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10 Best Children's Books About NYC History

Check out these great books for kids, from beginner to advanced readers, that use New York City as the setting for their tales. The colorful characters and plots in these age-appropriate books are steeped in NYC history, helping teach kids about important landmarks and the people who helped shape the city's culture throughout the years. Plus, scroll down to download a reading guide to "The Cricket in Times Square," a fictional kid-lit classic, and find out why acting like a tourist in the Big Apple can actually pay off in more ways than one.


The Man who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

A whimsical retelling of a true story about daring Philippe Petit's infamous tightrope performance between the unfinished World Trade Center buildings in 1974, the book's illustrations of dizzying horizontal and vertical views are sure to fascinate young readers. Although the book's neutral statement, "Now the towers are gone," provides parents with an approachable means to discuss 9/11, the target readers (4- to 8-year-olds) might have more fun looking up at the city's tallest buildings and "the space between them" for their own choice tightrope hanging spot.


New York's Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne

In this tall tale about a tall man with hands the size of "Virginia hams," the story's hero, Mose Humphreys (a real 19th century NYC firefighter from Bowery), bravely runs into a burning hotel near the Hudson River to rescue hoards of townspeople. For kids interested in the man behind the legend, visit the Engine Company 40 (Ladder Company 35 at 101 Amsterdam Ave) where Humphreys was a volunteer firefighter or visit the old Sun Building (280 Broadway) where he worked as a printer for the New York Sun. The book's dedication recognizes the 343 firefighters who lost their lives rushing to save people on September 11 providing another opportunity to address this significant event in New York City history.


Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman

Another 9/11-themed story, this book focuses on the John J. Harvey, a New York piers fireboat, from its launch in 1931 to its out-of-retirement comeback to help battle fires after the attacks on the Twin Towers. Throughout each time period mentioned, Kalman also educates on other same-year events such as the completion of the Empire State Building, the construction of the George Washington Bridge, and the group undertaking to restore a soon-to-be-scrapped John J. Harvey. For a special adventure, take kids to Pier 66 Maritime (Hudson River between W 26th and W 27th streets) where the fireboat is now kept and provides free rides in the New York Harbor. Check the website for calendar events at


The Tale of Pale Male: A True Story by Jeanette Winter

Next time you and your kids venture to Central Park, make sure to point out Pale Male's home at 927 5th Ave. This red-tailed hawk and father to an estimated over 20-chicks with different partners found himself at the center of a controversy when he first nested at his current location. Winter's book details his (and his mate Lola's) highly publicized life from homebuilding in 1993 to his eviction in 2004 before eventually rebuilding later on.


The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift

Touted as a New York City classic, Swift delights children with a story about the little red Hudson River Lighthouse that stands beneath the George Washington Bridge. In the book, the lighthouse's confidence takes a hit when a bigger (and seemingly more important) structure overshadows it.


How Pizza Came to Queens by Dayal Kaur Khalsa

Best read over a couple of New York style slices, Khalsa's book details how a crotchety distant cousin helps to introduce a pizza to her relatives living in Queens. For kids who can't get enough of this Italian cuisine staple, the tale cooks up plenty of fun with quirky illustrations, humorous dialogue, and a story-ending tomato pie sky.


All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

In this 189-pager about a Jewish family living on the Upper East Side at the turn of the twentieth century, the five girls in the family visit many popular NYC locales. Head to Coney Island and envision where the girls went for a dip, or travel to the Essex Market ("Rivington Street market" in the book) for some farmers fresh fare. The girls even venture to the New York Public Library to deal with a lost book dilemma. Kids learn about the olden days of their town while also learning a bit of Jewish culture along the way.


The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh

The Night Tourist uses references to classical mythology, historical figures, and the supernatural aspect of death. A dark tale about 14-year-old Jack who, through a series of odd events, ends up in the underworld that exists below Grand Central Station, this story is sure to have young adult readers searching for ghosts during their next subway ride.


They Came from the Bronx: How the Buffalo Were Saved From Extinction by Neil Waldman

A story about how the conservationists at the Bronx Zoo brought the American bison back from the brink of extinction, the book teaches kids the tumultuous history of the buffalo from Oklahoma to New York and back again. Read the story and then take the kids to the same zoo where Waldman's interest in the "mother herd" first began.


The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley

With the American Museum of Natural History's "The World's Largest Dinosaurs" exhibit on display through January 2, 2012, now is the perfect time to introduce dino-fascinated kids to the true story of the man who brought dinosaurs to life. Long before anyone could even "fathom" what these prehistoric creatures looked like, Watherhouse Hawkins was determined to show the world. From large-scale dinosaur statues in Sydenham, England to his attempts to construct the Paleozoic Museum (the Museum that never was) in Central Park, Hawkins was a man with ideas as large as the creatures that fascinated him.


Also see: More on kids' books based in NYC and visiting the city's kid lit landmarks at

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