I love Mari Takabayashi’s I Live in Brooklyn (2004). After buying this book several years ago for my (Manhattan) children, I couldn’t get enough of Takabayashi and all her round-faced, Marimekko print-wearing girls.
Takabayashi paints like a Japanese Grandma Moses, and I mean that in the best way.
When I realized Takabayashi had previously written something similar called I Live in Tokyo (2001), I had to get that one immediately, of course. As a kid I would have died for this book — I’ve been obsessed with Japan ever since my friend Tomoko shared her rice balls with me in first grade. Takabayashi often does these nice little pictorial guides to her characters’ stuff, sort of in the vein of a Richard Scarry word book. They are easy to obsess over. Rush Hour (1996), which has text by Christine Loomis, is the artist’s totally charming portrayal of a working day in New York City, book-ended by the hectic morning and evening commutes.I used to read Rush Hour to my kids when they were little — I thought it was a nice way for them to make sense of where their parents had been all day. True, all Takabayashi’s books pretty much look the same. And the stories are not remotely plot-driven. But who cares? Wouldn’t you want your kids to sleep in this room from Marshmallow Kisses (2000)? See Mari Takabayashi’s website here.
I’ve been reading The Busy, Busy World of Richard Scarry (1997) by Walter Retan, Scarry’s longtime editor at Random House and Golden Press. I’ve always loved the way Scarry was able to cram so many little details onto a page and explain complicated real-world things (like the workings of a paper factory), with such precision. But who knew he lived such a glittering life? (At one point, says Retan: “They were weary of the constant parties, the steady flow of house guests, the drinking and the endless interruptions.”) Or that his books made such gazillions? (Think: foreign editions.) I learned a few other things as well…
1) There’s a reason Lowly Worm wore a Tyrolean hat. Scarry was a Boston-born, Brothers-wearing, New England preppy but moved permanently to Switzerland with his wife and young son in 1968. This also explains why Huckle Cat wears those leiderhosen.
2) He was fired from Vogue after three weeks. After serving in WWII Scarry got a job in the art department of Vogue. When they told him that he wasn’t right for the position, he asked them why they had hired him in the first place. The HR person explained that they had been impressed by his white suit and blue shirt. (Scarry was a very stylish dresser.)
3) He married Peggy from Mad Men! Not really, but when Scarry met his chic wife-to-be, Patsy Murphy, in 1948, she was working as a copywriter at Young & Rubicam. She later went on to write books with Scarry, but for a time she helped support the couple with her work at the agency.
4) These are his granddaughters, Olympia and Fiona Scarry. Readers of Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, and WWD know the Swiss socialites by their regular party page appearances. Olympia is an installation artist who has worked for Matthew Barney and wears a lot of YSL and Haider Ackermann. (You can check out her recent appearance in Interview magazine here.)
I bought this used book years ago for 25 cents as a throwaway. We were waiting for a table at a restaurant and I was desperate for something to occupy the kids before they destroyed the place. I was sucked in by the book’s (unintentionally anticlimactic?) title. The pancake letter “o” didn’t hurt either.
The book turned out to be a keeper. It’s basically a child-friendly introduction to locavorism and foraging decades before Michael Pollan, starring a funny little man who looks like a Hanna-Barbera character.
The balding bachelor of the title lives with his cat in the middle of nowhere. As we learn: “He didn’t have a wife or children so he always cooked his own supper, cleaned the house by himself, and made his own bed.” (For an author writing in 1981, Phyllis Krasilovsky has a pretty 1950s-ish take on gender norms, but whatever.) The man also doesn’t have a car, so he relies on a friend to bring him groceries every week. When one summer his friend is unable to make his delivery, the man nearly starves.
Finally, he realizes he can pick wild watercress and blueberries, catch fish and even make pancakes from … acorns. (I don’t think even Rene Redzepi has gotten there.) The story is super simple but charming, and the kids think it’s hilarious when the guy briefly considers eating his newspaper. They also appreciate the size of his hat.