You could spend time just in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and you would get a good feel for this book. Claudia and Jamie, two young rascals looking for adventure, run away and stay in the museum; they bathe in the fountains, sleep in the royal beds, and hide from security guards in bathroom stalls. But they also go further afield over the course of the novel; for motives of boredom, frugality, and curiosity, they find themselves in a few different places around the city.
The quintessential NYC children’s novel – Harriet, in true New Yorker style, spies on her neighbors and writes about their exploits (she, at least, keeps her notes in a secret diary). This terrific book, though a little dated – Harriet calls her nanny Ole Golly, enjoys egg creams, and is fascinated by a stereotypically Italian immigrant family – deals with timeless dilemmas that make it still popular today. Ostracized by her classmates, neglected by her parents and feeling abandoned by Ole Golly, Harriet walks the streets of Yorkville and explores Carl Schurz Park as she tries to come to terms with the uncontrollable world and figure out what it means to be a good friend.
Rather like the All-of-A-Kind Family walking tour, these locations are confined to a very small part of the city.
Here are some interesting resources for learning about literary locations in NYC.
“A Children’s Literature Tour of New York“: I’m particularly excited about this one, for obvious reasons; I think it was created recently. It spotlights some great books and their real-life counterpart settings.
Storied City: A Children’s Book Walking Guide to New York City: Referenced in at least one of my tours, Leonard Marcus conducted a thorough survey of classic kidlit set in NYC and walks you through their locations. Unfortunately it’s a little chaotically-organized, includes lots of boring nonfiction books for kids, and leaves out many of my favorites (hence, this blog!).
A Literary Map of Manhattan: By the New York Times, this is an interactive map that doesn’t focus on kidlit (though it does include some greats – Harriet the Spy, The Young Unicorns, and one or two more) but on the history of novels about NYC in general. They chose one representative location per book and linked to the original Times book review.
More to come…
This much-beloved novel is something of a cult classic, well-known among New Yorkers and Jewish girls in particular. All-of-a-Kind Family is the adorable tale of five little girls, sisters growing up in NYC at the turn of the 20th century. Although they live in the very poor, Eastern European immigrant neighborhood of the Lower East Side, they live innocent lives thanks to loving parents, kindly neighbors, and a country that had yet to experience a World War.
I’ve included a mention of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in my tour, because it brings to life the time period and reality that the girls would have lived. I’ve also used a picture of the darling girls in my site header, both because they were my favorite childhood New Yorkers, and because they love the New York Public Library as much as I do.
The Saturdays is the story of four upper-class children living in NYC just before WWII. It’s another classic novel, very outdated by now but still full of charm. The protagonists are the four Melendy children, who one day decide to pool their allowances so that each week, one sibling can go out and have a grand adventure in the city. They call it the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (aka ISAAC). The book was so well-received that Enright went on to write three more novels about the Melendys, but this is the only one that takes place in NYC.
Although many of the locations are unspecific, and some no longer exist, locations from the classic tale can still be visited.
This is my favorite novel set in NYC, and thus, my first map.
Camilla is one of Madeleine L’Engle’s first novels, written before she ventured into fantasy and before she acquired her rosy view of life. Like all of L’Engle’s books set in NYC, it’s a little grim. The moody, autumnal novel is about a young teenage girl dealing with the collapse of her parents’ marriage, while falling in love for the first time, during the late 1940s. Camilla roams all over the city during her angsty tantrums and romantic tramps. Many decades later, all of the places she visits are still iconic – the MET, Carnegie Hall, Washington Square Park, the Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center, and more.