Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tinyville Town by Brian Biggs

 I looked briefly at this picture book a while ago, but when I received a review copy of the original picture book and three of the accompanying board books I decided to do a longer post, especially as I have a large community program coming up.

Tinyville Town is a creation of Brian Biggs, a whole world that is caught between the cozy, imaginary ideal of the 1950s and the diverse, tolerant world of the future (well, hopeful future).

The picture book which introduces Tinyville Town tells the story of a typical day. Everyone is getting ready for work and everyone has a job (no unemployment here). But there's a problem - a traffic jam on the bridge over the river! How will the people get to work. Fortunately, everyone works together for a solution. The mayor meets with the engineer and city planner, the various construction people put the bridge together, and voila, Tinyville Town has a new bridge!

Biggs' cheerful, colorful, chunky pictures show a remarkable diversity of colors and genders, all working hard to keep their city functioning and beautiful.The city is clean and friendly, everyone is smiling and even when there are problems they work together to make things end well. As you might have guessed, I am not a person who really likes or feels comfortable with this utopian-style vision of, well, anything. But I admit that's a personal quirk and for teachers, parents, or librarians looking for titles on how communities work together or construction this is a great choice.

After introducing Tinyville Town, Biggs branched out into a series of board book introducing various community workers. Each title uses simple sentences to describe the day's work of the various people. The veterinarian examines a dog and finds out why his tummy hurts. The firefighter puts out a fire at the bakery. The librarian answers questions, helps people find books, and puts the books away. These titles reflect the same cozy feeling of community as well as diversity; the vet is female and her husband cares for their child, the librarian appears to be gay, the firefighter's crew includes women and people of color.

I don't doubt the usefulness of these titles in a classroom setting or program on community helpers (although I suspect that mustache is a safety hazard and I have complicated feelings about the depiction of a male librarian which many of my colleagues share). I'm a little doubtful about these being good board books though. The typical audience for board books is ages 0-2 and these are definitely aimed at a preschool audience. The longer text, more complex pictures, and subject matter of community helpers is too advanced for the average toddler. However, there are plenty of uses for board books with preschoolers and these would make a good addition to a board book collection.

Verdict: While I'm not as gung ho about these titles as some of my colleagues are, due to my innate cynicism and some personal feelings about representation, they are certainly standard additions to any library for community helpers units and present a pleasing depiction of a community-minded city with a broad range of diversity.

Tinyville Town
ISBN: 9781419721335

I'm a veterinarian
ISBN: 9781419721359

I'm a librarian
ISBN: 9781419723223

I'm a firefighter
ISBN: 9781419721342

Published 2016 by Abrams; Review copies provided by publisher; Donated to the library


Joe said...

Just curious about what your complicated feelings are about the librarian male.

We're fairly rare, but we exist - and some of us are gay and wear cute purple bowties! :)

Jennifer said...

Ha, you definitely do exist! As witness my awesome mentor in grad school, Mike Rogalla, and our stellar adult services librarian. Too complicated for a blog post, but I guess I have complicated feelings b/c on the one hand - diversity is awesome! And like I said, I know lots of awesome librarian guys! On the other hand, in what has traditionally been a female profession, especially in children's services, along with all the traditional "it's just a women's job until they get married" etc. and with a lot more male librarians in administrative or management roles and then it's somehow, cool when guys do it? I dunno. Like I said - complicated. It's not really an "I don't like this" feeling. Just...complicated?

Joe said...

That makes sense to me, but I think he's maybe intentionally subverting expectations? Like, when people mostly think of librarians, they don't think of guys in that role and he wanted to challenge that. I'm kinda hoping that's where he was going with it, but I could be reading into it. Sometimes a giant tasty mushroom is just a giant tasty mushroom - no subtext at all.

I was really, really, really hoping that the Tinyville Fireman would be a Firewoman. I hope in future installments Biggs subverts expectations - if that is indeed what he's doing.

Jennifer said...

Yeah, that's a good point. And sometimes I'm like, "why am I writing a three page thesis on the philosophy of Paw Patrol? let's just go read some stories!"