Friday in the City… and Everywhere

Every Friday – by Dan Yaccarino, Henry Holt and Company, 2007

You will never mistake Dan Yaccarino’s illustrations for the work of another artist.  Even though many other children’s books allude to classic picture book art, Yaccarino’s does so with affection, and a judicious dose of nostalgia.  His characters live in the present but also in the most durable parts of the past, including warm family relationships, children’s need for routine and security, and the flights of imagination enjoyed by children in any era. Sometimes his book illustrations are homages to city life (for example, Paul DuBois Jacobs’ and Jennifer Swender’s Count on the Subway), but their themes or settings are transferable to any place where kids live. In Every Friday, a young boy and his father share a close and reassuring Friday morning walk through the city, culminating in a weekly breakfast in a neighborhood diner.  Yaccarino explains in his “Author’s Note,” placed before the story starts and under an inviting image of a steaming coffee pot, that the story is based on his own experience with his son. 

The first scene might take place anywhere.  A mom feeds a baby in a high chair while kissing her husband goodbye.  She is wearing a nineteen-fifties era shirt-dress, and he is pulling a suit jacket over a white shirt and brown tie.  There is a chiming clock on the wall that looks as if it might come from the Black Forest, and the open door shows milk bottles next to the newspaper.  So far, the book might take place in the pre-Feminine Mystique suburbs.  Then father and son leave their apartment building, tipping their hats to the doorman and a friendly street sweeper.  Friendly is the key word here.  The book is not a reactionary tribute to an era when women’s place was in the home, but rather a celebration of community and the joys of continuity in a child’s life.

Father and son take the same walk throughout the four seasons, changing their clothing to suit the weather.  Neighbors emerge from buildings resembling brightly colored blocks. Some are fully depicted figures, while others are silhouettes behind doors or viewed through windows.  We are in the city, but also in a world where children easily identify who and what is important to them.  “Everyone is rushing, but we’re taking our time,” the author states, as father and son watch busy people heading to work.  They reciprocate waves from everyone: a newsstand owner, and a woman on a park bench feeding birds, workers unloading a truck.  There is no social hierarchy; even dogs merit attention, whether they are being walked on leashes or sitting like humans in a car. There is a beatnik in sandals.

When they reach their destination, the waitress, Rosa, is so important that she is given a name.  The center of the breakfast experience is conversation: “While we eat, Dad and I talk about all sorts of things.” The author doesn’t need to specify what those are.  When it’s time to go, the boy is already anticipating next week’s version of the same day.

Clearly, the retro elements in the pictures appeal to adults sharing the book with children.  But it seems clear that children also intuit what is lasting about these images.  Their simplicity, their humorous mixture of specific detail and recognizable ideal, make the book truly durable.  When the father lifts his small son off the ground so that he can reach a mailbox and deposit a letter, nostalgia meets the perennial aspects of parenthood.  A parent helping a child to reach the right level to accomplish a small task sums up this beautiful book.

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