Most of what occupies my shelves at home consists of what you could call “classics” – all the mainstays of British, American, and Anglophone literatures – with a couple of less-established and ‘lighter’ titles here and there. And if you’ve read any post I’ve written so far, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that’s all the reading I do.
But there’s more to the shelf than one might expect! As it turned out, I reached for a book I remember loving when I was a kid, and the moment I opened it again – the first time I’d done so in years – I got hooked once more…
I don’t remember reading a lot as a kid (subway, street, and bus maps were my
crack cocaine passion, then Pokémon followed soon after), but one book that I fell in love with very quickly was Kathy Jakobsen’s My New York. It’s a children’s book, and as you might guess from the title it’s about a young girl named Becky and her descriptions of what she loves in the city. No hyphenated identities, no concentric audiences, no allegories: just a simple, fun book.
But what a book it is. Jakobsen is one heck of an illustrator, and she draws and colors her scenes with a style that’s neither overly romantic nor excessively childish. On the contrary, she depicts all of the usual suspects (the Empire State Building, the Met, the Public Library, the Intrepid, and so on and so forth) and some more intriguing ones (FAO Schwarz, South Street Seaport, the 6th Avenue flea markets – even D’Aiuto’s!) with all the color and detail that any kid, resident of New York or not, can enjoy. I didn’t realize till recently that she specializes in folk art, though given her unique style – which seems inspired in part by Seurat and pointillism – it’s pleasing to see that she could gracefully transition from one setting to another. And the story itself is pleasant enough: Becky describes some eventful memories, such as spending the Fourth of July at South Street Seaport, Thanksgiving at Macy’s, and New Year’s Eve at Times Square, and Jakobsen’s writing (coupled with her artwork, of course) makes for a good read at any age.
Even as someone who grew up in the city, I read My New York over and over again with my parents, and with each read through (and after poring over all of the pictures, of course) I grew convinced that the book and the city were a part of me, just as much as I once was a part of them. Of course, it’s hard to think about the city in such innocent terms now, but there’s no doubt that this book, perhaps more than the many others I’ve read, has left its imprint on me, a happy memory of what makes New York such a vibrant and exciting city.
I’m not really sure how much of the book I can show without violating copyright laws, so I’ve only included a detail from the cover, which shows the Plaza Hotel in winter: