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August 11, 2015

A Literal Walk in the Park


Teenreads intern Sydney was given the chance to explore Central Park in a different way: through the lens of children's literature. Thanks to a tour from e.t.c. (events--tailor-made and customized), she visited famous landmarks and sites in and around the park, learning just how connected literature and location truly are. Below, she shares what she learned about kids' books from a guided stroll through the park.

Reasons I have a cool internship: I get the first scoop on literary events in New York, such as the kids’ book-themed tour of Central Park I went on a week ago. On a late Monday morning, I met my tour guide, Isabella, and the event coordinator, Evan, just outside of the French Embassy on the Upper East Side. Evan owns a company called e.t.c. (events--tailor-made and customized), which, among many other things, organized this literary tour of Central Park specifically for me, the Book Report Network representative. It was designed to showcase how the story of the city, and Central Park specifically, is interwoven with classic and contemporary children's literature.
The tour started within the French embassy, where the replica of a Cupid statue that may or may not have been carved by Michelangelo --- the debate rages on --- brought to mind the attribution struggles featured in FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER*. We explored the little bookshop within the Embassy, including a gorgeous room dedicated to children’s books with a beautiful ceiling.
From there, we forged on to the Upper East Side, home and inspiration to so many children’s novels and their protagonists. We also saw the imposing Metropolitan Museum of Art, where part of Percy Jackson and the Olympians' movie adaptation was filmed, where Claudia and James of THE MIXED-UP FILES made their home. Sadly, there wasn’t enough time to enter the Met itself, since the museum would take days to explore; for that reason, there’s a separate book tour just of this impressive building for anyone who may be interested!
We kicked off the Central Park part of the tour right below the Met. Luckily, it was a gorgeous day and we avoided those sporadic New York City downpours. The weather was ideal for wandering through gently curving paths, reminiscing about children’s books and learning about the park’s history. For instance, I didn't know until the tour that Central Park is all of 843 acres big, and that its design was the winning entry in a competition. 
Central Park, so beloved by New Yorkers and tourists alike, naturally influenced and is influenced by a fair amount of children’s lit. One of the first attractions we visited was the famous ALICE IN WONDERLAND statue, where Isabella read aloud part of Lewis Carroll’s The Jabberwocky. The brass statue is one of Central Park’s climbing structures, meaning it was specifically designed to let children (and youthful adults!) scamper all over it. Indeed, as we watched, the statue drew in adventurous kids like moths to a flame; its flat surfaces were polished from years of scuffing by little shoes.
Next, we made our way to the reservoir whose calm surface was ruffled only by the little toy sailboats operated by onlookers on the shore. It was this pond that the mouse Stuart Little sailed on, the toy boat actually a daunting full-sized model from a rodent’s point of view! I could have sat and watched the downscaled ships all day, but the tour continued to the other side of the pond to the statue of Hans Christian Andersen. The brilliant author of so many classic fairytales, Andersen is forever commemorated in the park, the Ugly Duckling of his creation pattering around his feet.
The next leg of the tour took us to the stunning Bethesda Terrace, where part of the movie Enchanted was filmed. In the vein of the Andersen statue, this movie brings fairy tales to life in Central Park. Fittingly, we ended at the famous carousel, where Holden Caulfield of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE watches his little sister and reflects on what it means to be a child. It was an apt thought: after all, revisiting Alice, Stuart and various fairy tales, who’s to say that I'm not still a little kid on the inside? The delight I had posing next to Hans Christian Andersen or watching sailboats sweep across the reservoir seems to indicate otherwise.
If anyone is interested in taking a similar tour of Central Park, the Met, or other New York sites, please contact my fantastic host, Evan Levy. Click here for information about her tours, and send emails to
The tours will officially launch September 8, and will be available Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 11:00 am, as well as by request. This fall there will also be fairy tale-themed tours in Central Park, plus a children's book-tour at the Met. Later in the fall, an optional add-on will be to have dessert with a children's book author.
Programs such as the tour I went on, in Evan's words, "try to show people new ways to experience New York, through slightly quirky, offbeat walks, talks, workshops, parties and one-shot experiences." She designed a children's book tour having written some children's lit herself and wanting to share the city's rich literary traditions. If you ever make your way to New York, this aspect of the city is certainly worth exploring.
*Evan Levy says that the original statue was indeed carved by Michelangelo

Sydney Scott, pictured here at the Hans Christian Anderson statue, is an intern at