a grand adventure, part two


So, with our faces still aglow from the Dylan concert, we decided to spend Saturday doing what I’ve we’ve always wanted to do in New York.

For years I had been hearing about Books of Wonder, the oldest and largest independent children’s bookstore in the city. Years ago, I had ordered some lovely Wizard of Oz editions from them via mail order, and now I was anxious to see the store in person.

It was exciting spotting their banner on 18 West 18th Street, and entering via the Cupcake Cafe — these people know exactly where I live! There’s nothing like sitting down with a scrumptious cupcake and a good book, but first things first.

The yummy Cupcake Cafe was cute and cozy.

Front register area

It had been awhile since my last foray into an indie bookstore, since all the ones I used to frequent in my area have sadly closed. I immediately felt at home as I wandered around, appreciating the wonderful displays featuring new and familiar titles, many of them signed.

This is what it’s all about.

The back of the store had a gallery featuring awesome pieces of original art, and shelves stocked with old and rare books.

Every weekend, and some weekdays, the store hosts special events. It just so happens that this particular Saturday, they were having a mega booksigning with eight picture book authors and illustrators, including the one-and-only National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jon Scieszka! Hee!

Picture book panel set up in gallery area.

After introducing their newest releases, the panel took questions, bantered back and forth, and then signed a boat load of books for very enthusiastic fans. Besides Scieszka’s Melvin Might?, I picked up Laurie Keller’s Arnie the Doughnut (well, what did you expect from a foodie)? She agreed to stop by alphabet soup in 2009!

Seated are (l-r)Jon Scieszka, David Gordon, Brett Helquist, and Art Spiegelman.

Art again, Dean Haspiel, Laurie Keller, Bob Shea, and Laura Cornell.

Jon is the perfect ambassador — charming and charismatic. 

Jon and David discuss Jill Esbaum’s To the Big Top!

I also noted that I am probably the only person on the planet who’s not familiar with Art Spiegelman’s work, and it was fate that he just happened to be there that day. Recently I had been receiving emails from his publicist, asking if I wanted to review his books, and I had not yet had a chance to check him out. I would say over half of the people at the signing were there for Art.

There were so many books I wanted to buy, but the entire store refused to fit in my carry-on bag. I did manage to tote home signed copies of Kevin Henkes’ Old Bear and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, though, both birthday gifts for friends.

I was so taken with the books, atmosphere and energetic and attentive staff (practically unheard of in chain bookstores), that I forgot to eat a cupcake. And that’s really saying something.

Another thing I had always wanted to do was dine at the Algonquin, the oldest operating hotel in New York City, which is famous for the Round Table, a group of literary luminaries who lunched here daily for ten years beginning in 1919.


As we sat waiting for our lunches, I listened for witty exchanges among the likes of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx, and Edna Ferber. I tried to imagine Douglas Fairbanks and William Faulkner walking into the lobby, and Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe composing My Fair Lady upstairs in Lerner’s suite. It’s only my favorite musical of all time! 

Beautiful understated elegance and Edwardian decor.

Esconced in the comfy Round Table Room, we couldn’t help but overhear an interesting conversation between three elderly gentlemen, discussing whether or not they should publish someone’s book.

Painting of the Round Table, who actually called themselves the “Vicious Circle.”

From what I could gather, the manuscript in question was written by an eminent theologian, and while the subject matter was definitely desirable, the man doing most of the talking (perhaps an editor), was unsure whether he wanted to devote the time necessary to help the writer revise. Their other hot topic was whether to purchase property in Chautauqua. Since they used words like, “gauntlet,” “Augustine” and “languishing,” it was like watching a Jeremy Irons movie. But maybe the Algonquin has that effect on people.

To top off our visit, we made our required pilgrimmage to The Plaza, because I’m a huge Eloise fan. One day, when I win the lottery, I will fulfill my dream of staying at this sumptuous world class Beaux Arts wonder, the only hotel in New York City listed as a National Historic Landmark. It’s one of those places where, as soon as you walk in, you feel the elegance and luxury, and know, instinctively, that nothing bad could ever happen to you there. Our final stop was a peek in Tiffany’s window. Audrey Hepburn, after all, was the one who started my love affair with New York in the first place.

I am Jama. I am six. I am a city child. I live at the Plaza.

So, I really couldn’t have asked for more on this grand adventure. It included three of my very favorite things — music, books, and food. Thanks for tagging along with me, and have a glorious day!

29 thoughts on “a grand adventure, part two

  1. What a day, Jama! I am going to NYC for a day next week and I am suddenly wondering how I can fit all YOU did into MY day?!

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. Oh my gosh! This is too much for me to take in pre cupcake, I mean pre coffee. Pre something. I grinned at the opening Books of Wonder — and then you grinning with Jon Sciescka then him holding Jill’s beautiful book! Oh my! Once I calm down I’m going to go back and study with more detail all those other books and pictures! You know how to do the town!


  3. How exciting, Loree! By now the big tree is up at Rockefeller Center and all the beautifully decorated store windows . . .sigh. Want to go back again. Have you ever been to Books of Wonder?


  4. That store is so aptly named. They have the most awesome events. I looked at their schedule, and wow — always something worth attending.

    When I got home I googled Art Spiegelman. He received a Pulitzer, illustrated for the New Yorker and was very well known in the underground comics movement in the 60’s. The things you learn!

    And what a kick to see David Gordon and Jill’s book there, too. I didn’t realize David is one of the illustrators for Scieszka’s Trucktown series.


  5. What a wonderful day. I hate to admit it, but Books of Wonder would top Bob Dylan for me any day! 🙂

    We LOVE Laurie Keller’s books. Arnie is wonderful, but our favorite is the Scrambled States of America. And Brett Helquist illustrated James Howe’s hysterical Tales from the House of Bunnicula series. What a wonderful panel!


  6. Aw, my second trip back with you was just perfect. I’d only have asked for a picture of you peeking into Tiffany’s!

    I don’t think you should wait to win the lottery to stay in the plaza. My dream is to go there for tea one day, which is pricey, but not like staying overnight. Although I think you overheard cooler conversations in the Algonquin, so that was a good choice. Now I will add that to my dream list!

    What a wonderful celebratory weekend!


  7. I’ve never been to Books of Wonder or the Algonquin. They are both perfection. *happy sigh*

    I had lunch at the Plaza’s Palm Court in 1980 and had the best French toast I’ve ever eaten–fluffy and light, almost like a souffle.

    Thanks for this delightful tour!


  8. Next time you go on a grand adventure, please pack me in your suitcase! What a wonderful celebration! Next time I get to NYC I am definitely taking in that bookstore. (Generally, my sister and I do midtown. We always go into Tiffany’s (even though we can’t afford it), the NYPL (one must always pat the lions), and the food shops in Grand Central Station.)

    Thanks, again, for sharing. Can’t wait to see what your next adventure will be!


  9. Ooh, ouch! (Cover Bob’s ears.) Let’s just say one can’t compare Dylan with a children’s bookstore — they are in completely separate categories — each kicky in their own way. 🙂

    I also love Scrambled States of America, and on that Saturday, Laurie was promoting the sequel, Scrambled States of America Talent Show, which I plan to maybe review before the interview.

    And Brett was promoting the little Lemony Snicket book, The Lump of Coal. He was adorable, because there wasn’t much to say about a lump of coal, other than how challenging it was to give it some personality. Quite an endearing man :).


  10. It was SO cold walking up to Tiffany’s. My photographer was not able to snap any photos worth posting (he’s the reason I’m usually out of focus).

    Tea at the Plaza’s Palm Court does sound divine. I had lunch there a long time ago, and was suitably impressed. This time around, I saw the white gloved butlers, and the concierge guys in their dark green uniforms, and I really wanted to spend a few days there. Heck, I wanna live there, period!

    I think staying at the Algonquin might be fascinating, too. Apparently, their rooms are named after famous people who’ve stayed or frequented there.


  11. I did miss patting the lions this time, but we did walk through Grand Central (forgot to mention it)! Our dear friend ran that terminal for many years and his heart bursts with pride everytime anyone mentions it. It’s a marvel, and so beautiful.


  12. How fabulous! Man, I look those bookstore pics and just drool. How I want to open my own children’s book shop and be the person walking around, helping parents find just the right book. And offering them coffee, too.

    What a fabulous post (again) and what great pics and what an excellent time it looks like you had. Thanks for sharing!



  13. When you have limited time, you try to make the most of it. I’ve been to the Plaza twice, and each time, while wandering around, I’ve heard a child’s voice say Eloise’s name. I guess we think she’ll come racing around the corner at any minute . . .


  14. Of course you’d be the perfect bookseller. Your shop would be called “Seven Impossible Books Before Breakfast.” Eisha could be co-owner, and Grace Lin could make the cupcakes. Wow, this is like THE fantasy bookstore of all time. Of course the walls would be covered with original art from all the illustrators you’ve interviewed over the years. Oh, please serve pie, too!!


  15. I love that they have a portrait of Eloise! My grandparents had that book, and I love it, too. ❤

    That bookstore sounds fantastic. It must be, to distract from the cupcakes! 😀

    What a truly wonderful weekend. Happy birthday, indeed!


  16. Yes, it’s a fabulous place, isn’t it? I think they might have moved at some point — somehow I remember them being in the upper East Side when I first ordered from them long ago.


  17. They also have a retail store which sells all kinds of Eloise stuff. Didn’t have time to browse this time, but I’ll be back . . .

    It was great seeing parents reading to their kids all over the store, with or without cupcakes.:)


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