On with the qualifiers: This is NOT a New York-centric site, but that happens to be where Small Fellow and Tiny Girl are being raised, so it's on our mind. Following, then, is a guide to great children's books set in the city or its nameless doppelgangers; by and large, it's a list for pre-schoolers:

You Can't Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser (Dial, 1998). A security guard has promised to stand watch over a young girl's balloon while she tours the Met. So when a pigeon flies off with the balloon, the staunch patrolman races off to retrieve it. His pursuit takes him from the Central Park Zoo to the Plaza to the Metropolitan Opera, where the elephant from "Aida" lumbers into the hunt. This wordless book allows you and your child to tell the story as it unfolds, and the many reproductions of Met masterpieces make for a fine introduction to the museum. (More on that later.)

Next Stop Grand Central by Maira Kalman (Putnam. 1999). Kalman takes
children deep inside "the busiest, fastest, biggest place there is" (short of Paris Hilton's hotel suite) in a book that is both cosmopolitan and whimsical, encyclopedic and reassuring. Along the way, Kalman breezily answers many of the questions a four-year-old might have about trains and train stations, like, what does the station's police chief eat for lunch? And what happens if your knee starts itching on a Metro North car?

Central Park Serenade by Laura Godwin and Barry Root (Joanna Cotler, 2002). A gentle rhyme carries you through the miraculous park on a bright summer day. Children sail boats in the pond, adults play softball on the lawn, and everyone runs, skates, sings, cries and chats. By the end of the first reading,
your child will anticipate and join in on the refrain, "And the pigeons coo/And the big dogs bark/And the noises echo/through the park." It's a book about big noises, but it uses few words, and offers an excellent bedtime stroll.

Subway Sparrow by Leyla Torres (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1993). A sparrow is trapped on the D train and a kind girl wants to help it get back above ground. Friendly passengers including a Spanish-speaking man and a Polish-speaking woman lend assistance as the train rumbles toward the next station. Torres' characters all speak in their native languages, yet the book is easy to follow and a warm introduction to the real mix of tongues children may encounter on their own subway trips. [BTW: If you live with a subway fanatic like Small Fellow, get him this book and then prepare to recoil in a mix of awe and horror as he internalizes the city's subway map, stop by stop.]

Milo's Hat Trick by Jon Agee (Hyperion, 2001). Milo is a struggling magician in the big city desperate to find a real rabbit to pull out of his hat. Threatened with losing his gig, he sets off to the woods to catch a hare, but instead finds only a bear. Fortunately, this bear already knows the hat trick. But will he make it to the Rialto in time for his debut? Agee's story and inviting illos are impressive enough. More amazing is that he makes you believe that you could actually lose a bear in midtown.

June 17, 2004 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS


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