5.31.2011

Diverse City: Busing Brewster

Busing BrewsterRichard Michelson has written a thoughtful, intelligent picture book about the a young African-American boy and his brother who are bussed to Central the "white school." (Little Rock Central was a High School, this Central is an elementary school.) Richard Michelson's Busing Brewster is about a heavy topic, but while it does not shy away from the negative experience of the boys, neither does it pass judgment on the busing policy.

For the most part, illustrator R. G. Roth illustrates the city at the beginning and end of the book, evoking the urban landscape with spare playgrounds surrounded by chain link fences, brick walls, brownstone stoops and city lights out a bedroom window. Brewster and his friends play stick ball, a classic city streets game (with which my husband is obsessed). I also really liked the two page illustration of the school bus passing through the city, accompanied by Brewster's observation that the bus was passing a Jewish cemetery and a Catholic church. This not only  suggests how central to the community the bussing event was, but that a diverse community does not just mean black and white.

An author's note at the end of the book will help children place the story in a wider context. The story also includes a wonderful hip-hip-hooray for librarians, which I thought was a nice touch. It's a well-done book that deserves to be included in any study about diversity in our schools.

Want More?
Conversation with the author (and lots of artwork from the book) at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Read an interview with the author at Cynsations.
Read Rasco from RIF's take on the book.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid: I could be president, too. [Brewster wants to grow up to be the president.]

5.27.2011

Feathered City: City Hawk, The Story of Pale Male

City Hawk: The Story of Pale MaleIt's hard not to be in love with a pair of hawks that are willing to become our neighbors in the city... and in her version of the Pale Male saga, City Hawk, The Story of Pale Male, Meghan McCarthy chooses to ignore the fact that some neighbors might not like a) birds pooping on their windows, or b) hundreds of binoculars focused daily in the direction of their living rooms.

McCarthy does explain the controversy, and many details about the hawks in an extensive Author's Note (there is also a separate author's note about Central Park), but her story is really about the excitement and joy of watching nature in the city. Whereas the other books start from the hawk's POV, McCarthy begins with the people, taking us from the noisy, crowded polluted streets, to the lush escape of Central Park. We then watch -- just like birdwatchers -- as the hawks explore the park, make their nest and start a family.

I admit that I am a little in love with the gigantic bug eyes McCarthy gives her characters (human and avian), her illustrations are cheerful and everyone looks to be enjoying themselves. She illustrates various city vistas, and although there are numerous views of the sky, she brings us back down to earth, where we humans live, quite often.

It certainly qualifies as an uplifting tale (no pun intended!).

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Read all my reviews of Pale Male books.
Visit Central Park.
Gothamist posted a video of Pale Male's new mate.

Big Kid says: You know, lots of other birds also live on rooftops, like sparrows and finches.
Little Kids says: Park book, please.

5.25.2011

Feathered City: The Tale of Pale Male

The Tale of Pale Male: A True StoryAll of the picture books about Pale Male take a different approach. Of the three I am reviewing, Jeanette Winter's The Tale of Pale Male is the only one to begin with life for the Red-tailed hawk outside the city, pointing out that the hawks live in tall places such as trees, cliffs, or even cacti. She explains how the bird likes the high perch in order to spy tiny mice, but she then jumps a little too quickly to New York City's skyscrapers. After this somewhat awkward beginning, Winter successfully maneuvers her way through dual storyline -- on the one hand, the hawks' life in the city, and on the other hand, the reaction to the nest by New York's human residents.

Winter's depiction of the city is focused almost entirely on the height at which the birds live. We rarely see the street and in a few images, she uses a split-screen to represent the birdwatchers far below the buildings, emphasizing the height of the nest. I also found it interesting that she gave curtains only to the windows in the apartments directly below the nest,  drawing attention to the contrast between the human's high nest and the birds'. I  liked Winter's illustrations, even though the overriding colors are purples, pinks and aquas, but I found it odd that, until the final pages, the hawks always seemed to be wearing rather angry expressions.

Winter's text clips along and works nicely when read aloud.

Want More?
Visit Pale Male's website.
Watch a short clip from PBS' Nature episode in which the famous hawk mates on Woody Allen's balcony.
Read a short article about the author.

Big Kid says: It keeps talking about the mice!

5.24.2011

Feathered City: Pale Male, Citizen Hawk of New York City

During the next few days I will be looking at three picture books about Pale Male, the famous red-tailed hawk who built his nest at 927 Fifth Avenue.

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City Pale Male, Citizen Hawk of New York City is the most detailed of the three books about Pale Male. From the horror-flick fate of Pale Male's first mate (she became so disoriented by a flock of screaming, harassing crows that she slammed into a high-rise!), to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918's impact on the fate of the nest, to the careful descriptions of the fledglings' first steps, no detail is too small to be included in this book. To say Janet Schulman's book is very thorough is an understatement.

After setting up the story of the birds' lives, nest and family building, Schulman focuses on the controversy over the nest's location at the ritzy Fifth Avenue apartment building.  She examines the parties involved, media attention, why the nest was removed, and how it came to be replaced. Conservatives may feel uptight about the mention of George W.'s administration's practice of relaxing wildlife laws and how that led to the first dismantling of the nest. However, it's still a fact and Schulman's sets it within the context of the story.

Meilo So's illustrations are absolutely beautiful. She skillfully merges nature and urban landscapes. Of all the Pale Male books, I found her marriage of natural world with urban landscape the most appealing and sophisticated. The opening image of Pale Male finding the autumnal colors of Central Park amidst the blue-greys of the city buildings and waters is simply gorgeous.  I'm not a skilled art critic, but I would suggest reading this book if only for the lovely illustrations. Her portrait of the tenants in the Fifth Avenue building looking out at the protesters (almost) makes you sympathize with them.

A wonderful picture book to be enjoyed by kids... and adults, too!

Want More?
Read the review in the New York Times (spoiler alert: it mentions the other books I will be looking at).
Read an article at Audobon Magazine, "How the Nest Was Won."
Learn about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 on Wikipedia, or if you are adventurous, read it in full.
View more of Meilo So's illustrations at her blog.
Janet Schulman passed away this year, read an article about her at Library Journal.

Big Kid says: I am really glad they got to build their nest again. I bet Junior is definitely Pale Male's baby.

5.23.2011

Feathered City: Urban Roosts

Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the CityThis week I am tackling picture books featuring Pale Male, NYC's resident  red-tailed hawk.  I have mentioned before on this blog that "birds in the city" is a popular theme for picture books.

But before I get to Pale Male, it seems appropriate to take a look at Barbara Bash's Urban Roosts, a non-fiction introduction to how and where birds choose to make their nests in urban environments. Fittingly, Bash starts us off with the pigeon. She then goes on to examine a dozen other birds and the clever places they find to build their nests: boots, railroad tracks, lampposts, etc.  The illustration of the house swallows reminded me of how my mother used to turn the water hose on the nests the resourceful birds made in the eaves of my childhood home. The birds were not daunted for long, but my mother still kept trying until one year the birds failed to return.  I feel a little sad about that now.

Bash's information about each bird's nesting behaviors and descriptions of the birds coupled with her lovely illustrations will certainly make you want to take your children out on an urban bird nest hunting expedition.  I also really appreciate the way Bash describes the similarity between their urban homes and their natural nesting places. For example, snowy owls choose northern airport landing fields because they are similar to the windswept plains of the tundra.

Perhaps I will even start to appreciate the pigeons in the nearby store awning a bit more... that is, as long as I continue to evade their poop.

Want More?
Visit Cornell's fantastic website Celebrate Urban Birds, with some terrific downloads and kits to use when you and your child go urban birdwatching.
Visit the Author's Website.
If you live in NYC, learn about the birds we have.
Find more picture books about birds in the city on this blog.

Big Kid says: That bird is living in a streetlight! I see pigeons all the time, but I'd like to see that owl.

I'm including this post as part of the Non-Fiction Monday Round-Up.

5.17.2011

Festive City: Mermaids on Parade

Mermaids on ParadeThe weather here in NYC this week does little to remind one of the impending hot and humid season that is just  around the corner. But the annual Mermaid Parade at Coney Island is only one month away and it's time to start thinking about your costume. Get into the spirit with Melanie Hope Greenberg's Mermaids on Parade.

A young girl experiences the excitement of preparing and participating in her first parade by coming out of her shell... literally. Greenberg's book captures the joy and (barely controlled) chaos of this event in her colorful and detailed pictures which are, unlike the actual parade, nudity-free. My older son is especially in love with the map of the parade route, and mermaid lovers will appreciate the mermaid tail how-to at the end.

We usually think about city landscapes in terms of skyscrapers and noisy streets so a book set at a city beach -- albeit a crowded one -- is a nice change of pace. Throughout the book Greenberg continually reminds us that this is a city beach by including the skylines, nearby apartment buildings and the F train as part of her illustrations. But let's not forget the people! Just like the actual Mermaid Parade, Greenberg's vibrant and colorful illustrations are overrun with people! She also used locals as the inspiration for many of the drawn character extras in her book, including one of our friends!

For those who love cities, parades, costumes, beaches, mermaids and especially 2 year olds who love the F train. 

Want More?
Visit the Coney Island website.
Learn more about the author by visiting her blog where your can learn all sort of interesting things, like how she creates illustrations, who were the models for the people in the book, and you can download free coloring pages.
If you want to buy her books -- buy directly from the author! It's a great way to support picture book writers.
Read a short interview with the author at Posterband (note, she says "Please do not stereotype me as urban!" -- understandable)
I also reviewed the Greenberg-illustrated A City Is.

Big Kid says: Let me see that map....
Little Kid says: F Train!

5.11.2011

Steel City: Sky Dancers

Sky DancersA number of city based books try to work something "educational" or historical into their story lines. These books are often easily identifiable by the "Author's Note" at the end. Some are more successful than others. Connie Ann Kirk and Christy Hale's Sky Dancers falls somewhere in the middle.

While John Cloud climbs trees and helps with the building work back home, his father and uncle work as steelworkers on the Empire State Building. One day, his mother and grandfather take John Cloud into the city so he can see his father at work high above the city. Proud of his father, the boy returns to his home to practice his own climbing skills.

Skyscrapers are a rather romantic city theme for a book, offering ample opportunity for vertigo-inducing illustrations, especially the one in which steelworkers go about their business without any safety harnesses. Kirk's text wanders a little bit, probably because also tries to include several other common city themes such as visiting the noisy, busy city for the first time, the contrast between city and country, as well as creating a story of parental affection and cultural identity.

The author's note explains the role of the Mohawks as steelworkers and elaborates on some of their contributions to the building of New York City, including their role in the 9/11 recovery efforts. I had no idea about the Mohawk tradition of steel working in North America, and found this to be very interesting and led me to search out some great resources to learn more about this part of New York City history (see below in "Want More?")

Want More?
Watch online High Steel, a short, very interesting 1965 Canadian documentary about the Mohawk skyscraper workers in NYC. But, OMG, WHERE ARE THE SAFETY HARNESSES? And smoking on the job? Maybe not such a good idea.
Read an interesting article about the Brooklyn Mohawk iron workers at the Brooklyn Public Library Brooklynology website.
The Smithsonian Institution had a travelling exhibition about the Mohawk iron workers. You can view some of the images here.

Big Kid says: That is high.
Mom replies: No kidding.

5.09.2011

Artistic City: A Sky Full of Kites

A Sky Full of KitesI'm actually surprised at how few books set in San Francisco I have found. That may be because the Brooklyn library doesn't stock them, but I haven't found many through other sources either.  There are some about cable cars, of course, but Osmond Molarsky and Helen Hipshman's A Sky Full of Kites features nary a cable car.

Colin loves to draw. He makes a fantastically large picture and wants to display it somewhere where everyone in the city can enjoy it. Unfortunately, it seems everyone from the firefighters to the bankers to the museum curator has an excuse. But Colin is very resourceful and settles on the one place where everyone can see his painting, day or night: the sky. Colin turns his painting into a kite. Now his art attracts the attention of the city and soon all the naysayers are clambering for a chance to display Colin's art.

Although adults will spot the message about the public's obsession with fame right away, kids might be more interested in Colin's art-turned-into-kite idea. I won't lie to you, this isn't the most well-crafted book I've read, but Hipshman's illustrations are cheerful and she has a few nice city scenes, like the predictable San Francisco row houses and the cityscape at night.

If it's available at the library you might want to take a look even if just to inspire your kids to take their own art project to the skies.

Want More?
Try reading Grace Lin's Kite Flying.
Learn more about the author by reading this article (mentions his friendship with Isabel Allende), his obituary, or watch an interview with Molarsky at age 98.
Find out what other San Francisco books I've reviewed here (okay, just two so far, but that will change!).

Big Kid says: We should put "flying a kite" on our summer to-do list.

5.05.2011

Wild City: When You Meet A Bear on Broadway

When You Meet a Bear on Broadway (Melanie Kroupa Books)
I might have mentioned before that there is an entire subcategory of picture books about being lost in the city. I should add "lost in the city" to the card catalog in my sidebar. Dealing with the idea of being lost and alone is not a new theme in children's literature by any means, but I can't think of any other books in which a bear is lost in New York City. If you can, please send them my way.

Amy Hest's (whose books have appeared several times on this blog already) When You Meet A Bear on Broadway hits upon another classic theme, missing one's mama. Starting out in a manner of fact manner, Hest gives instructions as to what to do if you ever come across a bear. First and foremost -- be polite (something I will certainly do if I ever meet a wild animal). After ascertaining what Little Bear's Mama is like it is important to look all over the city, especially in the park, where you can climb a high tree. Helping to reunite a wee bear with his mama will certainly remind you of the value of your own mother, so it's good to run on home afterward.

Elivia Savadier's watercolor and ink illustrations are a magical accompaniment to Hest's quirky story. She uses saturated colors to make the  girl and bear stand out against the washed out cityscape. I also like the way Savadier cleverly highlights the role of nature in the city by including prominently colored autumnal trees wherever the duo go.

Yesterday it was tigers, today it is bears, now I just need a book about lions in the city. Got any good ones?

Want More?
On her website, Elivia Savadier discusses creating the book's illustrations.
Visit Amy Hest's website.

Big Kid says: What part of Broadway are they on?
Little Kid says: Bear book again!

5.04.2011

Heroic City: Tiger Trouble

Tiger Trouble!Those of you living in the city may be familiar with the odd news story of individuals found living with wild animals such as tigers or alligators. It might be fun to speculate whether the tiger found in 2003 in Harlem was adopted after its owner read Diane Goode's Tiger Trouble.

Of course I am being facetious, but Tiger Trouble certainly makes the idea of owning a tiger in an apartment building seem appealing. In an apartment building at #33 River Street, Jack lives with his Tiger, Lily. (Love the name.) They are best friends and do everything together. Unfortunately the new landlord, Mr. Mud, and his bulldog, Fifi, are not fans of cats.  However, when Lily saves the day (and Fifi), Mr. Mud turns over a new leaf and Lily gets to stay.

This is a simply charming story. Goode's narration is light, sweet and stands up to repeated readings (I ought to know, this book is requested again and again by my 2 year old!). The setting is turn of the century New York (although, for the most part, it could be any city) where kids roam free, play stickball, chase fire engines and play tug-of-war in the streets. In fact, the city seems to be a place populated almost entirely by independent children. There is nary a parent in sight. Adults are present but only those that serve the plot. The apartment building is the center of the action: kids hang out of every window and they gather on its stairs. Those of us with real estate envy will gaze longingly at the period details which have now come to be so desirable in the NYC housing market.

Goode's illustrations are colorful, playful and she is a master at amusing facial expressions. Close observers will notice funny little details, like Mr. Mud's full name and an homage to a silent picture star.

Love the story, love the pictures, love the tiger.

Want More?
Read about a real life apartment dwelling tiger.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: That is a strange looking fire engine.
Little Kid says: Roar!

5.02.2011

Paris Picture and Chapter Book Round-Up

Well, I managed to get through almost all of my Paris books. The last few will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, I've set up a page specifically linking to all of the books set in Paris I have reviewed. You can click on the tab at the top of this blog, or just click here.
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