Fiction Atlas: Brooklyn in Children's Fiction and Picture Books (Part II)

  • by Stephanie Whelan

    Where in the world are you reading about? Fiction finds its settings in all corners of the world (and some places only imagined in our minds) but there's something special about fiction set in a familiar city or neighborhood. Let's take a trip out of Manhattan for now, and into the lively borough of Brooklyn! This is one of the most storied areas that make up New York City.

    Settlers from the Dutch West India Company first founded the Village of Bruckelen in 1646, though the Lenape Native Americans had lived on the land that makes up the county for hundreds of years before that. The Battle of Brooklyn was first major battle of the American Revolutionary war after independence was declared and while Washington did not win that battle, his strategic withdrawal of troops and supplies across the East River is still seen as one of his triumphs in the war.

    Brooklyn remained a singular city and county until it voted in 1896 to merge with the other four boroughs and become what we know today as New York City. From the streets of Park Slope, to the homes Red Hook, to the amusements of Coney Island, there's a varied landscape and rich history in Brooklyn. A melting pot of cultures and ethnicities in one community that continues to be home to new immigrants, artists, authors, and lately hipsters. In the past decade, Brooklyn has become the "go to" destination for individuals who want to be where things are "happening." A borough with a reputation for being tough, rough and with an unapolagetic personality all its own.

    With such a rich trove of books to choose from, I'm breaking this list into two parts. Part I featured Picture books and this, Part II will feature chapter books.

    There are several regular subjects that come up in fiction for kids that's set in Brooklyn. One of these subjects is baseball. Considering the history of Ebbet's Field and all the great Brooklyn ball players, this is to be expected. Capturing the history of the iconic field and some of the brilliant plays made there is good stuff for historical fiction..

    The Brooklyn Nine by Alan M. Gratz (Dial Books, 2009)
    In nine innings, we travel through time to see how nine successive Schneider kids (from 1845 to present day) are connected to Brooklyn and baseball. A family and sports story rolled into one.

    Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park (Sandpiper, 2008)
    Maggie Fortini is an ardent baseball fan in the early 1950s and she's determined to make a difference and help her beloved Dodgers, as well as her friend Jim who is serving in the Korean war.

    Keystone Kids by John Roberts Tunis (Harcourt, 1943)
    Tunis' long running baseball series about the Brooklyn Dodgers deals with mystery, suspense, excitement, and sometimes pointed social issues of the time. Rather than the tumultuous 1950s, the story deals with an earlier era of baseball. World Series (1941), Rookie of the Year (1944), The Kid From Tomkinsville (1940), The Kid Comes Back (1990), High Pockets (1990)

    In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (HarperCollins, c1984) Shirley Temple Wong is a new immigrant from China living in Brooklyn with a whole boatload of dreams. But when things are more difficult than she expected, it gets hard to hold onto those dreams. That is, until Shirley discovers the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson and realizes it doesn't matter where you've come from, dreams can still come true.

    Another common subject in Brooklyn stories is that of immigrants. Given the diverse cultures, languages and ethnicities that inhabit and shift around the vivid landscape of Brooklyn, it makes sense that writers would try to capture the experience of settling down in a new country to start a new life.

    Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse (Feiwel and Friends, 2008)
    Fourteen-year-old immigrant Joseph is living in Brooklyn in 1903. He's desperate to explore the thrills of Coney Island, but instead is put to work in his family's new business endeavor. A story of family life at the turn of the century, this book won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers in 2009.

    Brooklyn Doesn't Rhyme Joan W. Blos (Atheneum, 1994)
    How can eleven-year-old Rosie make her ordinary life in Brooklyn something interesting to write about. A slice of life story of an early 20th century immigrant family and their day to day trials, troubles and joys.

    Rebecca to the Rescue by Jacqueline Dembar Greene (American Girl Publishing, 2009)
    The American Girl series takes a look at different young ladies in different time periods. Rebecca's set of books take place in the early 1900s and chronicle the life of a young Jewish girl living in New York City. Book 5 in the series particularly fits this list, since Rebecca visits Coney Island!

    When the Pirates Came to Brooklyn by Phyllis Shalant (Dutton, 2002)
    Two friends in 1960s Brooklyn struggle to overcome the bigotry of their mothers that threatens their friendship.

    Patricia Reilly Giff has written several historical fiction stories set in Brooklyn. Her most recent, Gingersnap (Wendy Lamb Books, 2013) features a girl in 1944 whose brother has gone off to war. Desperate to find some connection to family again, Jayna runs away to Brooklyn in search of a grandmother that might be living there. Other books include Water Street (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006), House of Tailors (Yearling, c2004), All the Way Home (Yearling, c2003) and Maggie's Door (Yearling, c2003).

    Finally, there's Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn by Michael Lurie (Delacorte, 2002). A slice of life story taking place in Bay Ridge in the year 1944. Judy's life is turned upside down when she discovers that the man she's called Pa isn't her real dad, now she's got to decide who she really is and what family really means.

    Historical Brooklyn doesn't just cover immigrant lives, but the lives of families of all sorts that come to the borough.

    Brooklyn, Bugsy and Me by Lynnea Bowditch (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000)
    It's 1953 and Sam and his mother have just moved to Brooklyn to live with his grandfather. Sam feels like a fish out of water until he meets Tony and discovers things like egg creams and stick ball. Even more importantly, Sam gets to know who his grandfather really is and why he's called Bugsy.

    Don't You Know There's a War On? by Avi (HarperCollins, c2001)
    It's wartime Brooklyn in 1943, and Howie Crispers is convinced his principal is a spy for the enemy! Fortunately this inventive boy has a wild plan to stop his principal from getting rid of his favorite teacher. Avi has written a number of historical fiction tales that take place in New York City. His book, Iron Thunder: The Battle Between the Monitor and the Merrimack (Disney-Hyperion, 2007), details the life of thirteen-year-old Thomas Carroll, who must go to work at the Brooklyn ironworks to support his family and learns of the fantastic ironclad vessel being built there to help the union army in the civil war.

    The Alley by Eleanor Estes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1964)
    Connie Ives thinks the Alley she's found in the heart of Brooklyn is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Eleanor Estes chronicles the story of two imaginative ten-year-olds and one extraordinary Alley. The story of the alley continues to unfold in the sequel, The Tunnel of Hugsey Goode by Eleanor Estes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972).

    Contemporary fiction captures the newer faces of Brooklyn, new waves of immigrants, struggles to survive and find identity in a rough city, or occasionally solving mysteries on Brooklyn's city streets!

    Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat (Orchard, 2002)
    When violence erupts in Haiti, Celiane yearns to be reunited with her father in Brooklyn, but her arrival will bring with it the harsh realities of a new country and culture and Celiane will have to find a way to fit into her new world.

    A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar (Walker Books, 2013) is a contemporary story about a boy living in Flatbush who falls head over heels for Bijou, a girl who has come to Brooklyn from an earthquake ravaged Haiti. Part romance, part school story, this is a heartwarming tale for middle grade readers.

    The Search for Grissi by Mary Francis Shura (Dodd, Mead, 1985)
    When one boy's family moves to Brooklyn, their cat goes missing. Their search for the missing Grissi will lead to all sorts of discoveries about their new neighborhood.

    Nicky Deuce by Steven R. Schirippa (Delacorte, 2005)
    When Nicky's plans for summer camp fall through at the last minute, he's sent to spend the vacation with his grandmother in Brooklyn. Nicky learns a lot more about his Italian heritage and Brooklyn than he ever imagined!

    Author Jacqueline Woodson gives us a trilogy of stories about a Brooklyn friendship undergoing dramatic changes. In Last Summer with Maizon by Jacqueline Woodson (Puffin c1990) Margaret and Maizon have been friends forever, but now events have shaken their lives and Maizon is going away to boarding school. Margaret has to figure out she can turn to now with her friend so far away. In Maizon at Blue Hill (1992) readers get to see Maizon's side of the story and struggle with her new surroundings. Between Madison and Palmetto (2002) Finally brings the girls back together, but they are different people now, and their friendship has changed from what it once was.

    A few more fun reads around Brooklyn

    Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street by Peter Abrahams (Philomel 2012)
    A magical charm leads Robbie and her friends on a fight for justice in her own city streets, but the charm has a tendency to lead them not only into adventure... but danger! The second title in this new series is Giving to the Poor (2013)

    Angus MacMouse Brings Down the House by Linda Phillips Teitel, illustrated by Guy Francis (Bloomsbury, 2010)
    A mouse wanders into the Brooklyn opera house, in love with the music he hears—unfortunately he gets too close to the stage, and causes a new singing sensation when the lead operal singer sees him! Hilarious animal fantasy with an iconic Brooklyn landmark.

    The Secret Spiral by Gillian Neimark (Aladdin 2013)
    It's just another boring day for Flor Benoulli of Brooklyn, until she encounters the mysterious Dr. Pi at the Sky High Pi shop.

    So there's Part II of my Brooklyn list for Children's Fiction! Hope you'll enjoy some of these titles! Please add your own Brooklyn titles in the comments!