Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Down in the Subway

For many children, riding the subway is not a mere means to travel from one point to another. The sheer sound of a train coming and going; getting on, getting off; the conductor’s calling, “Next stop... ;” looking at the seemingly tangled, yet, colorful subway maps, these are all little things grown-ups find indifferent if not annoying, but children are fascinated with. If the subway is the New York City subway, the excitement (or annoyance) would be tripled!The local, express, uptown, downtown, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or A, B, C, N, Q, R, S. You would be riding with a huge crowd of people wherever you go, all different faces, colors, dresses, and a babble of languages. Then there, if you are very lucky, you would encounter the Island Lady, as little boy Oscar did. She has a “fine islands smile,” a broad, and welcoming smile that invites shy Oscar to somewhere beyond the subway.

In Miriam Cohen’s Down in the Subway, Oscar was riding the # 1 train with his mother and baby brother. It is a hot day. Peeking at the Island Lady, Oscar is wondering what is in her big Island bag? She smiles, and pulls out things(!) she carries in her colorful straw bag- a cool blue Island breeze; Ackee rice, guava, coconut tarts, soursop soup, a delicious Caribbean meal that everyone in the subway has plenty of; and Calypso Man and a steel band. Then the Island lady pulls out a Caribbean town, where people start doing the jump-up. So do the reserved New Yorkers in the subway. Down in the subway, where it might not be a very pleasant place on a hot summer day, there, Oscar gets the tropical vacation.

Miriam Cohen’s vivacious story becomes even more lively and enchanting by Melanie Hope Greenberg’s colorful, rich, and creative illustrations (click here to learn more about Greenberg’s fabulous art). Exciting news for all of us: On April 14, Melanie Hope Greenberg will be at the 2011 Texas Librarian Association Conference (April 12-15, Austin, Texas) doing a book signing of Down in the Subway ( from 1pm to 3pm). Come and join us at Star Bright Books booth #1428 if you are in Austin. Greenberg has donated original picture book art for the 2011 TLA Disaster Relief Fund raffle. The raffle will take place at 4pm on April 14. Good luck to all, and to all good luck!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Cats of Mrs.Calamari

Growing up in a developing country (1970s South Korea), I rarely got my hands on picture books. Sure, there were many children’s books, and from the age of 5 or 6, I was an avid reader. But not picture books, let alone silly, mischievous, whimsical, yet adorable characters’ adventures with their sillier companions (cats, pigs, dogs, and monkeys) or those whimsical animals’ larger than life adventures. Certainly nothing like lots and lots of cats dressed in air force uniforms, or Texas rancher outfits, or a cat resembling Captain Ahab (you should really look for it!) as in John Stadler’s The Cats of Mrs.Calamari. So I take much pleasure reading picture books for this blog, particularly the silliness and whimsy of this story, delivered in pictures page after page. With the inspiring silliness, The Cats of Mrs.Calamari is also a visual festivity for me. So is for my not-yet-four-year-old friend, whose eye for detail is remarkable. Watching him intensely studying the pictures, I wish I would have grown up knowing those books. But nothing is ever too late.

On Monday morning, Mrs. Calamari is moving into her fine apartment, with her many, many cats. On Tuesday, the new landlord, Mr. Gangplank, informs her of a no-cats policy in the building, starting the coming Sunday. Fortunately for Mrs.Calamari, Mr.Gangplank has lost his glasses, so can’t clearly see whether the cats in Mrs. Calamari’s apartment are real, or just statues of cats as Mrs. Calamari assures him. But he has his doubts. So Mr. Gangplank and his dog, Potato, keep their eyes on Mrs. Calamari’s apartment and all her "relatives" coming and going, who look exactly like cats (but he can’t say for sure). Meantime, the gentle Mrs.Calamari and her very nice cat-like relatives save Mr. Gangplank from fire and getting stuck in the window. Now it’s Saturday, Mr. Gangplank invites Mrs. Calamari and her "relatives" to the beach for a celebration of his soon-to-be cat-free life. Then, at the beach, he finds his long-lost glasses. Oh, what will happen to Mrs. Calamari’s cats?

This charming book was a Booklist Editor's Choice, Best of the Best selection by the Chicago Public Library and selected for Read Aloud America. If you happen to be in New Hampshire, visit the Children's Museum of New Hampshire, where you will “Step into a Story” of The Cats of Mrs.Calamari, a permanent life-size exhibit of Mrs. Calamari and her cats.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Welcome to a world of color, and to “Yum, Yum”

For moms and dads (and grannies), watching their children eat fills their hearts with joy. Watching their tiny mouths munch food is just irresistible. For babies and toddlers, watching their parents eat is not so interesting. However, watching animals eating (pets, farm animals, or zoo animals, anything not human) fascinates them. They understand that animals are different from humans, so when animals act just like them, it is something truly special. Eating, strangely, becomes an adorable thing to watch. Animals get excited when they see their favorite food, which in turn excites babies and toddlers. When a sheep gently licks their little palms, when a donkey munches on an apple so close they can hear the crunch, the world is filled with magic.

In Catherine Hnatov’s Yum, Yum, friendly animals munch on their favorite foods, making a happy (and familiar) noise: “yum, yum.” The foods are in bright colors, with the animals in contrasting bold black and white. Yum, Yum combines two eye-catching components for babies: animals eating and the world of color (donkey eats a red apple; sheep eats yellow flowers, and so on). In every other page, featuring the same bright color as the food, appears simple text. Babies and toddlers, welcome to the world of color and to “Yum, Yum.”