Unique New York

Posted in Geography at 12:03 pm by Janet

I just started reading Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus. That got me thinking about my favorite kids books set in New York City. A number of my favorite books as a child were set in NYC, even though I had never been there. I found a lot of the details related to the setting to be mysterious. What’s the difference between Brooklyn and the Bronx? What is a tenement? And what on earth is an air shaft? To a girl in the Midwest, the stories seemed exotic and therefore appealing and important. 

Eventually, as a young adult, I visited NY and learned the geography. I even figured out what an air shaft was, most likely to my detriment. The incident where I rented a sketchy apartment in Minneapolis JUST BECAUSE it had an air shaft was probably unnecessary, but it does speak to the fascination the Big City held and still holds for me. 

Here is a list of my ten favorite books about New York City that are read by children.

1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–Betty Smith. Air shafts! A handsome, shiftless father! A pervert in the hallway! This is as good as it gets! If you still don’t know what an air shaft is, go read this book! Now!

2. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler–E.L. Konigsburg. The Metropolitan Museum tells you that  you can’t actually stay there overnight:   http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/FAQ/htm/franken.htm

3. Knuffle Bunny–Mo Willems. I think Mo Willems has left Brooklyn, but you can still enjoy his neighborhood.

4. The Cricket in Times Square–George Selden. Great animal story in a very busy place.

5. All-of-a-Kind Family–Sydney Taylor. I loved this whole series about a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, even though I didn’t know Uptown from Downtown from Coney Island. A little lighter than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  

6. Harriet the Spy–Louise Fitzhugh. If only I could find a place with a dumbwaiter. That would be way cooler than an air shaft.

7. Catcher in the Rye–J.D. Salinger. I am convinced that every book about teens running around NY owes something to this book.

8. So Yesterday–Scott Westerfeld. Teens running around NY, not being angsty but hip and inquisitive. The bit about the Cool Hunting is very appropriate to the setting and its fashion-conscious inhabitants. 

9. Chains–Laurie Halse Anderson. Shows interesting aspects of NY’s history that I for one didn’t know much about. A slave girl is stuck in lower Manhattan during the American Revolution. Can she escape?  

10. The Lightning Thief–Rick Riordan. Yeah, yeah, the whole book isn’t set in NY, but some of the most important action takes place there. Who knew that Mount Olympus has moved to the 600th floor of the Empire State Building?

What are your favorite books about New York City? What about your own city?


  1. Ann Piehl said,

    April 14, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Great list, Janet.

  2. The Tarts’ Wardrobe » Excuse me, Myth? I think you dropped something. said,

    May 12, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    [...] of humor, and lots of adventure. I’m not sure it’s good enough to go on my list of Favorite Books about New York City that Are Read By Children, but it’s a darn good and [...]

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