Friday, March 13, 2009

Jacob Lawrence In the City

Rubin, Susan Goldman. 2009. Jacob Lawrence In the City. Chronicle Books. (April 2009 release)

Using eleven artworks of Jacob Lawrence as illustrations, Susan Goldman Rubin has written a board book that describes the sights and sounds of city life. Some of the pages are great, "Busy City! Beep, Beep, Beep!/ Builders Buildin' Rat-a-Tat," Other pages seem to have an older reader in mind. "And you and I In School/ Count my numbers 2, 3, 4./ I'll show Mom when I get home. Won't she be so proud of me?" The story is surprisingly cohesive considering that she's basing the text on classic pieces of art covering several decades. (The earliest being 1936 and the latest being 1974.) I can see a book like this being good for introducing art/art appreciation to children. The bright, bold colors. The scenes of ordinary life. The vibrancy of it all. But is a board book really the best format for such a book? As a picture book, I can see it working within an elementary school setting. But as a board book for babies and toddlers? I'm having trouble seeing it. I'm a firm believer that board books are for babies. That they should be books for babies about babies. The best subject matter for board books are baby-type things. Once a child has learned to not put things in their mouth, once they know that books aren't for chewing, once they know that books aren't for tearing and ripping...then it's time for picture books. For some that might be two or three. Maybe. But I have a hard time seeing a baby or a toddler really grasping the text of the book. It holding their attention. It grabbing their interest. Most of the book features older children--elementary-aged children--doing things that big kids do. Even if some things go over their heads, at times a book can still be enjoyed because of the rhythm of it, the sound of it. I'm not sure this one can be considered such consistently. As I said, I think some pages are better than others. Can they appreciate the illustrations? Maybe. The bold and bright colors. I like the idea of introducing even the youngest to great works of art. I'm just not sure it works as a board book. If this was a picture book, I would be thinking it was good.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

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