9.25.2011

Thimble City: The Hinky Pink

The Hinky-Pink: An Old TaleIt's possible that with some of my selections I may be stretching the "decidedly urban" tagline of my blog just slightly. But you'll forgive me, right?

In Megan McDonald's The Hinky-Pink we travel to the Florence of Old Italy where Anabel (alas, not Anabella) dreams, not of being a princess, but of the day when she will make a dress for a princess. It's a sensible dream.

Fairy tale lovers will like this one, as will those who enjoy a good, unexpected twist on the more conventional tale. Anabel has been charged with making a dress for the Princess to wear to the Butterfly Ball. However, in order to do so, she must get a good night's sleep, something the Hinky Pink's pinches are preventing. Fortunately, Anabel is clever, as well as sensible, and outsmarts the Hinky Pink.

At the risk of sounding as if I codify books by gender (which I do not), I will say that until now I only knew the author through her "boy" book series about Judy Moody's younger brother, Stink. Likewise I was familiar with Brian Floca's illustrations from several brilliant books about transportation. So it was nice for me to read something a bit more "girly." Are you still with me?

Other than in the opening layout, the city of Florence, or Firenze, as it is labeled in the book, is firmly in the backdrop. Floca cleverly locates Anabel in the larger cityscape with a small word bubble coming from her room. In addition, her position in the tower during her employment as dressmaker-to-the-princess situates her as both of and removed from the city at large.

I'm pretty sure you'll like this one.

Want More?
Visit either the author's website or the illustrator's website.
If you want an in-depth review read Elizabeth Bird's (of the blog Fuse #8) review on the Amazon page.

Big Kid says: That was so silly.

9.19.2011

Adventure City: Take A City Nature Walk

Take a City Nature Walk (Take a Walk series)In my not-so-humble opinion, late summer and early autumn are the perfect times to get out exploring. Summer is just too hot: who wants to walk around the city looking for birds while sweating the whole time?

If you like to explore nature in the city with your kids, Jane Kirkland's Take A City Nature Walk will inspire you with some new ideas. Or if you think nature is everywhere but the city, this book will open your eyes to the possibility that you might be mistaken.

Take A City Nature Walk is organized in three sections. the first, "Get Ready!" introduces the concept of the ecosystem and helps would-be nature walkers plan an outing with tips on staying safe and suggesting plants and animals to look out for. In "Get Set!"Kirkland gives more in depth information on familiar sightings: pigeons, falcons, and trees. In "Go!" the author explains how to take field notes and takes us on a tour of the various places to search out nature: parks, waterways, and man-made structures. She also includes photo-identification of common plants, animals and other natural phenomenon.

This book would benefit from a table of contents and an index and it is somewhat limited by the fact that it speaks of cities in general, whereas the natural world of cities in different geographical locations can be quite varied. Still, it has some good ideas. I recommend seeking out a city specific guide, if you can. Otherwise, Jane Kirkland's Take A City Nature Walk is a good source of inspiration and activities for your next nature walk.

Want More?
For nature activity inspiration, check out It's a Jungle Out There!: 52 Nature Adventures for City Kids.
If you live in NYC, you will enjoy Go Wild in New York City.
Take a look at the other Take a Walk books and website.

Big Kid says: Mom, we have to make a page like this for field notes.

9.15.2011

Tourist City: Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdales

Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale'sActually, Amy Elizabeth never gets to explore Bloomingdale, but as compensation she sees everything in the city except the famous department store!

E. L. Konigsburg, of The Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler fame has crafted a charming picture book. The titular character in Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdales has come to New York City to visit her grandmother. Every morning grandma promises they will go to Bloomies, but they are sidetracked by other adventures which take them to Chinatown, the theater, the laundromat, and introduce the young visitor to bagels and lox, snow boots and hot chocolate at Rumplemeyer's (now I suppose that is replaced by Serendipity 3).

I like the way this is not your standard "tour of the city". True, the pair do visit some major landmarks, but we also get to see the unique characteristics of seemingly mundane life. For example, when grandma needs tea, she doesn't go to the supermarket, she goes to exciting and colorful Chinatown. When she wants a sandwich, she goes to Carnegie Deli. Plus, I always like books which portray positive relationships between grandchildren and their grandparents.

However, by far my favorite characteristic of this book is that every time Amy Elizabeth has a New York experience she compares it to her own life in Houston.  When Amy Elizabeth, our narrator, sees a protest march she comments that in Houston, "when people march and carry signs, there is also a band, and it is a parade." In Houston, the newspaper is thrown into a driveway, you don't pick one up on the street corner. I've never been to Houston, so I can't speak to the truth of Amy Elizabeth's observations 20 years after this book was written, but no doubt, they will ring true for many small town or suburb dwellers. How fun to sit down with this book and ask your child to make her own comparisons and contrasts!

Konigsburg is author and illustrator (I never knew she was an illustrator!) and her colorful paintings will draw you into the experience while Amy Elizabeth decidedly does not explore Bloomingdales.

Enjoy your visit.

Want More?
Read another blogger's review.
Read books in which the characters actually make it inside a city department store: Natalie and Naughtily, Milly and the Thanksgiving Parade and, of course, Courdroy.

Big Kid says: Can you make me some hot chocolate?

9.13.2011

Writer's City: How to Get Famous in Brooklyn

How to Get Famous in BrooklynI always have stacks of books to review for this blog, but sometimes one or the other gets bumped to the top because someone else has requested it from the library, putting a stop to my endless online renewal activity.  Such is the case with Amy Hest's How to Get Famous in Brooklyn. That's okay, though. It comes at a good time as one of my favorite book bloggers, Even in Australia just wrote a post about Brooklyn books.

Amy Hest's books have appeared here at Storied Cities before, and in How to Get Famous in Brooklyn, the author continues her love affair with the city. Janie, our narrator, takes us on a tour of the famous borough, where "everybody knows everybody else's business, and that's all there is to it." She points out the various colorful characters, the best places to get black-and-white cookies and describes her daily activities at school and around the neighborhood. Janie writes down all of her observations in what she calls "her spy notebook". So how does she get famous? Well, that's a secret you'll have to read the book to find out. (Or you can just cheat and take a peek at other online reviews.)

Linda Dalal Sawaya's illustrations are as colorful as Janie's observations and many places in Brooklyn are depicted, from the neighborhood streets to the docks on the waterfront. Brownstones are teals, purples and orange and streets, shops and subways are filled with animated people.

This is a longer than average picture book. The concept of spying on and writing about one's neighbors is a theme in many other children's books so the specificity of Janie's Brooklyn neighborhood should not be a barrier to one's enjoyment of the book.

Want More?
I've also reviewed these Amy Hest books: When You Meet a Bear on Broadway, The Purple Coat, Jamaica Louise James.
Visit the illustrator's website.
Read another book about writing in the city (Manhattan, this time): Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street.

Big Kid says: What neighborhood is that?

9.12.2011

Duck City: Where Are You, Little Zack?

Where Are You, Little Zack?It seems like I am always writing about books set in New York City! That is not intentional, but there certainly are an abundance of them.

I'm quite surprised I have never come across Where Are You, Little Zack?before. Co-written by Judith Ross Engerle and Stephanie Gordon Tessler, Where Are You, Little Zack? is a classic tale of "lost in the city." The authors have added in a fun counting exercise, so while 3 ducks, Brick and Brack and Thackery Quack search for their brother, they are joined by 4 busy commuters, 5 taxi drivers... you get the idea. They are also joined by 80,000 Yankee fans, but don't worry, you don't have to count that high. Of course, the brothers are united in the end (after traveling on the number 9 train on the number 10 track) and all is well.

Around here, we are big fans of Brian Floca's illustrations, but I think it's interesting he does not list this book on his website. True, it's not as spectacular as his more recent books, such as Moonshot and  Ballet for Martha, but his artwork is still appealing. Even while the duck brothers are still searching, little eyes can locate Little Zack playing among the many landmarks of the city. The search also takes the reader to locations high and low, wet and dry, crowded and sparse, and fast and slow around New York. The reader will certainly understand that the city is a varied and interesting place!

This book is lots of fun, and judging by the lack of reviews on Amazon, I'm guessing it's not well-known, which I find surprising. I think it would be a lovely addition for story times both in and away from the city. Or, if you are planning a trip to the city, this would be a good introduction to the city for little ones.

Want More?
Visit Brian Floca's website.
Read a bit about the authors.
Try a classic ducks in the city book: Make Way For Ducklings.

Little Kid says: Number 4 bus!

9.09.2011

Heroic City: Fireboat, The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey (Picture Puffin Books)You've probably heard about this book in the run-up to 9/11's anniversary, but as I wrote it a while ago, I might as well publish it.

As we near the 10th anniversary of 9/11 you may be wondering if there are any picture books you might read to your children about the events of that day. Of course the first step is to determine if your children are mature and ready to discuss the full story. If they are, Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey is a good place to start.

Maira Kalman has made the wise choice of choosing a way to approach the events of 9/11 that will interest many children: a fireboat. The story actually begins in 1931, when "amazing things were happening big and small" in NYC. Big things, like the Empire State Building's construction and small things like the sale of the first Snickers bar. It was also the year the John J. Harvey Fireboat was launched. Kalman then takes us through the boat's hey dey, its retirement and and refurbishment. But then, on 9/11 the little boat proved to be a unique hero, and, like the events on 9/11, will never be forgotten.

Kalman's illustrations serve the story well, but parents and teachers should preview the book as the illustrations of 9/11 events are powerful.

All in all, this book would be good choice to accompany discussions with your children about 9/11. However, that said, it might be too powerful for some children, and it should not be the first introduction to the events, as the abrupt change of events in the book and the illustrations of the towers on fire can be jarring.

Want More?
Take a look at these other picture books about the twin towers: The Little Chapel That Stood, (I was not able to get this book in time to review it for this blog, but the reviews on Amazon are good)  The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (a pre-9/11 story and an excellent choice for those not yet ready for Fireboat)
Visit the author's website. She was even on the Colbert Report.
Learn more about the John J. Harvey.

Big Kid says: I didn't like the part with the airplanes. [Even though I hid this book from my son while I was debating if I should read it to him, he found it and read it on his own. So much for parental preview.]

9.04.2011

Buzzing City: The Honeybee Man

The Honeybee ManLast year New York City finally made beekeeping legal, although there were already many "secret" hives on roofs scattered across the landscape. This may freak some people out, including my 6 year old, to whom I am constantly issuing the reminder, "the bees are interested in the flowers, not you." I, however, think rooftop beekeeping sounds wonderful. But, then again, I'm not allergic to bees.

Lela Nargi's The Honeybee Man celebrates the tradition of urban beekeeping. Fred, our Honeybee Man, is a balding older gentleman who wears blue house slippers and drinks tea on the rooftop. With his cat and dog, he reminds me a bit of Mr. Putter. On the roof of his Brooklyn brownstone he houses three beehives, for Queens Mab, Nefertiti and Boadicea. From his perch high above the city, he watches his bees work and imagines the places them might go. One day it is time to carefully harvest the honey, which he puts into jars and generously shares with his neighbors. The end pages give some additional and interesting information about bees.

I have a super soft spot for well-done collage illustrations and Kyrsten Brooker's shine. The color scheme, which makes the sky rather teal and the buildings a palette of browns, blues and purples is unexpected, but worked for me.

The city is a key player in The Honeybee Man and Brooker gives us multiple perspectives of the rooftop hives and the bees' journey around to the neighboring yards and plants. Nagi reminds us that the city offers a rich experience for our senses. The smells of maple leaves and gasoline, rivers and dust mingle together. Natural worlds come in large and small sizes and growling machine noises contrast with the gentle buzzing of bees. Nagi describes the intimate, tiny detailed world of the bees in the context of a larger city scape which buzzes with people. Brooker's cross section of Fred's home, divided into rectangle-shaped rooms reminds us later of the bees' homes of wood panels filled with tiny hexagonal wax rooms.

A sweet way to learn about beekeeping. (I just couldn't resist...)

Want More?
Read another blogger's review at Sal's Fiction Addiction.
Find out more about beekeeping in NYC.
Fun Facts from the author about honeybees.
The illustrator also collaborated on Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street.

Big Kid says: Is there a hive on a roof around here?

9.01.2011

Turtle City: Melvin and the Boy

Melvin and the BoyI love Lauren Castillo's illustrations and follow her blog, so when I found out her latest book, Melvin and the Boy, was available and not yet in the Brooklyn Library's Catalog, I boldly emailed the library to find out if they were planning on acquiring it. I was impressed that I received a response that very day to say "Yes!" and I was able to put it on hold before it was even on the shelves.

Well, my very professional review is:

I love it! I love it! I love it!

"The Boy" in the title, narrates his own story, charmingly telling us about his desire for a pet. Unfortunately, his parents give him every excuse in the book (pun intended): dogs are too big, monkeys are too much work, and birds are too noisy. The Boy, however, sees a lovely, fancy turtle in the park and decides he might be just the thing. He names the turtle Melvin, but by the end of the day, determines that Melvin might not be happy as a pet. He returns Melvin to the pond, and his friends, knowing that he can still come back and visit whenever he likes.

The Boy of the story is delightfully sweet and appealing, his words expressed simply and honestly. Castillo's text and illustrative style are equally praiseworthy. The urban setting is smoothly integrated into the story. The end pages which place the turtle in a green foreground against the gray cityscape begin a pattern for the rest of the book. When the Boy walks on the street or is in the park, building and cityscape backdrops rest in sepia or grays while people and pets pop out in a muted color palette.

An author's note about turtles will satisfy curious kids and adults.

Want More?
Castillo has consolidated the professional reviews in this post.
At Macmillan's website you can print out activity pages for the book (scroll down to the bottom for the link).
Read an interview with the author at Seven Impossible Things.
Read another one of my favorite Castillo-illustrated books, What Happens on Wednesday (written by Emily Jenkins).

Big Kid says: Our teacher has a turtle for a pet.
Little Kid says: That turtle's taking a bath.
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