Today’s review, by Rita Zobayan, arrives in time for us all to get psyched for the London 2012 Olympics.
I spent my childhood in London’s East End borough of Hackney, a working-class community full of blocks of flats, pubs and the vast Victoria Park. Every so often, my parents would take my sisters and me into “the City,” the heart of London itself. There, we would mingle with the tourists and admire the hundreds of offerings that London bestows. There was always something new to discover, whether it was a historical landmark, a museum, a park, a stately home or a new borough to explore. London is immense, vibrant and alive. It has something for everyone. There is good reason, after all, that the father of the modern dictionary, Samuel Johnson noted, “If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” If you’re one of the lucky ones, you will get to experience the magnificence of London for yourself in July and August when the city plays host to the thirtieth Olympic Games. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll be living vicariously and watching the games and the city on television. To help your young ones “explore” a few of London’s most distinct sites, Candlewick Press has two fun books that children will enjoy.
The first is London: A 3D Keepsake, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy, ($8.99, Candlewick, ages 5 and up). Presented in a handy and sturdy cardboard sleeve that is small enough to fit into a day bag, this clever novelty features twelve of London’s most famous sites in an accordion-style 3D pull out. We begin our vicarious tour with an introduction to London, and gamely move on to some of the most historic and cultured landmarks in the city’s vicinity, including Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square.
Each location has a retro-feel illustration reminiscent of children’s books from the 1960s. Although sparsely drawn, the illustrations do not spare important details such as flags, guards, and so on. The pop-up feature adds to the fun. Children will love opening up the book and spreading open its pages. (It spans approximately 5 feet.) Accompanying each illustration are fun facts and information for each location. For example, who knew that one could purchase an ambulance from possibly the world’s most famous department store, Harrods, or that the London Eye has become the city’s number one tourist attraction? The book also has a neat, little map of inner London that highlights the twelve hot spots, tube (metro) stations and neighboring boroughs.
This book is an enjoyable way for young children to learn more about London. My daughters, ages 3 and 7, both wanted to look at it, albeit for different reasons. My younger daughter greatly enjoyed playing with the pop-up illustrations and looking at the details. My older daughter was interested in the text and in trying to point out the locations on the map. All in all, it was a good time exploring the book with them. When we’re ready to take them to London, they’ll have a reference that’s right for them.
Candlewick Press’ second offering is A Walk in London by London native, Salvatore Rubbino ($16.99, Candlewick, ages 5 and up). Over the course of 40 pages, we journey with a young girl and her mother as they tour the sites. We experience the Tower of London, the Bank of England and St. James’s Palace and park to name a few of the stops. Information is woven into the narrative, which is told mostly through the girl’s point of view: “Around the corner, we find the bank’s museum. In the display cases, there’s lots of money! Coins…paper money…and even a bar of gold! Ooooooof! I try to lift it, but I’m not strong enough.” In addition to the narrative, the book is chock full of facts. We learn that the St. Paul’s Cathedral dome weighs about 64,000 tons and that a “whisper against the wall on one side of the dome can be heard 105 feet away on the other.” There are three more facts for this venue alone! In fact, the book is so full of information that a child could almost use this as a reference for a report.
Rubbino’s artwork with muted palette and pen-and-ink style illustrations is reminiscent of famed author-illustrator Miroslav Sasek. They are whimsical cartoonish sketches that young readers will appreciate for their energy. You can almost see Rubbino’s hand freely sketching the city, capturing the details, shapes and movement of the bustling metropolis. Multiple fonts capture the reader’s eye and are playfully placed on the pages to complement the illustrations. For example with the narrative, “There’s a Whispering Gallery inside. We climb around and around and around, until we’re in the dome,” the text is spread around the illustrations of our duo climbing steps.
A couple of fun bonuses are the River Thames panorama and a game to spot the royal family’s car appearing throughout the book. Opening to four pages, the panorama outlines additional venues and provides more facts about the city in general. Additionally, the inside front and back covers have maps with the featured venues, bridges and main streets of inner London. Both the panorama and maps give a feel for the vast expanse of the city.
If you’re viewing London from the comfort of your couch, A Walk in London is a great introduction for children old enough to appreciate the information and narrative style