THE STORY UNDER THE CITY UNDER THE CITY by Dan Yaccarino
I’m so excited to share my new book, City Under the City! It’s unlike any book I’ve ever created.
I have a deep abiding passion for picture books,but have been thinking about the early reader/graphic novel format for quite some time. I’ve been telling stories using sequential images my 30-year career in books, but I’ve recently been inspired to expand beyond the picture book format, as well as the core audience of my books. I credit my editor Maria Russo with encouraging me to explore this different way of telling a story. It was rather exhilarating to dive deep into a world that only existed in my mind for so long and for Maria to help me realize it.
Early reader/graphic novels are such a great way to encourage emerging readers to follow a story told in text, as well as images, which, I believe, are equally important. We all should be educated in literacy in both words and pictures and consider viewing pictures as “reading.”
I believe images engage the reader with a character, like Bix, the heroine of City Under the City, and story in a way mere words simply cannot. I was thrilled with the notion of giving the reader an abundance of imagery infused with details of her character, the story of her epic journey, and the worlds of the futuristic city Bix grew up in, as well as the city she discovers (along with LOTS of well-hidden Easter Eggs hinting at things to come for Bix), but with just enough words to guide the reader through the story.
Being a total book nerd, it was so exciting for me to work with designer Amelia Mack to choose paper with just the right texture, decide on the trim size, page layout and oh, that gatefold! All of these elements really make the book pop!
I’ve been thinking about this digital age kids are growing up in, which is quite different from my own childhood experience. Having grown up in the analogue age, I have one foot in each world and a unique perspective because of it.
I’m constantly aware that online activity can be monitored, but this is not so for so many growing up in the digital age. I thought of surveillance in this futuristic city of City Under the City as giant floating Eyes that keep watch over everyone and help them in their daily lives. After a while, the people stopped questioning them. It’s like asking a fish to describe what it’s like living in water. It’s all around us. It’s everywhere. This is the kind of stuff I think about, especially in regards to our children. My book and animated series Doug Unplugs talks about striking a balance between online and experiential learning and encourages kids to gather as much information about something of interest online, but unplug and learn the rest in the real world.
Without giving too much away, I wanted our future hero to experience a world where technology was not as pervasive and information was more freely accessible, almost as if she was traveling back in time.
Then, of course, there’s the science fiction aspect to City Under the City. You can see the influence of my undying affection for sci fi in both in my books and animated series. It’s such a wonderful genre to use to explore different subject matter. I’ve been fascinated with futuristic tech and what our world will soon look like and will occasionally create a character or story in order to explore it.
Reading is a strong element in City Under the City and how its power creates strength, builds intelligence and is the key to freedom. If there’s a second hero in City Under the City aside from Bix, it’s READING.
The importance of family is something that runs throughout my work and the emotional engine that drives City Under the City forward. Bix loves her family, but hates the Eyes and refuses to allow them to do things for her, unlike everyone else. She’s a misfit, but her family still loves her. Another element of City Under the City is community and strength in numbers and in this case, a force to be reckoned with!
My approach to the illustrations for City Under the City was a bit different than in my other books. I wanted to make the art as accessible and appealing to an older audience as much as possible. My general thinking in both art and text is to keep the words and images to a minimum for a younger audience and add more details to appeal to an older one.
My work for preschoolers is comprised mostly of shapes and colors, with some line, but you’ll notice that the art for City Under the City is mostly in line, especially when Bix travels below to the secret city. I forgot how much I love illustrating with brush and ink!
I hope everyone who picks up a copy of City Under the City enjoys it as much as I did creating it. I’m so excited and happy to delve into the next book, City Under the City: The Undergrounders. More soon!
Children the world over know Dan Yaccarino from his children’s books, Parent’s Choice Award-winning animated TV series “Oswald” (Nick Jr), Emmy-winning “Willa’s Wild Life” (NBC and Qubo), and character designs for “The Backyardigans” (Nickelodeon), as well as his many illustrated toys, games, and other children’s products. In addition to his own stories, Dan’s bold, stylized illustrations add wit and energy to the work of such distinguished authors as Margaret Wise Brown, Jack Prelutsky, and Kevin Henkes. Dan’s internationally recognized art style has earned him a large following in Japan, exhibits in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Bologna, and a visit to the White House. He is also a contributing children’s book reviewer for the New York Times.