Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Keeping It Green

Whether you are a city, country or in-between-city-and-country dweller, walking into a protected, dedicated natural place for public use is like entering a sanctuary.  The hours and days spent in local, state and national parks have a lasting beneficial effect on our minds.  The more often we can experience what these spaces have to offer, the more inclined we are to seek them repeatedly.  Their worth is immeasurable.

More than 160 years ago the first of America's landscaped public parks was formed into existence.  A Green Place To Be: The Creation Of Central Park (Candlewick Press, March 12, 2019) written and illustrated by Ashley Benham Yazdani chronicles a dream and its fulfillment.  Today the park covers more than 840 acres.

Central Park in Manhattan is green and growing and full of life.  It's a vibrant jewel at the heart of New York City, but it wasn't always this way . . .

Part of the area needed for the park was devoid of trees, cut down and never replaced. People living in a village there, free African-Americans, some Irish and German immigrants and others, were forcibly displaced by the city.  The city needed this land.

Time was of the essence because New York City was quickly growing.  City officials and park planners decided to hold a design contest for the park.  Calvert Vaux wanted to win but he needed help.  He had good ideas for the park, but he did not know the area on which it was to be built.  He asked Frederick Law Olmsted, the superintendent of the proposed park, to join him.

Their drawing was ten feet long; Frederick was laying out the flora and Calvert was thinking of bridges and buildings.  Every single element in their design was placed on that drawing with meticulous care.  They called it Greensward.  They worked so intently they almost missed the deadline for the contest.  Fortunately for all visitors to the park, they were quick thinkers.  They were also the winners.

Blasting and rock removal was lasting.  No single item was wasted but integrated into the park.  The landscape was altered fashioning new highs and new lows.  Water was redirected.

In 1858 what is known as the Lake opened.  It was followed in 1859 by the Ramble.  Did you know the Children's District gave parents and children access to fresh milk at the Dairy?  Other prominent names, Jacob Wrey Mould, Emma Stebbins and Ignatz Anton Pilat contributed to the beauty found at the park.

Did you know thirty-four bridges of unique structure were built by Mr. Mould and Calvert?  Frederick lovingly placed small trees and plants in specific locations knowing what years of growth would reveal.  It took more than a decade and a half until Central Park was completed.  They believed in their vision and they succeeded.

Beginning with present day Ashley Benham Yazdani works backward to the beginning presenting each layer in the development of the park.  She conversationally combines discussions about the land, the need for a green place, the personalities and strengths of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, their design and its implementation.  Her research is evident in the included details; insisting visiting friends add grass to the drawing, the almost missed deadline, Calvert skating on the Lake, the musicians Frederick had playing in a boat on the Lake when another section of the park opened and the names and architecture of all the bridges. Here are two passages.

Every day, rackety horse carts were tumbling, 
clattering, rolling along, moving broken
boulders and mountains of soil.  Rocks removed 
from one place were reused to build new
structures elsewhere in the park, and nothing
went to waste.

Frederick and Calvert designed the roads
crossing the park to run below ground level,
allowing visitors to walk through the park
without disturbance from carriages.  Pipes
were laid, and new bodies of water bubbled
up where only bog had been before.

Rendered in pencil and watercolor and assembled digitally the illustrations on the matching dust jacket and book case (and throughout the title) by Ashley Benham Yazdani present intricately detailed portraits, then and now, of Central Park.  On the front Calvert and Frederick are tucked in a cove as if to see the park in its entirety, surveying their work.  The initial title is varnished in dark green.

To the left, on the back, a field of dandelions supplies a canvas for an oval depiction of the park today.  Tall buildings in the background look over the Conservatory Water.  Kerbs Boathouse is included in the scene as model boats glide on the surface.  Children lean in to watch, one about to put their own vessel in the water.

On the opening and closing endpapers blue hues resembling blueprints disclose two different bird's eye views of the park.  Paths weave among trees and around bodies of water.  Text on the title page is framed by a large arching tree on the right as we look into the distance following a path through Central Park.

Each illustration, double-page pictures, full-page images, and small inserts with text, heightens the impact of the narrative.  Ashley Benham Yazdani gives us panoramic views, some bird's eye, and other more intimate vantages.  Her two-page visual of Calvert with thirty small bridges is fascinating.  Attention is given to period clothing and architecture.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  The map of their design stretches, on a table, from the left to the right.  Period carpeting covers the floor, a piano stands in a corner and wainscoting and wallpaper are spread across the walls.  A cat watches Calvert and Frederick in various poses as they work.  This indicates movement and the passage of time.  A gray squirrel watches from outside a window.

Even though you may have heard of Central Park or even visited there, A Green Place To Be: The Creation Of Central Park written and illustrated by Ashley Benham Yazdani (her debut picture book) will prove to be pleasantly informative.  At the close of the book, Ashley dedicates a page to both Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and a page with extra information about the map, the building the duo raced to trying to beat the design deadline, skaters on the Lake, the park's bridges, Seneca Village, home of the displaced people, elm trees, gray squirrels and a particular wedding in one of the scenes.  Ashley Benham Yazdani also has an author's note, acknowledgements and bibliography of sources.  You will want to place a copy of this title in your professional and personal collections.  I found myself doing extra research immediately.  At the official website for Central Park you can find a page about Seneca Village, Resources for Researching Central Park and a printable pdf, Central Park: A Research GuideI also found a very old article in The New York Times about Seneca Village.

To learn more about Ashley Benham Yazdani and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Ashley Benham Yazdani has an account on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.  Interior views can be seen at Candlewick Press and Penguin Random HouseCandlewick Press has a Teacher Tip Card for use.  Ashely Benham Yazdani has a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  She includes process art.

To view the other titles selected this week by those participating in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


  1. I loved reading your review of this new book, Margie and now look forward to reading (and seeing) it myself. I knew some of the history because my students and I traveled to NYC one spring and spent a lot of time in Central Park. Before we went, one student introduced the history of the park, so I do remember about Olmstead and Vaux. "Their drawing was ten feet long." Wow! Can't wait to see those pages! Thank you!

  2. You always have wonderful stories to share about you and your students, Linda. I hope you are able to get a copy of this book soon. I knew next to nothing about Central Park and have never been there. Thank you.