Thursday, February 16, 2012
Subway Story, written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Knopf, Random House. 2011. $18.99 ages 5 and up
"Sometimes Jessie helped carry unusual things. She made sure to go slower around the curves so everyone - and everything - arrived safe."
Jessie is the biggest baby I have read about:
"When Jessie was born in St. Louis, Missouri, she weighed 75,122 pounds and was 51 1/2 feet long."
Now, that is some auspicious beginning, wouldn't you say? Of course, the fact that Jessie is a subway car explains it. Her home is New York City and she travels from place to place with a sense of accomplishment and pride. As times change, Jessie does the same...as do her passengers, and the city itself. Always, her job is to move people safely from one stop to another.
As the aging, travel-weary cars are replaced by sleek, silver bullets, Jessie must pass her time in a dusty yard with all the other trains that have been retired. She wonders about her many passengers and if they even notice that she is no longer their transport. It's sad.
Now, admittedly, I have never wondered what happens to old subway cars:
"Instead of fixing her, the people were taking Jessie apart.
Off came her lights, her signs, her brakes, and her horn too!
They they washed Jessie over and over again,
and left her with a group of other cleaned-up subway cars."
I was surprised when they loaded her onto a barge and headed out to sea, and even more so when they dumped her over the side and into the Atlantic Ocean. There she becomes another kind of bustling and vibrant city. As the fish and barnacles, the bigger fish and plants gravitate toward her on the ocean floor, Jessie becomes an artiificial reef.
Based on a true story, Julia Sarcone-Roach has created a charming character whose lot in life is touching to her readers. Her writing is natural and appealing. Her lovely acrylic artwork gives life to Jessie and her environs, above and below the water. Her strong colors and constantly changing perspectives are infused with light and shadow allowing readers a feeling of gentle movement throughout this lovely story. It is interesting to watch as the years pass how the passengers change, and how the subway system itself changes. I absolutely love the mosaics.
An author's note explains the origin of the story, a list for further reading is provided, as well as a bibliography for those who just want to know more.