Five Children's Classics
Much of the literature of New York City depicts it as a city of big money or debauchery, of depressed and distant people -- a city, in other words, of adults. But two million children live in New York as well, and hundreds of authors have presented the city through the eyes of a child.
Children's books approach New York from different angles. In Snow White in New York , the fairy tale is placed onto the backdrop of the city�s jazz age. In Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, a better known tale, the quintessential grumpy New York man plots against a friendly crocodile living who lives next door to him on the Upper East Side. And some famous books have become New York City books simply because New Yorkers said so. New Yorkers have appropriated the Dr. Seuss classic And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, insisting the Mulberry Street of Seuss is the same as that of the Gambino crime family, even though there is nothing in the book to indicate that ! this is true.
Just as some children's books have been defined by their supposed relationship to the city, New York's identity has been formed at least in part because of its role in famous books. Many of those were written for children. The Plaza Hotel brings up immediate images of Eloise tearing through its halls; kids visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art fantasize about spending the night like Jamie and Claudia in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; and those who grew up with The Little Red Lighthouse And The Great Gray Bridge still get excited when they see the two protagonists from that story standing next to one another along the Hudson.
E.B. White's classic novel tells the story of Stuart Little, a two-inch mouse born into a family that lived in "a pleasant place near a park in New York City. In the mornings the sun streamed in through the east windows." Stuart's family treats him as a normal child, although they do take advantage of his tiny stature, sending him down the drain to rescue a lost ring and having him scoot around and pick up ping pong balls. Many of the book's scenes involve Stuart out and about in New York, perhaps not surprising coming from the man who wrote "Here Is New York." The race in the Central Park boat basin is a highlight. But, at the novel's end, Stuart must leave town, searching for his best friend and new adventures.
The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
When Claudia and her brother Jamie decide to run away from home, they head for the Metropolitan Museum, of Art in New York City. There they hide in the bathrooms and explore the many rooms and corridors. But one statue in particular entrances Claudia and much of this 1967 novel involves her efforts, with the files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, to solve the mystery of how created this astoundingly beautiful work of art. Besides being a story that takes hold of young readers, The Mixed Up Files does recreate the fantasies that the Met inspires in children.
The Cricket in Times Square
When Chester, a restless suburban cricket, finds himself accidentally transported to New York City, he is lucky enough to be discovered by Mario, a boy whose parents own a struggling newsstand in the Times Square station. He also befriends a mouse and a cat, but it is his relationship with Mario and the adventures of the big city that distinguish this illustrated chapter book. Selden's descriptions vividly evoke the world of the subways -- and of the newsstands that were once a standard fixture of busy subway stations. And while the description may be dated (and verging on stereotype), Mario�s trip to Chinatown to buy a cricket cage conveys how exotic New York might seem to a cricket from Connecticut and to many young readers.
Eloise is a six-year-old girl living in the Plaza. Her story starts one morning with a picture of her saluting the hotel's doorman and ends about 24 hours later, as she plans to pour a pitcher of water down the mail chute. The 63-page, illustrated, run-on sentence captures well the voice of a hyperactive six-year old in a confined area. And while Eloise never ventures out of the Plaza into the city, this book has become one of New York's classic children's books.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
In a true story of the loss and rediscovery of self-worth on the Hudson, the pride of the Little Red Lighthouse is shattered when the Great Gray Bridge (the George Washington Bridge) is built over him. While he once felt "big and useful and important," the Little Red Lighthouse fears that his days of use are nearing a close, as the strong lights from the bridge make him obsolete. But in a storm, the bridge calls out to the lighthouse for help in keeping boats from running around, and the two learn to work together. "There they are -- the Great Gray Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse," reads the book's last page. "If you don't believe it, go see for yourselves." And readers actually can do so. The real-life Little Red Lighthouse does still exist along the Hudson river in uptown Manhattan -- under the real life Great Gray Bridge.
Offering another link between the city and the children's books written about it, a recent book, Storied City: A Children's Book Guide to New York City, lays out 20 different walking tours based on places in popular books for young people. Covering all five boroughs, this book directs readers to places that appear in over 200 children's books about New York.