105 Ways to Give a Book

One Shot of City Living: Blackout

I’ve never understood the prevalence of farm books for youngsters. Most kids today don’t have daily encounters with cows and pigs. Why then do we ignore the animals of the city? Your squirrels, mice, and pigeons. (Okay, one Pigeon isn’t ignored, and in fact has his own app which you can win for free because it’s really cool, but that’s another post that you should go to. Really.) Besides featuring the farm, picture books are drawn to the countryside setting. Pastures, forests, trees, all sorts of nature everywhere.

Well, it is high time for the city to rise to take its place in children’s literature. With three quarters of the population living in urban/suburban areas, kids can relate to street noises as much as cricket songs. They get cars and trucks and things that go. Here’s another thing: They don’t require a moral tale of how busy/loud/scary the city can be compared to the calm serenity of the countryside. (I’m looking at you, Town Mouse.)

BlackoutYou won’t get that in my featured book for the One Shot of Book City. Blackout, by John Rocco, is both a tribute to the city and a nod to serenity. The story takes place in New York during the famous 2003 blackout. A family is dispersed throughout the house enjoying their God-given right to electricity, when BAM! Power’s out. Everywhere. They head to the roof to escape the summer heat and find the stars filling the night sky and neighbors socializing and it’s all simply fun. When the lights come back, they’ve remembered that sometimes they can have fun without electricity — even when they aren’t forced to do so. The city and the family can return to normal, but keep a little of that special time alive. Let me just interject how much I love the family here. A realistic group with mom busy on the computer and older sister on the cell phone, they also have a look of unspecified racial diversity.

The book is laid out in a modified graphic novel style, though with narrated text as opposed to dialogue. As such, the expressions of the people are needed to help tell the story. The surprise on the family’s faces as they look out on a darkened city. The boredom as they sit around the table expecting the electricity to come back. The stunned wonder as they come out to the roof and see stars — no small thing for city folk to see. Within the dark tones of the illustration, the stories of what becomes a sort of magical night is captured beautifully. Stories like these:

A book not to be missed, Blackout is on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2011, Publisher’s Weekly Best of 2011 and is being talked about in terms of a Caldecott Award. John Rocco is a great guy, too. Check out an interview with him at Seven Impossible Things and visit his website, you know, just to say hi. Because he’s a nice guy, as evidenced by my own BEA encounter. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the other city books organized today at Chasing Ray.

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Anonymous said...

I keep meaning to pick this one up - thanks for the reminder, Pam!

tanita✿davis said...

You make a good point - Suburbia is where most kids' adventures come, and from the cities where they live. And so, this whole country thing is an interesting throwback - I know some kids live in the country, but it's more suburbia with chickens, and we're doing this weird fooling-ourselves thing about how peaceful and nice it is... I live really close to being IN the country now, and all I can tell you is that it's creepy quiet sometimes, and the spiders are large enough to drag off small children....

The book looks awesome, to get back to the point.

Shelf Elf said...

I thought this one was captivating. I just sunk into the illustrations - and I like the message it sends that sometimes unplugging can be surprisingly and unpredictably entertaining.

Jackie Parker said...

I ordered this after you guys were talking about it's awesome. It just came in today! Excited!

Doret said...

I love Rocco's artisic style and that great trailer makes me wish I had a copy of Blackout in my hands right now.