A Brief Visit with Salvatore Rubbino
and his Walk in New York

h1 June 30th, 2009 by jules

“We stop again. This building’s not as tall as it is W I D E. Dad tells me it’s the
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY. ‘And meet the library lions!’ he says.
‘They guard the books inside.’…
(Click image to enlarge.)

Anyone else seen Salvatore Rubbino’s A Walk in New York and wanna share in my enthusiasm for this book? You know what I love most about this one, all about a young boy’s first visit to Manhattan with his father? The cheer in the book practically drips from the pages: The young boy, in all his excitement to see the big city, exudes a joy that is infectious. “I can tell who the visitors are,” he says in this first-person narrative: “{W}e’re the ones who keep stopping to look up!”

This—Rubbino’s first picture book, published by Candlewick in April—is the simple tale of the boy’s sightseeing in the Big Apple, but Rubbino also slips in lots of fun facts about New York, placed all over the sprawling spreads in smaller font, as if they are the very thoughts the boy ponders in amazement: “About 125,000 people travel to and from Grand Central Terminal every day” and “Sailors used to call the sails at the top of ship masts skyscrapers” and—as you can see in the New York Public Library spread opening this post—“The library lions are called Patience and Fortitude. They’re made of pink marble from Tennessee.” (To that I say: Tennessee, baby. Damn skippy.) And, be still my heart, the Empire State Building spread is a vertical fold-out. (I love that, on the book’s cover, it says “GIANT FOLDOUT INSIDE!” And it’s not a sticker slapped on by the publisher, mind you. It’s the illustrator’s writing on a taxi on the cover. Or, it seems to be, though you can’t see it in this particular cover image above left. And what I love is that it’s something you’d hear coming from the exuberant young protagonist himself.) Kirkus points out that the inclusion of sources for Rubbino’s facts would have been even better, to which I say: Okay. Sure. But I still love this book with as much enthuasiasm as this young boy loves seeing Manhattan with his father.

And the very, very ending, which includes a gift for you, the reader, and you only? It’s massively charming, this invitation is. But I won’t tell you what it is so that you can experience it yourself.

Fortunately, I’ve got some spreads from it today to share so that you can see Rubbino’s style with your own eyes — his mixed-media illustrations (with a definite R. Gregory Christie vibe), loose-lined and rendered in that cool, subdued palette:

“My feet are really tired—even Dad’s are—so we find a park to rest in. It’s called UNION SQUARE PARK. We buy some fruit and postcards at a market stall, then sit down in the grass and listen to the music.”
(Click image to enlarge.)

And Rubbino, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, is here today to talk a bit about the book. A Walk in New York began as a series of paintings that were short-listed for the Victoria and Albert Museum Illustration Awards. (Here’s the 2005 announcement.) I’m glad he took those paintings and made them into a book. And I thank him for stopping by today for a brief visit.

Salvatore: I have always lived in cities and enjoy the sense of excitement one feels when everything is constantly on the move and, particularly, the wonderful spectacle of street life. There’s something to look and point at in a city all the time, and you’re never quite sure what you’ll find around the next street corner, and this keeps things interesting.

I take a sketchbook whenever I go travelling and find that the process of drawing really helps me to look and see things that might otherwise go unnoticed. The drawings I made whilst on location in New York provided valuable research for the book. The “walk” in A Walk in New York is an actual route, carefully designed with families in mind, not too strenuous but with plenty of variety and the chance to take in some of New York’s landmarks. The main characters in the book are based on me and my son. I took great pleasure in making myself look taller — you can, after all, do anything in a story!

The pictures are built up using drawing and coloured textures from print-making with some painting. These elements are then collaged together digitally, using a computer. Once the basic layout of the page spread has been established, I continue to add layers of detail — things like street signs, fire hydrants, school buses, policemen, for example; all these details help to mark out a city’s visual identity and reinforce a sense of place.

New York certainly lived up to my expectations and was a great city for walking. The grid pattern of numbered streets and avenues meant I never got lost and could always count my way back to my hotel. New Yorkers, it seems, walk with a sense of purpose and ambition, and this is reflected in the city’s buildings. A good example is the New York Public Library, a building that celebrates books and uses modern technology to whisk book requests by conveyor belt to readers.

Amongst the dense urban network, one can nevertheless find green spaces and the chance to give tired feet a rest. Union Square Park blossoms into full colour during the spring and summer months and makes for an interesting contrast to the city around it.

In the end, I generated much more material that could be accommodated. Perhaps there’s the potential for another walk…

I hope readers enjoy the book.

Thanks again to Salvatore. I hope there are more picture books in his future.

* * * * * * *

A WALK IN NEW YORK. Copyright © 2009 by Salvatore Rubbino. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, on behalf of Walker Books, London.

7 comments to “A Brief Visit with Salvatore Rubbino
and his Walk in New York”

  1. I enjoyed this review and I’d love to read the book and think my kids would also like it. As a frequent visitor to NYC growing up and during college years, I want my kids to learn about the city where their Grampa grew up.

  2. I want this! I will look for it. I miss NY the way some people will “always have Paris” (though I was lucky enough to have a happy ending in the romance dept, unlike Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca). –Farida

  3. Thanks, Marjorie!

    Farida, I figured you’d like that. I also pointed it out to Betsy Bird, who I figured would like that opening spread for obvious reasons.

    I hope he does more picture books, but then I guess I’ve already said that.

  4. Love the cover, with the boy’s hands on that bald head :)! Thanks for the peek; interesting to read what Salvatore had to say. I love NYC and reading about it.

  5. I’ve only been to NY once, and didn’t get as far as the library or anything — but seriously — the stopping to look up thing? Yeah, that was me. And I’m going to get mugged doing that one day. Anyway, I love this. Til now, I haven’t really lived in a city-city since I was a little kid in SF, but there’s a vibe to living in one, and the huge parks and the architecture on the libraries (someday I’m going to see those lions) and the crowds on the lawns, and the music some guy is playing on steel drums on the corner — and dancing with a piper in a kilt — has its own weird flavor of here, and this book really captures all the color of a city as vibrant as NY. Nice one.

  6. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast […]

  7. Billy, the author’s son, goes to my daughter’s primary school. He is in Yr 4.

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