Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

A trip around the city with Ayun Halliday

Well today’s a treat.  Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Ms. Ayun Halliday.  Now I know that to most of you Ms. Halliday’s name is most closely associated with picture books like Always Lots of Heinies in the Zoo (illustrated by the illustrious Dan Santat).  But see, the thing about Ms. Halliday is that long before she dipped a toe in the children’s literary sphere, she had already established herself as a kind of guidebook wiz.  A quick search through her past books yields titles like Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste and A Sarong in My Backpack: Adventures from Munich to Pushkar and The Big Rumpus: A Mother’s Tale from the Trenches (nice use of the word “rumpus”, no?).
In very much the same vein Ms. Halliday has recently wrote The Zinester’s Guide to NYC.  It’s a fun low-budget take on walking the streets of NYC, and it is entirely responsible for my current understanding as to why thousands of New Yorkers dress up and Santa Claus once a year in December.  In conjunction with its release, Ms. Halliday has been visiting various blogs.  All well and good, but what possible tie-in could this book have to the world of children’s literature?

Then the answer hit us.

So, ladies and gentlemen.  While I know that Leonard Marcus owns the patent on children’s literature inspired NYC walking tours (Storied City: A Children’s Book Walking-Tour Guide to New York City) there’s nothing saying that more than one person can’t play at that game.  So here’s Ayun highlighting some of the books for kids out there that bring New York to them.  Clearly you don’t have to live here to experience the city at a young age.  Take it away, Ayun!

The All of a Kind Family Series by Sydney Taylor
As an Episcopal only child in 1970s Indiana, I was fascinated by these stories of a large Jewish family living in a Lower East Side tenement, back  in the days of horse carts and bathing dresses with bloomers. I thought of them  at Coney Island a couple of years ago, when I saw a bunch of Hasidic school girls frolicking in the surf in their long dark skirts and black tights. My main memories of these books have to do with the middle sister, Sarah, getting her ears pierced with a sewing needle and then going around with waxed threads in the holes until they healed up to the point where she could handle earrings. (She went straight to dangly ones – no posts). Also her total panic when she misplaced a library book.  I think these two events were unrelated. There were many beloved books from my childhood that I hoped would hold a similar place in my daughter’s heart. The All-Of-A-Kind Family series is the only one to really succeed in that department. Kid wouldn’t touch Where the Lilies Bloom with a ten foot hickory stick, but she shared my fascination for Ella, Henny, Sarah, Gertie, and whatever the hell the other one’s name was. I love that they sell these in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This too was an object of wow-this-kid’s-life-is-really-different-than-my-life fascination. Peter was not only black, as were his mother, and – in the sequel, Peter’s Chair – his little sister, he lived on an upper floor of a brownstone and was sent out to play, not in some self-contained yard, but on a car-free snowy street. And now guess whose children live on the upper floor of a brownstone. Guess whose mother spends the first hours of the year’s first hotly anticipated blizzard every February galumphing up and down Fulton Mall, trawling for snow pants and snow boots …Peter’s mother was much better prepared than I. One of the better stories that Captain Kangaroo read aloud to his TV audience…

Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack by M.E. Kerr
I just read this all the way through for the first time and it was so good! I remember being intrigued by the title as a precocious 10 year old  poking around the YA section of the Nora Branch library, but surmised it was probably about a boy who played hockey, a subject of no interest to me at the time. Now it is of great interest (the book, not hockey), as it takes place a short block from my home. In fact, the main character goes into great detail describing his branch library, which is now my branch library. If I were the Brooklyn Heights Branch, I would make a much bigger deal about having played such a significant role in Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack. One thing I really like about this book (besides the familiar cover of the vintage paperback, purchased for 99 cents at a library sale in Wellfleet, Mass) is the way Dinky and her friend hang out in a local diner. My 13 year old daughter, who goes to school in the East Village, hangs out in Joe Junior. It makes me want to call a do-over!

I Stink by Kate and Jim McMullan
Not a chestnut from my childhood, but a favorite of my son’s when he was little. There’s no explicit setting, but I’m pretty sure it’s NYC because that garbage truck has plenty of loud mouthed ‘tude, boasting about all the gross stuff he’s compacted, and how bad ass he is for hauling it away while the city sleeps. I can totally picture him getting drunk and holding forth in some ridiculous Lower East Side lounge, thinking he’s impressing models…

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
Another one that I loved loved loved as a child.  The idea of four siblings electing to pool their allowance, taking turns so that once a month, each of them gets a big pile of dough to blow in the manner of their choosing spoke to both my sense of thrift, the isolation of my only childhood, and my lust for special occasions. Obviously any kid has fantasies of autonomy, but unlike me, these kids had a wide variety of choices and the ability to get there on public transit – the non-girlie sister went to the museum and the girlie-sister went to a fancy salon and the little brother, who if memory serves is like seven, went to the circus all by himself. Whereas I wasn’t even allowed to walk to Target (or Airway as it was then known) because there were no sidewalks and my mother was afraid I’d get hit by a car. Were I to have a Saturday, I’d have to get her to drive me to the mall so I could buy an Orange Julius and wander around Spencer Gifts.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Yet another autonomous, feral New York child marching around the city in service of her own mysterious agenda. Growing up, no one I knew had a nanny, so it was a little difficult for me to wrap my head around the Harriet-Old Golly relationship. Now I know lots of nannies, and it is weird, even for someone as peripherally involved as me, when the kids get so old that the nanny’s services are no longer required. The audiobook is on pretty heavy rotation here. I have to say it’s not one of my faves – the reader is perky where I think dryness would serve better. Her intonations make the Old Golly stuff come off all cutesy-bootsy, rather than complex and depressing. I should read it again to get that damn audiobook out of my head.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins One of the last books I read aloud to Milo. He is a bigger fan than I… the baby sister seemed rather conveniently well behaved to me. The cockroaches were my favorite characters. And having lived in a prewar building on 79th and West End Ave, I can totally picture that laundry room that’s the portal to the Underland. Hmm.  I never thought about it before, because I left that building before my children were born, and have had to rely on outside laundromats every since, but I bet the laundry room of a big building is kind of a worrisome place to send one’s children unescorted. But not for the kind of reasons that make it into best selling children’s books.

The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
FREAK. OUT. I loved bears and hated dolls so I was always rooting for Mr. Bear to give it to Edith with the hair brush. I couldn’t figure out to whom that irresistibly glamorous dressing table Edith was punished for getting into belonged. Obviously, Mr. Bear had some sort of secret adult life. Now that I’m more mature, I enjoying thinking of Dare Wright sprawled on her belly to capture that shot of Edith and Little Bear walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s crazy that they’re the only ones in the shot. I’m imagining the publishing equivalent of a bitchy, head set wearing P.A., telling pedestrians they’ll have to use the Manhattan Bridge instead. And people craning their necks to get a look at the celebs and it’s just a teddy and this long haired doll in a pervy little dress and a pea coat.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg
Again with the autonomy! Notable in my childhood for the full page drawing of a boy and girl bathing – nude! – in a fountain. Racy, but appealing. I’d have been up for doing this at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, if I’d had a sibling to run away with … I’d have been way too chicken to be locked up alone at night with the mummy and the Hieronymous Bosch painting I made a point of studying on every visit. I’d kind of like to send Inky and Milo off to see if it’s still possible for 2 kids to live undetected at the Met. Maybe we could fund a documentary on Kickstarter. It’d be more Exit Through the Gift Shop than Night at the Museum. Incidentally, my 80 year old father forgot to bring anything to read on a recent visit from Indiana, and rather than spending any money in one of New York City’s many excellent bookstores, he absconded with my kids’ copy of The Mixed Up Files, a loss I felt more deeply than they.

An offer you can’t refuse: Hey Fuse #8 readers….I’ve spent more than half my life trying to remember the title of a review copy that my mother brought home from the Indianapolis Star in the mid to late 70s. It was about a boy named Ari who moves to Coney Island and he meets up with this kid named Moxie who shows him how to hang out at Astroland all day, when they should be in school (if memory serves). The cover had a cartoon of a blond boy with a big nose and a yarmulke wearing shorts as he sits on a stoop. You tell me that title and I will send you a free ZG2NYC.

I’m still smiling imagining the I Stink truck trying to pick up models on the Lower East Side.  In any case, thanks so much for stopping by and for the memories, Ayun.  And sadly, that Astroland title doesn’t ring any bells.  But if folks leave comments here with the answer for Ayun, I’ll be sure she gets them.


About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Sadly, I don’t have the Astroland answer, but I do have a recommendation! The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, the biography of Dare Wright ( It’s truly creepy and sad- a must-read for Lonely Doll fans.

  2. OK, I know there is never room for all of them, but. . .
    I would add Edward Ormondroyd’s “Time at the Top” and “All in Good Time,” about a 1960s NYC child who travels back to the turn of the 19th century, when the place where her apartment building stands was still country (I don’t remember which borough she was in. . .could it possibly have been Manhattan?)

    And–Delia Sherman’s hilarious “Changeling,” and “The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen.” Who could ever forget Eloise as the Genius of the Plaza Hotel?

  3. I don’t have the Astroland answer either, but the last of the All-of-a-Kind-Family sisters is Charlotte! I visited the Tenement Museum several years ago and it really brought back memories of that series!

  4. Could it be The Difference of Ari Stein by Charlotte Herman? This book was published by Harper & Row in 1976. I can’t find a book cover anywhere, and the only information about the content of the book that I can find is’s product description: “After he moves to Brooklyn, Ari decides he can meet new and different friends while keeping his personal beliefs.”


  6. The Kirkus review of The Difference of Ari Stein starts with this sentence: “Here’s how Ari Stein, new to Brooklyn in 1944, resists the blandishments of Maxie Friedman who wants to turn him into an All-American boy and gives up pranks like sneaking through the fence at Luna Park and peering up through the boardwalk in favor of Hebrew School and the Sabbath club he attends with his new friend Shepsy.” Sounds like Melanie wins!

  7. Melanie, here is a link to Amazon with the cover: It looks like he’s sitting on the roof, not a stoop, and he’s not wearing shorts, but he is blond, sitting, and wearing a yarmulke.

  8. Liz B – that’s the cover! Melanie, you solved a mystery that’s been dogging me since the mid 80s! Gimme a holler via the contact page on my website so I can fix you up with a complimentary copy of the Zinester’s Guide to NYC!