The best books on Central Park

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Central Park and why they recommend each book.

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The Park and the People

By Roy Rosenzweig, Elizabeth Blackmar,

Book cover of The Park and the People: A History of Central Park

What’s not to love about a book that starts with the release of invasive starlings and ends with Donald Trump’s New York real estate deals? (And along the way describes a thousand equally fascinating events.) Throughout this richly detailed history of the nation’s most famous urban park, Rosenzweig and Blackmar always keep everyday New Yorkers in focus, highlighting how they shaped the park as surely as did urban elites. The result is one of the city’s most democratic spaces.


Who am I?

I grew up a farm kid and then worked as a park ranger fresh out of college. This background draws me to the history of American preservation, where so much that seems natural also has deep cultural roots. I find the American South—with its combination of irony and tragedy, beauty, and flaws—the most fascinating place on earth to study. Or maybe I’m just pulling for the home team.


I wrote...

Remaking Wormsloe Plantation: The Environmental History of a Lowcountry Landscape

By Drew A. Swanson,

Book cover of Remaking Wormsloe Plantation: The Environmental History of a Lowcountry Landscape

What is my book about?

Plantations conjure up visions of southern leisure and wealth, but their tourism landscapes are cultivated as carefully as their fields once were to produce cotton for world markets. My book looks at the long transition of one plantation on the Georgia coast from a site of sea island cotton cultivated by dozens of enslaved laborers to a state historical park. I highlight how natural forces always shaped human ideas, and vice versa. It’s a tale of sorrow and hope, challenge and promise, environment and humanity—forces that shape all of our historical landscapes.

Time and Again

By Jack Finney,

Book cover of Time and Again

Written and illustrated in 1970, his one’s for time travel story buffs, like me. “Pure New York fun” is how the New York Times described this nostalgic recreation of the upper West Side in the late nineteenth century. It surrounds a love story full of adventure and human devotion that may remind you of the movies Somewhere in Time, Frequency, and Mirage. I’m a sucker for a love story that defies time, place, and physics. Enjoy!

Who am I?

Eileen Charbonneau’s love affair with New York City was cemented the day she was downtown on jury duty and witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. New York is the Melting Pot birthplace of her parents, home of her first job (Brooklyn) first Shakespeare (Central Park) and Folk music (Greenwich Village) performances, first apartments (West Village and Washington Heights), and first cocktail (Kir Royale at the Algonquin). Many family stories and deep roots remain.


I wrote...

Watch Over Me

By Eileen Charbonneau,

Book cover of Watch Over Me

What is my book about?

Eileen Charbonneau has written her own love song to New York City in Book 2 of her Code Talker Chronicles series: Watch Over Me. In the crucible of World War II, OSS agents New Yorker Kitty Charante and Navaho Code talker Luke Kayenta are unlikely partners. Still, they leap hurdles of class, race, and their soul-searing time as they elude capture and death by Nazi agents—agents determined to crack and share the Navajo code with their Japanese allies. Kitty and Luke’s wild weekend takes them from the Empire State Building to the lower East Side to the nightclubs of Harlem to a confrontation aboard a U-Boat off Coney Island.

Stuart Little

By E.B. White, Garth Williams (illustrator),

Book cover of Stuart Little

When I wake up in the middle of the night I want to re-read something that will make me feel safe, and the character of Stuart is so sweet and funny, and familiar, that I come back over and over and always find something new to love in this book. The pictures are also just right, with Stuart looking jaunty as he sails his boat in Central Park, or rides his mother's wedding ring up out of the bathroom sink drain. I'm a New Yorker, so I have a soft spot for stories that take place in New York, but it's also just a story about a wonderful little guy named Stuart. It's also a love story, and a coming-of-age story. It's not easy being a mouse born into a household of humans, no matter how much they love you. This is a book that is filled with hope, and…


Who am I?

I'm a writer who has mostly written books for adults, as well as plays and screenplays, and June Sparrow and the Million Dollar Penny is my only book for children (so far). Though I read a lot of adult literature I have never stopped reading children's books. I always keep a "comfort" book on my bedside table for the middle of the night. I think that a really well-written, timeless children's book can teach us, comfort us, and take us on a journey. No matter what age you may be, I hope that you will read these books, or revisit them even if you think you are "too old" for children's books.


I wrote...

June Sparrow and the Million-Dollar Penny

By Rebecca Chace,

Book cover of June Sparrow and the Million-Dollar Penny

What is my book about?

June Sparrow and her best friend—a miniature pig named Indigo Bunting—have always been fine on their own. June is a fabulously wealthy orphan who's lived in New York City her whole life. On June's twelfth birthday, she suddenly loses her fortune and is forced to move in with an aunt she's never even met in the tiny town of Red Bank, South Dakota. June has to live on a farm with her grouchy Aunt Bridget, who sees her best friend as potential bacon! One day, June finds a mysterious "Penny Book" that her mother used to keep. She's instantly intrigued by what her mother called the Big One, the rarest and most valuable of all pennies. Finding it could be June's ticket back to New York and her old life. But is that what she really wants?

A Green Place to Be

By Ashley Benham Yazdani,

Book cover of A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park

Someone once referred to Central Park as the “lungs” of New York City. When the grid plan for the streets of Manhattan was designed it left little room for greenspace. Human beings need nature, and respite from the crowds, so a contest was held to design a park. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted came up with the winning idea. This lushly illustrated book tells the story of how their Greensward Plan became Central Park— the first landscaped public park in the United States. I love to think about how the two designed the placement of every tree, bridge, and curved path, with the goal of making a place where all the people in the city could enjoy nature— and still do, today! 


Who am I?

I’m a children’s book author, illustrator, and map illustrator, as well as an armchair traveler and history buff. I adore books that explain how the world works through the ideas and inventions of curious human beings, narratives of travel and change, and how past and present history are connected. Nonfiction picture books are a fantastic way to distill these true stories for readers of all ages!


I wrote...

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island

By Jennifer Thermes,

Book cover of Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island

What is my book about?

From before its earliest settlement to the vibrant metropolis that exists today, the island of Manhattan has always been a place of struggle, growth, and transformation. Through dazzling maps and informative sidebars, Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island explores how humans, history, and natural events have shaped this tiny sliver of land for more than 400 years. Discover how a small rodent began an era of rapid change for the island. Learn about the people who built New York City, and how a street plan projected the city’s future. Marvel at how epic fires and storms led to major feats of engineering above and below ground. From The Battery downtown up to Inwood, every inch of the island has a story to tell.

Montaillou

By Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Barbara Bray (translator),

Book cover of Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error

Montaillou, which was published while I was in graduate school, provided a new, highly personalized way to study medieval social history: not with quantitative data but through a nuanced examination of court records that offer a mirror into the everyday lives of obscure villagers. When I first read the “Miracles of Saint Louis” I realized this source for late thirteenth century Paris was nearly as rich as Le Roy Ladurie’s inquisitorial record concerning Montaillou. Had Montaillou not been written, I might not have seen the potential in the “Miracles of Saint Louis,” and thus I might not have written Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris.


Who am I?

I started out as a religion major in college, but soon became frustrated with the abstract thoughts of privileged white males. I wanted to understand the passions and struggles of ordinary people, and soon became convinced that the examination of the distant past sheds important light on the present. It’s not that I don’t care about the world around me right now. Rather, I am convinced that those who look only at this decade, this century, or even the last century fail to recognize some of the most powerful cultural forces that have shaped our most fundamental understandings of gender, wealth, poverty, work, and so much more.


I wrote...

Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris: Gender, Ideology, and the Daily Lives of the Poor

By Sharon Farmer,

Book cover of Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris: Gender, Ideology, and the Daily Lives of the Poor

What is my book about?

Plenty of books have been written about medieval hospitals and charity – that is to say, about the ways in which medieval religious and secular elites defined, approached, and attempted to ameliorate or control poverty and the poor in the high and late Middle Ages. Mine was the first study to attempt to depict the on-the-ground daily lives of the poor themselves, and to outline the ways in which elites drew on socio-economic and religious differences in order to create subcategories of the genders “male” and “female.”

And Tango Makes Three

By Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, Henry Cole (illustrator)

Book cover of And Tango Makes Three

It is hard to imagine that And Tango Makes Three was revolutionary and controversial in 2015 when it was published, but it was. However, it is one of those books that paved the way for greater diversity in children’s literature. Like so many powerful books, And Tango Makes Three is based on the real experiences of two male penguins raising a baby penguin. It is a staple book for the personal libraries of all families interested in promoting family diversity. 


Who am I?

As a gay father of two transracially adopted daughters, I am constantly searching for books that feature families like mine. It is important for children to see families that look like theirs represented in their storybooks. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of children’s books spotlighting adoption and even less featuring LGBTQ+ families. I am happy to share this list of some of my favorites that represent diverse/LGBTQ+ families.   


I wrote...

Scoochie & Skiddles: Scoochie's Adoption Story

By Tom Tracy,

Book cover of Scoochie & Skiddles: Scoochie's Adoption Story

What is my book about?

Scoochie’s Adoption Story is a Firebird Book Awards multi-category winner – 1st place in Adoption, 1st place in LGBTQ+ Families, and 2nd place in Parenting & Family

Scoochie was adopted by her two daddies through an open adoption. In Scoochie's Adoption StoryScoochie takes you on the journey of her and her daddies’ adoption experience. Narrated by the book's main character, Scoochie's Adoption Story is told in child-friendly language with adoption concepts presented in a manner that is easy for children to understand. It is a celebration of family, regardless of family composition or how a family has been created. Through text and illustration, the story represents a wide variety of families and sends a strong message of diversity and inclusion. 

Back Then

By Justin Kaplan, Anne Bernays,

Book cover of Back Then: Two Literary Lives in 1950s New York

Written in separate voices in alternating chapters, this unusual double memoir by the long-married couple, the novelist Anne Bernays and biographer Justin Kaplan, tells the stories of two privileged New Yorkers.  Growing up on opposite sides of Central Park, they came of age in the 1950s. Dreaming dreams of literary lives, they came to see them realized as their lives converged.


Who am I?

I am a professor of history and Jewish studies at American University and author of America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today, winner of the National Jewish Book Award – 2019 Jewish Book of the Year. Since childhood I have been reading stories of women’s lives and tales set in Jewish communities across time and space. Yet, the voices that so often best evoke the past are those captured on the pages of great memoirs.


I wrote...

America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

By Pamela S. Nadell,

Book cover of America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

What is my book about?

What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in America? In a gripping historical narrative, Pamela S. Nadell weaves together the stories of a diverse group of extraordinary people--from the colonial-era matriarch Grace Nathan and her great-granddaughter, poet Emma Lazarus, to labor organizer Bessie Hillman and the great justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to scores of other activists, workers, wives, and mothers who helped carve out a Jewish American identity.

The twin threads binding these women together, she argues, are a strong sense of self and a resolute commitment to making the world a better place. Nadell recounts how Jewish women have been at the forefront of causes for centuries, fighting for suffrage, trade unions, civil rights, and feminism, and hoisting banners for Jewish rights around the world. Informed by shared values of America's founding and Jewish identity, these women's lives have left deep footprints in the history of the nation they call home.

Ida, Always

By Caron Lewis, Charles Santoso (illustrator),

Book cover of Ida, Always

Based on a true story about two polar bears at the Central Park Zoo, this is a beautiful book about the death of a loved one. In a zoo, there may literally be only two-of-a-kind, so the loss of one is especially poignant. The realization that one of the pair would be “going away” at first seems almost unbearable. Their leave-taking (complete with days of denial and days of laying together comforting each other) really takes readers through the process and yet offers enough wisdom and hope to help them come out better on the other side.


Who am I?

I have been captivated by the emotional power of picture books since I was a child and have spent my adult life reading, sharing, and trying to write the kinds of books that connect to the youngest of readers on a deeper level. In Looking for Smile, I tried to write about the day when I was five years old and experienced real sadness for the first time. This became a story about Bear and his friend, Smile. My favorite kind of picture books are those that make me smile and tear up at the same time. I decided I would share some recent books that have had that effect on me…


I wrote...

Looking for Smile

By Ellen Tarlow, Lauren Stringer (illustrator),

Book cover of Looking for Smile

What is my book about?

In this sweet and gentle picture book, Bear wakes one day to find his Smile gone and enlists his friends to help him find it. Bear and Smile are always together. They wake up together, swim by the waterfall together, and eat honey together. But one day, Bear wakes up and Smile is nowhere to be found. With the help of his woodland friends, will Bear be able to find his Smile again?

This tender and special debut picture book explores sadness with a light touch and shows that sometimes a good friend can make all the difference.

The Professor and the Prostitute

By Linda Wolfe,

Book cover of The Professor and the Prostitute: And Other True True Tales of Murder and Madness

Linda Wolfe is a throwback to the way true crime used to be written and should continue to be written. She was an old-school investigative reporter with an endlessly inquisitive mind and a keen sense of storytelling. Wolfe died just before the Covid pandemic broke, her passing went largely unnoticed. She’s chiefly known for her book about Robert Chambers, Wasted: The Preppie Murder about the 1986 Central Park strangulation murder of Jennifer Levin. The Professor and the Prostitute is a great, lurid title, and this series of essays are fascinating portraits of behavior and psychology. Included is one of her most famous pieces originally penned for New York Magazine, The Strange Death of the Twin Gynecologists about Stewart and Cyril Marcus, made famous in the David Cronenberg film, Dead Ringers.


Who am I?

I chose these books because a theme in my writing is standing up, and being a champion for things that get forgotten – books, music, events, people. Also, for anyone who has done investigative reporting, the sense is always like you’re going down a rabbit hole and penetrating a dark, undiscovered country. Also – and I don’t think many people know this – I was an English Lit major in college at the University of Toronto. In my early days I did a lot of reading, on a disparate field of interests. 


I wrote...

Wish You Were Here

By John Allore, Patricia Pearson,

Book cover of Wish You Were Here

What is my book about?

In fall 1978, teenager Theresa Allore went missing near Sherbrooke, Quebec. She wasn't seen again until the spring thaw revealed her body in a creek. Shrugging off her death as a result of 1970s drug culture, police didn't investigate. Patricia Pearson started dating Theresa's brother, John, after Theresa's death. Though the two teens went their separate ways, the family's grief, obsession with justice, and desire for the truth never left Patricia. 

In 2001, John had just moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina when the cops came to the door. They determined that a young girl had been murdered and buried in the basement. Unable to rest without closure, he reached out to Patricia, an accomplished crime journalist and author, and they found answers more alarming than they could have imagined.

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