Bolivar Eats New York: A Discovery Adventure
“Bolivar Eats New York offers a great exposure to the variety of a city that hosts one of the largest international populations in the world.”
Adventure and food go together like peas in a pod, or perhaps more like shrimp and dumplings, or bagels and lox, or matzoh balls and soup. When Bolivar, a large and friendly looking T-Rex, orders the same sandwich as usual from the same deli lunch counter, his young friend challenges him to try something new. Bolivar is dragged, reluctantly but amicably, all over the boroughs of New York City on a quest for a wider variety of sweet, savory, sassy flavors.
In exploring various locations, Bolivar also experiences an international cultural smorgasbord: Manhattan hosts Jewish delis; Brooklyn features the classics at the Coney Island Boardwalk; Queens hits on Chinese staples (dim sum) as well as Middle East favorites (shwarma, falafel); the Bronx is full steam Italian bakery (pignoli and espresso) as is Staten Island with a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria.
Bolivar is somewhat cooperative, trying to be a good sport. He seems to mirror the hesitancy that most youngsters have toward trying something new and different and is borderline complaining when there is something irritating to him. His friend (her name we find only on the back-cover blurb, is Sybil), is holding his favorite corned beef sandwich hostage until he agrees to romp all over the city eating other options. In a way, Bolivar is operating under duress, coercion, and being encouraged to overeat because of peer pressure.
At Coney Island Bolivar is asked to eat frogs’ legs. In the Chinese restaurant his chopsticks are too short to be functional. At the Halal Truck he thinks it’s odd to eat chickpeas with more chickpeas and again more chickpeas. In the Italian bakery he gets in a tough-guy exchange over the freshness of the cannoli. On the Lower East Side of Manhattan he complains that the service is too slow. Worst of all is that Bolivar finds pizza disgusting.
At the end of the long exhausting tour, Bolivar still wants his sandwich, the corned beef delight that Sybil has been torturing him with all day. Grumpy and irritated he states, “I ate everything you wanted me to. You owe me a corned beef sandwich. MY corned beef sandwich.” Not surprising, it is still his favorite food, and Sybil is exasperated that he doesn’t like pizza, “That’s impossible,” she says, “Everyone likes pizza!!”
Part of this book is very well done. Illustrations are busy, lively, and come with a hunt and seek image challenge. Patient readers will like this aspect of interaction as they look for unfamiliar shapes and foods. Word bubbles help keep dialogue clear and easy to follow and give the design a graphic comic book feel. Descriptions of the food are very simple and provide just a hint of explanation at an appropriate level.
If the reader can overlook the basic premise of force-feeding a “friend” then Bolivar Eats New York offers a great exposure to the variety of a city that hosts one of the largest international populations in the world. Should Rubin plan a follow-up like he hints at in his author’s note, it would be nice if Bolivar went out and about with a little more enthusiasm, using a bit more sensitivity to our obesity epidemic, and including an even wider scope of cuisine.