Machines Go to Work in the City – written and illustrated William Low
Publisher: Macmillan – Henry Holt and Company
Kirkus Reviews ( reviewed June 5th, 2012)
Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
Trains, planes, trucks and cranes and the people who make them work keep the city moving.
“Vroom” goes the garbage truck as it lumbers through town and finishes up at the landfill. The train’s brakes “pssssshhhhh” as it passes slowly by the track workers. A vacuum truck, a bucket truck, a tower crane, a baggage carrier and a passenger plane all do their heavy work with their dedicated and skilled operators and support workers. Maintaining and expanding upon the format he employed in his earlier work (Machines Go to Work, 2009),Low presents each vehicle, with an appropriate onomatopoetic sound, in two double-page spreads wherein a simply stated question is posed with the answer appearing on a gate-fold that enlarges the view even further. The machines and workers are sharply focused, large-scaled, detailed and brightly hued, while the city backgrounds are more subtly imagined in softer shades of yellows, purples and browns. When the busy day ends, the plane takes off and soars over a sunset-drenched New York City as nighttime lights begin to twinkle. In an addendum, carefully labeled, smaller-scaled versions of the machines appear with further information in more sophisticated language, a welcome aid to parents in answering the inevitable detail-seeking questions.
Young readers who love these powerful machines will find endless fascination here. (Informational picture book. 3-8)
Me Momma and Big John – written by Mara Rockliff and by illustrated William Low
Publishers Weekly ( reviewed June 18, 2012)
Pub Date: August 28, 2012
When John’s mother trudges home from her first day as a stonecutter, “She is gray as ashes, from her headscarf to her boots. Even her bouncy beaded earrings have gone dull as dirt.” What’s more, it’s all from cutting just one stone, “and it’s not done yet.” But Momma doesn’t mind the hard work because she’s a stonecutter at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, and what she does “isn’t just a job…. It’s an art.” With Rockliff’s (My Heart Will Not Sit Down) plainspoken lyricism providing scaffolding for Low’s (Machines Go to Work) incandescent realism, the story of a struggling family transformed through the joy and power of meaningful work is woven into the history of a beloved spiritual landmark. Whether the scene is inside the narrator’s modest apartment or looking down from the barrel vault ceiling onto the cathedral’s magnificent nave, every page is infused with golden light, quiet pride, and soaring hope. An afterword provides background on the still-unfinished cathedral and the training program that employed people like Momma. Ages 3–8. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
Chinatown by William Low
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Kirkus Reviews: (reviewed on July 1, 1997)
A fictionalized walking tour of New York’s Chinatown at the time of the New Year celebration, conducted by a young Chinese- American boy and his grandmother.
Together they make their way through the crowded, colorful streets, into shops and restaurants, and past street vendors. They watch the traditional New Year’s Day parade and lion dance, and wish each other “Gung hay fat choy.” Low’s full-bleed oil paintings glow with red, gold, green, and turquoise; as is true of Low’s work for Elaine Moore’s Good Morning, City (1995), the pages are full of atmospheric lighting effects, as when morning sun first strikes the upper stories of the buildings, then streams through a window into the dark, dusty interior of an herbal shop, or when flames leap beneath a huge restaurant wok, or firecrackers spark and jump about the great tossing head of the New Year’s lion.
Readers will enjoy comparing Low’s paintings with some similar scenes (roasted ducks hanging in a restaurant window, an open-air fishmonger, youngsters training in a kung fu studio, the squat black drum and colorful banners in the parade) photographed by Martha Cooper for Kate Waters’s Lion Dancer (1990). (Picture book. 4-8)
Old Penn Station by William Low
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Kirkus Reviews: (reviewed on March 1, 2007)
*New York Times Best Illustrated Book Old Penn Station (2007)
In celebration of one of New York City’s vanished glories, Low recreates in words and pictures the ornately decorated, girders-and-glass-ceiling wonder that was old Penn Station.
In the text, he covers its history, from construction as a depot for the once-mighty Pennsylvania Railroad to its demolition and far less imposing replacement in the mid-1960s; the full-bleed paintings add impressionistic backgrounds, with hazy scenes of commuters lit by sunlight or lamps, passing through or lingering below soaring architectural spaces. Noting that the destruction of this “palace” created such a public backlash that the Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed—in time to save another gem, Grand Central Station—Low closes with the thought that buildings can be powerful symbols, “the heart and soul of all great cities.”
Young readers, New York residents or not, will be more likely to look up the next time they’re downtown, and to understand that every structure has a unique story. (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-9)
Old Penn Station by William Low
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Booklist: (reviewed on March 1, 2007)
As in Chinatown (1997), Low contributes both words and pictures in this ode to New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. Introductory pages describe why and how the glorious train station was erected. Later spreads focus on how the building was utilized before it fell into disuse and was finally demolished to make way for the smaller, subterranean station used today. Low includes lots of specifics (the name of the firm that designed the station; the amount of granite used for the project), but the details aren’t always integrated into a captivating whole. The artwork, however, is magnificent. Full-spread, oil-and-digital, mixed-media paintings depicting people moving through the beautiful structure will draw children into Low’s underlying message: “Buildings are not just concrete and steel. They are the heart and soul of all great cities.” Teachers will welcome the classroom connections in the companion guide, which is^B available on the publisher’s Web site.
Machines Go To Work by William Low
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Elizabeth Bird/School Library Journal/
Fuse #8 Production: (reviewed 2009)
In his 1975 Introduction to his book Dandelion Wine Ray Bradbury has this to say about children and the ugliness of the mechanical world. “Trains and boxcars and the smell of coal and fire are not ugly to children. Ugliness is a concept that we happen on later and become self-conscious about.” It’s true that many of us adults forget how fascinating and beautiful large machines are to small humans. Of course there are a few grownups capable of remembering, and if they are authors they might write books about trucks and trains and cars and planes. Yet these books tend to be written for small tykes and too often they are simplistic and sufficient. In my own experience as a children’s librarian I have noticed that what kids really love in such books are details and realism. They like to be told the difference between a stabilizer and a backhoe bucket or a tow cable and a smoke stack. William Low taps into that need, bringing us a book that combines story, technical details, and sheer beauty all in one neat little package. At last children and adults finally can find a middle ground in what they consider “beautiful”.
You want a lift the flap book? Brother, you got it. In Machines Go To Work a riverside town plays host to a wide variety of different mechanical beasts. In the first scene we see a backhoe suspiciously close to some tulips. The text asks, “Is the backhoe digging up the flowers?” Lift the flap and the answer is revealed. “No, it’s digging a hole for new crab-apple trees. The flowers are safe.” The book continues in this manner. Firemen rescue a kitten from a tree, a news helicopter reports on a family of ducks crossing the road, a cement mixer needs a tow, and so on. At the end of the day a huge freight train moves through the town and as we lift the flaps the scene pulls back so that we’re looking down on the town from above. And in the midst of the clicketys and the clacks we can see the tow truck, ship, helicopter, fire truck and backhoe all scattered about the streets, going about their day.
William Low is an author/illustrator who is quite popular here in New York. His books Chinatown and Old Penn Station speak to his familiarity with the city itself. Machines Go To Work is an entirely different beast altogether then. It’s a tale of a small town with an industrial history (or so the cargo ship and the train would have me believe). As such, Low is free to indulge in the natural beauty of the living world coupled alongside the mechanical beauty of vehicles. This may not be clear from the cover, but open the book up and look at the title page. There you see a fire truck, and behind it a view of trees and houses. And behind that? The sea. It’s a bright sunny day, but the truck is driving through shadow in this shot, which allows its lights the chance to shine a little in the semi-darkness. And when I think of all the truck books out there that just throw a vehicle into a scene without considering lighting, mood, shadow, or landscape, I grow increasingly impressed with Mr. Low’s work.
I began this review by saying that this book finds a middle ground between what kids find beautiful and what adults acknowledge as lovely. In no spread is this clearer than when the firefighters rescue a kitten from a small grove of cherry blossom trees. This selection is near the beginning of the book, which I credit to Low’s cleverness. A parent flipping through the book idly might pause and grant the book greater respect if they saw this spread right at the start of the story. Essentially what we see here is a fire truck (the front in a kind of permanent shadow, which is a bit odd but oh well) parked before a riot of pink and white blossoms. The blue sky is only slightly visible in the midst of all this color, and the fact that the brick red fire truck doesn’t clash is impressive. One could stare at this picture for a very long time, entirely separate from the story. If William Low does anything, he makes it so that when children ask for this book to be read over and over again, the parents will be eager to plunge themselves into this gorgeous world once more.
What we adults find mundane, Low turns into a story. Adults would generally find a tale of how a tow truck got a jump from a pickup truck less then entirely thrilling. Some kids, however, would want to know the logistics of this moment in the minutest details. Kids are like that. When they want to learn about something they won’t stop until they’ve sated their own curiosity. Low provides for this. In the back of the book is a two-page spread that shows small incredibly well articulated and detailed machines as seen in the book. Each machine (even the railroad crossing sign, which I liked) has a description as well as arrows and words describing each part. Kids will see where a tow truck’s towline is or a tugboat’s spotlight. Adults could probably use a refresher for this kind of stuff as well.
When I think of William Low’s art, I tend to think of thick paints, visible strokes, and bright clear-cut colors. In Machines Go To Work, Low still has all of that, but he has worked in a delicacy and detailing that catch the eye as well. Taking into account his attention to light and shadow, his sense of small towns and their appearances, and the simultaneous beauty found in mechanics and nature, I think it’s clear that this is more than your average truck title. This picture book is beautiful and will be loved by young and old alike. Even if you’ve never cared two bits about things that go vroom and honk honk, you’re going to like what you find here. A rote subject by a master of the form.
Henry Holt prove to be on top of their game by already having YouTube videos out there of Mr. Low talking about his work. In this first one he displays what can only be considered the world’s smallest book dummy. I’m a little distracted by one of the paintings in the background. It vaguely resembles the Jefferson Market Branch where I used to work. I wonder . . .
This one proves to be absolutely fascinating, and maybe a little heartbreaking too. I didn’t realize until after I wrote my review that according to the publication page this book’s artwork was created “with Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Corel Painter.” You cannot tell. This video explains all.
“Here is a fine picture book for little boys who have an innate love of machinery and the noises that big machines make. In fact, the richly colored pages of ‘Machines Go to Work’ probably could not be more exactly calibrated to entrance the vehicle-oriented, 2-to-6-year-old male demographic.”—Wall Street Journal
“This design, along with terrific sound effects, encourages listeners to join in the reading…Low’s digital art brightly colors each page with slightly impressionistic tones. Let these machines do all the work; the reading about them is pure pleasure.”—The Horn Book Magazine, starred review
“Surprising use of color (a railroad crossing sign lights up against a swirling lavender backdrop) make the mechanical subject matter, always a favorite, spring off the page.”—Publishers Weekly
“A fun and feisty tour of big, powerful and fascinating machines; each of them is ready, willing and eager to ‘go to work.’… The illustrations have a bright, active and brushy effect, and they incorporate a pleasing palette that is heavy on bold primary colors. Low knows what works for kids who like their machines big and busy.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This well-constructed picture book is a surefire hit.”—School Library Journal, Starred Review
“Combining the excitement of powerful machines in action with reminders of how they help humans, Low adds a surprising dimension to the familiar story of vehicles at work. Children mesmerized by the vrooming motion will be drawn by the unframed, double-page spreads and big flaps that open to show overviews and close-ups of trucks, trains, and boats.”—Booklist
“With glorious saturated colors, William Low demonstrates how various vehicles and vessels keep a community operating efficiently.”—Kirkus Reviews
Ghost Hands by T.A. Barron – illustrated William Low
Kirkus Reviews (reviewed on May 15th, 2011)
Pub Date: July 1st, 2011
The ubiquity of the handprint in cave art around the world, and Patagonia in particular, begs unresolved questions about the image’s meaning; Barron’s invented back story posits that healers, warriors and others who contributed to the common good may have been thus memorialized.
Adding to the intrigue in Argentina’s Cueva de las Manos is the appearance of a footprint. Combining suspense with coincidence to imagine what prompted this singularity, Barron offers this tale narrated by a son of the Tehuelche tribe. When Auki begs to go hunting, his father admonishes him to wait: “To hunt you must be strong. And brave—brave enough to face the puma. For the puma, too, is a hunter….” The child sets out alone. Digitally rendered compositions teem with texture and depth. Light and shadow crisscross the cliffs, and loose strokes animate the players. In a dramatic double-page spread, the beast appears, fangs bared, facing the reader and the boy. While fleeing, the protagonist wounds his foot, stumbling upon the secret cave “visited only by elders…and…ghosts.” A climactic scene pitting the savage animal against the aged cave painter portrays Auki’s foot as a weapon—one worthy of record.
As in Barron and Low’s previous collaboration, The Day the Stones Walked (2007), tightly connected visuals and text provoke curiosity and awe about a phenomenon at once mysterious and accessible. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)
School Library Journal (reviewed July, 2011)
BARRON, T. A. Ghost Hands: A Story Inspired by Patagonia’s Cave of the Hands. illus. by William Low. 40p. CIP. Philomel. 2011. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25083-5. LC 2010010648.
Gr 2-5–In the mountains of South America is a cave called Cueva de las Manos, or, Cave of the Hands, made by the Tehuelche tribe who lived in the Patagonian region for thousands of years. Nearly 900 separate hands are depicted on the surface of the rock, as well as the image of one foot. The author, spellbound by the mystery and wonder of the hands, but especially of the single foot, created this fictional account of how and why they might have been created. It is the story of Auki, whose name means “little hunter,” but who is deemed too young and inexperienced to accompany his father. Determined to prove his worth, he sets off early one morning to hunt a puma, but in a chance encounter with one, injures his foot in a fall. While crawling to safety, he discovers the Cave of the Hands, as well as the artist, who brusquely sends him away. Auki hobbles off, only to be pulled back by the painter’s shouts of alarm because the seemingly life-size puma has cornered him. Now is Auki’s real chance to prove his bravery by kicking the animal. The stunning digitally enhanced illustrations, rich in color and texture, perfectly capture the terrain, action, and emotions in a realistic manner that helps readers imagine the time and place. Teachers can use this as a good example of how a story can be developed by imagining why or how something came to be and can mine the story for Barron’s abundant use of descriptive similes.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID