As a girl, I was transfixed by the idea that city and country folk could be different. Metropolitan visitors were always arriving at my doll house with far too much luggage and cosmopolitan ways; and the farmers left dusty tracks. Aesop’s “The Country Mouse and The City Mouse” further fed my cravings in this department, but so did the many books in which setting was an integral part of the story. Revisiting those halcyon days, I collected my picks of the best classic children’s books on city and country living. Whether city or country dwellers, or somewhere in between, your children will cast themselves as the lovingly, expertly drawn characters in each adventure – from a dancing croc to a stealthy owl seeker. Here are books that help make sense of home, rouse a spirit of plunging in, and incite a dedication to exploration (and good literature!). –Emily Frost
CHILD IN THE CITY
The pacing of Kay Thompson’s Eloise perfectly mirrors the frenzy of midtown, the bustle of an illustrious hotel, and most importantly, the energy of a six-year-old girl. To live in the Plaza, with the revolving door constantly delivering fresh faces and activities, was my deepest girlhood dream. How many times did I unfold the page depicting Eloise’s circuitous and purposeless elevator ride to carefully trace her route? Enough that my original copy is falling apart. Spanning sixty-five pages, this pink, black and white kaleidoscope entertained me for hours. Ooooooooooooooooooo, I absolutely love Eloise.
Little readers or listeners may be more astounded by the strong-willed Madeleine than by the delightful scenes of Paris, from an “old house…that was covered in vines” to all the picturesque squares. But they’ll surely pick up on Bemelman’s insistence that despite our wish to control our lives – by every day leaving the house at half past nine, in two straight lines, in rain or shine – seeking the unexpected is much more fun!
Lyle Crocodile lives at East 88th Street, but he doesn’t stay cooped up there for long. Life might get dull or lonely for a crocodile living with a country family, but NYC’s shopping hordes afford Lyle plenty of chances to cause a commotion. A fantastic date, Lyle reminded me of just how much there is to do and see in town, like ice skating arm-in-arm with Mrs. Pimm of East 88th Street.
Make Way For Ducklings has always made me beam with Boston pride (even as a picket-fence suburbanite). First published in 1941 with quaint illustrations, this story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s introduction to a friendly policeman and a downtown that stops in its tracks for a parade of waddling ducklings evokes the slower, neighborly pace of early 20th century cities. Indeed, in these pages, Boston looks like a very pleasant town, a place where you could ride swan boats all day long.
The borough has been covered in mounds of wet, cold glop – but nevertheless, we drift, slide, crunch, and smile through Peter’s snowy day, catching glimpses of white-hatted stop lights and railings, the buildings softened by fluffy flakes. Later, Peter encounters the best part of apartment life (for the under ten crowd): calling to your friend across the hall and disappearing together into the “deep, deep snow.”
Printed on recycled paper and popping with blooming shrubs and trees, this recent book will shift your tot’s focus up from the subway to the city’s rooftops – where, as this story depicts, there are endless possibilities to create a “lush, green world” (New Yorkers, note the similarities to the High Line, which inspired the story). Warning: post-reading they’ll probably want a wheelbarrow, a trowel and to get to work right away – a small price for a new understanding of urban renewal.
Other notable city classics:The Cricket in Times Square, This is New York, Busy, Busy Town, Jenny and The Cat Club, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.