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A CITY BECOMES

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by Judy Antell

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Anyone who thinks it’s simple getting a children’s book published would be wise to consider A City Is, which took 13 years from concept to final product, surviving even the death of the author. A City Is, illustrated by Brooklyn Heights resident Melanie Hope Greenberg, is a collection of poems by Norman Rosten. Rosten, a novelist and Brooklyn’s first Poet Laureate, met Greenberg at Brooklyn Heights’ legendary children’s bookstore, Cousin Arthur’s, in 1991, and suggested the two collaborate. Although Greenberg had by that point written and illustrated two children’s books – she now has more than 24 under her belt – and Rosten was well-known, they were unable to land a publisher. Greenberg worked on the book on and off for years, seizing on the ultimately successful idea of adapting the poems to scenes around New York City. The book was just published by Henry Holt. Greenberg said she used muted colors, but “gave it a glow.” She didn’t want the book to “look sad,” so she added some sharp colors. The result is a glorious exploration of the city, through both a poet’s and an artist’s eyes. Greenberg’s style resembles folk art, which humanizes New York; both the skyscrapers and tiny parks in the book seem friendly and accessible. In addition to writing and illustrating books, Greenberg travels to schools to talk about her books, and leads student workshops on creating picture books. Schoolchildren, she reports, respond well to her books about New York City, which include Down in the Subway and Aunt Lilly’s Laundromat. Greenberg, the youngest of three girls, says she was inspired artistically by her oldest sister who is a fashion designer. This sister’s art supplies “were my toys,” she says. She has mined her own life in her books; her father owned a luncheonette in the Bronx, leading to one of her early books, My Father’s Luncheonette. She also explored her heritage in Celebrations: Our Jewish Holidays, and Blessings: Our Jewish Ceremonies. The kind of perseverance it took to keep working on A City Is is a Greenberg personality trait, as it turns out. She grew up in the city, but has lived in Brooklyn Heights for 28 years, in the same apartment she found through an ad in the Village Voice. And she still has the same agent she started with.

 


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