June 12, 2012
Great City Picture Books
My love of city picture books continues, and these are some we’ve been enjoying lately, in particular for how they show the modern city in all its international multi-cultural richness.
Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy (who are two different people! Really!). This wonderful, colourful book is Silverstein’s The Giving Tree meets Burton’s The Little House, but without the depressing saccharine of the former and the weird ending of the latter. A little tree sprouts in the middle of a path in an Indian town, and as a little boy kneels down to protect it, to admire it, passerbys in a hurry shout: “Out of the way! Out of the way!” The tree grows, the path bends to wind around it, and people come to sit under its branches, birds nest in the leaves, and a city grows up too around them as the path is steamrolled into a road whose traffic includes bicycles with dinging bells, bullock carts, and mango sellers shouting, “Out of the way! Out of the way!” The book gets bonus points for including fabulous pictures of the cars and trucks that crowd the streets, guaranteed to delight small readers (even a cement mixer!), and also for leaving the tree standing, a place for quiet and contemplation in the middle of the bustling city space.
Madelenka by Peter Sis: Not a new book, but new to us, about a little girl who lives “in the universe, on a planet, on a continent, in a country, in a city, on a block, in a house, in a window, ” and she is Madlenka and her tooth is loose. Sis’s drawings give us a bird’s eye view of the block as Madlenka goes through the neighbourhood sharing her news. Each of the shopkeepers she encounters comes from a different place– the baker from France, the newsagent from India, the Italian ice-cream man, the German neighbour Mrs. Grimm who knows so many stories. In some cases, we’re granted a tour of the shops in questions, and also a visual representation of the stories Madlenka has told to her: the South American grocer’s jaguar legends, her Asian neighbours stories of dragons, and even the fantasy world that she’s invented with her school friend Cleopatra which transforms their courtyard into the African savanna. The tooth gets lost and Madlenka goes home to report that in connecting with her neighbours she has been around the world. (You can take a virtual tour of the book on Peter Sis’s website).
A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham: We love Bob Graham and his heartwarming stories of community in urban places (though they’re often more inner-suburban, run-down homes, shuttered shops and factories next to grassy yards). His books are also just a little bit strange, poetic and surprising. They’re edgy in the softest way, and Harriet is entranced with this latest one, the story of an abandoned bus that transforms a city street. With no idea where the bus arrived from, neighbours haul it off the road and into Stella’s driveway. Shy Stella is transformed herself as the bus is turned into a community hub, everybody doing their part to make it beautiful. Now there is a place for people to gather and connect, Graham’s illustrations showing neighbours of all different cultures and backgrounds together. And when regulations about busses protruding into the sidewalk threaten to spoil the show, it is Stella who saves the day (and the snails. And the sparrows). We love this book.