The best books for young readers set in old-school NYC

Jennie Yabroff Author Of If You Were Here
By Jennie Yabroff

The Books I Picked & Why

When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead

Book cover of When You Reach Me

Why this book?

Miranda Sinclair is a latchkey kid who lives with her single mom on the Upper West Side of New York City in the late 1970s. I love the way Miranda navigates her dirty, dangerous, yet enchanting city – her street smarts, her fears, her relationships with the adults in the neighborhood who keep a watchful eye over her. And the book, while totally gritty and real, also has a lovely, melancholy element of magical realism that makes the story mysterious and poignant. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Harriet the Spy

By Louise Fitzhugh

Book cover of Harriet the Spy

Why this book?

If you’ve read this book (and who hasn’t?), you probably remember Harriet’s trusty notebook, her long-suffering nanny, Ole Golly, or her penchant for tomato sandwiches. But I love the way this book is also an incredibly specific portrait of the Upper East Side in the mid-20th century. Although Harriet lives a life of insane privilege (The size of her townhouse! The number of staff on her family’s payroll!), her spying, and her relationship with Ole Golly, give her insight into how the rest of the city lives, and the remarkable diversity of experiences within a single city block.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger

Book cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Why this book?

To be honest, I don’t love Holden Caulfield as much as a lot of people do, and if this book were set somewhere else I might not like it at all. But I love the way Holden tries to act out his fantasy of a sophisticated Manhattanite during his time alone in New York City, almost like he’s living out some post-war version of the Sex and the City tour. As he fails to fool anyone into thinking that he’s anything other than an innocent, sheltered prep school kid, he reveals how lonely the city can feel when you’re trying to find your place in it. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

By e. l. konigsburg

Book cover of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Why this book?

In this book, a sister and brother escape the horrors of suburban Connecticut and take refuge in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they discover an art mystery that leads them to a wealthy surrogate grandmother. Beyond the iconic setting, this story has an irresistible only-in-New York feeling to it, so that you can’t help believing it all might have really happened, or still could happen.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories about Jenny Linsky

By Esther Averill

Book cover of Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories about Jenny Linsky

Why this book?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the main character (and in fact most of the characters) in this book is a cat it’s only for very young readers. This charming and elegant story, the first of a series, takes place in Greenwich Village, where a small black orphaned cat named Jenny finds a home with a sea captain and a community with her neighborhood felines. Jenny’s explorations of the then-dicey neighborhood and encounters with less fortunate cats are ridiculously poignant and moving, and her foot-high view of her city feels entirely authentic.  


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists