We Recommend: New York Children’s Literature Extravaganza!

It's We Recommend, in which we do our very best to solve book-related quandaries, needs, and other miscellany, and then turn them over to you, the readers, who really solve them. Need help finding the right book? E-mail us with some information about your reader, likes and dislikes, and anything else, and we'll do our best. Now, on to our challenge!

UPDATE: see the bottom. Oops.
This one is fun. It's got books, food, places to go—it's got it all! Which of course means, no doubt, that I am going to miss something. But here goes:
My family and I will be visiting New York for a week in August, staying on Broadway at 75th St. We're from a small city in Australia.  I've got two boys, aged 4 and 7.  I was wondering if, as a local, you could suggest any kids literature-related places to visit in New York city.  I guess I'm thinking of fabulous book stores with great children's sections (or children's book stores if they exist), or public libraries, or parks or playgrounds close to book shops. 
Also – do you have any recommended kids books about or set in New York City?  The first thing that comes to my mind is From the Mixed Up Files.. (which my son hasn't read – he probably would if I found it for him, but wonder if from memory it might be a bit old for him?) and I think also Superfudge (which he has read) is set in New York.  My eldest is a real book worm and will read anything – fiction and non-fiction –  though he particularly loves fantasy (eg Deltora Quest, Beast Quest, Secrets of Droon). Our 4 year old is pretty much open to anything (except if it looks scary). He's not reading – though he has a pretty good attention span  - but mostly likes picture books.
WOW. Just wow. So many things, and all of it with the aim of having a good time. We will tackle the visits first:

We decided to offer two full days (depending on how ambitious you are with a 4 year old and a 7 year old; I am not very ambitious), a good weather day and a bad weather day (it is August in New York City, after all), but of course they should mix and match as they see fit.
The lovely weather option is as follows:
1) Pack a picnic. Then, since they're up on 75th street, the day just makes itself. First stop, the Alice in Wonderland statue across Central Park from where they are staying, a perfect place to climb and hang out. Sit on the mushroom. Sit under the mushroom. Slide down the mushroom. Repeat as necessary. Then, since heck they're right there, they must wander just a bit south in the park until they come upon the Conservatory Water, which is just a fancy name for the model boat pond, to relive the awesome boat race from Stuart Little (plus to see the amazing model boats). They can relive Stuart's race. They can just sit down in the shade and read Stuart Little itself! Or at least that chapter.They can try to prevent the 4-year-old from climbing directly into the pond. A good time will be had by all. The only difficulty will be deciding where to have the picnic. Once the picnic is done, they can exit the park and head on over to East 88th Street, where Lyle, Lyle Crocodile lived. And then, exhausted, they can find some ice cream, look appreciatively at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dabble in the fountains (but don't go in yet! That would be madness!) and bring the guys back to the apartment and everyone can take cool baths and lie down on the living room floor and chill out. Or maybe that's just what we would do?
At any rate, the other plan is for when the weather is, in a word, crappy:
This time they must brave the Metropolitan Museum of Art (beware: it is closed on Mondays!). Skip the big exhibits if they can bear to, and head for the medieval armor, or the ancient Chinese art, and of course the Temple of Dendur. And yes, he MUST read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It's not too old, it's perfect and wonderful and all sorts of fun. Once they have made it through two or three galleries, they will be thoroughly exhausted. They can have lunch at one of the overpriced cafes (just keep telling yourself: "but the extra money goes to art!") and then go out to 5th Avenue and take a long, long bus ride all the way down to 18th Street. The unbelievably long ride will soothe and restore them, so they can go to Books of Wonder, a really truly wonderful children's bookstore. They can browse, and they must be sure to go to the way back where there are original illustrations by the most amazing artists (Maurice Sendak, Kevin Henkes, etc). Then they must give in to the fact that they have an outpost of the Cupcake Cafe there, and have something delicious to eat. Everyone must have a cupcake. Even the mom (too many of us eschew them, and for what?). And if they still have an ounce of energy left to them (I wouldn't), they must mosey down 6th Avenue and go to the Jefferson Market Library to witness Rebecca, World's Greatest Children's Librarian. Really. Read quietly for free. Sit on the chairs and go through a million picture books. Check out the pretty garden that abuts it. Then grab a hot dog at Gray's Papaya (across 6th Avenue and one block down), and walk up along Greenwich Ave. to the 7th Avenue train, which they can take home and flop down, exhausted again.
And then, the third option is not exactly an itinerary. It's just that so many kids books have New York City in them! James and the Giant Peach (that's where the peach finally lands),  Harriet the Spy (another Upper East Sider, like Lyle), The Cricket in Times Square (natch). If it were me, and at the same time I were a better person and parent that I actually am, I might list all the places in New York City that occur in the books you read from now to then, and make a map or a scavenger hunt, and then…actually, I would never get it together to do that. But they can think about it!
One more note: a very smart friend once told me that one of the best ways to go through a museum with kids is to start off at the gift shop, and have each kid buy a postcard they love. Then the trip is all about finding your piece of art somewhere in the museum. It gives kids a focus, which is nice.
Now for the books. Let's see.
For the little guy, I must admit I am partial to Lyle, mentioned above. But it is oh so very dated, and it might be nicer to have something more current. A book I never particularly cared for, but my kids LOVED and wanted to read over and over, was How to Take Your Grandmother to the Museum.
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It would give you an excellent reason to go to the Museum of Natural History, and it's one of those books that inexplicably appeals to the small among us. Though I love this even more:
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Which would of course necessitate a very beautiful walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. And then a stroll on the Promenade (pictured on the cover). And…well, they can decide.
Now for the big guy, the one who likes fantasy. This is trickier. Yes yes yes, I say, to the Mixed-Up Files of course, but I want something even more perfect for him, something that has fantasy and darkness and magic to it. Stuart Little is truly wondrous, but its magic is very light and almost sweet. I would read both these, but also something more. So I went to the source of all fantasy knowledge, Diana my 12-year-old. She considered the Percy Jackson series, but decided it was too old for a 7-year-old. She lighted up at the mention of Stuart Little, but acknowledged it wasn't really fantasy. Then she said, "Wait! I know of a series that takes place under New York City!" And so: Gregor the Overlander.
   N243120
She does worry that it might be a little too old for him, but she notes "There is a lot of scary stuff in Beast Quest, too" so there's that.
Plus maybe this will inspire them to seek out one of those surreptitious tours of New York City's underground tunnels, which sounds fairly awesome to me.
But that's it, that's what I came up with. And it occurs to me that maybe visitors (or other locals) have an even better sense of where, what, who and how, and especially what to read. Anybody have an idea?
UPDATE: Holy Cow, major omission. The Children's section in the cool, awesome basement of the main branch of the NY Public Library on 42nd Street & 5th Avenue has Winnie the Pooh. I mean THE Winnie the Pooh. The bear himself. Also Eyeore. In this cool tiny room. Also (I think) Kanga and Rabbit. Or is it Piglet? Anyway they're there, and you get a strange spooky thrill seeing them there in front of you, emanating this strange magic.

18 thoughts on “We Recommend: New York Children’s Literature Extravaganza!

  1. I think that Cricket in Times Square is a must. He’s just the right age for it.
    When I was in NYC, two little girls on the subway to Times Square suddenly lit up when they realized where they were going and said “Maybe we’ll see a NEWS STAND” My heart melted.

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  2. Fabulous suggestions, Diamond. Since I imagine there may be adult book lovers in this family too, they might want to add (or sub, according to time) the Strand bookstore which is just a bit further south and east of Books of Wonder (which is as wonderful as described, down to the gorgeous cupcakes). The Strand has a sizable children’s section with many tables and chairs and also has tons (they advertise it as miles) of new and used books–fiction, nonfiction, art, you name it–for larger people. (Its variety of branded bags also make good, bookish souvenirs.)
    If the Aussies take up the Brooklyn Bridge idea, itinerary-wise they might want to think of going down to Brooklyn Bridge park or Empire Fulton Ferry park. Both offer stunning views, lawns, & playgrounds. The Brooklyn Ice Cream factory is conveniently located between the 2, as are some little stands for getting pretty decent street food. I think you can actually take a fairly inexpensive ferry from Manhattan to Pier 1 in Bklyn Bridge park, play, eat, then walk back to Manhattan over the bridge. (Walking TOWARDS the Manhattan skyline provides the most photo ops.) A beautifully illustrated picture book about the Brooklyn Bridge: Twenty One Elephants and Still Standing.

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  3. I love this post.
    PLEASE read The Cricket in Times Square. We read it and when we were in the Transportation Museum in Brooklyn (which is FABULOUS)–a cat came out and my five year old pointed and yelled, “It’s Harry! It’s Harry!” Disney can’t even create such magic. (Our boys were 5 and 3 at the time.) There is a great picture book called Next Stop Grand Central that I also highly recommend. I’ll keep thinking. We did lots of book reading in prep for our visit and it was so so fun.

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  4. Fantastic post — makes me salivate for my old stomping grounds in NYC. I so want to share the place with my own boys, now twelve and ten — California boys! I see a book in this post — you could do a wonderful guide to children’s books —

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  5. Gregor is an excellent book, but not so much for a 4 year old and the NY connection is pretty slim. I would do Cricket in Times Square as a big family read aloud instead.
    Also, even though they’re boys, I feel like Eloise is the classic picture book for New York. And M. Sasek’s classic This is New York is the classic travel picture book about the city. So, to me, those two can’t be missed.
    Also, lesser known is The Little Gray Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, which is a wonderful picture book. And a popular title that hasn’t been mentioned but which I would do is You Can’t Take a Balloon in the Metropolitan Museum.

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  6. The thing that shocks me about the excellent map is that it has the Nanny Diaries on it. Seems like there are about a million other ones that would go there first.
    As for Gregor’s too old-ness, I am inclined to go with Diana’s view on this, so while the 7-year-old is reading it, the 4-year old can go through picture book after picture book.

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  7. At age 4 my children LOVED Maxi the Taxi Dog about a stray dog adopted by a NYC cab driver. There are 3 in the series, and a picture of a cat is hidden in (almost) every illustration. They drive all over NYC, have adventures, speak in rhyme. Worth checking out.

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  8. I love wordless picture books, and my all-time Dave is You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum. It pairs art from the museum with city scenes, and it’s funny and wonderful.
    There’s a National Gallery one as well, for anyone headed to DC.

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  9. We bought “My New York” by Kathy Jakobsen, before our children’s first visit there. It’s a picture book, and the illustrations are incredibly detailed folk-arty paintings that give a child’s-eye tour of NYC landmarks. They pored endlessly over the illustrations with all the tiny people. There’s a wee cat hiding somewhere in each scene(as well as other items, found in a scavenger hunt-style list at the end of the book), and they loved looking for her.

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  10. Another NYC-focused book, especially for the 7 yr old, but also for the 4 yr old is Lesley M.M. Blume’s Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate… It is a guidebook about, well, fairies, etc, but eight stories all set in NYC – my favorite is about the brownies in the Algonquin Hotel – are interspersed throughout.

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  11. Changeling by Delia Sherman is all about New York (there’s the Dragon of Wall Street, and a Green Lady in Central Park, and a whole bunch of others.) Might be a little old for the 7-year-old, but tt’d be good for a fantasy-inclined 9- or 10-year-old.

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  12. It’s true — this would be a great book. There are so many wonderful children’s books that would make a magical way to see NY. I bet you’ve only scratched the surface.

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  13. Okay- there is a gentle fantasy book called Hilary and the Lions about the NYC library that maybe you can scare up as it is out of print. (The official Children’s Room is now at the Fifth Avenue Branch and that is where Pooh, etc is). And I have a second nomination for best librarian ever, Betsy Bird @ Fuse 8 (http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/afuse8production)who might or might not be there as there is a brand new hatchling so she may not be back at work by August.

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