It’s not just glasses

“The real voyage of discovery and change does not consist in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

-Marcel Proust


In search of an adventure

It is the silly season in Australia. It’s gloriously sunny and the country has shut down in celebration: picnics, bbqs, water play, elbow exercise. Lucky the people in the Southern Hemisphere! For the rest of us, we have hunkered down and huddled by the fire. The Christmas jingles bring joy, I think, solely to make this wintry front seem festive. This family still kits up to head outside but it just takes so. much. longer. Dashing through the snow, indeed.

So I’d like to pop this icicle wonderland and bring you this week’s book about frolicking in the sun: Tom and Millie’s Great Big Treasure Hunt by Guy Parker Rees. (Never you mind that An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison has been on rotation). Two cats, Tom and Millie have a “list of very important things to find”. They recruit their friends (e.g. Sarah the bunny, Toby the monkey) to find these things leading them on an adventure through the beach, a playground, a party shop downtown, a play centre, and a farmer’s market. At each stop, there is a flurry of people and activity. Picking up clues along the way, this gang of adventurers uncovers an outdoor treasure at the very end. Incidentally, the clues are an exercise in shape and colour recognition. There’s a cast of characters to follow along at the start of the book should you tire of reading to create your own stories.

Ankle Biter 2 is at that glorious stage where he just wants to be ever so helpful or perhaps demonstrate his id (i.e. I Know). “Where is Tom?” “There he is!” “Where are the four orange triangles?” As his head lobs up and over the page, “There they are!” His favourite page was the farmer’s market. From the tractor, to the variety of fruits and the tray of eggs, winner! A feast in his eyes. For me, I picked it up because of the autonomous adventures throughout the neighbourhood. This is one of the first books I’ve come across that has featured a farmer’s market. I miss the green grocer and I think Ankle Biter 1 also misses touching fruit and veg. (The supermarkets here like the hermetic seal). *Spoiler* the gang of adventurers’ clues lead them to a summer fair: a dreamy example of celebration and urban kindness in the sun. I am delighted to see that both destinations are included in the navigation of children’s spaces. They should be and I’d like to see more represented. Ahhh, let’s continue our urban imagined come rain or sun.

Source: Guy Parker Rees: Picture Books

Turn right at the snowman

When is the last time you read a map? Opening up google or yahoo or any other online map and typing in an address for directions does not count. I’m talking about the tried and true folded origami mess taken along the joyous road trip (I’m looking at you, UBD and Gregory’s) or the great street guides that are outdated the minute they hit the stands (I love you Melway, you ARE a legend! and Thomas guide, I still have you). The beauty of these tactile maps is that you are a participant in the adventure, not just a backseat driver under the spell of SIRI. Warning- SIRI is obstructing our brain’s capacity to construct mental images of our surroundings. Our creation and organisation of these mental images, according to urbanist Kevin Lynch, develop a distinct mental map of a place. Such images help us literally and figuratively find our way.

In the process of way-finding, the strategic link is the environmental image, the generalised mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual. This image is the product both of immediate sensation and of the memory of past experience, and it is used to interpret information and to guide action. -Kevin Lynch (p.4).

Yes, SIRI is pretty good at getting us on our path, even though we consciously and unconsciously veer off of it. But the best road trips have all involved some type of meander that SIRI could not have predicted. These meanders make us extra attentive and give us bearing. Constructing our mental maps helps us connect with spaces and be present in the moment.

With this certainly long-winded introduction, I’d like to say hello to this week’s book, Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Jarvis. This story is about a family of penguins, the Pilchard-Browns to be exact. Making their way to a picnic, Mr. Pilchard-Brown with map in hand told everyone to turn right at the snowman. It should have been a left. This unexpected detour takes them surprisingly from the South Pole to the North Pole. There they befriend a polar bear, Mr. White who informs them that they are 12,430 miles from their picnic.

Don’t think of it as a mistake. Think of it as a big adventure.

Mr. White volunteers to  lead them back via the long way round. They visit New York, London, Venice, Agra, and Sydney before reaching the South Pole. Mr. White returns home chuffed with adventures but saddened that he had to say goodbye to the Pilchard-Browns. But goodbyes are never final and I’ll leave you to read the story to find out why. This book is a sheer delight. Jarvis renders such lovely whimsical landscapes with notable landmarks. Willis provides cheeky conversations with idioms reflective of the regions depicted “Howdy, How do you do, Ciao, Namaste.”

Ankle biter 1 loved the penguins and loved pinpointing the mischief each one was undertaking in each of the scenes. He recognised the double decker bus. (Go mental map!) Oddly, he really wanted to know what was in the picnic basket. I enjoyed this book because of its depictions of international cities and its wayfinding underbelly. There are plenty of books that provide outstanding geography perspectives. But this book is a good place to start most especially because of a misreading of a map. In an ode to Kevin, getting lost is an adventure. Power down I say, go off to explore and contribute to your mental imagery bank.

[Poles Apart scene: Books — Jarvis]

New York City isn’t the every city


New York is New York. London is London. Sydney is Sydney. Then why is it that whenever I observe books with an even remotely digestible urban theme, they almost 80% of the time take place in New York? Is there just an overpopulation of children’s book authors over there? I get it, New York is pure muse. But why should New York get the monopoly on introducing the urban to lil ankle biters? Every city should serve muse. (A review of one of my favourites here). If anyone knows of any children’s book set in the city not in New York, please comment below. I’d be happy to review it here.

With that little rant, onto this week’s book which takes place in New York. I know, I had to do it. Defuse the elephant in the room or in this case dragon.  Have you seen my dragon? by Steve Light is about a precocious boy exploring the city looking for his lost dragon. With all the embellished vitality that New York exhales, of course a dragon’s presence can be obscured. Steve Light takes us on a journey through the city using stark black and white line drawings on two page spreads. Such drawings provoke crayon/ marker/ coloured pencil enthusiasts. (I’m looking at you, adults.)  The only pop of colour on each page emulates objects as part of the story’s counting sequence. One dragon, two hot dogs…eighteen bicycles. By the time twenty lanterns are counted, mischievous missing dragon is found.

book-cover-thumbs-dragon-1-300x240Ankle biter 1 is into finding images in books and pointing them out. With twenty different objects, you think this would be a winner of a book. “Why isn’t the dragon green?” “The only green dragon is on the cover and the first page. He’s playing hide and seek.” “But there he is.” “I don’t think the library would appreciate you colouring it in…” And then he got frustrated. I’d like to say that’s his ankle bitingness. But my husband also found it a bit long “Ten paint pots. Wait, there’s more???” Maybe that’s a husband thing. Me? I liked it. A colouring book, a counting book, an identify the colour book, a guide map. And hidden gems! So yea, the counting objects aren’t exclusive to New York and can stimulate comparative conversations. But I suspect those who live in New York enjoy it just a wee bit more and rightly so.

[New York skyline: Top of the Rock via photopin (license), Have you seen my dragon?: Steve Light Art]

Five distractions to start your weekend

Whimsy awakened with pedestrian and transport movement in a Jerusalem open market square. Source: HQ architects installs flowers that react to the environment

Paper, photographs and a bit of cheeky history: thanks Rich McCor

When a two hour delay transforms subway riders into a community

A high-fiving bee and the nature of humanity

What would you post on Alan Donohoe and Steven Parker’s The Waiting Wall?

5 anecdotes about urban acupuncture

Jaime Lerner is enamoured with cities. I was first introduced to this kindred spirit back in 1996 through a book called Hope: Human and wild by Bill McKibben. In wide-eyed wonder, I learned about how this Mayor of Curitiba (Brazil) inspired his city to DO BETTER. He introduced public transport and an ingenious waste recycling system to stimulate social equity. Since then, I’ve heard him speak and he is infectious:  an urban cheerleader of humane and sustainable cities.

Last year, he wrote a book Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating pinpricks of change that enrich life. Here, he presents a medley of ‘pinpricks’ for metaphorical urban ailments (e.g., cultural identity, urban voids, economic opportunities). This book definitely deserves some thumbing and dog-eared pages. Here are 5 anecdotes to get you started.

  1. “The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalising not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it.” (p.1). Through this book, Lerner invites us to find our own ways of healing the city, one action at a time.
  2. “Do nothing! Urgently. ” (p.21). Sometimes the best solution is to stop. Stop building roads. Stop advocating parking requirements. Stop and smell the roses.
  3. “What is important is the correct vision, and a competent set-up of a ‘corresponsibility equation’ What’s needed is a scenario, or an idea, a desirable concept. And all of the people –or most- will help bring it to fruition. It’s precisely at that moment of execution that a people’s self-esteem helps move a city forward” (p. 70). Co-responsibility: to create change, you need buy-in from the ones with whom the change affects.
  4. “The car is our ‘mechanical mother in law” We have to maintain good relations with her, but we can’t let her dominate our lives. We have to know how to coexist with the automobile without becoming its slave.” (p. 64). Amen.
  5. “… since we rarely pay much mind to what we don’t know, how can we hope to generate respect for a city we don’t understand?” (p. 59). Turn off you phone. Go outside and explore. Get lost. Ask for directions. Discover the things about your area that brightens your day. Pinpoint the things that scare you. Become a resident and not a tourist.

Photo of Federation Square, Melbourne by Vivian Romero

Children live here.

Welcome back and I hope you are as excited as I am to build an urban primer for the anklebiters. Moving on from last week, I’d like to introduce you to The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. Published in the sundrenched colours of 1977, it is about a Mr Plumbean who lived on a nondescript street of similar houses. One day, he is persuaded to paint his house due to a what I’d like to call an artistic clumsy seagull. A kaleidoscope of colours along with the installation of palm trees, baobabs and a hammock, his house glares individuality in amongst the ‘neat street.’ This stamp of individuality ignites a series of visits from his neighbours who try to persuade him to return his house to normalcy. However, after sipping lemonade with Mr Plumbean, each neighbour in turn is inspired to decorate their own house. What once started as a quiet neat street of houses transformed into a street reflecting individual sentiments of home.  “Our street is us and we are it. Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.”

Whilst most readers have reviewed this book against the narrative of creativity, individuality, dreams, I took the narrative to be a backlash against cookie-cutter planned development as well as a tribute to social connection. Actually, I chuckled when I came across it as it reminded me of my husband’s thesis about “the pink house.” Through a case study, my husband delved into the world of covenants, restrictions and conditions. He found a family who painted their house pink. The house was not part of a home owner’s association but rather a voluntary neighbourhood association. The neighbourhood association members, however, decided that they didn’t like the colour and banded together to buy and paint the house a different colour. I can’t help but wonder if the residents were each given a copy of The Big Orange Splot might the outcome be different. How have we gotten to a point where a nondescript street is a ‘neat street’?

For me, a house with character whether it be paint flourishes or a jungle of plants signifies that SOMEBODY lives there. What colour would your house be? If my anklebitter had his way, it would be of orange dinosaurs yelling ROAR at yellow diggers manned by blue spotted penguins. Our house would say children live here.