TITLE: In the Town All Year Round
AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR: Rotrant Susanne Berner
PUBLISHED BY: Chronicle Books, 2008
You all know Richard Scarry, I presume. (If you don't, shame on you!) He created hugely detailed worlds filled with animals going about their daily business. You follow the animals through the towns, farms, beaches, villages, cities, as they work, play, eat, laugh, get into accidents, and generally have a good time.
Well, In the Town All Year 'Round operates on a similar principle, only in this book we follow people (not animals), through their lives in a small German city. At the begining of each season we meet several of the characters, and are given their story line: "Ella and Andrew go to the dentist, byt first they have to catch their parrot!" or "Olivia is so busy reading she doesn't notice anything else." or "Who has lost this wallet and keys?"
We then follow them through the town, seeing their original apartment building, some farm land, a train station, three downtown spreads, and finally a park. These same locations are repeated in subsequent seasons (though I am sticking to winter since, indeed, it is winter now).
The illustrations are wonderfully detailed, and a little cartoonish in style. The town is obviously a German one, though still completely accessible to any child. I know if I had been given this book as a child, I would have spent hours following the stories, not only of our main characters, but of all the extra people we see in each frame. No detail would escape my notice.
Therein lies my one complaint with the book, and I want to give it fair warning to all of you parents. There are two instances of nudity in this book. Nudity is not that uncommon in picture books in Europe--I remeber a wonderful illustrated version of the story of the Garden of Eden from Austria that had no gracefully placed trees and shrubs. The first nude in this book is a painting in an art museum. I don't really have a problem with that in concept, though this drawing is a full frontal female nude that leaves little to the imagination, even if it is less than an inch. The second is more problematic--it is a pornographic magazine in a train station newsstand. While a nude in a museum in a picture book provides an opportunity to talk about art, a pornographic magazine is not at all acceptable for a children's book. That's just too much verisimilitude for my tastes.
All the same, I'd still buy this book, and simply draw over the magazine. If you're an artist, you can make it work. I was so disappointed by these discoveries because I was simply enchanted by the book, and wanted to buy it for everyone I knew.
NB: My big blog layout update has been delayed...because I am just too much of a luddite to do things properly and in a timely fashion. I've added the widget above that links to all the books I've recently reviewed, to make shopping easier. And scroll down on the left to find the "tags" columns, where you can find lots more books about a particular subject or genre or age group.