Skip to main content

A Story of Old U Nork: Adam Gopnik's The Steps Across the Water

The Steps Across the Water by Adam Gopnik, with illustrations by Bruce McCall (Hyperion Books, 2010, 304 pages, $17.99), may be designed for grades 3 to 5, but older readers, at least ones older than 12, may want to sneak a read before handing it over to a younger friend.

Just when a young girl named Rose begins to feel like she does not quite fit in with the New York family that adopted her, she comes across a magic staircase near a pond in Central Park. When she winds up the courage to climb up and down the magic stairs, she falls into the alternative universe of a place called U Nork. This fanciful city reflects similarities to her own metropolis, but it's more the New York of an old illustrator's imagination, one with dirigibles, flying giant pigeon taxis, hurried rude residents, and wise guy gangsters. Rose is on a quest for young girl things - in her case, a snow globe and a dog of her own, but as befitting a tale with a moral, she will discover greater lessons for her passageway into maturity.

After she arrives in U Nork, Rose finds herself in an unexpected position of power and must travel backq and forth from New York City to the curious other metropolis in order to solve the evolving mysteries. Along the way, a kinder old gentleman, her cartoonist father's colleague at a magazine (an homage to The New Yorker, home to many contributions by author Gopnik and illustrator McCall), leads her to New York's last remaining bookstore, and in one of the tale's finest sequences, to Washington Square Park. There, he reenacts Greenwich Village's greatest true story. Shopkeepers, just like in our lived experience, often hold the greatest secrets. Like Dorothy of Kansas, Rose of New York will find helpers in her quest, and a little dog, too.

New Yorkers with some knowledge of the city, especially as it was imagined in illustrations such as "King's Views of New York," souvenir booklets from the early 1900s that often showed futuristic images of flying airships and sky-high walkways, or in the 1939 World's Fair, should enjoy Gopnik's clever appropriations. Fans of Central Park should delight in recognition of the park's special places but grow alarmed when the park turns out to serve a more sinister role in U Nork. Gopnik throws in several sharp observances about New Yorkers in general, on top of a nod to Oz, Alice in Wonderland, a fashionable Ice Queen, a short mayor, and the holiday season. At times the mix is too much, and a particular bit of imagination involving U Nork’s eateries borders on the surreal. For practical-minded readers, however, the story also includes which department store sells the finest frozen yogurt. And for those of us who have graduated beyond the fifth grade, the large print is most appreciated.

This post is also going out in today's edition of Manhattan User's Guide.

Comments

What a delightful sounding book, Teri! As a fan both of the Oz books and New York, this sounds like a wonderful mash-up of the two.
Teri Tynes said…
Terry - You might really dig this book. Gopnik also includes a crazy satire on the increasing speed of fast food New York.

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on East 52nd Street

"-S'il vous plaît… dessine-moi un mouton!" Like many others, I learned French in school by reading  Le Petit Prince,  the charming and thoughtful story written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. So I was delighted, even in a child-like way, to come upon a charmer of a building, 3 East 52nd Street, and to see on the exterior a plaque honoring the French author and aviator. According to Christopher Gray, in an April 2001 NYT Streetscapes article about the building , the organization La Section Americaine du Souvenir Francais put up this plaque memorializing Saint-Exupery. It's not where he lived, as I shall explain. During the early years of WWII, from January 1941 and April 1943, the writer lived much of the time in a penthouse at 240 Central Park South and in a rented mansion in the village of Asharoken on the north shore of Long Island. He also spent some time in Quebec City. He wrote The Little Prince in the Long Island mansion during the summer a

At the New Moynihan Train Hall, and the Zen of Going Nowhere

After slowly wandering around the Moynihan Train Hall , opened earlier this year in the James A. Farley Post Office Building across from Penn Station, an Amtrak worker approached me and asked if he could help with directions. “No,” I replied, “I’m just here to look at the station.”  Moynihan Train Hall, between Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, 31st Street, and 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan I wasn’t taking a train anywhere, not an Amtrak train to Philadelphia or to Boston. I was here to look at this impressive, even enlightening building. The architectural design is somewhat restrained and serious. Bright signage at the Moynihan Train Hall At a time when the idea of actual travel is just picking up, for some New Yorkers like myself, just the novelty of seeing a new transportation project in the city seems to suffice. It’s like mental preparation for taking an actual trip.  Looking up I remember catching Amtrak trains at the old Penn Station, not the beautiful and monumental edifice that