City, country: a look at contrasts

Town and Country, by Alice and Martin Provensen. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 32 pp. $9.95. All ages. This book's richly detailed contrast of urban and rural America will unite many of its older readers in moments of time remembered: the classic architecture of Symphony Hall standing indignantly next to the frenetically lighted billboard of a rock concert; or the relentlessly pragmatic offense of a pneumatic drill vs. the aesthetic self-indulgence of a nearby restaurant. The country, too, has its energy and demands, and even noise, along with its very different images of pastoral quiet and simplicity. For young readers the book gives a provocative and distilled taste of the offerings of each environment.

So what more could one ask besides a comprehensive overview of two incredibly different modes of life -- both so beautifully and realistically illustrated?

Perhaps a little more to discover, a little more poetic focusing on the particular. There doesn't seem to be much for the reader to do except identify and classify various objects and experiences in the text and illustration. The reader isn't enticed enough to enter into the multifaceted activities of these two worlds.

It's not that this worthy and highly commendable endeavor is anything less than what it wants to be: It's a magnificent success within its own design. Rather, it's that in the authors' desire to cover everything, they run the risk of lapsing into sheer listmaking when opportunities exist to tell even more in some particular image or text.

An engaging humor and a sense of the writer's voice do come forth in the text as a whole. They tell us that children learn basically the same things in country and city schools -- but if you knock a ball over a fence in the country, ``the only one who might mind will be a cow,'' whereas in the city, ``you not only make someone angry, but you will probably lose [it].''

Putting aside the ways in which greater lyricism and imagination might have come into play, this book gets an ``A'' for sheer bigness of vision. It shows an honest ear for what interests children, and makes for an excellent, deft, intelligent piece of reading. By the time one gets through the contrasting depictions of urban and rural life, the overall feeling is one of very considerable immersion in the two great poles of human life.

Darian J. Scott is an elementary school teacher.

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