“Buildings are like people: each one has a story,” writes illustrator, author, and Lower East Side resident Ellen Weinstein. In her delightfully illustrated new picture book, Five Stories, Weinstein introduces the reader to five children from different cultural backgrounds, each occupying a different floor of the same tenement on Hester Street. As the reader meets each family, the timeline of the story progresses from 1914 to the present day. Set over the course of a century, the illustrations show an ever-changing neighborhood, one Weinstein knows very well. On May 22nd, join Weinstein for a free virtual talk where she’ll share a behind-the-scenes look into the making of Five Stories and discuss how her own family history inspired the book!

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Five Stories: Family Histories of the Lower East Side – Virtual Talk

Five Stories book cover

The first character Weinstein introduces is Jenny Epstein. This young girl from Minsk, Russia is based on Weinstein’s great-grandmother. Weinstein’s family settled on the Lower East Side after immigrating from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Now a Lower East Side resident herself, Weinstein carries on her family’s 120-year legacy in the neighborhood.

All of the other characters in the book are fictional but based on stories from Weinstien’s neighbors and the extensive research she conducted. The author interviewed historians, curators, and librarians from various New York City institutions such as the Tenement Museum, Eldridge Street Synagogue, and the Henry Street Settlement to craft the diverse cast of characters.

Five Stories book illustration

Throughout the book, the reader uncovers the stories of the Cozzis from Naples, Italy, the Martes from the Dominican Republic, the Torreses from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Yes from Fuzhou, China. Each family represents a different decade, a different era in the history of the Lower East Side. We follow along as Anna Cozzi writes to her grandmother of the newly elected president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, while José Marte watches Martin Luther King Jr.’s televised speech, and Maria Torres skips rope in the street. With every new story, the reader uncovers how the lives of each child become intertwined over the years.

Weinstein’s colorful and richly detailed illustrations capture the vibrant thrum of life on Hester Street and show how the streetscape evolved throughout the 20th century. Business signs change from Yiddish characters to Chinese, horse-drawn carriages turn into compact cars, pickle pushcarts turn into hot dog stands, and brick tenements turn into modern apartment buildings. Those familiar with the Lower East Side will enjoy seeing recognizable businesses such as Russ & Daughters, Addeo Bakery, and Moscot Eyewear, among others.

Five Stories book illustration

Five Stories is a book the whole family can enjoy together. Seasoned New Yorkers will find nostalgic scenes of childhood, like playing stickball in the street with a manhole cover as home base, while young readers will be dazzled by the images and introduced to the important history of the Lower East Side.

Learn more about Five Stories in our upcoming talk with the author and illustrator, Ellen Weinstein, on May 22nd!

Five Stories: Family Histories of the Lower East Side – Virtual Talk

Five Stories book cover

Next, check out 10 Secrets of the Lower East Side