Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Reviews: This is New York (1960) & This is Washington DC (1969) by M. Sasek

These two books are part of a classic series from the 1950s and 1960s. According to the books' forewords, Miroslav Sasek was inspired to write travel books for children after visiting Paris himself. In addition to the two books featured here, which have significance for me because I've lived in both places, he also wrote books for London, Rome, Venice, San Francisco, and at least a half dozen other locations.

This is New York is the shorter of the two volumes, but it manages to cover the entire New York experience nonetheless. From the purchase of the island of Manhattan by Peter Minuit in 1626, to the subway system, to the bridges, fire hydrants, museums, and neighborhoods, this book covers the history and excitement of New York in a simple, child-friendly style. Much of the information is outdated, especially with regards to the number of museums in the city, and the fact that the Giants no longer play at Yankee Stadium, but this new edition of the book resolves that problem by leaving the original text unaltered and providing footnotes at the back of the book. The illustrations, though dated, are still very appealing and eye-catching, and the use of white space and different sizes and shapes keeps the visual experience of the book moving right along with the text. I only wondered one thing - was the World Trade Center never in the original book, or was that edited out because of 9/11? The book doesn't say.

This is Washington, DC is a much more detailed book, but it has the same casual, conversational tone that made me love This is New York. The very first page sets the tone for the rest of the book when it reads, "Nearly one-third of the one million Washingtonians work for the government full time, and one half talk about it most of the time." Later, the text also jokes about children visiting art museums: "Older art lovers are offered a guide. Tiny art lovers are offered free transport." In the illustration, a baby sleeps in his stroller, while his parents admire a painting.

I read this book not long after visiting the many monuments in downtown Washington, and I was amazed at how little has changed in 40 years. The Washington Monument looks exactly the same in this book's illustration as it does in person! The Museum of American History, too, looks just the same, though the book makes no mention of the change in the display for the Star Spangled Banner. Other inaccuracies are corrected in the back of the book, however, and the original text is left as is. I think that actually makes the book richer, because it lets kids look back at how things used to be and understand how much about a place can change in just a few decades.

As a fairly new resident of DC, I learned a lot from this book, and I think children - DC residents and not - will get a lot out of this travel book, whether they come to the nation's capital, or just take an armchair trip.

The book jackets recommend these books "For children and the young of all ages - 8 to 80!" and I definitely agree. These books are delightful, and will be great fun for families to share together!

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