Sunday, September 18, 2011

New York is Book Country Poster Art

New York is Book Country was a literary Manhattan street fair featuring booksellers usually held this time of year. Most of the time it took place on Fifth Avenue between 48th and 57th Streets. Fifth Avenue was closed to automobile traffic for the duration. In later years, it was moved to Washington Square Park and to Central Park.

The book festival began in 1979 and was held annually. In recent years the fair, like the booksellers it featured, seemed to be in trouble. It was on hiatus from 2005 to 2007 and was cancelled without explanation in 2010. There is no word on whether it is coming back again, but I've taken the liberty of writing about it in the past tense. Here is some of the incredible poster art commissioned for the fair. In some years, there was more than one splendid poster produced. New York was Book Country.
1979, Edward Gorey

1979, Maurice Sendak

1979, Maurice Sendak, Original Artwork
Image added January 16, 2013

1979, Maurice Sendak pencil sketch

105. SENDAK, Maurice Bernard (b.1928).
A large scale original pencil sketch for the 1979 “New York is Book Country” promotional poster. [New York: June? 1979]. Pencil on paper (visible image area: 21 1/2 x 18 1/2 inches; 545 x 445mm.), with text “New York is Book Country” sketched in at the head, and below a giant Wild Thing (Moishe) sitting cross-legged, reading a book by the light from a shaded lamp shining from the top of the Empire State Building. The Wild Thing's elbow rests on an upper section of the building. Signed in pencil “Maurice Sendak” towards the lower right corner. Matted, framed and glazed.Provenance : acquired directly from the artist
With :] 
A colored poster titled “New York is Book Country / September 16, 1979”. [ New York]: printing and production courtesy of Viking Penguin, Inc., distribution courtesy of Harper & Row, publishers, Inc., 1979. Colored poster (24 x 19 inches; 610 x 480mm.), signed in blue ink to the right and just below the image, which depicts a gigantic Wild Thing (Moishe) sitting cross-legged, reading “Villettte” by Charlotte Brontë (by the light shed from the lamp-shaded top of the Empire State Building) whilst eating a Big Apple. The Wild Thing's elbow rests on an upper section of the building. Three King Kong-esque bi-planes circle above, their pilots hidden but apparently engrossed in a book resting open on the fusilage of each aircraft. Reproduced in Posters by Maurice Sendak (New York: Harmony Books/Crown, 1986), page 11.
a unique original sketch for one of maurice sendak’s most famous posters, featuring one of his most famous creations, and accompanied by an original of the published poster, signed in ink by the artist .The poster was printed in a run of no more than a few thousand copies which were distributed and sold only on the day of the first annual autumn festival of books on Fifth Avenue, on 16 September 1979. Maurice Sendak put in an appearance at the festival for only a short time during the day when he autographed a limited number of these posters. The preliminary drawing, besides being a great image, gives some hint as to alternatives that Mr. Sendak was considering: the Wild Thing holds the book that he is reading (rather than holding an apple) and the light at the top of the Empire State is present as both a lampshade and a directional light, more akin to the shade of an “Angle-poise” lamp. On a more fanciful level, the relative solidity of the Empire State Building versus the wispy unformed nature of Moishe (the Wild Thing), gives the drawing a different more dream-like quality, which the matter-of-fact finished poster does not have. 
est. $5000 – £8000
Sold for $5000
Sale NY002, 24th October 2007

Added to post December 8, 2011

1980, Pierre Le-Tan
Added to post November 27, 2011

1980, Richard Scarry
Image added April 10, 2015

1981, Arnold Lobel

Image updated April 20, 2015

1982, James Stevenson
Added to post November 13, 2011

1983, Sandra Boynton
Added to post November 13, 2011

1984, William Steig
Added to post November 13, 2011

1985, Keith Haring

1989, Berkely Breathed
Image added April 10, 2015

Does this poster art look familiar? It was also used on the cover of Classics of Western Literature:  Bloom County 1986-1989 (Little, Brown, 1990).
Berkely Breathed, Classics of Western Literature:  Bloom County 1986-1989 (Little, Brown, 1990)
Image added April 10, 2015

1990, Chris Van Allsburg
 Image updated October 28, 2012
1991, William Joyce
Image updated Aptil 20, 2015

1992, Faith Ringgold
Added to post November 13, 2011

1992, Faith Ringgold, Original Artwork, ACA Galleries
Image added October 28, 2012

Image added October 28, 2012

1993, Hilary Knight
Image updated April 20, 2015

1994, Lane Smith

Image updated April 20, 2015

Lane Smith, Original Artwork
Image updated October 28, 2012

1995, James Gurney
 Image updated October 28, 2012

1995, James Gurney, Original Artwork

1996, Daniel Pelavin

1997, Margaret Cusack, Original Artwork
Image Courtesy of the Artist
Added January 16, 2013

1997 Logo

1998, Maurice Sendak
Image updated April 10, 2015

1999, Leo and Diane Dillon
 Image updated October 28, 2012

2000, Robert Sabuda
Image added July 27, 2014

2000, Robert Sabuda
New York is Book Country founder Linda Exman holds the poster. 
See also C-Span video link
Lower image added January 16, 2013

[2001, Street fair cancelled following 9/11]

2002, Art Spiegelman
 Image updated October 28, 2012

2003, Jim Lee
Added January 16, 2013

2003, Jim Lee
Original Artwork
Image added January 16, 2013

2003, Jim Lee and Scott Williams
Original Artwork
Image added September 8, 2019

2003, Maurice Sendak
Image updated October 28, 2012

2003 Logo

2004, Ian Falconer

2004, Tara McPherson

2004, Tara McPherson
Preliminary sketch

[2005-2007, No street fair held]

2008 Logo, Venue moved to Central Park

2008 Logo

[2010, Cancelled permanently]

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with better scans or images of some of the missing posters. If your image would help to make this post better, please contact me: docnad (at) aol (dot) com.

November 20, 2011 Update:  About a week ago I was delighted to receive an email from acc12 on She had written an informative hub, as they call it there, on the history of New York is Book Country. I strongly recommend it and you can read it here.  As we had each found different examples of the fair's posters, we were each able to supplement our images considerably. In addition, acc12's information enabled me to correct the dates on the Hilary Knight and Lane Smith posters. On the other hand, there are two posters new to me wherein neither one of us can identify the artist. Your help is still greatly needed here, readers.

November 27, 2011 Update: Thanks to reader UUCP for providing in the comments section some of the missing information on these posters, including the identity of the artist for the 1992 poster, Faith Ringgold. Thanks also for the link to the 1980 poster by Pierre Le-Tan, which somehow I was not able to find on my own.

October 24, 2012 Update:  Thanks to reader tahrialah for identifying the 1990 poster artist as Chris Van Allsburg.

Notes:  My most recent post on Maurice Sendak's art is here.

My post on Charles Schulz's Butternut Bread Peanuts Promotions is here.

I haven't written any posts yet on James Gurney, but he does appear as an artiste provocateur in the George Booth post here.

I posted a book review of Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers here.

Finally, my previous post concerning poster art in general is here.

Just a few links on some of my earlier sources:

Image added September 5, 2013

The William Joyce, etc., photo (no longer a part of this post):

The James Gurney poster photo (no longer a part of this post):


  1. I love these posters and own a pretty good collection of them. The image you have for 1997 was, I believe, a placeholder that was used before the actual poster was complete. They used the placeholder again in 2002. I do not know what the final 1997 poster looked like.

    I believe that 1980 featured the Statue of Liberty in sunglasses, reading. I don't own a copy.

    The artist in 1992 was Faith Ringgold.

    At least one of the pictures above (1995) comes from my personal copy of the poster. I own the 2000 poster but it's in a tube right now so I can't send you a snapshot. My copy of the 1990 poster is also in a tube right now, so I can't check the artist.

  2. Oh, I just noticed you are missing 1989 as well. That was Berkeley Breathed. My copies are in storage.

  3. Oh, I do know what 1997 was -- I own a copy. Margaret Cusack embroidery.

  4. Thanks for all your valuable information, UUCP! I have updated the blog post accordingly. I remember seeing a Tar Beach display at the Children's Museum of Manhattan some years back, but I still couldn't identify Faith Ringgold's work without your help. Say, if any of those posters should ever come out of their mailing tubes, be sure to have a camera handy!

  5. Here's (somebody else's) picture of the 1980 poster --

    The artist is Pierre Le-Tan.

  6. Thanks again, UUCP, for finding a cool poster that somehow all my diligent searching failed to unearth. I've always liked Pierre Le-Tan's work and I'm glad now to have him on the blog.

  7. The 1990 poster is by Chris Van Allsburg.

    1. Thanks, tahrialah. Now that you mention it, it seems obvious.