A review of Down in the Subway by Miriam Cohen, a fun picture book for kids who love trains, plus ideas for activities, materials, and toys to extend the book.
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Down in the Subway
Written by Miriam Cohen Illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg
Oscar, a boy riding the subway with his mother and little brother on a hot NYC day, is captivated by the Island Lady. She offers to show him what’s inside her big bag, and what comes out surprises and delights everyone on the train: everything from the “cool Island breeze,” the “green Caribbean Sea,” and a picnic lunch with food of from the islands to share, to the Calypso man (singing a song about a tropical subway vacation), a steel band, and finally a whole Island town full of dancing people!
- Caribbean food, music, and culture: This is a fun, simple introduction to a culture that could be extended through other books and activities.
- Taking your culture with you wherever you go: I liked the way the Island Lady’s bag and its contents could be seen as a literal representation of the way that people can bring their culture with them as they travel the world and share it with those they meet.
- Shyness and opening up: this is handled subtly in the book, but Oscar goes from looking to his mama for her to answer the Island Lady to him singing the Calypso Man’s song over and over at the end of the book. It’s not a direct connection, but enough of one to show that he had gained some confidence in public after his encounter with the Island Lady.
- Using your imagination to make an everyday experience exciting: This story is a great dramatization of the way that using one’s imagination or engaging with other people can make a long wait or a ride on a car, bus, or train a fun experience.
The text is infused with sentence structures and turns of phrase that evoked the rhythms of the Caribbean Islands.
Lots of color and lots of movement in the illustrations underscore the increasingly chaotic — and increasingly happy — mood on the subway trains!
- Oscar and his family are African American.
- The Island Lady and many other minor characters come from the Caribbean Islands.
The Kid’s Opinion:
The Little Engineer and I really enjoyed this lively picture book. I can tell it made an impression on him, because he keeps asking about it, especially about the Calypso Man’s song. And when we read it while eating lunch at a restaurant the other day, a few minutes later he got up and started dancing!
- Subway Papercraft: Head over to What Do We Do All Day and download and print this free printable Subway Train coloring page and papercraft created by the illustrator, Melanie Hope Greenberg!
- Caribbean Cooking with Kids: Here are some recipes for some of the foods that are mentioned in the book. Cook them with your kids and take them on a picnic lunch!
- Music: Listen (and dance to) some calypso or steel drum music after reading the book.
- Pretend Play: Set up a pretend subway car (sort of like how we play Big Engine) and act out the eating, singing, and dancing from the book. Someone could pretend to be the Island Lady, pulling each thing out of a bag.
- What’s in Your Bag?: The same as above, but instead of acting out the book, pull things out of the bag that represent your culture, your family’s heritage, or your own life. (Shortly after I thought of doing this, I went to pick up my son, and he struck up a conversation about the Island Lady’s bag and asked me what was in my bag all on his own! It was a fun discussion, and it was cool to hear what he thought would be in his bag.)
Related Toys, Games, and Materials
- Streetwise Manhattan Bus Subway Map
- New York Kids Subway Floor Puzzle 36 Pieces
- Schylling Brio Metro Railway Set
- Subways Game
- Munipals NYC Subway Toy Wooden Trains (compatible with standard wooden train tracks)
- Tabletop Mini C Steel Pan Drum
Related Activities and Ideas
Sand Tracks: Train Beach Activity
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melanie hope greenberg says
Thanks so very much for reviewing my book. I’m thrilled!