A million choices for things to do when visiting The Greatest City On Earth, so why not give yourself a theme to narrow down the endless possibilities and enhance your fun? Here are some of the books that helped us plan our August family trip to the Big Apple.
Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith is a charming little picture book that sends a boy on a punning treasure hunt through some of the iconic works in the Museum of Modern Art. We will be looking for the fur-lined teacup!
Stuart Little is an odd little book about a rat son born into a human family by the author of Charlotte's Web and co-author of The Elements of Style. My girls weren't entirely satisfied with the story nor its strange kind of non-ending, but you can bet we'll be checking out the Conservatory Water in Central Park looking for a little rat sailing his own boat.
UPDATE! We LOVED this corner of Central Park - absolutely gorgeous and look! Right next door are the Hans Christian Anderson and Alice in Wonderland statues!
Mia doing her best Mad Hatter.
Nora having a toadstool moment.
Kay Thompson wrote the Eloise books "for precocious adults," but my girls adore the little resident of the Plaza Hotel, abondoned by her jet-setting mother, roller skating down the hall, making a wreck of the place and eventually charming everyone. We'll toast Eloise with afternoon tea at the Plaza, which doesn't really celebrate the anarchic spirit of our heroine, but I can't wait for the scones and tiny sandwiches.
I LURVED The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when I was a kid and reloved it all over again a couple months back, loved the story of a brother and sister running away from home to have an adventure living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nothing seemed dangerous or scary, only ingenious and fun.... the kids bathing in the museum fountain and sleeping in sixteenth century beds on display, and the wild coincidence with Mrs. Frankweiler's lawyer just seems natural in this world both magical and realistic where the love of art saves the day ...
UPDATE! Check out this! A PDF file of a Met brochure responding to questions that kids had about the book. It includes an essay by E.L. Konigsburg about researching and writing The Mixed Up Files!
I haven't shared Harriet the Spy with the girls yet, so I'll be the one remembering Harriet's epic ride in Manhattan traffic inside her nanny's boyfriend's delivery box while we pedal our rental bikes placidly through Central Park. I just finished rereading the novel yesterday and I can't believe how great it is. YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. A similar tough and mouthy quality to the quip-ready Manhattan kids in Basil Frankweiler, but plenty of big generous heart, too.
Roald Dahl, Matilda. We've got tickets!
UPDATE: We had read Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between The Towers long before our trip. Well, the 9-11 Memorial site was sobering, of course, after an uplifting morning spent on Liberty Island. It's a space of absences and emptiness, names of people who are no longer here, water falling, then falling again into an abyss whose bottom you cannot see. Mammoth buildings that can only now be imagined. Or not.
Here I am trying to tell stories of the day to Mia without being too scary.
Nora said, "I'm trying to cry, but my face won't let me." The experience was abstract for them and the numbers too large to comprehend. The survivor tree helped make the story real, but in a manageable way - it is a callery pear sapling that lived through the blast, was nursed back to health and re-transplanted on the site among a new forest of resilient swamp white oaks. Now it stands green and beautiful beneath the gaze of the almost completed Freedom Tower.
I was too busy with explaining and walking and reading to let my feelings take over at the memorial. My moment of grieving came earlier in the day, when our cab paused at a stoplight on West Street on the way to the Statue of Liberty ferry. I caught a glimpse of the iconic blue-green tops of the World Financial Center buildings and realized where we were. "This is Ground Zero," I whispered to Randy, who couldn't hear me over the sound of traffic. I turned back to the window to see a sliver of garden and everything was so bright and fresh in the August sunshine that it was a miracle.
Tar Beach is the nickname for the apartment roof where a city girl spends hot summer nights with her family; we're visiting the Tenement Museum today.
The current Disneyfied Times Square has as little in common with the quaint charm I remember of The Cricket in Times Square as today's Fifth Avenue evokes Cheever's stories but you can bet we'll be there, cameras ready.
UPDATE: Two more books that came back to us on our trip: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, a picture book inspired by the Highline, a fabulous new park in the Meatpacking District constructed from an old abandoned freight line. It offers great second story views of the neighborhood, artwork and artful landscaping with gorgeous native plants.
M. Sasek's This Is New York is a beautiful work of illustration from 1960. A companion piece to his San Francisco book. Perfect to read to the girls before sleep on our last night in the greatest city on earth.