ARLENE ALDA, author
Just Kids from the Bronx (Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.)
If you’ve ever wondered about the aqueduct bridge that spans the Harlem River near the Cross Bronx Expressway, wonder no more. It’s the High Bridge, which emerges as the main character in The Lowdown on the High Bridge by Sonia Manzino (“Maria” in Sesame Street) with illustrations by Noelle S. Gibbons.
The High Bridge, completed in 1839, was built as a way to bring fresh water from the Croton River through the Bronx to Manhattan. It was also a pedestrian-only bridge connecting those two boroughs. Although it served Manhattan’s need for water in the early parts of the 20th century, eventually, with more modern systems in place, the bridge stopped transporting water through its pipes. The pedestrian walkway stayed in place until the whole bridge was closed in the 1970s.
This expertly told, lively story written by Sonia Manzano, with beautiful illustrations adding to the richness of the narrative, by Noelle S. Gibbons, draws us in, with the character of the bridge telling its own history, as well as telling the reader about the diverse immigrant groups crossing over to Manhattan from the ever-changing Bronx. Ms. Manzino is able to cover well over one hundred years of history, with few words and much clarity. Ms. Gibbon’s illustrations complete the story with vivid, humorous pictures.
The real lowdown on the High Bridge is as much a celebration of people and communities connecting, as it is about the history of an aqueduct bridge built over 165 years ago. The past is now the bridge to the future, with the reopening of the High Bridge in June of 2015.
This book was undertaken and created by the Bronx Children’s Museum as a collaboration with Ms. Manzano, to celebrate the reopening of the bridge to pedestrians and bicycles after its closing over 40 years ago. The Museum's approach to educating and inspiring children about their own community, includes a proposed series of children’s books which will utilize the Bronx itself as part of the educational experience. The Lowdown on the High Bridge is a wonderful step towards achieving that goal.
SALLY COOK, author
Sally is the co-author with Ray Negron of Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers, published in September 2012 by W.W. Norton. She is also the author of many children’s books including HEY BATTA BATTA SWING: THE WILD OLD DAYS OF BASEBALL with James Charlton, illustrated by Ross MacDonald and GOOD NIGHT PILLOW FIGHT, illustrated by Laura Cornell..
In Sonia Manzano’s new book, THE LOWDOWN ON THE HIGH BRIDGE: The Story of How New York City Got Its Water we discover it’s possible to fall in love with a bridge. Yes, I am talking about those ubiquitous structures. Published by the Bronx Children's Museum, Manzano’s book breathes new life into the High Bridge. Written in the spunky, ageless voice of this icon, the oldest surviving bridge in New York City, Manzano conveys the structure’s significance in bringing water from the Croton River, over 40 miles away, to a growing New York City population. The book is not only a history lesson, but also a meditation on change and growing old.
Originally designed and built in 1848 as a stone arch bridge, with a height of 140 feet and 1200 feet long, the High Bridge crossed the Harlem River and had the appearance of a Roman aqueduct captured beautifully in soft watercolors by illustrator Noelle Gibson.
Manzano, (who was Maria on Sesame Street) begins her story two hundred years ago, when Northern Manhattan was primarily farmland and pastures set between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. Through snappy dialogue and text Manzano introduces young readers to big new words and concepts such as aqueducts, columns, pedestrians and reservoirs.
Carefully avoiding didacticism, Manzano’s bridge describes its many functions —from being the passage way for newly arrived Irish, Jewish, German, Puerto Rican and African American immigrants to travel from their homes to the park or to visit relatives, to carrying water from the Croton River through an aqueduct installed on the bridge. Throughout the story Manzano also expresses how the bridge’s beauty, function and stature, as well as the freedom and mobility and connectivity it represents, are a source of tremendous pride for the neighborhood.
As the years go by taller and larger boats are unable to pass through the bridge’s arches. By the 1920’s there is even talk of tearing the bridge down. “But thank goodness somebody yelled ‘What, are you nuts? You can’t tear it down. People need to walk on it. Besides, it’s beautiful,’” Manzano writes. Finally a compromise is made: five of the fifteen stone arches are replaced with one long steel arch, enabling bigger boats to pass through.
But by 1958 the Old Croton Aqueduct closes and the High Bridge is no longer needed to carry water. In the 1970’s the bridge is closed to all pedestrian traffic. At this point readers will probably be completely captivated by the bridge and find themselves rooting for the worn out old edifice. “I was a mess. Just me, looking at the sunset by myself,” Manzano’s bridge laments. “I wondered what happened to the people who had used me so much.”
Just when the future of the High Bridge looks the bleakest somebody wisely decides to fix the bridge up so that “people from the Bronx can get to Manhattan, and people from Manhattan can get to the Bronx easily to visit each other like in the old days.”
Happily, the High Bridge reopened in June 2015. This time around families can bring their cell phones and snap pictures and send them to uncles and aunts in Mexico, Nigeria and as far away as China, writes Manzano. The children and families who read THE LOWDOWN ON THE HIGH BRIDGE will surely walk over this revered and revitalized structure with a new understanding and love for this remarkable and historic landmark bridge.
For ages 4-9 with glossary, timeline, map and other excellent resources in the back of the book.
BRONX COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The Bronx County Historical Society would like to congratulate and add to the applause to the Bronx Children's Museum and to Ms. Manzano for taking the initiative to tell the intriguing story of one of our Borough's most important treasures-the High Bridge- in a playful but historically accurate way with lots of great reference information as well. Our Society is a firm believer that when communities look into their past they enhance their understanding of their present and optimize the design of their common future. With the addition of a new well thought out book about the High Bridge written just for children, our youngest residents will have a fun way to become active participants in the discovery and preservation of their past and present.