It’s not often considered easy to be a grown-up, nor is it fun to leave childhood completely behind. But W.H. Auden’s words reassure us, at the entrance to the New York Public Library’s “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” exhibit: “There are no good books which are only for children.” Many may overlook this lesson. But like a timeless work of art, these children’s books are worth returning to many times over (even if you are not necessarily reading to children). With every literary visit comes a different interpretation of characters, references and metaphors that one might not realize at first glance as a child. A visit to “The ABC of It” exhibit took me straight back to my early reading years, when I first familiarized myself with some of my old favorite story characters.
Beginning with the “Visions of Childhood” section, the exhibit is a tour de force of children’s literature and illustrations — and also one that is entrancing both visually and physically. Adding a depth of experience to one’s visit, a life-size image of Alice grows “nine feet high” to mimic a moment from Wonderland; audio readings of “Charlotte’s Web” can be heard over an audio phone; and the visitor is enveloped in life-size sets of familiar scenes from “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and “Goodnight Moon.” But a special corner of the exhibit is devoted to one of our favorite places to read in and read about: New York, the “Storied City” that continues to inspire writers to create characters that enthrall children of all ages. The city’s “tall tale-ish appetite for newests, biggests, and bests — has made it a natural backdrop for the exploits of colorful characters,” proclaims the exhibit’s wall text. New York City “has inspired its own flourishing sub-genre of young people’s literature, with stories to tell about growing up, venturing out, and becoming one’s own person.”
How does New York stimulate you? Here’s a little guide of places worth visiting around the city, inspired by some of our favorite children’s books set in NYC. After all, why should the story end at the book’s parting words? Begin your tour with a trip to this exhibit at the Schwarzman building, and maybe give your favorite children’s book a re-read along your way to the next stop on our tour.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
Yes, Tucker, Harry, and Chester Cricket call the Times Square Subway station their home. But one of the most entrancing moments of this young adult favorite is when Mario takes Chester to Chinatown in search of a Mulberry tree to restore Chester’s diet. Spend an afternoon touring Mulberry Street, one of Manhattan’s most diverse avenues. Beginning at Bleecker Street, Mulberry runs down into Chinatown, through SoHo and Little Italy until Worth Street. Inspired by Mario’s efforts to help Chester, stop for a meal at Balaboosta (off Spring Street) for a restorative lunchtime break from all that walking.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Koningsburg
Who doesn’t want to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? For Claudia Kincaid, the city was “the best place in the world to hide.” The Museum’s suggested donation admission charge allows for constant trips to hide among great works of art. From now until March 9, check out the otherworldly Jewels by JAR, the first retrospective in America of jewelry designer and New York native Joel A. Rosenthal.
Eloise at Christmastime by Kay Thompson
There is no hotel like the Plaza, and there is certainly nothing quite like New York at Christmastime. Check out the holiday window and storefront scene in Midtown, and end your day with a stroll through Central Park until the cold gets the best of you. Eloise famously proclaims “I am six,” but we think her grown-up counterpart would warm up with a hot toddy at the Plaza's Oak Room bar.
Stuart Little by E.B. White
Stuart’s big boat race takes place at the tiny boat pond in Central Park, but human-sized regatta training can be found at the Manhattan Sailing School. Head to the Battery Park boat basin for beginner lessons, or simply to watch some of the finest ships set sail on the Hudson.
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It’s hard to compare to the bakery in this surreal story, but a visit to City Cakes in Chelsea offers a dream-like world of cakes on its own. Order custom cakes inspired by anything from your imagination, or make one of your own in the classes offered; we’d love to see one in honor of Maurice Sendak’s iconic illustrations!
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This past weekend brought the City’s first snowfall of the winter season (though not quite enough to make your feet crunch through the snow). Though good powder is rare in this urban setting, we wish for a storm this year that will allow for sledding in Central Park (never an age limit required), followed by hot chocolate at Sant Ambroeus, where the Italian-inspired drink is literally pure melted chocolate. Accessible free of charge at the Stephen A. Schwartzman Building through March 23, 2014. 45 Minute docent led tours every day except Sunday at either 12:30 p.m. or 2:30 p.m.