UPPER EAST SIDE — The Upper East Side has its share of landmarks, but this is the first one dedicated to a crocodile.
The Yorkville Community School on East 88th Street was named a Literary Landmark Wednesday by the Empire State Center for the Book and United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. The block is the setting for Bernard Waber’s 1962 children’s book, “The House on East 88th Street,” which introduced the beloved character Lyle the Crocodile to the world.
In the book, the Primm family moves into a brownstone on the block to find a crocodile living in their bathtub. At first they are terrified, but quickly grow to love Lyle, who eats caviar, performs tricks and helps out with housework.
Although the Yorkville Community School was not specifically mentioned in the book, the school is similar to the one the Primm children attended in the story.
Lyle went on to star in several more of Waber’s books and a musical movie based on the author’s work.
Principal Samantha Kaplan said she was thrilled when The Empire State Center for the Book, a state affiliate of the Library of Congress, approached her with the idea.
“Because he is a favorite author of mine and we celebrate children’s literature, this just seemed like the perfect fit,” Kaplan said.
The school held a ceremony Wednesday during the national literacy initiative Children’s Book Week to unveil a plaque that will hang outside of the building’s entrance.
Kaplan told the first- and second-graders gathered at the event about the role Waber’s books played in her own life.
“I carried Bernard Waber’s book 'Ira Sleeps Over' with me everywhere,” Kaplan said. “It was Ira who helped me get over my fear of sleeping over at my friends’ houses.”
The celebration included a reading of “The House on East 88th Street” by Waber’s grandchildren, a performance by the school’s second-grade chorus and a visit from Lyle himself.
Paulis Waber, Bernard Waber’s daughter, was touched by the tribute to her late father, whom she described as very similar to the sweet and helpful crocodile.
“Friday will be a year since he died,” Waber said. “To see an amazing tribute like this and to know that his talent and humor and wisdom will always be out there in the world is extraordinary.”
More than 130 Literary Landmarks across the country have been dedicated since the program began in 1986. Other Literary Landmarks in the city nclude The Plaza Hotel, where the character Eloise lived, and the Little Red Lighthouse, which is the star of its own children’s book.