Written and Illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Clarion Books, 2014
Awards: Caldecott Honor
I went to stay with Nana at her new apartment in the city.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy visits his grandmother.
The narrator is a boy who goes to visit his grandmother in New York. He loves her, but isn’t a fan of the city, which he finds too busy, too loud and full of scary things. Nana, however, loves the city and thinks it’s perfect for her. He has trouble sleeping in her apartment and she promises to take him out the next day and show him the city properly. During the night, she knits him a red cape to wear on their tour. It makes him feel brave as they walk around the city and he sees that the city is busy and loud, but he also sees that it’s full of extraordinary things and he agrees that it’s a good place for his Nana to live and for him to come and visit.
Author/illustrator Lauren Castillo does another marvelous job of telling a gentle story that is more than meets the eye, with a minimal use of words. The words used here have so much significance, especially in the way that the narrator points out that the city is ‘busy’ and ‘loud’ multiple times, with the meaning changing drastically from the first to the last time. It’s brilliant and it works so well to show the impact that the red cape has on him. And I love the idea of the cape as a talisman, which helps him channel his inner courage and enables him to see the city in a different light.
The watercolor artwork captures much of what I love about New York, showing lots of iconic sights that kids would enjoy, such as Central Park (which is gorgeously drawn in full autumn color), food carts, dog walkers and street performers. Nana is adorably drawn as spunky, fun and confident in her yellow coat and feathered hat. We see the city from the narrator’s point of view, so we see it change as his perception changes. It’s a really delightful book that is sure to be an extra big hit with anyone who loves New York.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that a little confidence and courage can help you see the beauty in what you thought was a beast.