Angela Sherrill Picks Three Picture Books for Young Urbanites

According to U.S. Census data there were over 200,000 children under the age of 5 living in the city of Chicago ten years ago.  Despite being a city of neighborhoods, most of those children were facing urban living in all its extremes.  For those 200,000 some children, especially those who might be suburban transplants, here are three picture books that address real urban fears and issues, yet celebrate the magic of life in the big city.  

   

There are No Scary Wolves
by Hyewon Yum
Farrar Straus Giroux | 9780374380601 | $16.99 | Oct 2010

A surprising omission from the 2010 NYT Best Illustrated list, this new picture book is the wonderful story of a young urbanite overcoming his fears.  He is quite comfortable in the confines of his house and excited to go out to his favorite noodle shop and toy store. Nonetheless, while waiting for his mother to find her keys (seemingly endless minutes!), our young narrator's mind wanders and he imagines himself heading out alone. 

In this scenario his everyday acquaintances and all strangers become scary wolves.  With encouragement and accompaniment from his mother, the scary wolves become the friendly shop clerks and the trip is successful. Even if you buy this one for the story, you'll want to keep for the quirky illustrations.

 

The Little Bit Scary People

by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Hyperion | 9781423100751 | $16.99 | 2008

Emily Jenkins (aka E. Lockhart) has garnered accolades in a variety of writings, particularly those for children.  This isn't even her only picture book about urban living, but it is a notable one.  Like Yum's book, Jenkins addresses the childhood fear of strangers, or people one might encounter in the wide, wide world. 

From a skateboarder to a police officer, we see through the eyes of our young narrator that people who seem “a little bit scary” at first are just like people we know. The fun illustrations help urban caricatures become normalized in a way that alleviates fear and comforts the reader.  Even adults will smile at the alternative perspectives this story encourages.

 

The Girl on the Yellow Giraffe
by Ronald Himler
Star Bright Books | 9781932065930 | $15.95 | original publication: 1976, republished 2004

This story was originally published in 1976 and beautifully reprinted in 2004.  We are lucky to have this one back in print; it's a gem!  The story reads like a legend or fairy tale and somehow evokes two completely different worlds simultaneously. 

In this mesmerizing tale of city life our young giraffe rider encounters a magic box (elevator), sees a wizard at work (a homeless man feeding birds), passes monsters and dragons (construction equipment), and navigates an otherwise unremarkable urban terrain. What makes this one a winner is the careful language and perfectly matched illustrations that both illuminate and temper the urban setting. While some readers may contribute the brilliance of this pairing to the healthy imagination of our young giraffe rider, others will note the perfect parallel that Himler presents in the classic picture book form. 

 

Angela Sherrill was the children's book buyer at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park for 8 years.  She is currently looking for her next bookish adventure, but will continue to share her passion for noteworthy reads here at my3books.

 

FURTHER READING & RESEARCH:

Hyewon Yum: homepage | her publisher's page

Emily Jenkins (aka E. Lockhart): homepage | blogtwitter

Alexandra Boiger: homepage | blog | a post about "The Little Bit Scary People"

Ronald Himler: homepage

Star Bright Books: homepage | twitter