Five great children's rooms
Bronx Library Center
The award-grabbing design of the children's room uses natural light, insulated glass and recycled materials. Programming here is as creative as the engineering: For the potentially Broadway-bound, an expert in urban stages directs the BLC Theatre Group. Each Monday, kids ages seven to 12 gather to hone dramatic skills and to write an original play, which they'll perform later this spring. 310 E Kingsbridge Rd at Briggs Ave, Bronx (718-579-4244, nypl.org)
Central Library, Queens
We're eagerly anticipating the opening of the new two-story, super-interactive Children's Library Discovery Center at this branch, expected late in 2010. In the meantime, the Discovery Teens—high-school and college students trained to engage youngsters in science and math—lead a Saturday lab for kids in grades three to seven. Projects have included hands-on weather experiments and building soda-bottle rockets. 89-11 Merrick Blvd between 89th and 90th Aves, Jamaica, Queens (718-990-0700, queenslibrary.org)
New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Familiar to kids as the library guarded by lions Patience and Fortitude, this branch houses the city's largest circulating collection of children's books, movies, CDs and audiobooks. It's also home to the original Pooh Bear and other stuffed toys beloved by the real-life Christopher Robin. Programming includes the expected storytimes, plus presentations by well-known authors and illustrators, as well as other first-class entertainment. Fifth Ave at 42nd St (212-621-0208, nypl.org)
The borough's first Carnegie-endowed library was built in 1903 and renovated six years ago. In the children's section, a carpeted half-moon alcove designated for infants up to five-year-olds makes it easy for parents to keep track of their offspring. There's plenty here for young 'uns; look for a summer screening series featuring Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid and other beachy favorites. 240 Division Ave at Marcy Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-302-3485, brooklynpubliclibrary.org)
Librarian Ken Gordon helps members of the YouTube generation create their own videos. Last summer, a multi-age crew (pre-K to teen) worked together to pen an original screenplay about the spooky happenings at a horribly haunted library; in the fall, elementary-schoolers acted in a lively adaptation of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The 1924 building—the last to be built in Queens with Carnegie funds—keeps good literary company: Across the street stands the house in which Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. 85-41 Forest Pkwy at 85th Dr, Woodhaven, Queens (718-849-1010, queenslibrary.org)
Five free activities
1 See some art
Brooklyn Central presents "A Brooklyn Bestiary: Wildlife in the City" (through May 30), woodcut-print portraits of the animals—hooded mergansers, toads, brown bats—that call the borough home. At Mid-Manhattan, the color photos in "Found New York" (through July 14) celebrate lost items—sure to resonate with kids who seek treasure on city sidewalks and playgrounds.
2 Hear a concert
On May 1, the Carolina Chocolate Drops will showcase their banjo and fiddle skills at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (reservations recommended: 212-491-2040). The Valentinos, a doo-wop group that's been around since the '50s, will harmonize your family's argyle socks off on May 22 at the Bronx Library Center.
3 Watch a movie
On May 20, the Huguenot Park branch (Staten Island) screens The Mask, complete with popcorn and other cinematic snacks—though it's likely to be quieter here than at your local multiplex. Kids with classic tastes will get a kick out of Bringing Up Baby, the Cary Grant--Katharine Hepburn screwball comedy about a man, a woman and a leopard; at Spuyten Duyvil (Bronx).
4 Go dancing
Celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 3 with the children and teenagers of the local Ballet Folklrico Mexicano Yavidaxiu at the Queens system's Corona branch. On May 15, the Dance Aloha troupe performs to Polynesian music while wearing vibrantly tropical costumes at the Bronx Library Center; they'll also teach the audience a traditional move or two.
5 Play a game
Before there was the Wii, there was chess; challenge your kids to both. Professional players offer chess workshops at Borough Park, Sheepshead Bay and other branches throughout the city. Tykes more interested in technological mastery can check out Wii Game time at the 125th Street Library Community Room (May 8 and 22, ages 5 and up).