Friday, December 10, 2010

24. Pack Your Suitcase!

Emma's Journey, written & illustrated by Claire Frossard, photographs by Etienne Frossard, Enchanted Lion Books, $17.95, ages 4-8, 56 pages. Little Emma may not have the wing strength to fly long distances, but every time she rides Duckyduck's back in New York City's Central Park, she hankers to hoist a sail and see how far a boat would take her. Now Duckyduck, her best friend, is about to migrate for the first time, and as Emma watches Duckyduck flap her wings in anticipation of resting down on warmer waters, the little sparrow begins to feel left out. "What about me?" she harrumphs. To get Emma's mind on other things, her mother sends her to see old Uncle Bob, who chirps about ancestors who crossed the Atlantic from France to Central Park, and before long Emma can think of nothing else than to journey to Paris. With a beret on her head, polka-dot boots on her feet and a supply of seafaring supplies, including a fisherman's sweater and a jar of worm jam, she hugs her parents good-bye and goes in search of her Uncle Bob's rat cousin Old Joe to take her there. But getting to his home under the Brooklyn Bridge is an adventure in itself, and will require Emma to slosh through snowy streets in Manhattan passed Radio City Music Hall, fly this way and that, and be wary of cats in between.

Then one day she flies into a billowing cloud of steam and fog and almost loses her way until a family of sparrows living on a street light invite her to warm her wing tips then point her way to the bridge. Emma's now so hungry, a building reminds her of a slice of cake, and though she tarries for awhile to listen to a band of birds on a wire, she hurries to race the setting sun. Finally, Emma reaches the East River where Old Joe is supposed to be, but she's so cold and homesick, her eyes flood with tears. Suddenly, she hears an accordion and spots a little shack on the girders. She's found Old Joe, but will the two shipmates be ready to sail by spring? Illustrations of Emma and the other creatures are imposed on sweeping photographs of New York City to create a sense of the epic and in doing so, elevate this simple tale into something utterly charming. Forty city spreads later, readers come away feeling like they've flown the city and with the Statue of Liberty to their backs, have taken to the high seas.

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