nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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A very busy Eric

That’s Eric Carle, author of many, many children’s books. I have lost count how many times I have read the Very Hungry Caterpillar or the Very Busy Spider. So I was very excited to be able to go to a book signing by the man himself earlier today. But I couldn’t, because the queue was so long, they weren’t permitting anyone else to join it. He was signing his new book at the New York Public Library, the famous one on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. There were hundreds of people there and a lot of very bored children.  I did catch a glimpse of Eric and took a snap, which you can see below, but it’s not very close, so imagine it’s an old man with a beard in a hat. Such a shame not to actually get our books signed and say hi, but we did get to go back into the “ABC of it: why children’s literature matters” exhibition, which is even better second time round.

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Searching for Alice

In the New York Public Library, “The ABC of it: why children’s books matter“. What a fabulous new exhibition on the history of children’s literature. From an original water colour done by Beatrix Potter and given to the NYPL Children’s Librarian of the time to the ever expanding neck of Alice in Wonderland, this is a wonderfully curated gem in the heart of the 42nd Street library. If you are less than 4 feet tall you too can fall down the rabbit hole – or keep going in and out, as J did repeatedly. Or you can snuggle up to the furry Gruffalo and be grateful he’s only there in outline. And I was pleased to see that Winnie and friends had been let out of the their rather sad home in the Children’s Library, to be propped up in much nicer surroundings at the heart of the exhibition. Free and on until March 2014, catch it, if you can.

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Brooklyn buildings

Impressive buildings outside of Manhattan? Why yes, there’s a couple in Brooklyn.

How about the Brooklyn Museum?  Although its steps appear to be missing,  replaced with a rather odd glass atrium out the front. It is a formidable presence, towering over the very busy Eastern Parkway.

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Or the Brooklyn Public Library?  Certainly not your average public library with gold leaf columns. Check out how tall the front is, when you see how tiny my mum looks on the steps. Those are big doors!

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And the glorious Brooklyn Botanical Gardens nestled between the two.  No pictures of buildings, just an oasis in the middle of urban car noise.

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Where’s Winnie?

He’s here, well, in the New York Public Library. The original toys owned by Christopher Robin that inspired A.A Milne to write the Winnie the Pooh stories live in a glass box in the children’s library on 42nd Street. I was not expecting that! Have to say they do look a bit forlorn and unhappy in their box stuck behind the librarians and surrounded by over excited children.


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Bloomberg billions

I’ve been reading about Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York. He is worth $25 billion! Blimey. Nice to see that he declined his salary and takes a notional dollar in payment.  He made his cash in financial information. He has just given Johns Hopkins University a multi million dollar gift which takes the total he has donated to his alma mater over $1 billion. Incredible isn’t it? Bill Gates had already given away $28 billion by 2007 and says he will give away 95 per cent of his fortune, so it looks like he’ll be donating many more billions over the years, given he’s only 57. Philanthropy is big here and goes back a long way. There’s Andrew Carnegie, born in Scotland in the 19th  Century, but who spent most of his life in the US, who gave away $350 million by the time he died in 1919, that’s $4.7 billion in today’s money. He gave loads to UK libraries, including a dozen built in London. Other big names include the Mellon family, the Rockefellers (not just for Christmas!) and Stanford. Most of their wealth seems to have gone to higher education and it’s no coincidence that universities here have massive endowments built up over centuries. The Mayor is up for re election later this year and it’s unlikely that Bloomberg would be able to run for a fourth time having changed the laws last time so that he could have a third go. I doubt the new Mayor will have quite so much cash, but you never know!

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A tale of two libraries

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Dickens may have written one of the most well known opening lines in English literature when he published A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, but it was an American writer, Mark Twain, who took a trip to NW10 (just over the border from NW3) in 1900 and opened Kensal Rise Library. In 2012, the local community is fighting to keep the library as a community asset after Brent Council withdrew library services from the building owned by All Souls College, Oxford, in a bid to save money (I note that in today’s local government finance settlement, Brent’s grant will reduce by a mere 0.5%). I checked in on progress with Kensal Rise Library’s local campaign and was heartened to see that All Souls will allow the community to use 1500 square feet of space for a library in perpetuity. Kind, but they will make a lot of money out of the sale of flats above that space when it’s sold to developers. The reason I write about this is the contrast with NYC. Today the New York Public Library published its plans to develop the iconic 101 year old building on 42nd Street and spend over $150 million to bring it up to date and, for the first time, lend books to the public (currently only branches do this). Shutting down and selling the buildings housing two other libraries and using capital money provided by New York City, a modern lending library will open to the public in 2018. I was saddened by the closure of public libraries in the UK and in NW3 the community rallied round and brought the Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries into the modern age of community resources, run by local people for local people. I just hope they survive past 2018 when New York opens its famous public library, after its extensive programme of works, run by the city for the city.

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The politics of Thomas

Sodor is here in New York, well in the massive bookshop near us. They have thoughtfully put two raised train tracks into a corner of the children’s department and it is a mecca for the under twos. Picture a scene of convivial play with Thomas and friends? Err, no. It’s a battle scene of territory, politics and general infant angst. Some fierce negotiation was taking place when I was there between a mother, her crying child and another who was upset at the loss of his train. The shop does supply trains but, as one weary assistant told me, they always disappear – in fact I found one in an entirely different section of the shop later on. I saw children nibbling on books for sale, I’m not sure this is quite what this shop wants, but no one seemed to mind. Why do people bring their kids to this anxiety ridden place? Simple. It is free. There are so many activities for the under twos in New York but they are incredibly expensive – you’re looking at around $40 per 45 minute session and you have to sign up to a semester – around 17 weeks. It’s a massive commitment in terms of money and given how much children change at this age, are they really going to want to do the same thing week after week for this long? The New York Public Library branches put on toddler sessions which I am yet to brave, but at least there the books are meant to be used and you don’t mind so much if it is a little nibbled when it’s free.