The Must-Have Classic Illustrated Book for New York Lovers
I love illustrated children’s books. The wondrous and delightful visual narratives within them are not only charming but also insightful.
One of my favorite illustrated children’s books of all time is the timeless classic This Is New York by Miroslav Sasek. Inspired by a trip to Paris, Sasek decided to create a children’s travel book for it, a project that he would later expand to include cities like Rome, London, and New York.
This Is New York was first published in 1960 and re-published in 2004, and you can see from the illustration style that it has that retro watercolor look that a lot of people love and try to emulate today. These visuals are really gorgeous and take the reader on a little journey of the city. The book opens with the sale of Manhattan—$24 worth of housewares, apparently—to a Dutchman and goes on to talk about some of the seminally “New York” things: Times Square, Central Park, markets that cater to people from different corners of the world, fire hydrants, the traffic, fire escapes, etc. It’s surprising how much of New York is packed in the book’s 60 pages.
Since the book was published almost sixty years ago, it also offers a glimpse into a New York that I’m not really familiar with. For example, the NY Giants used to play in Yankee Stadium. And there was one mailbox for mail going to Manhattan and the Bronx and another for mail going to all other destinations. I wonder why Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island were lumped in with all the out-of-town mail?
It is also interesting to see how some of the landmarks have changed since the book’s original release. An illustration of Columbus Circle, a neighborhood that I used to live in, is almost unrecognizable to me as Time Warner Center and the Trump building are both absent on the page.
Back in the day, The Weather Star on top of a building on Broadway near Carnegie Hall indicated the weather for the next by changing colors: green for fair weather and orange for cloudy. The star is still perched atop 1740 Broadway today but no longer used to display the forecast for the next day.
The book contains a gaping omission in both the original and updated editions: the World Trade Center. It was not done by design, though. The WTC towers were built in the 1970s so didn’t exist when Sasek was working on the illustrations. They were not mentioned in the annotated notes of the re-issue in 2004 because they’d already been destroyed by then. Still, it is so jarring that a book about New York does not have any mention of these iconic structures. My heart still aches a little bit thinking about this.
This Is New York is beautifully illustrated and informative. I’ve gifted many copies over the years for Christmas and on birthdays. If you know any New Yorker lovers, then this would make a great addition to their book collections.