City Under the City

It's time to add another title to the list of excellent "portal" picture books. The (incomplete) list includes Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen, Christian Robinson's Another and now Dan Yaccarino's City Under the City, a playfully dystopian story with a message.

Bix lives with her family in a city of the future above which hover the Eyes, which resemble yellow balloons, each with a single googly eyeball. The Big Brother-like Eyes "help" citizens, as by choosing what Bix and her classmates read on their screens at school. One day Bix's desire to elude the Eyes compels her to follow a rat under the ground, which leads her to an unpopulated "city under the city." (It resembles a city of the present.) There Bix discovers a disused room full of "strange-looking objects"--books. When she finally returns to her family, she brings a book, rousing the ire of the Eyes. Bix must resort to hero mode in order to rescue her sister from the Eyes and wake up her fellow citizens to what they've been missing.

This is heady stuff made enticing to young readers through cartoonish art with comics-style panels and a well-chosen palette: lavender-colored Bix and the yellow Eyes are, fittingly, color wheel opposites, and the red of the belowground city suggests vitality. In City Under the City, Yaccarino does again what he did so well in Doug Unplugged and Doug Unplugs on the Farm: comment on the present through the experience of a child of the future. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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