11.26.2011

Exhibition City: Visual Narrative

Thanksgiving is over. It must be time to start reviewing books about the winter holidays.

While you are patiently waiting for me to do that, you might like to check out this wonderful exhibit at the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library: Visual Narrative: Drawings, books and printed object by Paul Hoppe. There is only one week left, so I guess I should have told you about it earlier.

But just in case... children's book and graphic book author and illustrator, Paul Hoppe, has contributed some terrific art work to the exhibit, most of which is city-themed. (I'm embarrassed to say that I took this photo just before I saw the "No flash photography" sign. Sorry!)  My favorite illustration was of a snowplow on a city rooftop, but Big Kid loved the overhead electric train soaring above the city (which you can see here).

Even if you can't make it to the exhibit, check out the web page for a small glimpse and description.

Want More?
Visit Paul Hoppe's website.


11.18.2011

Festive City: Rivka's First Thanksgiving

I forgot that I had Rivka's First Thanksgiving sitting in my to-review-before-Thanksgiving-pile! This is quite pathetic, as there were only 2 books in the pile, but you still might have time to track it down before the big day. If not, put it on your list for next year.

In Elsa Okon Rael's Rivka's First Thanksgiving, the title character is the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland. She learns about Thanksgiving at school, but her parents don't think it sounds like it is a holiday for Jews. Her mother tells her, "It sounds to me as though this is a party for Gentiles." Well, this is just not good enough for Rivka who decides to take the issue to the Rabbi. But, lo and behold, the Rabbi agrees with her mother! What is Rivka to do? Well, what any intrepid, determined girl would do: she writes a letter of protest! For this she is called to state her case before a whole bunch of Rabbis!

Despite the rather doubtful premise that the Rabbis had not yet heard of Thanksgiving, I truly enjoyed this book. It presented an interesting perspective on the traditional holiday and I especially appreciated that the learned adult community was able to listen with respect to the ideas and opinions of a young girl and to admire her point of view. Rivka draws insightful paralles between her Jewish family's experience and the experience of the Pilgrims.

The turn-of-the-century city landscape in this book is illustrated by Maryann Kovalski. The setting is obviously New York's Lower East Side although the only textual nod to place is a reference to Rivington Street. The tenement houses, narrow stairways and views of busy street life and laundry on fire escapes are the same familiar and comforting images we've seen over and over again whenever this neighborhood appears in picture books.

If you're bored with rhyming books about turkeys and Mayflowers, Rivka's First Thanksgiving is a great addition to your Thanksgiving reading. It might, however, be better appreciated by children who already have a grasp on the meaning and history of the Thanksgiving holiday (there is also a brief mention of pogroms).

Want More?
Visit the illustrator's website, she has some photographs that inspired her illustrations on this page.
Read my reviews of other Thanksgiving in the City books.
Listen to a 3 minute interview with Maryann Kavolski here (starting around minute 9:30). It's very interesting!

11.11.2011

Huggy City: Loopy

I love it when I find books for this blog purely by accident.

Aurore Jesset's Loopy is a Swiss import (How many other Swiss picture books do you know? Oh, look! I've reviewed one!) about a girl who has left her favorite toy bunny at the doctor's office. After I read this book I felt sure that someone must have already made the connection with Knuffle Bunny (Oh, look! Someone has!), but here the protagonist's mommy has refused to make a midnight run to retrieve the toy. (The Swiss are obviously more sensible than we are.) Consequently, the young girl imagines all sorts of worrisome adventures Loopy must be having -- ghosts in the doctor's office!, bunny-eating garbage trucks! -- and how she might save the toy. Not to worry, though, her bunny is returned to her by someone who knows how important just the right huggy is at bedtime.

I really enjoyed Loopy, as did my 2 year old. At first I thought it might be too scary for him, but the child's narrative voice is direct, simple and honest, and Barbara Korthues' illustrations are so interesting, with their toy cars and kids flying around in paper airplanes, that he found the book much more fascinating, than frightening. Unlike Knuffle Bunny, we never see the adults, despite their influence on the action of the book. This is the girl's story and their are no red-headed bleary-eyed parents to steal the show.

We first see the nighttime city out the bedroom window, with it's black buildings dotted with yellow-lit windows, but as our heroine imagines the worst the row of buildings turn into a crocodile -- mirroring her imagination of how dangerous the world must be for a lost, alone stuffed blue bunny. At street level, however, the buildings take on a more colorful palette and are more benign, though still an appropriate backdrop for the girl's fears.

Don't be put off by the idea that Loopy might be scary, it has a joyous ending and is a book worth checking out.

Want more?
Read a good thorough review at The Imperfect Parent.
In addition to Knuffle Bunny, other books on the them of toys lost in the city include: The Teddy BearLa La Rose. and

Little Kid says: She got her huggy back. [note: we call bedtime friends "huggies"]

11.09.2011

Visit Jama for a Great Review and Giveaway

Recently I reviewed Melissa Sweet's Balloons Over Broadway. If the review peaked your interest, I encourage you to head over to Jama's Alphabet Soup, where there is a phenomenal review packed with illustrations, vintage photographs (love the Nantucket Sea-monster!!), an interview with the author, and a giveaway for the book. But hurry, the giveaway ends tomorrow.

11.06.2011

Epistolary City: Love, Mouserella

If I was an author/illustrator who had just won the Caldecott for a fabulous book like Interrupting Chicken, I would be extremely nervous about all the attention that people would be paying to my next book. Of course, if I had just won a Caldecott award and I was the awesome Davie Ezra Stein I probably would have a bit of confidence in my abilities.

Predictably, David Ezra Stein's Love, Mouserella was reviewed by many and so I won't spend too much time recounting the basics. Stein crafted this book as a letter (no email for this mouse!) from a young mouse to her grandmother grandmouse who has just moved to the country. Imagine the cover you see on  the right flipped 90 degrees because the book opens horizontally, like an envelope. I'm rather surprised that no reviews I read mentioned that this story may have been inspired by the Country Mouse-City Mouse folk tale.  I can't help but wonder a return letter from grandmouse is in Stein's future...

The letter starts out as many letters do, "I don't know what to write..." but then builds momentum as Mouserella recounts her adventures in the city. She wonders if her grandmouse misses the city. She can't help but contrast her city life with the country life she imagines her grandmouse has: one with (sadly) no packets of ketchup, but one which is filled with starry skies. Mouserella writes about a city-wide blackout and I seem to recall that I have read several picture books that mention blackouts (in addition John Rocco's terrific Blackout). Of course, now I cannot recall which books they were. I suppose there is something in the city dwellers' collective conscious that just won't let go of those moments in the dark. (That would be an interesting project: all the urban picture books which mention the lights going out? Hmmm, how would one find those in the card catalog?)

The city in the book is mouse-sized as opposed to mice living an underground existence and I noticed that Mouserella's apartment has one of those mythical and coveted balconies with sliding glass doors. Like all city kids she gets to visit the Zoo (Ooh, scary cats!) and the Natural History Museum (Ooh, scary cave mice!). One of my favorite moments is when she plays fetch at the park with a ladybug. Of course the final image is of Mouserella mailing her letter in the blue city postbox during a rainstorm. I can't describe why, but the fact that it was raining seemed very appropriate for letter-mailing! This image also reminded me of how, when I first moved to the city, I had remember to drop outgoing mail in a postbox, rather than put it in my personal curbside house mailbox with the red flag up!

While Love, Mouserella is certainly charming and endearing in many ways, it is not my favorite Stein book. That honor belongs to Pouch! with its sweet and true simplicity. On my first reading, Love, Mouserella lacked an element of tension that I like in a picture book. However, I recognize that not all books need be overloaded with tension and suspense and in the interest of full disclosure both of my kids loved the book and have requested it several times. Their opinions in this case are more important than mine (although my 2 year old does think Pouch! to be the best thing since sliced bread).

I'm guessing your kids will like it too.

Want More?
If you prefer reviews more concise than mine check out these at Sal's Fiction Addiction, A Year of Reading, New York Journal of Books.
Visit the author's website.
If you also liked Pouch!, here is a lovely storyline of the book's creation (and a picture of the author at the Brooklyn Zoo!)
Read an interview with the author at Seven Impossible Things.

Big Kid says: Putting honey on your ears sounds gross.
Little Kid says: She's throwing a stick at that ladybug!

11.03.2011

Parade City: Balloons Over Broadway


Thanksgiving books tend to be set on turkey farms, Pilgrim homesteads or around well-laid tables in suburban homes. I should know, I went through every Thanksgiving book at the Brooklyn Public Library.

This year, I am pleased to report there is a new Thanksgiving-themed book set in the city, and I am especially pleased to report it is written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

For anyone who has ever watched (or will watch) the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, Sweet's Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade is essential reading. While the familiar larger-than-life balloons are now emblematic of the parade, this was not always so. Sweet's book gives us the low-down on Tony Sarg ("rhymes with aargh!"), the inventor of these upside-down marionettes.

The story starts when Sarg was six years old and began his inventing career figuring out a way to automatically open the family's chicken coop from his bedroom window. Apparently, for this feat his father rewarded him by saying he never had to do another chore. Ever. Perhaps it was all the free time left on his hands that led him to tinker around with marionettes. As an adult, Sarg moved first to London and then on to New York, where he got his start decorating windows at Macy's. In 1924 when the parade takes off, Sarg began by designing costumes and floats. Sweet devotes the majority of the book detailing Sarg's development of the helium balloons now used in the parade. Of course we know he was successful, but Sweet does an excellent job of making Sarg's journey interesting and suspenseful.

If you are familiar with Sweet's illustrative style you are probably already a fan, but you should know she has really outdone herself here. Combining collage, drawings, vintage ephemera and puppets she made herself (some based on Sarg's drawings!), Sweet has created a feast for the eyes. The city backdrop is essential to the story and I was pleased to see that she did not forget about period details like the El train. Somehow she has made the city buildings seem like a small town which has the appropriate effect of making the balloons seem even more gigantic. An especially nice touch were the spectators hanging out of their windows watching the parade. (That's some prime real estate, people!)

The end pages include a newspaper clipping from 1933 in which I was delighted to see the same blue elephant whose fate I had enjoyed following throughout the book. It was also amusing to find out that Santa Claus used to be pulled in a dog sled drawn by 11 huskies! An author's note on Sarg and the parade's history completes the book.

Only 21 more days until the parade! There's still plenty of time left to pick up a copy of this book. You're sure to enjoy it.

Want More?
Read a thorough review at Abby the Librarian.
Visit the author's website -- she has crafts to go with her books.
Read Millie and the Thanksgiving Parade (reviewed here at Storied Cities) or Gracias, A Thanksgiving Turkey (also reviewed here), for more Thanksgiving in the City fun.
Visit the Macy's Parade Website, which includes a history of each parade and features Sweet's artwork.

Thanks to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, for kindly providing me with a review copy.
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