6.30.2011

Deli City: Stop That Pickle!

Stop That Pickle!We've had Stop That Pickle! for a few years, but I never noticed until last night that it is a city book! Chalk one up for observant parenting. It is currently on my 2 year old's favorites list, so I've read it about 50 times in the last 3 days.

Peter Armour's Stop That Pickle! is a take on the classic Gingerbread Man story but with a surprising twist at the end, which I won't give away.  The last pickle in a jar at the local deli jumps out and runs away, chased by various other food stuffs. It's one of the weirder books I've read, for sure, but lots of fun. Did you know, for example, that the PB&J is one of the slowest sandwiches out there?

The briny green runaway eludes his followers by weaving in and around street corners lined with multi-storied buildings. Illustrator Andrew Shachat's quirky renditions of people at the windows are quite strange. I didn't find them as appalling as the School Library Journal critic did, but they may not be to everyone's taste. Personally, I like a little weirdness in my picture books, especially those about edible runaways.

Want More?
Read another urban The Gingerbread Man picture book.
Read another deli-food themed picture book, Five Little Gefilte Fish.
Stop That Pickle was featured on an episode of Between the Lions.

Little Kid says: Stop that Pickle!

6.29.2011

Revitalized City: Home

Home (Horn Book Fanfare List (Awards))Wouldn't we all love to buy inexpensive real estate and then watch its value explode as the urban environment around us "gentrified." Although I am certain that is not Jeannie Baker's main message in Home, I couldn't help thinking about how the real estate value of the home in question must have skyrocketed by the end of the book.

The wonderful Home is a wordless testament to the power of community to shape its surroundings. On each page we see the changing view out of the same window.  At the start, a  young couple with a new baby stand in their concrete backyard (just having a backyard in the city is amazing!), their view is a junk yard and graffiti-covered apartment building. But even in this initial image there are signs of hope: their neighbor is planting a small bush, a woman across the street peers cautiously out the window. The rest of the book takes us on a journey of renewal. As the baby grows into a young woman and a new mother herself, the view from the window changes from dereliction to beauty.

Baker's collage illustrations are enchanting. She marvelously combines intricately cut paper and preserved vegetable matter. The detail is amazing and each page offers much to be discovered. I found it quite enjoyable to spend time with my sons while they pointed out the changes from page to page.

I like that the urban renewal depicted in the book happens over the length of the child's life, not instantly or in a single season, or even over a single year. In the author's note, Baker rightfully points out that developing a sense of place and nurturing a community in urban space does not happen overnight.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Read another great book about city revitalization: The Curious Garden.

Big Kid says: Look, on this page you see the billboard, then on this page the building is coming down and here you can finally see the park!

6.17.2011

Balanced City: Starring Mirette and Bellini

Starring Mirette & Bellini (Picture Puffins)Like many sequels, Emily Arnold McCully's Starring Mirette & Bellini doesn't quite live up to the original. However, as I haven't seen many picture books that take you to Budapest, Vienna, Paris and St. Petersburg all in one go, it's worth a look.

After their success in Paris, Mirette and Bellini take their show on the road. They dazzle crowds in the great cities of Europe with their funambulatory (How many chances do you have to use that word? Of course I have to milk it.) skills. While in St. Petersburg the harsh political realities of Czarist Russia have serious consequences for the duo and once again, Mirette draws upon her inner strength to help her friend.

Although I liked both the story and the illustrations in the original better, McCully's second book about Mirette and Bellini (there are 3) is interesting and would be useful in conversations about 19th century Russia (you have those conversations with your kids, right?). The themes of freedom and friendship may be slightly more relevant, but I also just enjoyed the lovely illustrations of the performers on the high wire near famous European city landmarks.

Want More?
Read my review of the original, Mirette on the High Wire.
Take a look at the third book, Mirette and Bellini Cross Niagara Falls.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: What is a Czar?

6.16.2011

Musical City: Ruby Sings the Blues

Ruby Sings the BluesIf you live in the city, your get used to hearing all sorts of loud noises and if your windows face a busy street you might think twice about keeping them open. Consequently, there are lots of books about city noises (see my review of Clang! Clang! Beep! Beep! or Night Cars, for example).

Rather than focusing on all the annoying machine-generated noises, Niki Daly's Ruby Sings the Blues focuses on one very annoying human noise... and how that noise transforms into something beautiful. Ruby is one loud little girl. Everyone knows when she's home. Her parents, teacher and friends all tell her to quiet down, but Ruby takes this rejection to heart and develops a case of the blues. Fortunately, Ruby has some musical neighbors who see the diamond in the rough. With a little encouragement, Ruby learns how to control her volume, and sing the Blues.

As parent of a 6 year old who always seems to have the volume on his own voice dialed up, I liked this book. One of the reviewers at Amazon felt Ruby's loud voice to be a contrived element. Clearly that reviewer doesn't spend much time around children, who have naturally loud voices for no apparent reason. In any case, the message of "finding your voice," is delivered in an uplifting story. Daly's appealing urban neighborhood is filled with interesting characters, people hanging out their windows and dancing on the sidewalks.

Want More?
Watch the book on You Tube (from the PBS show Between the Lions).
Read the professional review blurbs at the publisher's page.

Big Kid: You tell me I'm loud, too.

6.14.2011

Dancing City: I Am Dodo

I Am Dodo: Not a True StoryI really need to review the stacks of books I already have before I start checking out even more books from the library. I am becoming overwhelmed. However, before I get to the back stock, I must tell you about this new book I just found:  I am Dodo: Not a True Story.

The dodo bird holds a particular place in our collective imagination. I'm not a anthropologist/sociologist/ornithologist, so I won't try to answer why that is. Maybe it is just the silly name. Maybe it's because we don't want the dodo to be extinct. In Kae Nichimura's I am Dodo: Not a True Story, we can indulge in the fantasy that at least one dodo is still walking around.... in New York City. In the city, in the face of naysayers, a lone professor holds on the belief that a dodo still exists. Little does he know that the bird is on his way. In the heart of the busy city, Dodo and his biggest fan strike up a charming friendship based on freedom, dancing and games of hide-n-seek.

One again, the city plays backdrop to a more intimate relationship; that of the Professor and his Dodo (there's a phrase you are sure not to see again). The busy urban population is not interested in the Dodo, they mind their own business or deny the existence of something right under their noses. The park plays a prominent role in the development of the Dodo and Professor's friendship -- a place more isolated than the crowded city streets, although Central Park is, in reality, far more crowded, than Nichimura's wonderful illustrations would have us believe.

Giving much weight to the oft-used phrase, "only in New York," I am Dodo: Not a True Story is a charming book, not to be missed.

Want More?
Visit the author's blog.
Read a review at The Book Chook.

Big Kid says: Don't return that book to the library.

6.08.2011

The Sticky City: Hot City

Hot CityMy apologies for keeping this short, but it is simply too hot here in NYC to spend much time writing reviews.  It's not even summer yet, but  heat index of 97 tells me it's good time to read Hot City by Barbara Joosse and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. 


Hot City is about just that: the HOT city, and where two kids might find some refuge. The descriptions of snow cones melting before you get a chance to finish them and a city bus drive-by are perfect, as is the kids' final destination: the library. Christie's illustration style is distinct; I like it's funkiness and the collage style, but apparently it is not to everyone's taste.

This books makes me long for our branch library to reopen. Our neighborhood library has been closed for renovations for over a year (I almost cried when they announced the closing!) and while we used to pop over for some cool summer fun at the library, it's hard to get motivated to walk the 25 minutes in the sweltering heat to the main branch (not to mention the uphill return hike). Early morning visits will be on our summer agenda.

Want More?
Read a longer review at a wrung sponge.
Read an interview with the illustrator at Illustration Friday or at Seven Impossible Things.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: Let's get ice cream.
Little Kid says: Yeah! Yeah! Ice cream!

6.05.2011

Seasonal City: A Year in the City

Year in the CityThere are many, many picture books about seasonal changes, but most of them focus on seasons in the countryside, yes? Now I am happy that I can also pick up Kathy Henderson's A Year in the City, if I want to share how seasonal changes manifest themselves in the Big City.

Henderson organizes the text by month, and I liked how so many details resonated with my own experience of city living. For exampl , in January, "Nobody talks./They breathe out steam, hurry along/past the cold street birds/and down the stairs/into the subway." I laughed out loud at her acknowledgment of April's crowded supermarkets during Easter and Passover... so true! "July sweats," of course, and "October pauses," but "December glitters" when the city is crowded with holiday lights. Illustrator Paul Howard fills each page with a grand sense of how populated the city is. Except for the rooftop views that open and close the book, people -- a great variety of them -- are everywhere. Take time to peruse the illustrations, they are full of detail.

You don't have to be in the country to notice the changes of the season, and it's good to have a book which acknowledges that.

Want More?
Read a short ALA article about fostering a sense of place, with some more book suggestions.

Big Kid says: What train is that?
Little Kid says: That's a car.  [My kids' interest generally fall into traffic categories.]

6.02.2011

Footwear City: Those Shoes

Those ShoesI'm not a little embarrassed to say that when I was in 7th grade I really, really wanted a pair of clear jelly shoes. The kind that had a lattice pattern. Perhaps you remember them? Perhaps you are too young. Now my 6 year old really wants a pair of sneakers that light up when he walks. It's a bit more sophisticated technology than jelly shoes. In any case, I'm pretty sure that at some point we all have wanted a pair of "those shoes."

Maribeth Boelts' Those Shoes has turned this rather universal desire into a picture book about friendship and the realization that some things are more important than shoes. Jeremy wants a certain pair of shoes, but when the only pair he can get is a too-small pair at a thrift store he notices that his friend Antonio might just need them more than he does.

Illustrator Noah Z Jones places the story firmly in the city from the get-go. We frequently see the familiar city horizon of grey and brown apartment and skyscraper blocks through almost every window and while the kids are at school.

Sometimes I wonder what makes and author or illustrator set a book in the city when there is not necessarily anything in the text to suggest it. After all, schools and thrift shops exist everywhere. It is because we might stereotype a boy who lives with his grandma and not having much money as people who live in an urban center? I don't know, I don't want to make any assumptions. The story could take place anywhere, but I'm glad it's set in the city. The illustration of Jeremy and his grandmother in their apartment is an intimate one, and yet the city out the window widens the experience. I always find the presence of the urban landscape in a book to be a reminder of the masses of people who surround us as we experience even the so-called smallest of problems (like shoe-envy).

I thought this was a charming book with an important and well-said message, even if it means there are things more important than having the right shoes. (More important than jellies? Really?)

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Visit the illustrator's really fun website.
Have you ever considered shoes as a hot topic for picture books? Barnes and Noble has a list for you.

Big Kid says: I want a pair of police car sketchers. (*sigh*)
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