You can take a crack at either of these activities once you get to the hotel on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. When you’re done, try ordering some hot chocolate at the Palm Court restaurant, a favorite of Eloise, or ride the hotel elevator up and down, like she did, “for no good reason.” Before you move on, scan the lobby for the portrait of Eloise by the book’s illustrator, Hilary Knight. The painting was taken down during recent renovations but is back.
Two of Manhattan’s most-visited landmarks have children’s book angles. The piece of fruit “as large as a house” in James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (Knopf, 1961) crosses the Atlantic Ocean, arrives in New York City and, with James and his pals inside, lands on the point of the Empire State Building at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue.
The book’s illustration of this event made me fuming mad when I was roughly nine. I could see midtown buildings from my bedroom window and knew them pretty well. But the book’s original drawing showed a tower that looked more like the Chrysler Building than the Empire State. You can make up your own mind about this by getting up high on the building’s main observation deck on the 86th floor.
If you can find a stand or store around here that’s not part of a chain, pick up a newspaper and a pack of gum on Broadway and 42nd Street in honor of George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1960). Published before the days of political correctness, the book’s original cover shows Selden’s main character, Chester Cricket, and his friends, Tucker the Mouse and Harry the Cat, drinking what appear to be small martinis. And talk about seeing the future: Selden has Chester make his home inside a “nearly bankrupt newsstand.”
Last and maybe best, is the realm of my favorite picture book of all, the still popular This is New York by Miroslav Sasek (Universe, 1960). “New York is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere,” writes Sasek, “and it is full of the Biggest Things. The biggest traffic jams in the world….The biggest stretch of streets to be policed…The biggest Sunday papers.” Not all of Sasek’s superlatives are still true. But most self-respecting city kids — and just about any tourist — will enjoy his Technicolor-cool illustrations.
So, where can you see the Manhattan sights in This is New York? Uptown, downtown, midtown, Central Park? Consider extending your children’s book tour. This may take a while.
Peter Mandel is the author of 10 books for kids including “Jackhammer Sam” (Macmillan/Roaring Brook) and “Zoo Ah-chooo” (Holiday House).