March 2006

Up, up, up!

By Deborah Hopkinson
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A young boy in the Depression notices something rising out of the rubble of an old Manhattan hotel, a building that will be the tallest building in the world, a symbol of hope in the darkest of times. Deborah Hopkinson, a frequent contributor to BookPage, lyrically tells the story of how this building came to be in the luminous new picture book Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building.

The book's young narrator and his father watch as the months pass, adding human-size wonder to the construction of a world-renowned building. Hopkinson further personalizes the story by telling it in the second person: You drag your pop along to see, and tell him what you've heard on the street. The author incorporates plenty of facts into the story, and art and text work beautifully together. James Ransome's oil illustrations are lush, showing how the building grows, framed with steel girders, bit by bit, piece by piece, like a giant, real-life puzzle. He details various stages of construction, such as one spread showing progress from June through November. We see workers eating lunch as they perch on the girders, and learn that beef stew and coffee could be had on the 47th floor. One wonderful spread shows how four men work together in quick succession to rivet the frame these nitty-gritty details make the book fascinating and real.

When the building opens on May 1, 1931, it is the world's tallest structure, built in record time, with 60,000 tons of steel and 10 million bricks. Amid all of these details, the sheer wonder of the Empire State Building is not lost, with glowing pictures at sunset and at night.

The narrator gets a huge surprise when his father takes him to the top for a tour. At the top, his father proclaims, If we can do this, we can do anything. Hopkinson and Ransome, who previously joined forces on the award-winning Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, have created a delightful resource about one of the most famous buildings in the world. Let's just say this duo has definitely risen to the occasion!

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Sky Boys

Sky Boys

By Deborah Hopkinson
Random House
ISBN 9780375836107

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