a list of…five books celebrating New York City

photo by Ingrid Swanson

I’m moseying my way back into the blogosphere after a saturated two-week trip to the East Coast.  It was a bit like standing at the ice-cream counter, getting tiny white plastic spoonfuls of Boston and New York and Philadelphia and Washington, DC…delicious, yet leaving us hankering after a bit more.  More time to explore quaint seaside towns; more time to go spelunking for treasure in cavernous marble museums; more time to search out nooks and crannies, to stop and stare, to explore off the beaten path, to taste street food from dozens of vendors.  In celebration of our time, I thought I’d give a sampling of fictional picture books based in New York City.  There are so, so many.  Read them…and then dream up a way to visit the city that truly never sleeps. 

Liberty, words and pictures by Allan Drummond

The Statue of Liberty is a very photogenic lady, icon of both New York City and America.  Tourists cram the ferry boats like so many sardines to land on Liberty Island and enjoy the monument up close, even climbing up hundreds of stairs inside the statue to peek out of her crown.  With exuberant pictures splashing with color, this book tells the story of the day Lady Liberty’s face was unveiled for the first time in New York Harbor in October, 1886.  The excitement and festive atmosphere of the grand moment are nicely conveyed through the eyes of a young boy who plays a surprising part in the ceremony, and a note to the reader gives the historical facts behind the story. 

Twenty-One Elephants and still standing, written by April Jones Prince, illustrated by François Roca

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge one evening amidst a crowd of bikers, joggers, tourists, sweethearts, men with briefcases, extensive families speaking languages I could not guess.  The bridge is beautiful; the towers and cables soar and make geometric beauty every step along the way; the views of Manhattan and Brooklyn make progress delightfully slow.  After ice-cream in Brooklyn, we walked back after dark, with the entire city lit up in sparkling, dazzling brilliance across the skyline.  The true story of the building of this bridge is incredible in itself.  This book tells the story of Phineas T. Barnum of circus fame, who paraded 21 elephants across the bridge in May 1884, the year after the bridge opened, as both proof to residents that it was safe to cross, and a spectacle guaranteed to attract attention to the P.T. Barnum enterprise.  An intriguing story told briefly and well, with fine artwork handsomely evoking the era of newsboys and paddlewheelers, top hats and traveling circuses.

The Old Pirate of Central Park, words and pictures by Robert Priest

A carousel and a zoo; lakes and ponds; pathways and bridges; statues and statues and statues; green lawns for sunbathing and rinks for ice-skating; playgrounds; cafés; amphitheaters; horses and buggies; pedicabs; bikes, strollers, rollerblades, rowboats; dozens of wedding parties; musicians with saxophones and double basses and guitars and harmonicas; ballplayers; picnickers…Central lPark is an enormous space with an enormous variety of people enjoying the day in an enormous variety of ways.  We biked around the park and picnicked by the Sailboat Pond, which reminded me of this story we’d read years ago.  A retired pirate and a retired queen knock heads at the sailboat pond as his model pirate ship and her model oceanliner explode into battle with cannon balls pinging everywhere!  Great fun!

You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum, story by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, pictures by Robin Preiss Glasser

I admit:  I’ve seen this book before but could not fully appreciate it until now when the places visited by the balloon and the artworks viewed by the little girl are familiar to me firsthand.  Hopefully you have a better imagination than I do, because this story is very clever and offers a fascinating glimpse of how life and art mimic one another.  It is a wordless book, with a story line that is effortless to follow and myriads of details to pore over along the way.  A young girl and her grandma make a trip to the Met (read: massive amounts of amazing art!), but at the museum entrance a guard makes it clear that the girl’s balloon is not allowed.  He kindly ties the string to a railing outside near his post, and the twosome happily make their way into the museum.  BUT…the balloon escapes and leads the guard on a merry chase around well-known landmarks in New York City, creating havoc and amassing more balloon-chasers along the way.  Meanwhile, the little girl and grandma ooh and ah over numerous pieces of art in the Met which bear a striking resemblance to the adventures of the balloon.  Delightful line drawings and clever use of splotches of color, as well as full-color reproductions of more than a dozen pieces from the Met carry this story along to its happy ending.

Forever Young, words by Bob Dylan, illustrated by Paul Rogers

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,

May you stay forever young, forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

 I have to include this book, especially for my daughter Greta who is a big Dylan fan!  New York is not all Rockefeller Plaza and Empire State Building and Wall Street, of course.  It is also the folk musicians of Greenwich Village and the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance.  We could not visit New York without spending some time walking through Greenwich and Soho, which are now quite trendy, and East Village, where eclectic secondhand music stores sounded a siren call to my teen daughters and the grunge spirit is alive and well.  The text of this book is simply the lyrics to Dylan’s song, “Forever Young.”  The illustrations sneak in many references to Dylan and the beatnik/folk music/peace movement era of the sixties.  Your child enjoys the lyrics and pictures, and you enjoy the illustrator’s notes in the back which reveal some of the many details he has incorporated in his display of this significant piece of the Big Apple.