Grab a book and hop aboard the Literary Express! With the help of NJ Kids, spend a day or a weekend exploring the settings of some of the most beloved children stories and famous authors and turn an ordinary outing into an adventure visiting a few ‘old friends’. Create a daylong itinerary or break up the sights into smaller segments for ideas whenever you have a chance to get into the city. Best of all, cuddle up with one of the books beforehand, read it with your children, then head out and bring the world of books to life!
Metropolitan Museum of Art
It was here at the museum, located at 5th Avenue and 85th Street, that Claudia and Jamie Kincaid hid after running away from home in From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweliler by E.L. Konigsburg. Claudia chose the Museum because she needed a “large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place.” Children will love following in the footsteps of Claudia and Jamie: beginning on the steps leading to the main entrance (a picture of the two children walking up those same steps is immortalized on the cover of many editions), then touring the fine French and English furniture (the exact bed the children slept on is no longer on display, but there are many similar beds), visiting the Egyptian Hall (Claudia was particularly fond of both jewelry owned by a princess and a bronze sculpture of cat), finally ending in the Charles Engelhard Court inthe American Wing (the exact fountain that the children fished for coins is no longer on display, but you can check out the other fountains). Click here for a great ‘Mixed-Up Met Tour’:
You Can’t Take A Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum of Artby Jaqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser is another wonderful children’s book – and also begins at the Museum. In this endearing story, a little girl is visiting the museum, but is not allowed to take her yellow balloon inside so ties it to a handrail. When the balloon ‘escapes’, readers are taken on an adventure through the city – children will be able to spot some of the artwork inside the museum that is pictured in the book, plus other famous landmarks including the seal exhibit at the Central Park Zoo.
Yes, Central Park is over 800 acres of green grass, bubbling brooks and endless outdoor activities, but it is also full of literary tributes and sites. Head uptown first to the northern section of the park: to The Conservatory Garden (104th Street and 5th Avenue) where a fountain was built in honor of Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden. Friends built this fountain in 1936, and the twin figures in the middle of the fountain are thought to represent the two main characters in the Secret Garden, Mary Lennox and Colin Craven.
Afterwards stroll south and stop at the James Michael Levin Playground at 77th Street for a look at a statue of Lewis Carroll’s characters, Alice, the Queen, the Cheshire Cat, the Griffon and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. (In the summer it spurts water!). Continue to 75th and 5th (on the north side of the boat pond) for another Alice in Wonderland statue. Inspired by the cast of zany characters in Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice in Wonderland, children can climb on Alice, the Mad Hatter and The White Rabbit. West of the boat pond, near 74th and 5th Avenue is the Hans Christian Anderson Sculpture – author of Emperors New Clothes, The Little Mermaid and the Ugly Duckling. The open book resting on the knee of Anderson has the first few lines of The Ugly Duckling.
And now to the boat pond itself - formally know as the Conservatory Water (located on the east side between 72nd and 75th Streets). It was here that Stuart, a small mouse adopted by the Little’s in the book Stuart Little by E.B. White, steered the model boat, Wasp, in a race across the pond, ultimately winning after crashing into another boat. Take along a copy of the book and you can stand on the hill leading down to the pond in almost the exact spot illustrated in the book and on the concrete edging of the pond where Stuart peered out across the water with his ‘spyglass’.
Heading further south to 67th Street and the Eastside Drive, take a look at the statue of Balto. While not a character from a book, children can read about the dog sled team, led by Balto, who carried medicine from Nome to Anchorage in 1925 to stop a deadly diphtheria epidemic, in The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford.
Literary Walk is located at 66th Street, mid park. Huge statues depict famous authors and poets, including William Shakespeare, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.
Shakespeare’s Garden is located between West 79th and 80th Street. A beautiful area to stroll any time of the year, during the warmer months, older children may be able to recognize many of the blooming flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Nearby, outside the Delacorte Theater (80th Street), are two statues depicted in Shakespeare’s plays – one of Romeo and Juliet in an embrace, and the other of The Tempest.
American Museum of Natural History
Home to dinosaurs, gems, animals, a planetarium and so much more, the American Museum Of Natural History (Central Park West at 81st Street), is also the setting for several great children’s books. One favorite, How to Take your Grandmother to the Museum by Lois Wyse and Molly Rose Goldman, is a delightful tale of a little girl enjoying a day at the museum with her grandmother – and being the tour guide as they wander through the exhibits. Head into the dinosaur exhibit to see the Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus that are mentioned in the book, then go to the second floor of the African exhibit and stand looking down at the first floor or take a rest on the first floor of the African Hall at the foot of the massive elephants just as the grandmother and the little girl did. Touch the giant clam in Ocean Life and a meteorite in the rock collection. Bring the book along and see if you can match the spots of the illustrations - they are almost exact replicas of the actual spots in the museum.
The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc is also famously set in the Natural History Museum. Most kids will remember the movie starring Ben Stiller, but it was originally a book and young and old will get a kick out of visiting the halls where the animals and other artifacts came to life, including the Hall of North American Mammals. Also, don’t miss the statue of Theodore Roosevelt on the steps of the Museum, another favorite from the movie.
At the corner of Broadway and 49th Street is the Palace Theater – not actually an exact location in a book, but in Mr. Poppers Penguins by Tichgard and Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper and his performing penguins were supposed to go to the Palace Theater but ended up instead at the Regal Theater. Stand by the theater and imagine what it must have been like to parade a family of penguins through Times Square!
In A Cricket in Times Square by George Sheldon, Chester the Cricket is caught on a commuter train and ends up in Times Square. As is written in the book, “they were standing at one corner of the Times Building, which is at the south end of Times Square. Above the cricket, towers like mountains of light rose up….the neon lights were still blazing….And the air was full of the roar of traffic and the hum of human beings.” Standing on that same corner at West 43rd Street, you can get the same feeling of constant movement, surrounded by the hustle and bustle that Chester must have experienced.
New York Public Library
Two graceful lions stand guard outside the New York Public Library at 42nd and Fifth Avenue – and they have been highlighted in several book illustrations, including Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty. This endearing children’s book is the story of a young boy who, on his way to school, stops to help a lion remove a thorn from its paw.
Inside, in the Children’s Department, meet the 100-acre gang from Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. Since 1987, the library has been the permanent home to the original Pooh – a stuffed bear given to Christopher Robin Milne, on his first birthday (first named Edward Bear; later renamed Winnie-the-Pooh) - Kanga, Tigger, Owl and Piglet. Housed in a glass case, young and old will delight at seeing the much-loved stuffed animals immortalized in the classic children’s story.
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building had a close encounter with a giant Ape in the movie, King Kong, but it also speared a giant peach in James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. After traveling across the Atlantic Ocean in the center of the giant peach, James and his peach get impaled on the tip of the Empire State Building above the 86th Floor. Take an elevator up to the observatory deck and imagine the view James had!
Sector 7 by David Wiesner also recreates the Empire State Building. This is a nearly wordless book about a boy who visits the Empire State Building with his class then makes friend with a cloud and heads off on an adventure.
The world’s most famous resident of the Plaza, Eloise, from the children’s classic Eloise by Kay Thompson, lived in a room on the top floor of the building with her nanny and menagerie of creatures (including a turtle named Skipperdee). This mischievous little girl spends her day traveling up and down the elevator in search of adventure – and visitors can visit some of her favorite spots, including the ornate lobby, the Tearoom, the Terrace Room and the Palm Court. In the Palm Court, make sure to check out the painting of Eloise.
Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse
Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse - aka The Little Red Lighthouse, immortalized in Hildegarde Swifts’ 1942 classic, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge stands beneath the George Washington Bridge at 181st Street and the Hudson River. This story tells about a small lighthouse in the shadow of the newly constructed George Washington Bridge and highlights that no matter how small you are, you are still important. Tours of the lighthouse are occasionally offered.
Beyond New York City
Here are a few more ideas when you are out and about in other major cities:
Sleepy Hollow, NY:
This town, about 30 miles outside of NYC, is the setting for Washington Irving’s, Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Sites in Sleepy Hollow include The Headless Horseman Bridge (not the original, but reminiscent of the bridge in the story), Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow and Old Dutch Burying Ground (spot where Ichabod Crane sought sanctuary from the Headless Horseman), Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (Irving is buried there), and Sunnyside (Irving’s home).
Although younger children may not recognize the names of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecham Stowe, if you’re passing through Hartford, take a detour to visit both the Twain home and museum (author of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn) and the Stowe home and museum (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
The Cat in the Hat Sculpture Garden in Springfield, MA is filled with bronze statues of some of Dr. Seuss most memorable characters, including the Cat in the Hat, Yertle the Turtle, the Lorax and the Grinch.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is dedicated to inspiring a love of art and reading in young children through picture books and illustrations from around the world. Current and past exhibits include pictures from some of Carle’s most beloved creations (he is the author of the Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you see to list just two) as well as artwork and books from other famous picture book authors, such as Lucy Cousin, author of the Maisy books.
Nearby, also in Amherst, MA, is the Emily Dickinson Museum. Dickinson was an American poet who wrote more than 800 poems, and visitors can tour the museum and homestead to get a glimpse into the life of one of our finest poets.
Generations of girls have enjoyed reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and you can visit the Orchard House where this novel was penned. Guided tours lead visitors through the home, including to the room where Louisa slept.
The House of the Seven Gables inspired National Hawthorne to write a novel by the same name. Now it is a museum, and visitors can tour the home and learn about the famous town, Salem. Next door, Hawthorne’s original house is also open for tours
The classic, Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey is set in Boston and kids will get a kick out of visiting spots mentioned and pictured in the story: Beacon Hill, Louisburg Square, the State House, the Charles River, and of course the Public Garden, where you can still take a ride on a Swan Boat (and maybe see someone toss peanuts to the ducks as they did in the story!).
Edgar Allen Poe has scared readers for years with such works including, The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher – and visitors can tour the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, getting up and close to original manuscripts, memorabilia, personal items, photographs and more. Visitors can also step into the Enchanted Garden, a landscaped area that is a shrine to Poe.