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Scratch-N-Sniff Childrens' Book 'New York, Phew York' Flying Off Shelves

By Mary Johnson | August 14, 2012 12:03pm

TIMES SQUARE — New York smells.

For those who embrace the Big Apple's piquant — though not always pleasant — odors, there is a brand new scratch-n-sniff children’s book that is selling out of gift shops around Manhattan since debuting a month ago.

“New York, Phew York: A Scratch-n-Sniff Adventure” was released several weeks ago. The book’s author, Amber Jones, said the response to her odiferous romp through Gotham — which features everything from the stench of a foul-smelling subway rider to the appetizing aroma of pastrami — has prompted her to begin plotting the book’s second print run.

“I think it’s an honest depiction of New York. It’s a love letter to New York,” said Jones, 37, who lives in Flatbush and works as a concierge at a Times Square hotel.

“It’s exactly the book that I wanted. I just love that I didn’t sacrifice anything.”

Jones began the process of bringing her book to life a little more than a year ago, launching a campaign on the online fundraising site Kickstarter and raising more than $20,000 in a month.

With the cash in hand, Jones set about the process of self-publishing the 40-page tome written entirely in rhyme. Her illustrator, Tim Probert, completed the artwork, and she and her team of two advisers began the arduous process of trimming the book’s 62 scents down to a more manageable 23.

Jones said having accurate smells in the book was paramount, and each scent — which can be activated by lightly rubbing the paper its printed on — required multiple rounds of sniffing before it was deemed print-worthy.

For each potential smell, the printer would send Jones myriad options. For the smell of coffee, for instance, Jones had to decide between the odors of black coffee, espresso, latte or cappuccino, she recalled.

“It was really exhausting,” she said, laughing. “Smell is kind of like taste. Everyone smells something differently.”

And it was up to her to select which scent was the best and most accurate to what was found in New York.

In the end, Jones said her favorite smell in the entire book is that of exhaust, because she feels it’s one of the most accurate.

Children all seem to love the stench of the smelly man on the subway, she added, which is strong enough to make a reader recoil from the glossy pages of the book.

“There is a smell for everyone, I would say,” Jones said.

Before the book was released in July, 700 copies had been preordered, forcing her to up her initial print run from 1,000 copies to 2,500, she explained.

The book is also sold on her website, as well as on Amazon.com, and she said it has completely sold out of two gift shops inside the W Hotel in Times Square.

The book has also sold out of the Rockefeller Center and Grand Central locations of Pylones, a quirky store that stocks everything from wind-up robots to an Eiffel Tower-shaped cheese grater.  

“A lot of tourists really love [the book],” said the manager of the Grand Central Pylones, who declined to give her name. “I would say that the scents themselves are very accurate.”

So far, the book’s smelly man on the subway scent has been a big hit, she added.

“Personally, I don’t [have a favorite smell],” the manager added. “Honestly, I only got about halfway [through it], and then I had to come up for some air.”

The Pylones manager said the Grand Central location is currently sold out of “New York, Phew York,” but she was “definitely” planning to order more.

The reviews for the book have been similarly positive on social media outlets and on Amazon.com.

One teacher wrote on Amazon that she had read it to her first-grade class, “and they absolutely LOVED it! It was the most requested book for read aloud this year.”

On Facebook, one parent called the book "amazing."

"My kid and I had a great time readin' & smellin'," the parent commented.

Jones is actively looking for a distributor so she can get "New York, Phew York" into more souvenir shops and major booksellers.

And she's settled on what she hopes will be the second installment in a city-themed scratch-n-sniff series: "Smell-A," for the denizens of Los Angeles.