Yazdani, Ashley Benham. Green Place to Be, A: The Creation of Central Park. Picture Book. Candlewick, 03/2019. pp. $17.99. 978-0-7636-9695-5. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 1-5.
In 1858, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted won a contest to design New York City’s Central Park. This is the story of how their social and environmental aspirations led to the iconic landmark and the birth of landscape architecture. Opening with a scene depicting the eviction of African American residents from Seneca Village, the well-researched narrative follows the park from conception to completion. We learn about the moving of land and rock, the laying of pipes and construction of roads, the commissioning of statues and structures, the design of 34 unique bridges, and the choosing of plants. Olmsted and Vaux believed, above all, that a green space should be for everyone, regardless of social or cultural background. In recognition of their inclusivity, the vibrant watercolor and pencil illustrations feature people of many skin colors working and playing in the park—a detail that is rare for picture book histories depicting American progress. The last page of the story portrays the park as it might look today—a wedding of two men takes place in the background while people in various traditional ethnic clothing mingle along the pond’s edge; couples row on the water and a pale-skinned mother walks with her brown-skinned child and elderly relative. Four pages of back matter provide fascinating data including bios of Olmsted and Vaux, fun facts about the park, an author’s note, acknowledgments, and a bibliography. The story of Olmstead and Vaux’s mission to create a green space for all is universally relevant.
Sarah Jo Zakarako, Chabot School