New York City
Some of my fondest memories from holidays in my childhood are of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The magic of the parade with its wonderful balloons signaled the beginning of one of my favorite times of year. But I never gave much thought to the history of the parade and its famous balloons. When I saw the book Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, by Melissa Sweet, I couldn’t resist the chance to meet the man behind the magic.
"I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."
August Pullman has a face that only a mother could love, only his mother to be exact. The main character of R.J. Palacio's book Wonder has an extra large forehead. His eyes are much lower than they should be. His mouth always hangs open and his ears are underdeveloped and cauliflower-shaped. What people do not know when they look at August is that they are seeing a very smart, funny, and capable young man.
Most love stories don't end with a snowball to the face. Then again, this is no love story.
Empire State, by Jason Shiga, actually starts in the Golden State: Oakland, California. Jimmy works in a library and runs his own Web site. He finds inner peace through repairing books and geeking out over sci-fi movies. As he leaves work one day, we meet his friend Sara, who greets him...with an unprovoked punch in the arm.
Sara's sarcastic and unsatisfied world view is a million miles from Jimmy's acceptance of his uncomplicated life. Still, they both find some comfort and security in each other's presence. Unfortunately for Jimmy, Sara has a yearning to leave Oakland and enter New York City's publishing industry. When she receives an internship, the call is too powerful to resist.
All is well at the city zoo. The zookeeper lies back in his chair, grabbing a quick snooze. It is a perfect time…for escape.
Where’s Walrus, written and illustrated by Stephen Savage is a delightful romp through New York City with a flippered fugitive who always knows where he can blend in, outsmarting the zookeeper every step of the way. Our title character first hides in a fountain, pretending to be a mermaid, next we see him in a diner, then a store window. The zookeeper is close behind, but never quite sees through the disguises. Will you?
I’m going to Brooklyn to visit my daughter, and as with every excursion to the “Big Apple,” I make a list of must-see places. Usually I include a tea house, a photo gallery, and a farmer’s market. (If you’re a locavore, NYC’s markets are BEYOND compare!). But this time I’m making a reservation at Prune--Gabrielle Hamilton’s acclaimed West Village restaurant. Coincidentally, Hamilton is also the author of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Her book, like her food (or so I’ve heard), is exceptional!
Hamilton’s childhood in rural Pennsylvania was unconventional and idyllic. Her father was a stage designer, frequently involved with Broadway productions; her mother, French and a former dancer, spent her days aproned in front of a six-burner stove. The clan lived in a crumbling, 19th-century silk mill. They regularly hosted legendary parties—complete with spring lamb roasting on a spit and an endless variety of creative themes.
Fourteen-year-old Zach Harriman lives in New York City with his mother and father. He has been living the life of a typical teen until his father is killed under mysterious circumstances. In Mike Lupica's book Hero, Zach decides that following the devastating loss of his father, he wants to get to the bottom of the story. He knows that his father was powerful and had the ear of the President of the United States. He knows that his father was very skilled in his job of "getting things done." Zach suspects that his father's death was no accident but a premeditated murder by an organization known as the "bads."
How’s that for a title that gets your attention? No, this isn’t one of those glamorous, tell-all, rock star groupie memoirs. In fact, I cannot imagine any of the members of the punk rock pioneers, the Ramones, even using the word “glamorous” in a sentence…except perhaps to describe a pizza.
I Slept with Joey Ramone is the affectionate account of lead singer Joey Ramone’s complicated relationship with his kid brother Mickey, who also wrote and played music, but lived in Joey’s shadow.
The sections relating the brothers’ childhood in Queens were especially informative, and had the same sense of deep camaraderie that I loved in Frank McCourt’s first memoir Angela’s Ashes, with just a couple of brothers looking out for each other in the big bad city. You learn about their fascination and burgeoning love of rock music, thanks to the Beatles and Phil Spector’s wall of sound.
Peter Sis grew up in Czechoslovakia when the country was still a satellite of the Soviet Union. He remembers not having enough paper for drawing and only one kind of ink. Once a teacher caught him sketching in his notebook at school. She made him write over every page. In Czechoslovakia, there was not enough of anything, and drawing in a notebook was considered to be very wasteful. There were other sad things about living behind the Iron Curtain. The government controlled what could be said in public and written in books, especially if what was written criticized the people in charge.
Elaine Lobl Konigsburg has always loved reading. As a girl, she discovered the magic of The Secret Garden and learned about life in a middle-class English family from Mary Poppins. These stories became part of her childhood, and, as she relates in her excellent book of essays, TalkTalk: A Children's Author Speaks to Grown-ups, classic stories become a bridge between today's children and earlier generations.
What she was looking for as a child and did not find, was a reflection of her life in a Pennsylvania mill town. In classic books, the mothers were just that. The women in Elaine's neighborhood worked as maids for extra money. In classic tales, there were maids, but they were always on the sidelines, and the classroom rolls were filled with Smith's, Jones', Edwards', and the like. Where were the Ravinsky's, Machotka's, and Spinelli's?