"On Linden Square" is a picture book about urban neighborhoods and how they can be unfriendly. But what can change that? Kate Sullivan, in her picture book, uses a snowy day during winter break as the "ice breaker."
It's the first day of winter vacation and Stella Mae Culpepper is already bored. As she looks out from the window of her second-floor apartment, she can see all of the usual activities on Linden Square, her neighborhood in the city.
Thus begins the story of this small, unique group of folks. Linden Square is filled with diverse characters who like a variety of music, art and food. But while Stella Mae knows some of her neighbors by name, and while she knows some of what they like to do (or eat, or play), she does not really know them in person.
There is Fernando, her upstairs neighbor who sings karaoke, and Miss Arpeggio who lives downstairs and plays Moonlight Sonata on the piano. Mr. Rubenstein lives next door and has two cats called Pianissimo and Fortissimo, and across the street is a guy who practices his slide trombone.
There are other characters, but it's no surprise that the author is an award-winning composer and performer who plays piano and many other instruments. She is multi-talented and also has painted everything from portraits and landscapes to cartoons. Music runs rampant throughout the story.
When there is a huge snowfall, Stella Mae goes outside to the little park-like area in the middle of the square and begins to build a snowman. One by one the neighbors come to watch and to help build a snow sculpture. Fernando carves horns on the top. Another couple (who like dancing) sculpt dancing feet and a fancy crown.
After deciding on a name, the characters rush inside and bring out food for everyone. Mr. Rubenstein brings latkes, the Chatterjees offer special curry-flavored tacos. Someone brings candles, and while Trombone guy plays a tango, everyone dances.
Friendships have been made, and the neighborhood is now not just a neighborhood -- it's a community.
The theme of friendship within diversity and the possibility of one event bringing together many people are great lessons for children. "The Cat With Seven Names" is another recent picture book with similar themes.
A stimulating classroom activity (and one that would work well with Common Core standards) would be to read both books and have students compare and contrast the two stories.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, for review purposes.
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