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I’m raising my kids in New York City and I love being able to read books to them that reflect their experiences growing up in a diverse urban neighborhood, but these books can be enjoyed by everyone, whether you live in the city, country or suburbs.
Laundry Day is a celebration of the diverse, multicultural population that makes living in New York City such an exciting experience. One day a length of red fabric floats down and lands on a young shoeshine. Herman and Rosie was one of my favorite books of 2013. Herman and Rosie are two musicians, but they are lonely, just waiting to meet someone they can call a friend.
When Blue Met Egg is also on my list of favorite picture books of 2012. Illustrated with winsome cut paper collage artwork, Ward’s debut picture book is about a little bird who takes good care of a snowball that she believes to be an egg. When You Meet a Bear on Broadway is a quirky tale about being lost and separated from one’s mama. New York in Pajamarama is a seriously awesome book which uses an “Ombro-Cinema” technique to create the illusion of movement.
Click here to read our post about this book, see a video of how it works, plus a cityscape art project.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale is a book you have likely heard of and perhaps already read to your kids. I wasn’t intending this list to be a list of picture books to directly teach kids about NYC (rather books that happen to be set in NYC), yet I can not resist including A Walk in New York, with its retro-inspired drawings depicting a boy and his father touring The Big Apple. A native of Scotland, author Stephen Graham (1884-1975) goes on a tour of  jazz age nightclubs, speakeasies and cabarets.
Kurt Wiese (1887-1974) illustrated over 300 books and later became an award-winning children’s book author.
Rian James (1899-1953) was a newsman writing for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle when he hit the jackpot and sold a screenplay to Hollywood in 1932. Dining in New York offers advice on 125 restaurants and includes what to order and the sort of people you might encounter at each restaurant. Ilonka Karasz (1896-1981) who illustrated the dust jacket and the book was an artist with significant accomplishments. Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974) a freelance writer for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, gives you the lowdown on  night clubs, speakeasies, Broadway, Harlem, Greenwich Village, restaurants, dancing and entertainment. Overall this is a classic book, which is highly collectible due to the stylized art work of medical student, turned artist, Raymond Bret-Koch (1902-1996).
The Real New York by Helen Worden, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1932, dj illustrator Charles K. Gracious acknowledgment for the photographs of the books in the collection at Old New York Books. The dizzying views and magnificent skyline in the illustrations is accompanied by quite a poetic, but spare text. I absolutely adore this book and when I met the author (who also wrote Toys Go Out!) at a book fair I expressed sadness that this book was out of print.
There is a lot of delectable detail in the book, both in the descriptions of the characters, and also in the drawings.
Parents might feel a bit nostalgic for a time long ago in health class when they were asked to believe an egg was a baby. Keats’ most famous book is The Snowy Day, but he wrote many other books about the diverse children that populate the borough of Brooklyn, NY. It’s a view that I had never experienced before moving to the city, but is such an integral part of urban living.

It follows the the 250 year story of a single elm tree in Madison Square Park, from its beginnings as a seedpod, through its determination to grow during both turbulent and calm years of the city’s history. While they are marvelous teaching tools for kids learning their letters and numbers I like them because they encourage the reader to look a little closer at the world around them.
I attribute my kids’ early knowledge of the alphabet and numbers to our regular rides on the subway. What you may not know is that the first two Knuffle Bunny books are photographed exclusively in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, with its characteristic brownstones and wide sidewalks bordering the beautiful Prospect Park. The pair take in all the sights and the diversity of people as they make their way through the city (aka Manhattan), starting at the NY Public Library.
The late Norman Rosten was the first poet laureate of Brooklyn and illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg brings life to his words with colorful vignettes that take readers on a visual tour through the city during the course of a year. First because Jewish immigrants play such an important role in the history of the city, but also because the idea of NYC as a place of opportunity is still firmly rooted in our consciousness. I love this list, Ezra Jack Keats, Knuffle Bunny, and The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (made my palms sweaty!).
Graham provides the grittier side of life in an up to the minute description of prohibition New York neighborhoods, establishments and people. For the rest of his life he never looked back at his newspaper days, writing books, plays and screenplays for the movies, including the classic 42nd Street starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. From the inception of The New Yorker in 1925 until 1973, she illustrated 186 covers and designed many book covers for publishers. A book not for historians, but for readers who want to feel the spirit and brilliance of New York.
Koch won the commission for the mural at the first Paris airport beating out such artists as Picasso and Larked. Stevens (1876-1934) is probably one of the most important commercial illustrators of all-time, and yet because he died nearly 80 years ago at the young age of 57, he is virtually forgotten today. Many authors wrote letters to Stevens praising his work saying he had greatly influenced the large sale of their volumes. This book list is by no means comprehensive, and no doubt it is missing a few of your favorite Big Apple titles. Making his way from apartment to apartment by way of the fire escapes, he encounters the friendly inhabitants from various cultural backgrounds, including a Chinese grandmother, four young Polish girls, a harried Irish mother, an African-American prospector, and others. An extraordinary individual, she taught herself to read and led the largest walkout of women workers in U.S. When she has trouble sleeping, a young girl takes her pillow up to her rooftop garden where she enjoys the cool night air and the views of the bridges and lights.
First the narrator establishes some ground rules as to what to do when you meet a wild animal in the city (always be polite, for example) and then the girl asks the bear a number of questions so they can set out on their way to find his mama. In the first, Mitzi wants to visit grandma but since her parents are asleep, she gets her brother ready all by herself and gets them into a taxi, only to realize she doesn’t know that address. All of the locations are identified in the back of the book so whether you live in the city or are just an armchair traveller, you can put the photos in a city-wide context. At a family picnic on a hot summer evening on the roof of their Harlem apartment, a young girl imagines coasting through the starry sky on a blanket with her brother over the George Washington Bridge (you would be surprised at how many books there are that feature flights over NYC, I could make a list just about that!), which her father helped build.
Incidentally, Greenberg designs coloring pages for this blog, and you can download (for free, of course) her New York City Coloring Page.

Grandpa Hester’s storytelling is filled with fanciful details about immigrating to NYC with a singing goat, and selling jeweled buttons from a pushcart. Running her own company of craftsmen and artists, Design Inc., Karasz was also an acknowledged expert in decorative arts, specializing in tiles, wallpaper, lamps, toys and pottery.
Henry Collins Brown (1864-1961) had a love for this city and its past that cannot be measured. The Greenwich Village native designed and illustrated over 1,000 jackets including many best-sellers. I do feel a bit traitor-ish not including every book set in this great city, but how could I? Each neighbor expresses their admiration for the fabric, using a cultural reference (and new foreign word) but it is not until he reaches the roof, that the shoeshine finds its owner. But while we wait for it to come back into print, head over to your library and check out this marvelous tale of a young child’s daily Wednesday routine in her Brooklyn neighborhood. The narrator imparts the wisdom of his grandmother as he describes Chinatown from a variety of perspectives, such as shop windows, dense apartments, crowded sidewalks, subway entrances, and of course, the New Year celebration. They search through the city until they come to the park, where they discover the perfect way to find a mama (I won’t give it away). The middle story will be familiar to moms everywhere who have to take care of everyone else when they are sick… until she gets sick herself. The girl’s optimistic dreams of her own future and the possibilities ahead of her do not gloss over the hardship that her family faces.
Brown wrote a couple of dozen books on New York and went on to found The Museum of the City of New York. A student of The Chase Art School and the Art Students League, Stevens did water-color painting and other art work for his own amusement but never sold or exhibited his work.
New York In Fifty Design Icons is part of new series from London’s Design Museum that profiles major cities around the world. My hope is to introduce some new-to-you books set in New York City, but by all means leave a comment telling me which ones you would have put on the list! I love how both parents are equal partners and illustrator Lauren Castillo (also one of my faves!) hits all the right notes in her details of the nabe’s inhabitants. In the third story, the children and their father turn a presidential motorcade upside down over a piece of gum. As soon as this book was published (2010) I snapped up a copy since I knew my boys would love it.
Grandma, on the other hand, describes their immigrant experience through more practical lenses, but no less joyful.
There was even a PBS movie made about him and his mate who took up residence on the balcony of a chic 5th avenue apartment building. All the stories are charming vignettes of daily life, sweet without being saccharine, and set in the city without screaming “Look at me!
With its snappy rhymes, copious use of the MTA (Metro Transit Authority) icons and the spot on scenarios (what parent hasn’t ridden the the subway just because their kids wanted to?), this is a book every subway-riding kid will want to snuggle up to.

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