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Review:  The Secret Subway – New York with Children

Review: The Secret Subway – New York with Children

Did you know that the first attempt to build a New York subway system occurred in 1866?  Traffic was already a nightmare, a combination of pushcarts, wagons, stagecoaches and buggies.  Lots of ideas were proposed: moving sidewalks, double-decker roads, a railway on stilts, but nothing was ever accomplished.  Ely Beach had another idea.  A pneumatic train, just like the way mail was sent through old buildings.  He knew that permission to build an underground train would be difficult to get approved, so he proposed building an underground mail tube.  “It wouldn’t be that big, it wouldn’t be that messy.  It wouldn’t be that complicated.” He rented the basement of Devlin’s Clothing store.  For 58 days, under cover of darkness, he loaded wagons with dirt and rocks and hauled them out.  He built a tunnel 8 feet across and 294 feet long and February 26, he opened the tunnel for rides, making the train depot warm and inviting.   “Gaslights glowed, illuminating paintings and flowers and a fountain that glittered with goldfish.”  The opening went perfectly and throngs of visitors climbed aboard to ride the pneumatic train.  But when he asked for permission to expand, he was stopped; and by 1874, the train that went nowhere was abandoned and was forgotten. Construction on the current New York subway system started in 1904.  Lots of things were found as they dug: sunken ships, fossilized bones, subterranean streams, and in February 1912, a brick wall.  When they broke through the wall, they found the forgotten subway including a pneumatic railway car.  The Secret Subway was once again, no longer a secret. If you’re visitng New York with children, The Secret Subway is a great lesson in the history of the city, especially if you’re planning on taking the modern subway. If you’re interested in adding The Secret Subway to your child’s collection, click here :  The Secret...

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Review: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers-New York with children

Review: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers-New York with children

While the  book provides a poignant reminder on the absence of the twin towers, this is a great book about reaching for your dreams.   If you’re planning a visit the Memorial plaza in New York city, this is a good introduction to what the towers symbolized and gives a child perspective on how tall they actually were and the impression they made on the city without dwelling on how they fell.  They could also watch  “Man on a Wire”  as they get ready for their trip to New York.“Once there were two towers side by side.”  For those who lived through the destruction of the twin towers, this fairy tale beginning may make your heart catch a little.  But the story of the Man who Walked between Towers is about following your dreams, not dwelling on what happened later.   This is the true story of Philippe Petit, a French aerialist and street performer who was inspired by the construction of the towers.  “He looked not at the towers but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope; a wire on which to walk.”  This unusual perspective made me smile as it is definitely something children are great at, a view of the world that is full of wonder and things that a grown up might overlook. Inspired by the distance between the towers, Phillipe starts to plan his feat and, dressed as a construction worker, ends up carrying a 440 pound reel of cable the final one hundred and eighty stairs to the roof.   The images of Phillipe and his friend standing on the roof and looking across to the other tower helped us understand the magnitude of the task, the images made me feel daunted! Through a series of near misses over a city in which the Statute of Liberty looks like a child’s toy, Phillipe and his friends manage to string the cable and in triumph, “[a]s the rising sun lit up the towers, out he stepped onto the wire.”  Given how much attention window washers on really tall buildings attract, I can only imagine what his feat would have looked like from the ground.  Mordachi Gerstein’s use of perspective,...

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Review: The Pilot and the Little Prince-France with children

Review: The Pilot and the Little Prince-France with children

 “Long ago in France, at the turn of the last century, a little boy was born to be an adventurer.”  Isn’t that what travel is about?  Adventure? Meeting new people, seeing new places, discovering new things-whatever inspires you to travel, The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry will inspire you to explore more. The story includes a biography of Saint-Exupery against a backdrop of the impact of the beginnings of aviation and the unfolding of the chaos of two world wars.  The author manages to weave the disparate themes together with wonderful illustrations and a passion for exploration and travel as Saint-Exupéry flies routes through France, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Senegal, and South America. This is a beautifully illustrated book that captures the spirit and beauty of early flight, as well as a boy’s passions.  The limited text running along the bottom can be a little disjointed, but the illustrations and additional details on the history of flight provide a treasure trove of additional information and are very evocative of the Little Prince.  While the ending is sad, it doesn’t dwell on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s death, but is truly a celebration of his life and the joy of...

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Review: Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh-Canada with children

Review: Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh-Canada with children

Did you know that Winnie-the-Pooh was based on a real bear?  At the White River train station in Ontario, Canada, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian with the Canadian Army on his way to base bought a bear cub and named her Winnipeg. In Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, we learn all about A.A. Milne’s inspiration for Winnie-ther-Pooh. In Winnipeg, Winnie quickly became the camp mascot and was given free reign at the camp, sleeping under Harry’s cot every night and following him as he made his rounds tending the horses and other military animals.  As World War I advanced, Harry and his platoon were transferred to England and of course Winnie went with them, sailing across the Atlantic, and proving to be a much better sailor than Harry! Winnie quickly settled in at camp in England, watching the soldiers practice marching and continuing to sleep under Harry’s cot.  When Harry discovered he was going to be sent to France, he knew he couldn’t take Winnie to a battlefield, but what to do with a bear? This was a great story about the inspiration behind Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin’s fateful visit to the London Zoo.  I always enjoy learning about the sources of inspiration behind beloved stories and Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh is no exception. While you can no longer feed bears at the London Zoo, you can still see a statue of Winnie and Harry.  You can also visit the original Edward bear (who changed his name to Winnie the Pooh) along with  Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger at the New York Public...

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Review: Balloons over Broadway-New York with children

Review: Balloons over Broadway-New York with children

Puppets and parades, what’s not to like? Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade  by Melissa Sweet, tells the story of Tony Sarg, the man who created the first balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. In our house, we can certainly relate to kids who are always designing and making things and trying to get out of chores is certainly universal, but I don’t think my son’s inventions have been as practical as Tony’s design for feeding the chickens.  Inspired by the desire to stay in bed longer, Tony rigged pulleys and rope so that he could feed the chickens without getting up.  Our attempts to design things with pulleys and ropes have been entertaining, but not particularly useful! As a grownup, Tony designed amazing marionettes and had a show, “Tony Sarg’s Marionettes,” which traveled throughout the U.S.  Learning of his puppets, Macy’s asked Tony to design puppets for Macy’s holiday windows.  Based on storybook characters, he attached the puppets to gears and pulley’s that made them dance across the windows.  He was then asked to help with the first Macy’s parade which was intended for the employees who missed their own holiday traditions.  Tony created costumes and horse-drawn floats and Macy’s even arranged to bring in animals from the zoo.  The parade was such a success that Macy’s agreed to have one every year.  Each year the parade grew bigger and bigger and eventually some of the live animals were deemed too scary so Macy’s looked around for something to replace the animals, something that would be spectacular. Tony wanted to create puppets for the parade, but his marionettes were little, less than three feet tall, far too small to be used in a parade.  Inspired by Indonesian rod puppets, he deigned air-filled rubber bags that were propped up by wooden sticks.  Big hot air puppets are so standard in large parades now; it’s hard to remember that they’re a relatively recent  invention.  The wooden stick puppets Tony initially designed were a success, but they still weren’t big enough or high enough for the huge crowds to see.  The next year, he designed balloons out of rubberized silk filled with helium, upside...

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