A Children’s Literature Tour of New York
From 'Eloise' to 'Stuart Little,' young readers can relive their favorite New York storybook moments with our kid's lit guide to the city.
Some of the greatest children’s books take place in New York City. Within their pages, the city becomes a vivid backdrop where seemingly anything can happen. From Stuart Little’s sailboat race around Central Park’s pond to the Kincaid children hiding out at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Eloise getting the run of the Plaza, New York is full of opportunities to relive the wonder and magic of childhood stories. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite kid’s books and their corresponding New York landmarks so you and your family can recreate some storybook moments of your own.
By E.B. White; Illustrated by Garth Williams
Stuart Little, the minute but debonair protagonist of E.B. White’s classic tale about a mouse born to human parents, begins his life in New York City where, as we learn from the Littles, “anything can happen.” Written in 1945, Stuart Little follows the adventures of Stuart as he struggles to survive in a big and often frightening world. But survive he does. Stuart confidently rides the bus down 5th Avenue, dates a miniature human and in one memorable scene, mans the helm of a sailboat in a race across Central Park’s boat pond. Under his expert command, Stuart steers the toy ship across the pond to win the contest. As one of White’s most popular animal stories, Stuart Little teaches children that determination and courage are more important than size.
Where to go: Head to Conservatory Water in Central Park. From April to October, visitors can bring their own model sailboats or rent one near the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse and sail their ships across the pond. On Saturdays around 10am, races are held at Conservatory Water for anyone who wants to participate. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be lucky enough to catch sight of a small mouse steering a sailboat to victory.
Conservatory Water is located on the east side of the park from 72nd to 75th Street.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
By Hildegarde H. Swift; Illustrated by Lynd Ward
Written in 1942, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge is a classic story about a small lighthouse on the bank of the Hudson River that was “fat and red and jolly,” and “VERY, VERY proud.” One day, a great gray bridge spanning the Hudson River is built above the little lighthouse, forcing the previously proud tower to wonder if it is still needed or wanted. When a great storm rolls in, the little lighthouse learns just how important it is. The book was written in tribute to the 40-ft Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse, which came to rest on the Hudson in 1921. With the erection of the George Washington Bridge ten years later, the lighthouse soon became unnecessary and by 1951, it was slated for demolition. Due to the popularity of Swift’s book, thousands of fans campaigned against its destruction. Their efforts helped preserve the New York landmark, which is now owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Where to go: To the lighthouse of course! The Little Red Lighthouse is Manhattan’s only remaining lighthouse, and visitors can climb to the top of the tower and look upon the Great Gray Bridge (that is, the George Washington Bridge). The lighthouse even has a working lens so that kids can pretend they’re in charge of passing ships’ safety.
Fort Washington Park
178th St. and the Hudson River
Hours: The tower is available to climb June-October on the second Saturday of the month: 1pm-4pm; free
By Kay Thompson; Illustrated by Hilary Knight
Written in 1955, the book follows the life of 6-year old Eloise as she pours water down the mail chute, writes on expensive wallpaper and causes all sorts of mayhem at her home, The Plaza Hotel. Before writing the book, author Kay Thompson often pretended to be a naughty little girl living at The Plaza to entertain her friends. She was introduced to illustrator Hilary Knight and the two created the world-renowned character, Eloise, based on Thompson’s musings. Although Thompson has never explicitly said so, many critics have cited Liza Minnelli as the inspiration for the mischievous child. Eloise has become so popular that a portrait of the famous resident hangs in the Palm Court where Eloise often ate her lunch. (Interestingly, the original portrait disappeared after a frat party, though according to Kay, it was stolen by “drunken debutantes.”)
Where to go: In 1998, The Plaza was declared a literary landmark by United for Libraries for its role in the Eloise series. The Plaza offers a complete Eloise Guide to the city so that fans can experience Eloise’s hometown just like in the book. Children can also rent bicycles to scoot around the park from the hotel’s Tricycle Garage, throw book-themed birthday parties and play dress-up in the Eloise Fashion Room.
5th Avenue at Central Park South
The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats
The 1963 Caldecott winner tells the story of a little boy named Peter who wakes up one morning to the first snowfall of the season. Peter puts on his red snowsuit and tromps through the white wonderland making snowmen and angels and climbing giant pillars of snow. The story is beautifully imagined, employing brightly colored collage and simple text. It is widely considered one of the most influential children’s books of the 20th century: Peter is among the first African-American protagonists featured in children’s literature, and Keats is credited with introducing multiculturalism to the genre. The Brooklyn-born illustrator and author may have found inspiration in his own life; due to anti-Semitism at the time, he changed his name from Jacob Ezra Katz to Ezra Jack Keats. Many of Keats’ books are set in Brooklyn, and a visit to the popular borough is the perfect way to relive the magic and wonder of Peter’s snowy day.
Where to go: In 1992, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation commissioned a bronze statue of Peter and his dog Willie in Prospect Park’s Imagination Playground. The playground was voted one of the best New York playgrounds by Time Out New York for its unique fixtures and summer programs. If you visit during the summer months, make sure to visit the playground on Saturdays; at 2pm the EJK Foundation hosts a storytelling hour for children at the playground.
Imagination Playground is located near Ocean Avenue between the Parkside Avenue and Lincoln Road entrances.
They Came from the Bronx: How the Buffalo Were Saved from Extinction
By Neil Waldman
As a child, author and illustrator Neil Waldman often visited the Bronx Zoo. It was there that he first heard the term “Mother Herd,” which would come to inspire his book They Came from the Bronx: How the Buffalo Were Saved from Extinction. Waldman tells the true story of the efforts of the American Bison Society (founded at the Bronx Zoo) to save the American bison from the brink of extinction. At one time, the book explains, there were close to 60 million buffalo, but by the late 19th century due to US westward expansion, the number had decreased to 1,000. In 1907, the American Bison Society sent 15 buffalo from the Bronx Zoo to Oklahoma, successfully replenishing the wild buffalo population to 20,000.
Where to go: The Bronx Zoo. At the American Bison exhibit you can see buffalo that, thanks to the American Bison Society’s conservation efforts, share a lineage with wild herds in Yellowstone and other national parks. Try to catch these animals in the early morning or late afternoon when they are most active.
2300 South Blvd, Bronx, NY 10460
Daily, November 4 – March 29
10:00am – 4:30pm*
March 30 – November 3, 2013
Monday-Friday 10:00am – 5:00pm*
Weekends & Holidays
10:00am – 5:30pm*
*Animal exhibits close a half hour prior to park closing.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
By E.L. Konisburg
Newbery award-winner From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler tells the story of two children, siblings Claudia and Jamie Kincaid, who run away from home and take up residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. They brush their teeth in a large fountain, sleep in an antique bed and spend their days wandering the museum’s exhibits. Since its publication in 1967, The Met has fielded so many questions about sleeping and living at the museum that they dedicated an entire issue of their Museum Kids publication to the book so that children can tour the museum through the eyes of the courageous former residents.
Where to go: Head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit Claudia and Jamie’s one-time home. Although many of the artifacts the Kincaid children admired are no longer on display, you can find similar exhibits within the museum. For example, head to the Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing to see the beautiful fountain similar to the one where Claudia and Jamie bathed and collected coins. Or visit the Egyptian Galleries, where Claudia admired the jewelry of Princess Sit Hathor Yunet.
1000 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10028
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 9:30am – 5:30pm
Friday and Saturday: 9:30am – 9:00pm
Sunday: 9:30am – 5:30pm
Harriet the Spy
By Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet might just be your typical New Yorker: Cynical, moody and very suspicious. In this classic tale of a rebellious eleven-year-old girl headed toward a life of espionage, Harriet spies on her friends and neighbors and records her observations in a notebook marked “PRIVATE.” When her friends find her notebook and read her blunt and often unsavory observations, Harriet finds herself friendless and alone in a very big city. Fitzhugh set the book in her own Upper East Side neighborhood, Yorkville, and almost all of the locations used in the book — the Gregory School, her family’s brownstone and Harriet’s spy route — are based on real places within the city.
Where to go: According to Leonard Marcus’s Storied City: A Children’s Book Walking Tour, Harriet’s family probably lived in a brownstone modeled after 558 E. 87th Street. Harriet’s bedroom (and private bath!), where she recorded her notes is on the third-floor of the house just under the eaves. The Gregory School is based on the Chapin School on East 82nd, and Harriet’s spy route, left purposefully vague in the book, is likely somewhere between her home and school. And though it’s not named in the book, make sure to stop by the Lexington Candy Shop for one of Harriet’s favorite treats (and a New York delicacy): An egg cream.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
By Mordicai Gerstein
The 2004 Caldecott winner, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, is based on the true story of the aerialist and street performer Philippe Petit. In 1974, disguised as construction workers, Petit and his friends strung a reel of cable across the 140-ft distance between Manhattan’s World Trade Center towers. Despite the dangers and the fact that such a stunt was illegal, Petit successfully walked across the 5/8 inch cable carrying a 55 lb. balancing pole before getting arrested. At the end of the book, Gerstein hints at the 9/11 tragedy, writing, “Now the towers are gone. But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there.”
Where to go: Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a great way to introduce and educate children to the events of 9/11, and to commemorate the towers before the attacks.
Northwest corner of Albany and Greenwich Streets
Hours: Daily, 10:00am – 6:00pm; Last entry at 5:00pm