Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday 3.23.16 The Secret Subway

Every Wednesday I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog is to give educational professionals
new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

I am excited to share Shana Corey's The Secret Subway.  It's a great example of research, great storytelling by author Shana Corey and brilliant artwork by Red Nose Studio.

Image result for the secret subway by shana corey

The Secret Subway gives us the story of New York's first underground subway.  Starting with a great question, "what if....".  With that question, Alfred Ely Beach started the wheels of what became New York City's first underground transportation system.  

Wanting to give the citizens of New York a way to travel where weather wouldn't be an issue, where traffic would no longer be a concern, where it wouldn't add to the city's dirt and grime.  But where to get started?  A sneaky plan was hatched and it was supported by New York City's well known mob boss, Boss Tweed.

Working in the dark hours of night, under the city, Beach and his workers built a tunnel and a train, one that was powered by an enormous fan.  Leaving no details spared, visitors were treated to an underground "fairyland", complete with a waiting room that had a designer's flourish, entertainment and food.

Image result for the secret subway by shana corey

Of course the real sight to see was the underground train that transported the riders back and forth on 294 feet of tracks.

Image result for the secret subway by shana corey

However, not everyone was enthralled with the new subterranean railway.  Shopkeepers wanted people to stay above ground, where their shops were.  Boss Tweed funded his friends' plans for an above ground railway.  Beach's invention came to a halt and was not allowed to be expanded.  

Of course, we know this was not the end to New York's subway system.  But did you know this was the beginning?  I always enjoy finding a new part of our history.

One of the biggest things that will stick with me in this book are the illustrations.  There is a small blurb on the cover that tells us to look behind the book jacket.  I did that before even reading the text and I loved having the information as I read the story.  By taking the book jacket off, you read how Red Nose Studio (illustrator Chris Sickels) put the illustrations together.  He starts out by letting us know how he had to research all the different images (more primary resources!) in order to start making sketches.  Getting the historical details was very important to him.  After sketching the book, he was ready to start constructing the sculptures that became the people and objects in the illustrations.  It was fascinating to learn about his process.  I love public libraries, but this is a book I am so glad I own so I can take the book jacket off and read about this process!

Want to see some of this artwork in action?  Check out the fantastic book trailer!

Using This Book as a Mentor Text:
  • Point readers to the Author's Notes at the end of the book.  Corey shares that most of her research was done through primary source documents.  Find places that show evidence of having come from primary sources.  How do students think this may help the authenticity of the story?  How can they use primary sources in their research?  Look at places Corey used to show students ideas where to find primary sources.
  • I love how this story gives us a new piece of history.  How do authors find those new pieces to write about?  Have a discussion about inquiry and wondering.  Find places in the text that show people thinking and wondering and asking those big questions.  How does that move us forward in our thinking?
  • Do you do Genius Hour or talk about Passion Projects?  Link this in with what you do - discuss Beach's passion and how it got this project off the ground.  Talk about how not all inventions are successful, yet how we learn from them.
Pair this book with:

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure: A TOON Graphic
Lost in NYC:  A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman (TOON Graphics)

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli


  1. I've been very curious about this book since I've ridden NYC subways my whole life and I live near the new subway line that is being built. Thanks for a great review.

  2. Wow, those illustrations are fantastic. I'm always thrilled to see illustrators thinking outside the box and utilizing different artistic forms. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. This. Looks. Phenomenal! Cannot wait to read this one!

  4. I am super jealous that you have a copy of this book! Still waiting for my library to get it. Maybe I'll have to break down and buy it. Thanks for your thoughtful review!

  5. I have this coming soon. The illustrations look so great. I also like that it shows someone following their passion. Thanks!