I live in a city neighborhood: not one with subways or streetcars, darn it, but one with houses and businesses and schools. Walking to the village for coffee or to visit the bookstore was a daily routine when my children were young and is still part of my schedule as an empty-nester. These four new picture books offer a perfect introduction to neighborhoods, and will help to get young readers (and listeners) thinking about the communities they call home.
For the youngest, Jean Reidy’s All Through My Town, illustrated by Leo Timmers, is an amusing, brightly colored trip through one such community, as seen by a little bunny from his stroller. Starting with the school bus outside the bakery, we meet a little bear who’s excited about school. Each page contains a simple rhyme to describe the action. The first page sets the tone: “Rising, waking. / Bread is baking. / School bus honks its horn.” Close inspection of Timmers’ super-saturated paintings will bring a smile: The mother bunny is yawning so much that her tonsils show, crumbs are falling from the little bear’s hunk of bread, and a giraffe sticks out from the top of the school bus. Each page is a snapshot of life—the farmers, the shops, the train station, the park, the hospital, the fire trucks— eventually bringing our tour back to the home of the little bunny, who is playing with toys that look an awful lot like his town. With so many details to discover, parents who grew up with Richard Scarry will enjoy a similar experience here.
Another ’hood, with a similar rhythm and a bit more quirkiness, comes from the Dutch team of author Koos Meiderts and artist Annette Fienieg in On My Street. “Come along with me and meet, / All the people on my street. / Some are strange and some are lazy, / Some are silly and some are crazy!” And, indeed, some of these homes do look a tad crazy! On the first page showing all the houses, one appears to be a fishbowl and another might be knitted. Makes a girl want to turn those pages and see more, that’s for sure. The reader is taken on a trip down the street, from #1, where Mrs. McQueen lives in her castle, to #2 where “Lightfingers” Louis lives with his stolen loot, on down the street filled with delightful characters. There is a ballerina, a sailor, a tea-drinker, a cowboy, a knitter, a collector of bottles, a shell-clad voluptuous mermaid, and finally to the house where the poet and illustrator themselves live. While some of the poems suffer in translation, the idea of a street with a cast of amusing characters does not.
Wendy is a young collector in Cari Best’s new offering, When We Go Walking. Wendy joins her family (mom, dad, baby Abe and Abby the cat) on nightly walks and always takes her collecting bag along—because who knows what treasures will turn up? While her parents notice the surroundings of their neighborhood, Wendy is busy finding her own sort of treasures: a metal numeral, a broken butterfly, a flag, a bucket and all manner of interesting bits and bops. Brooker’s paint-and-photograph collage illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the family’s walks, with rich blues and aquas adding a delicious warmth to this tender tale. Wendy’s clothes are put together with bits of fabric and knitted sweaters—possibly leading some readers to wonder whether she found her outfits on a walk.
A DAY AT THE PARK
It’s clear that Emily Jenkins has spent many hours near a Brooklyn park. Her latest picture book, Water in the Park: A Book About Water and Times of the Day, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, invites the reader to consider the activities that happen in the park on a hot summer day. And there are a lot! A picture book that will appeal to children as well as adults reading it aloud, this special gem is a celebration of water—from the little turtle pond to the water fountain to the sprinklers and gardening hoses and the many buckets that move water onto the slides, into the sandbox and onto hot feet. Children who don’t live in a big city will be surprised to see so many people at the park, and will love finding characters and following their movements during the course of the day. I especially love the variety of folks at this park: senior citizens, young dads and their children, nannies and grandparents. There is even an Hasidic couple pushing an old-time carriage next to the ice cream truck. The story moves slowly, an hour at a time, bringing the reader from sunrise to darkness. Graegin’s detailed illustrations invite readers to slow down and create their own stories about the people at the park. This is people-watching at its best!