Pennywick Press 

A Literary Walking Tour for Children

For parents in search of a meaningful Minneapolis summer activity for their kids, consider spending a spring or summer afternoon following the exploits of a cat named Isabella and a dog named Ty. This duo visit the iconic Guthrie Theater in the heart of the Mill City District and you and your kids can, too!.  “I like this book because these are real places in Minneapolis. That’s my city!” - Isaac Macumber, third grade.

This is an easy, family-friendly, fun, local activity that can be done in an hour. And it can easily end up at Izzy’s Ice Cream for a cone and the signature Izzy Scoop - a Twin Cities favorite!

For your first stop, go to the Guthrie Gift Store and pick up a copy of Isabella, Cat in the City: A Visit to the Guthrie Theater, by local author and illustrator duo Sheila Path-McMahon and illustrator Heather Bassler Zemien of Pennywick Press, a Twin Cities micropublisher.  The book is also available to order through the website. ($19.00 + tax and shipping)

The story begins outside of the Guthrie, where Isabella the Cat has arrived in the basket of a bike from Nice Ride, Minneapolis’ bicycle sharing program.  The Isabella, Cat in the City series always features one of our public transportation choices. Ask your child to look around - can he or she spot the Nice Ride docking station at Washington and Chicago Avenue?

While outside, take in the facade of the building.  You will see a large-scale image of Sir Tyrone Guthrie that has been screen-printed directly onto steel panels, and this is also the story’s first image and its beginning.

Begin to follow the same path as the two friends  - go inside and up the four-story escalator. If it’s not open, there are elevators across from the Guthrie Gift Store.

Walk to the second set of elevators on the 4th floor and take it to the 9th floor. The elevator opens out to the Amber Box lobby, which is featured in the book.  The silhouetted image Isabella and Ty in front of the yellow plexiglass windows is Bassler Zemien’s favorite. She has many fond memories of spending time here with her own children, contemplating the vista of the Stone Arch Bridge and Saint Anthony Village.  The next illustration in the story is a two-page spread of the view from the Amber Box. Ask your child: Can you figure out why everything has a greenish tinge?

Isabella then shows Ty the Wurtele Thrust stage. Live rehearsals and set construction happen here, but you and your kids can see pictures of the theater spaces in the lobby. Now is a great time to ask kids questions about all the practice and design that goes into a play’s production!

Isabella and Ty also spend time in the dressing rooms, which are not open to the public, and you can see amazing production shots from past shows in the “corridor with pink and red hues,” just around the corner from the Endless Bridge Lobby.  When you are in the building, those images are worth finding. Each one is from a past production and they give a sense of what happens on stage, which can be very different from production to production.

The book now shows the lobby of the Endless Bridge, but not the view from the outside. Do not miss the either view of Endless Bridge with your family, though!  When you go outside to the lookout, after you’ve finished scouting around inside, consider discussing the differences you notice with your child. The colors are different, but that’s not all - remember when you were in the Amber box how muted all of the sound felt (except your footsteps of course)? Ask your child what sounds he or she notices when taking in the view from the Endless Bridge.

As Isabella and Ty go outside to run away from the stagehand in the story, Ty looks back over his shoulder. He is able to see both the Amber Box and the Endless Bridge.  What other major detail is included? Why, the Gold Medal Flour sign, of course! You can learn more about that at the Mill City Museum, located just north of the Guthrie.

Finish your tour by strolling through Gold Medal Park - there is currently a wonderful sculpture there, on loan from the Walker Sculpture Garden. Isabella could have climbed up into the sculpture to blend in with the other sculptural elements. Can your child find the turtle? Or the letters of his or her name? How about the ladder?

Last, but not least, stop in at Izzy’s Ice Cream. You might ask you child to think about how the architect of that building considered the building's relationship with its surroundings, including the Guthrie Building.  What choices stand out to you? And finally, what Izzy scoop are you getting on your ice cream?

Sidebar Notes:

Many people believe that the section of the building that spans over South 2nd Street is a walkway to the parking garage, but it is actually a large hallway that goes to the Guthrie scene shop where many of the huge custom made set pieces are built.  You can check it out yourself if you schedule one of several tours available through the Guthrie website.

The artwork on the outside of the building was originally scheduled to change every few years.  The Isabella, Cat in the City authors decided to keep the image of Sir Tyrone Guthrie in the book because it is the first thing they think of when they imagine the building.  Perhaps one day there will be new art there. There are other major theater artists pictured - walk through and read the captions for a mini history of major theater icons.

Thinking about Art

The cut-paper illustrations show what the character Isabella thinks is important. The illustrator says the key to creating this type of illustration is simplification - older children may enjoy looking for details that were left out and talking about if they would have created the illustrations differently.

How does the author show the personality of Isabella and Ty?  How does the author show the personalities?

The view from the Amber Box is very similar to the view from the Endless Bridge.  Do you agree with the author/illustrator decision to keep the view from the Amber Box for the sake of simplicity, or do you think you would have made another choice?  How do you think the Amber color affected the color of the river, sky, and buildings in the vista?