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Take the A train

My twenty-month-old grandson is currently so enamored with the New York subway system that every activity (including eating, waking from a nap, and interacting with family members) becomes an imaginary trip on the A train. But you don’t have to be a New Yorker or even, as Eloise puts it, “a city child” to enjoy the thrill of a subway ride. We’ve discovered three books that focus on this fascinating subterranean world where people travel through tunnels and miraculously emerge upstairs at new destination.

subway-suenAnastasia Suen’s Subway uses simple repetition and rhyme to describe the experience of a subway ride, beginning with a paradox: “We go down / to go uptown / down, down, down / in the subway.” Karen Katz’s illustrations convey energy and motion, showing the brightly lettered train cars with curving lines at various angles. Passengers of different racial and cultural backgrounds hold personal objects that hint at each rider’s identity and interests: a guitar, a purse with a dog in it, a bag of groceries.

count-on-the-subwayCount on the Subway by Paul DuBois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender sends a mother and daughter on a train ride where they encounter underground singers, screeching trains, and posters with emblems of urban life. The ride, described in a rhyming text, offers an opportunity to count from one (“1 MetroCard”) to ten (“10 friends sway, boogie and bop...") and back down to again. Dan Yaccarino’s cleanly rendered illustrations are both modern and retro.

subway-niemannIn Subway written and illustrated by author, illustrator, and graphic designer Christoph Niemann, a parent and two children make the best of a cold and rainy day by systematically exploring the New York City subway system: “Riding the A requires some patience / if you plan to visit all forty-four stations.” As their underground adventure approaches its final destination, the kids unsuccessfully beg their dad to continue the trip. The story ends with the kids reluctantly heading to bed. Niemann's stylized illustrations with pictograph characters are easy to "read" and will draw in young straphangers.

Whether the young people in your life ride the subway on a regular basis or have never set foot below ground, these books serve as imaginary turnstile entries into this perennially popular subject.

Recommended titles

Jacobs, Paul DuBois, and Jennifer Swender. Count on the Subway, illus. by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf, 2014)

Niemann, Christoph. Subway, illus. by the author (Greenwillow, 2010)

Suen, Anastasia. Subway, illus. by Karen Katz (Viking, 2008, board book edition)

Emily Schneider

Emily Schneider is a writer and educator living in New York City. She reviews books and contributes essays for the Jewish Book Council and others, and blogs about children's literature at imaginaryelevators.blog.

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