Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Picture Books
Steel Town

Steel Town

Spring 2008 Picture Books
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Terry Widener
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 1416940812
Hardcover Price: $16.99
From its pre-title page filled with gigantic smoke stacks, factory windows alight with a fiery glow, and a column of smoke that, at first glance, could almost be a gigantic hand reaching into the hellish scene from the gutter, this glimpse of life in a steel town rivals Hieronymus Bosch in its monumentally dark vision of life on earth. The artwork, however, is anything but medieval: solid blocky shapes and faceless figures dwarfed by gigantic machinery conjure up the school of social realism with its emphasis on the heroic but downtrodden proletariat. The text, which frequently seems to echo the pounding rhythm of the equipment, follows unnamed laborers through a day's work, from their trek down Goat Path Hill at dawn, to the inside of the mills ("One man scrapes the coke out and onto a rolling conveyor belt. One man makes the conveyor belt go. One man gets the boxcar ready and the coke gets dumped in the boxcar. Iron ore goes in another boxcar. Limestone goes in another boxcar. These are the things you need to make iron.") through lunch break (one of only a few scenes where the color palette lightens) and back up Goat Path Hill to Grapevine Lane where wives await them in flowered dresses, and suppers-pierogi, dumplings, spaghetti-are laid out on plain wooden tables. The artwork, from tiny vignettes to double-page spreads, is as awe-inspiring as its subject and the text has a hypnotic rhythm that carries the reader along from opening page to final line. The only real question is one of audience: without any historical context (5¢ hot dogs are the biggest clue), what young readers will make of this world, coated in soot and illuminated by fire.
Kristi Elle Jemtegaard   ©2008 Parents' Choice
Kristi Elle Jemtegaard is the Coordinator of Youth Services for the Arlington Public Library system. She has taught courses on children’s and young adult literature at the Catholic University of America and the University of Virginia. She has served on both the Newbery and Caldecott Award Committees of the American Library Association and has chaired the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee and the May Hill Arbuthnot Award Committee. She is a member and past president of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC and has chaired the Washington Post–Book Guild Nonfiction Award Committee. She is a founding member of Capitol Choices, an organization of professionals in the field of children’s literature in the greater Washington DC area. She regularly reviews children’s literature and audio productions for a variety of national publications.

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