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A Scratch-N-Sniff Children's Book Looks to Capture the Smells of the City

By Mary Johnson | July 22, 2011 6:47am

MANHATTAN — Every New Yorker knows certain odors define the city. Some of them are tantalizing, like the smell of fresh-baked pizza. Others, like mounds of garbage, can singe the senses.

Now one aspiring author is looking to capture all those signature smells—the good, the bad and the heinous— in a scratch-n-sniff children’s book titled “New York, Phew York: A Scratch-N-Sniff Adventure.”

Amber C. Jones, 36, came up with the idea while walking through Times Square one day. As she strolled with a friend, Jones caught a delectable whiff of pizza. In the next moment, she narrowly missed stepping in a pile of horse manure. 

As she inspected her shoe to make sure she had, in fact, missed the pile, she found herself engulfed in a cloud of smoke from a nearby kabob vendor.

That collision of odors inspired Jones to write the book.

“We’re in such close quarters, you can’t escape the smell,” said Jones, who works as a concierge at a Times Square hotel. “Everyone always talks about the smell, whether it’s the pastrami sandwiches or the pizza.”

The 40-page book, which Jones has written in rhyming couplets, follows a child who comes to New York on a family vacation. The family befriends a hotel concierge, who then leads an all-encompassing tour around New York.

To complete the book,  she enlisted an illustrator, 24-year-old Tim Probert, who has so far drawn about one-third of the scenes.

“It sounded really fun to me, just to be able to draw every section of New York and really be able to highlight the differences between Chinatown and Soho and all that,” said Probert, a Long Island native.

The book will feature more than 20 odors and will include everything from the sublime to the disgusting. Her goal is authenticity, to make the book smell just like the real New York.

“You might step in horse manure, and you might trip over a garbage patch,” said Jones, who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn. “Let’s keep it honest.”

Certain smells are synonymous with different neighborhoods, Jones said. So Little Italy will smell like pizza. The Upper East Side will carry whiffs of pastrami sandwiches. And Central Park will be a mix of horse manure and trees, Jones said.

Other scents will include fish, garbage, churros, pickles and bagels, she added.

Jones has pitched the project to several publishers, and she said all of them have liked the idea but cringed at the cost. The smells all need to be custom made, Jones said, and that makes the project expensive.

Some suggested she might be able to strike a book deal if she cuts the smells down to include only a few. But Jones isn’t interested.

“It’s all or nothing,” she said.

So Jones has taken her cause to Kickstarter, an online fundraising Web site. She is asking for $20,000 in donations, which will allow her to finish production on the book and print anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 copies.

So far, she has raised about $3,000, with a little less than a month to go.

If Jones makes her goal, she hopes to distribute the book to hotel gift shops, tourist outlets, bookstores and airports. She is also hoping to turn this first book into a scented series.

A natural extension, she said, would be an adult version in which she would delve into Manhattan’s nightlife. The title? “New York, Phew York: Unscentsored.”