letters from the Investigation

Detective LaRue: Letters from the InvestigationI was quite amused by this dog-becomes-detective book. The story is conveyed entirely through letters and newspaper articles which is a change of pace from traditional picture book writing and offers a new listening experience. That must be good for brain stretching or something, right?

In any case, Mark Teague has written and illustrated Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation, the second book about a dog who writes letters to his owner, Mrs. LaRue. When two cats go missing, Ike LaRue becomes the prime suspect. He escapes custody in order to prove his innocence and, of course, solves the case. While on the lam, Ike must visit several city locations. He prowls through parks, searches seedy alleys, explores fancy hotels and finally saves the day on an apartment fire escape.

Well.... it is possible that Ike is using his imagination just a bit much....  black and white illlustrions depict the shadowy, oh-so-dangerous world of LaRue as a high crime detective, but the real story of LaRue's easy, high living life is revealed in color.

A fun book for dog lovers, detective lovers and you.

Want More?
Read a better written review and see some of the artwork at Gathering Books.
Read Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, Letters from the Campaign Trail: LaRue for Mayor, LaRue Across America.
Watch the trailer (is it me, or are trailers for books weird?) for LaRue Across America, which was released this month.

Big Kid says: What does "custody" mean?

3.05.2011

Cookie City: The Gingerbread Boy

The Gingerbread BoyI confess that I don't really understand the appeal of the classic story of the Gingerbread Boy. To whom are we supposed to relate? A cookie brat on the run? A crafty fox? The exhausted townsfolk? Enlighten me. I can't figure it out.

However, my little guy doesn't share my confusion. He loves Richard Egielski's The Gingerbread Boy. In this modern (and blissfully simple) retelling the sweet and spicy boy jumps out of an apartment window and is chased across New York City by rats, construction workers, subway musicians and mounted police. I admit that this pack would keep me running too! We see lots of familiar sites: subways, high rises, even the ubiquitous apartment clothesline. The fox, of course, lives in the zoo, where he can conveniently "help" the runaway across the pond in Central Park. Egielski's illustrations are bright and fun with detail-filled chase scenes so that even a jaded mom like me can get carried away with the action.

But I am still bothered by two things.: 1. You do not put icing on a cookie before you put it into the oven; and 2. Why is he a Gingerbread Boy, if he says "You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man." But that's just me.

Want more?
Explore SurLaLune's Gingerbread Boy website and learn about the story's history and other adaptations.
Visit the author's website.

Little Kid says: Run! Run! Run!

3.02.2011

Feathered City: The True Story of Stellina

The True Story of StellinaBooks about urban animals usually rely heavily on birds and squirrels. This is understandable, of course, there aren't many bears and tigers wandering around busy metropolitan avenues. If children's picture books are any guide, these small animals bring out the nurturing side of us city humans. Already I've written about several books in which humans look out for birds (Subway Sparrow, How to Heal a Broken Wing, for starters), birds is one of the larger categories in my card catalog, and I have at least 4 more bird books sitting in my to-write-about pile.

Matteo Pericoli based his picture book The True Story of Stellina on an encounter his future wife had with a baby wild finch. Holly sees the little abandoned bird in a nest inside a traffic light post in New York City. She takes the bird home and nurtured the creature who learns to eat and fly in the small apartment. The text of this story is exceedingly gentle. Stellina invades the hearts of her new parents by singing along to the shower and piano, landing on the artist's pencil or watching her new mother dance.

Even though the story is sweet, Pericoli wisely resists normalizing the relationship between wild bird and humans. Thoughout Stellina's life  she wonders, "And now? What's going to happen now?"  There is no maudlin death scene but Pericoli does mention that Stellina died after living for eight years. He does it in such a gentle way, however, which celebrates both her relationship with the humans and connects her to what her life might have been like with other birds.

Pericoli's line drawings and subtle watercolor palette are the perfect illustrative accompaniment. Many thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for turning me on to this book.

Want More?
See the City: The Journey of Manhattan UnfurledVisit Matteo Pericoli's website.
Read my review of his other fantastic children's book, Tommaso and the Missing Line.
Big Kid loves to look at Pericoli's book See the City, a fold out book of the Manhattan skyline.
I love his book, The City Out My Window: 63 View on New York.

Big Kid says: What kind of bird was that?
Little Kid says: Cheep! Cheep!
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