A few weeks ago, I wrote a guide to all my favorite kid-friendly things to do in New York City. This post inspired Lauren Bercuson, our kid lit contributor and the blogger behind Happily Ever Elephants, to put together a list of picture books that take place in New York City.
She put together her list of favorites (separated by fiction and non-fiction) and because there are so many children’s books based in Manhattan (just like there are TV shows), I had a to add a few of my own. I think the idea of a big city like New York, can be fascinating and exciting for little kids (look at what a big world is out there!), but for us, it’s just talking about home.
24 Children’s Books About New York City:
NEW YORK BOOKS – FICTION
By Allison Pataki and Marya Myers and illustrated by Kristi Valiant
Nelly lives in New York City, one of the most exciting places in the entire world. One day, though, she realizes that she has never seen The Big Apple. How big is this apple? And where is it hiding? Nelly and her dog, Bagel, set out on a journey to uncover this mystery, and the result is a charming story for every kid who has ever wondered just where that Big Apple can be found.
By Sally Lloyd Jones and illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Based on the true story of Hamilton Fountain, this adorable read takes place one special summer in New York City when three kids are convinced the long, hot days will be spent in total boredom with only their goldfish for company. But when someone starts fixing up the fountain down street — and the goldfish are invited to take residence in it for the summer — things begin to look a lot more exciting!
By Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight
Children worldwide have fallen in love with the story of Eloise, a little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel! Eloise loves learning about people, especially the ones who aren’t boring, and she can’t wait to introduce you and your kids to this special hotel!
By Raul Colon
In this stunning wordless book, one young boy discovers art for the first time. Though he frequently passes by Manhattan’s museums, on one particular day he decides to walk into the Museum of Modern Art. The boy studies painting after wondrous painting, until he stops at one and the famous work suddenly comes to life, its characters jumping off the canvases and into the real world to join the boy on an adventure. The boy’s afternoon is thus filled with exploration and wonder as he and his new friends discover all of the excitement New York City has to offer.
By Mo Willems
This is the story of what happens on an afternoon when dad is in charge! Dad takes his little girl, Trixie, on an errand to a Manhattan laundromat with Trixie’s favorite stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny, in tow. But their adventure takes a turn for the terrible when they get home, only to realize that KNUFFLE BUNNY IS MISSING! This is one of our very favorite stories — and a hilarious take on what happens when things go hopelessly awry with dad at the helm! With awesome black and white photographs of New York City as a backdrop to Willem’s illustrations, you will absolutely love this one.
By Lauren Castillo
One little boy is a bit nervous to go visit his Nana in the big city. But while he is there for a sleepover, Nana helps him see that the busy, bustling and loud city is not scary, but rather fun. All he needs is the perfect gear to help him remember to be brave — which comes in the form of one special cape given to him with love by Nana!
By Peter Brown
Based on Manhattan’s High Line, this is a quietly beautiful story about a boy in a gray town who discovers a straggling garden while on a walk high up on the railroad tracks one day. He decides to care for the garden, nurturing it with love and patience and persevering even after it is harmed by the elements. As he takes care of the garden, it grows and grows, bringing life to the city and blue to the skies. This book is stunning both in story and illustration, with themes of perseverance, environmental activism, and community improvement.
8) City Shapes
By Diana Murray and illustrated by Bryan Collier
If you have a little one at home, this is a perfect concept book to begin exposing him to different shapes. Circles, squares, triangles and more show up in the most unexpected of places as a young girl discovers new geometric objects around every corner. A fun and lively romp through city streets, we just love this one!
By Mike Curato
Little Elliot feels especially little in the big, big city— and sometimes it’s hard to navigate the big crowds and even bigger buildings. Leave it to a small friend to help an elephant in need! Curato’s Elliot, complete with pastel polka dots, may be the cutest story-book elephant ever. And the fantastic illustrations of Manhattan are not to be missed!
By Josh Funk and illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Patience and Fortitude are the two lions faithfully standing guard outside the New York Public Library. One day, Patience goes missing, so Fortitude wanders into the library in an effort to find him. With the help of those he meets inside, Fortitude learns the key to Patience’s disappearance may be somewhere within the library itself. This is such a fabulous and unique story!
11) Red and Lulu
By Matt Tavares
Red and Lulu are two cardinals who make their home in a big and beautiful evergreen tree. But one autumn day, disaster strikes and the tree is chopped down – with Lulu still in its branches! Red flies as fast as he can to follow Lulu, but he ends up alone and frightened in New York City. But then he finds Rockefeller Center, a miraculous sight during the holiday season, where he hears a familiar song… and sees a familiar tree. A magical book!
By Bernard Waber
The House on East 88th Street is a totally irreverent story that my kids adore. It’s about a family that moves into a brownstone on the Upper East Side, only to discover that a crocodile is living in their bath tub. The crocodile is called Lyle and he is not only friendly, but also very talented. The story takes many emotional twists and turns when Lyle’s original owner comes back to claim him. Have no fear, after a brief trip overseas, Lyle ends up returning to the family, long enough to appear in the second book in the series, Lyle Lyle Crocodile.
By Ian Falconer
Olivia is a very hard headed little pig, with tons of talent, big ideas and a desire to resist the status quo. Her mother finds her both brilliant and exasperating, as many parents of precocious little girls do. My favorite part of the original Olivia (there is now a whole book series and a cartoon on TV) is how she frequents familiar NYC locations with cultural significance like the MoMA and the New York City Ballet.
By Amos Vogel and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Published the same year as Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak illustrated a lesser known, but equally lovely book about a boy named Lori who wants to visit Times Square. His journey is full of failed attempts that take him from South Ferry all the way to 242nd Street with detours by Macy’s, Central Park, Queens, and Staten Island, using various modes of transportation, including bus, subway, boat and even a turtle. In the end, Lori gets a way more thorough tour of New York City than he intended.
NEW YORK BOOKS – NONFICTION
By Joanne Dugan
Redefine the ABCs with this romp through the alphabet and New York City! This is a beautiful book showcasing the excitement of NYC, including its landmarks and bustling streets. If you love Manhattan and are ready to teach your kids the alphabet, this book is for you!
13) This is New York
By Miroslav Sasek
This fabulous picture book series features many of the world’s most prominent cities, and we just love this one about New York! From Rockefeller Center to Chinatown, Central Park to Times Square, New York’s spirit, culture and landmarks are on display in this classic picture book!
By Moredcai Gerstein
In 1974, a French artist by the name of Philippe Petit put up a tightrope between the World Trade Towers and spent an hour on that rope in the sky! He danced, cartwheeled and performed tricks, and this Caldecott award winning book beautifully captures this magical and monumental hour in Manhattan.
By Melissa Sweet
How many of you grew up watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and now watch it with your own children? This is the story of Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire, and how he created the upside down puppets that journey through the parade, making all of America feel like New Yorkers on Thanksgiving Day!
16) Her Right Foot
By Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris
We fell hard for this book which tells all about the iconic Statue of Liberty, describing in detail one small but significant (and fascinating!) trait that often goes unnoticed: her right foot. What does it mean, and why is it a symbol of acceptance? Sharing important history, but also conveying a message of the importance of the United States as a beacon of freedom, diversity and inclusion, this one is a treasure!
By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole
By Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome
Learn about the iconic Empire State Building, and how it came to be! A young boy watches, mesmerized, as the building is constructed, brick by brick. Then, in 1931, he gets to take a trip to the top to look upon New York City in all its splendor. A fabulous book for STEM lovers!
By Ashley Benham Yazdani
Central Park wasn’t always a lush and vibrant gem in the center of Manhattan. Instead, in 1858, the city grew so quickly that all of the new construction threatened to swallow up the land. The people of New York needed green space, and after a citywide contest, Calvert Veux and Frederick Law Olmstead crested a stunning park out of barren swampland. Together with sculptors, stone masons and gardeners, this ingenious team created a remarkable place for all Manhattanites to enjoy. We loved learning how Central Park was envisioned and created!
By Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Christopher Myers
In this stunning, oversized picture book, readers are given an introduction to Harlem through lyrical poetry and beautiful art. This is the story of a group of people who settled in New York City, only to find that racism could still prevent them from achieving their greatest goals. Well known landmarks like the Apollo Theater are mentioned, and this book showcases — in a way that only the great Walter Dean Myers can do — the beauty, hardship, pride and perseverance of Harlem’s residents. Perfect for your older kids!
Lauren is a mom of two boys and an elementary school librarian who is passionate about the power of children’s literature to foster empathy in kids. She reviews everything from board books for your youngest kids to books for your newest readers to novels for tweens. She also has book lists on every topic under the sun, including the importance of adopting a growth mindset and books about multiculturalism.