Graphic Book Review: Tenements, Towers & Trash

This is a big book. Hard to hold. It’s size dwarfs the other books on my pile. Just like New York City. Writer/Illustrator Julia Wertz’s “unconventional illustrated history of New York City,” as the subtitle of Tenements, Towers & Trash suggests, is larger than life, and is a captivating look at the quirks and curiosities of New York City.

Inside the covers, Wertz tells stories of the city far from the glossy brochures you might find about the city. Here, you learn about, through her visuals, how neighborhoods have changed over time, where all of the trash goes, where to find the “secret bars” of the city, how to discover the boat junkyards, and more than a few famous women of the city (including a murderess and an abortionist).

The oversized pages of this oversized book give weight to the stories of the city itself, and her drawings are dense with lines and details, all captured by her love of New York City. She is not a native of the city, and only lived there for a stretch of time, but she seems to have noticed so much about architecture and buildings, and had the drive to learn deep about the history of these places.

I could not help but imagine a collection of these books, documenting our urban spaces in graphic story forms, and how valuable that historical element would be in understanding how we shape our spaces, and how our spaces shape us.

A note for teachers: There is some profanity in here, particularly as Wertz’s voice as the narrator of the story comes through in the text elements of the page. The content inTenements, Towers & Trash is more appropriate for upper high school students, of this book were to be of value in the classroom. But teachers could also pluck pages from the book to use as exemplars for students doing their own graphic interpretations of their own communities.

Peace (along city streets),

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