1.19.2012

Pigeon City: Cuckoo Feathers

A few months ago I hand wrote a review for Cuckoo Feathers, and then I lost it. Argh. So I have been putting off this post in the hopes I might just come across my notes. Sadly, the time has come for me to give up my search and consequently the review that follows might not be quite as thorough as my original.

Phylis Reynolds Naylor's Cuckoo Feathers is a story that could only take place in the city. It's Chicago this time. When we meet Sarah she is bored with white: white food and the the color of her skin. She wants to be an interesting color like her friend, Peter. Sarah's mom is an artist and comes up with a clever way of showing Sarah and Peter that their respective skin colors are much more that just "white" and "brown." While the friends are painting, a few pigeons show up. Sarah and her friends come to think of the pigeons as theirs and so when the pigeons decides to roost in a neighboring windowsill, a bit of jealousy ensues. When a third, aggressive pigeon shows up, Sarah, her old and new friends work together to find a solution.

Families who live in apartment buildings will recognize the form of community portrayed in this book: friends can watch each other across air shafts and fire escapes, neighbors can hear each other in the hallways, diversity is the norm. It is also nice to have a story about watching animal life which does not take place in the park (or the country). Marcy Ramsey's line drawn illustrations are a nice addition.

Cuckoo Feathers is an entertaining book and the story reads smoothly. It is part of a series of books about Sarah, called "Simply Sarah." It makes a nice read aloud, or an early chapter book for young readers. Extra sensitive children may be a little upset at a certain egg dropping scene, but I think Naylor handles the situation well.

Want More?
Read a general review of Simply Sarah at A Year of Reading.
Try the other Simply Sarah books: Anyone Can Eat Squid!, Patches and Scratches, and Eating Enchiladas.
Read an interview with the author.

Big Kid says: Don't take that one back to the library.

1.17.2012

Shy City: The Boys

The BoysEven though there is nary a female in Jeff Newman's wordless picture book, The Boys, as a relatively shy individual, boy could I could relate to the experience of the protagonist.

A boy moves the the city, finds himself too shy to join in the kids' ballgame and so instead tries to fit in with the older crowd -- the much older crowd. Fortunately, this gang, although older, is also wiser and helps lead the boy back to kids his own age.

The city here remains in the background and it's easy to forget about it. It also has a rather industrial feel.  The city park is the important location -- where groups of individuals gather to engage in common like-minded activities.  Newman frequently uses the image of the park bench to convey either loneliness or togetherness at just the right moment. After all, nothing says city park like a long green bench.

When this book came out it received a lot of buzz so check out the Want More? section below for some thorough reviews -- and then check it out from your library. 

Want More?
Read Fuse #8's review. She'll tell you a lot more about the book than I did.
Read an interview with the author and see more illustrations at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Visit the author's picture blog.

Big Kid says: Why is he hanging out with the grandpas?
Little Kid says: They are playing baseball!

1.15.2012

Double City: Mirror

I had meant to post more regularly during the comment challenge but first my internet, and then my computer died. But now, I am back in business and shall do my best to keep up.

It's tempting to place Jeannie Baker's Mirror into the familiar category of "country v. city" book. However, it is much more than that. First of all, there is no annoying message that "my home is best" and secondly, there are no mice.

Baker illustrates two parallel worlds: urban Sydney Australia and rural Morocco's Valley of the Roses.  She cleverly structures the book to open from the center so that we may see these worlds simultaneously. I like how this format is a means of uniting separate worlds. I could insert a lot of philosophy mumbo-jumbo here about the coming together of cultures, understanding differences, one planet=one people, etc., etc., but you get the idea.

Side by side: urban on left, rural on the right, we follow the two families through a day of, viewing the differences between commutes, market places, and meals. The purchase of a rug unites them as does the twist at the end in which the supposedly high-tech urban society gathers around a low-tech map and the supposedly low tech family enjoys connecting to the world through the Internet.

I think this is a brilliant book and Baker's cut paper 3-dimensional collages are as outstanding here as they were in Home. This is a wordless book and you need to take some time to pour over and study the details in each double page spread, comparing and contrasting the ways of life. In the end note, Baker reveals some of her collage-making secrets -- she has a lot of patience!

Highly Recommended.

Want More?
Read my review for her book, Home.
Visit the author's website.
Read about the book in the NY Times.

Big Kid says: I like the ending.
Little Kid says: I see lots of buses.

1.08.2012

Furry City: Brown Rabbit In The City

Last January I reviewed Scottish author Natalie Russell's appealing Moon Rabbit about a city rabbit who befriends a country rabbit. In Brown Rabbit in the City it is country rabbit's turn to leave home.
Brown Rabbit hops on a bus to visit his friend, Little Rabbit, in the Big City. Little Rabbit is so excited that she whisks her friend off on a whirlwind tour of all the city has to offer: cafes, art galleries, shopping, night clubs! She fails to notice, however, that all this hustle and bustle has tired her friend out. When Brown Rabbit goes off by himself Little Rabbit realizes that it is her he came to visit, not the city sights. She takes Brown Rabbit to a city park and the two friends bond once again over a guitar and some free-spirited dancing.

Like Moon Rabbit, Brown Rabbit in the City is a visually appealing book. The earthly palette is similar to the first book but with some bolder colors thrown in -- I assume because the city is a bold place to be! The story and message about realizing the value of friendship is right on target without being sappy and both my kids really enjoyed it -- my three year old, especially.

However, I must admit that I am a little disappointed that the excitement of city life had to be thrown under the bus for the sake of this message. Russell's text effectively conveys the anxiety of Brown Rabbit as he is dragged from one experience to another: "Up a tall building (Smile at the camera!)/Down a crowded street (Watch your step!)/ Around an art gallery (No! Don't Touch!)/ And underground to catch a train (Here it comes!)." Of course, it's Little Rabbit who is at fault and not the City itself, per se,  and in the end "the two rabbits strolled slowly through the city .. into a quiet beautiful garden" but I would have loved it if Russell had found a way for Little Rabbit to share all the joys of the city with Brown Rabbit, not just the ones that were similar to his country home.

I realize I am nitpicking and I still highly recommend Brown Rabbit in the City: it's beautiful to look at and the story of friendship is charming.  I'm hoping to see more of Natalie Russell's work in the future.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Read a nice, concise review at Waking Brain Cells.

1.05.2012

Snowy City: The Big Storm

Another book about a cat in the snow!

Rhea Tregebov's The Big Storm is set in 1930s Winnipeg (at least that is the city I came up with when I used Google Maps to track down the named streets and locations). Jeanette's family live above their delicatessen, where everyone has their job to fill and Kitty Doyle's is to be the best mouser on Selkirk Avenue. The family cat also walks Jeanette to and from school but one day, instead of meeting Kitty Doyle for the walk home, Jeanette runs off with her friend, Polly. Polly's mother makes the most delicious latkes and they are not to be missed. Unfortunately, a big storm has come and Jeanette realizes that she has left her best feline friend waiting in the snow. Not to worry, all turns out well: girl and cat are reunited.

This is a nice little book and a good choice if you like books about pets or cats. I had a hard time getting over a muddled plot point however: Jeanette tells Kitty Doyle not to wait for her after school because of the snow, but suddenly she thinks otherwise? It bugged me, but my kids did not notice at all. I have a bit of a weakness, however, for snow covered cityscapes and Maryann Kovalski's illustrations provide plenty of those, along with some delightful cloche hats.

This book has been out of print for some time, but if you're lucky, your library might just have a copy. Read it with your cat, purring on your lap.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Visit the illustrator's website (she also illustrated Rivka's First Thanksgiving, which I reviewed here).

Big Kid says: We really need some snow.
Little Kid says: Cat book! Cat book!

1.03.2012

Cat City: Snow in Jerusalem

I was not as industrious about posting in December as I had planned to be. I actually returned several holiday books without posting about them (next year!) and this review was meant for last month, too.

If you are looking for a feel-good-people-can-get-along-if-they-just-act-like-children-book Deborah de Costa's Snow in Jerusalem might just be your ticket. The newspaper of our local food coop has been filled with the incessant bickering for and against the BDS movement and I feel like sending them all a copy of this book. I don't mean to seem like I am trivializing important issues, but -- as the saying goes -- we could learn a lot from children.

A Jewish boy, Avi, and a Muslim boy, Hamudi, discover that they are each caring for the same cat. At first they fight over who is the rightful owner. However, when the cat becomes lost in a snowstorm, they overcome their differences to help the poor creature. When they find the cat (and her new kittens) the bickering starts up anew until the boys realize that the cat wants them to make peace and Avi and Hamudi determine that they will be able to share the cat and her kittens.

It's easier to have a neat and tidy in a book than in real life, but Snow in Jerusalem is not a bad book, especially considering that 5 year olds do not need to be weighted down with heavy-handed worldly problems. And, of course, I do love cats.

Conveniently, for our education about Jerusalem, the cat runs through all the city quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian. What's missing in Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu's illustrations is a distance shot of the city. All the views are up close. While this makes sense -- after all this is a story of how personal relationship can made a difference -- it would have been nice to place the action in a larger context.

If you're looking for books that discuss value of friendship  and mutual concerns in overcoming conflict, pick up a copy of Snow in Jerusalem from your library.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Read an interview with the illustrators.
You might also want to read: One City, Two Brothers

Big Kid says: Whose house will the cat live in?
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