In Christoph Niemann’s Subway a father and two boy decide to spend a cold, rainy day exploring the New York City Subway system – just for fun. That’s really all that happens. With 36 pages of colorful, mainly gouache-on-black with a line of rhymed text here and there, Subway is simple but also utterly compelling. I know this because my sons, (5 and 7) commandeered the book from my desk soon after its arrival. I recovered it a day or so later when I discovered them sitting quietly (!), together (!!), my eldest reading the book to his little brother. I was stunned.
As fans of Niemann’s Abstract City Blog in the New York Times blog will know, he has a gift, maybe a genius, for distilling every day experiences into art. More often than not his work is inspired by love and nostalgia for New York City (Niemann now lives in Berlin after 11 years in NYC). Subway is the perfect example of the ordinary made magic.
Of course the lines have on personalities. The 7, a bolt of violet in the dark arrives to a riot of colors at 42nd Street. The F and the G weep when they separate at Bergen, only to be reunited at Roosevelt Avenue. The Q makes a joyful daylight arc from DeKalb to Canal. This is a subway of the imagination that feels as real as the rumble-breeze of an in-coming train.
For children it seems, Christoph’s book is second nature. My sons, now S and C respectively, speak in alphanumeric code and ask me, M when D will take them for their day out riding the subways. It’s a B you and your C’s will love to R.