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.
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:
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.
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.