The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (InfoSoup)
Released March 8, 2016.
This amazing nonfiction picture book takes a look at New York in the 1860s and the lack of options for transportation on the crowded and dirty streets. Everyone knew that something needed to be done, but no one could agree on exactly what that was. Then Alfred Ely Beach had an idea to build a railroad powered by forced air. Beach knew though that he couldn’t propose to create a railroad under the streets, so instead he proposed that he’d build a tube to carry mail. Even Boss Tweed agreed with the plan. So Beach set to work creating a railroad to carry people and not mail. But it was not going to be as easy as just building the machine. He still had Boss Tweed and above ground politics to deal with!
Corey writes with great energy in this picture book. While nonfiction and historical, the book is fascinating and one immediately roots for Beach as he begins to plan and then dig under New York City. The slow digging under the earth is tantalizingly told. Then the rush of opening and the speed of the train are offered with a breathless tone and fast pace. The ending is sad but also hopeful, since everyone knows that air-driven trains are not the way subways were designed. There is a feeling of remembrance at the end, of one man’s amazing dream that led to other opportunities to tunnel under New York City.
It is always a joy to see work by Red Nose Studios. The book opens with a look at how the illustrations are done with figures made from wire and foam and then polymer clay for the faces. There is such attention to detail throughout with the gorgeous tube-shaped subway car appearing like magic. Done with serious flair for the dramatic and a great sense of style, this picture book’s illustrations are noteworthy and wonderful.
A great pick for fans of machines and inventions, this is also a book just right for dreamers of all sorts. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.
Count on the Subway by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Told in a bouncy rhyme, this picture book counts its way through a trip on the New York City subway. It starts with a mother and daughter heading down the steps into the subway and counting their one MetroCard. They go down 2 flights and catch the 3. Onward the story goes, merrily counting the turnstiles, the people, seats and stops. Once the book reaches ten, it counts its way right back down again, ending when the pair climb there way up into the one and only Union Station.
The rhyme here is completely infectious. It bounces along, skips and dances. It appears effortless and free and is very readable. In fact, it is hard not to read it aloud. The illustrations by Yaccarino show the main characters in full color while the others are one solid color and a black outline or just a colored outline. It makes for a book that is bright and bold.
Perfectly paced and brightly rhythmic, this counting book will be enjoyed by all sorts of children, not just the ones who have taken a subway before. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic
Based on a true event, this book shows the innate connection of children and music. When Dylan and his mother leave the house, Dylan is always noticing things. His mother is not. It was an ordinary day until he heard the music in the subway station. The man with the violin played and the notes swept through the crowded area. Dylan wants to stop and begs his mother to pause, but she won’t. Dylan though is left with the music in his head and finally convinces his mother that evening to stop and hear the music too.
This book is based on the true story of when the renowned violinist Joshua Bell played in the Washington DC subway. His story is captured in the notes at the end of the book, explaining that only seven people stopped to listen to him play and that many children paused but the adults with them hurried on. Stinson writes with a playfulness that makes the book dance along. She uses lots of rhythms and noises throughout, really bringing the world of the city and subway to life.
Petricic’s art captures the wonder and brightness of music, the zigging noise of shouting and screeching subway. Dylan is a bright spot of color, the music in the air sweeps and swirls with bright colors, and the violinist is also a bright spot, as you can see in the cover image. The music is powerful enough to lift Dylan off his feet, swirl his hair like a breeze, and entirely transform is day.
Bravo for capturing this eloquent story about the power of music and its connection to children in particular. Standing ovation! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Annick Press and NetGalley.
Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Based on a true story, this picture book follows Jessie, a subway car, from her “birth” until her unusual ending. Jessie was a New York City subway car that carried people and things around the city. At first, she was new and shiny, but eventually she was covered in graffiti and then painted red. She kept on working, running on tracks around the city. Then she was used only in the winter because her fans could not keep up with the heat, and finally she wasn’t used any more. But Jessie’s travels and adventures were far from over! Whatever will happen to her when she is shipped by barge and taken far from land!
Sarcone-Roach has created a picture book that seems to be quiet and then takes a turn into the unexpected. She begins with a true story and then personalizes it through the eyes of one specific subway car. It works really well as a technique to make the subject very child friendly and to invite readers in to experience the story. The writing is clear and Jessie’s perspective is strong and active.
Her art is also very successful. The colors are deep and jewel-like, showing the beauty of the city as well as the subway lines. She plays with perspective throughout, stacking the subway lines like shelves, showing both the outside and inside of the subway cars, and always showing Jessie with her smiling headlights and chains.
This is a lovely book that works well on many levels. Use it for an unexpected take on recycling, add to your transportation stories, or just share it to see the children guessing where Jessie is headed on that barge. They are sure to be entranced by the answer. I certainly was! Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.
Also reviewed by:
Subway by Christoph Niemann
Take a trip through the tunnels with two children and a father on a rainy day. Wait for the train to come, feel the breeze and the rumble. Take the A train to all 44 stations. Then the F train filled with interesting people. You can take the 1 or 2 trains depending on whether you need the express. 7 heads to Times Square and you get a wonderful view on Q. F and G run together, then apart, and then return together again. When the day is done, you will still want to be riding the rails underground.
Told in happy rhyme, this book plays with rhythm and internal rhyme. It has the pace of trains, pauses at stations, rushes forward at times. The illustrations are done in thick lines with bright colors on black backgrounds. They evoke a feeling of looking at signs rather than illustrations. At the same time, they have a jaunty sense of humor that works really well.
I’d grab this one in a New York minute to use in a transportation unit or storytime. Children from New York will immediately recognize the places, while folks from around the country will enjoy this uniquely NY title. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.