I wrote a reading list for @49thshelf of great Canadian kids’ books about city living. Check it out here.
Small in the City, by Sydney Smith
A young boy travels by himself through the streets of an unnamed but unmistakable Toronto, braving streetcars, deep alleys, cold winds and slush, looking for his lost friend in this gorgeous debut picture book that won Smith both the Governor General’s and the Ezra Jack Keats awards. Toronto children will delight in recognizing familiar landmarks like Kensington Market and the windows of the Red Rocket.
My Day with Gong Gong, by Sennah Yee, illustrated by Elaine Chen
May figures spending the day with her grandfather will be a bore. After all, she doesn’t speak Chinese and Gong Gong doesn’t speak English. But a walk around a vibrant Chinatown builds bridges. The two stop in at a gift shop hanging with toys and knickknacks, for tea at a dim sum restaurant, fish at the market and drop by to visit Gong Gong’s friends playing cards in the park. A heart-warming story of finding connection across culture and generations, the bustling city streets play a key supporting role.
Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Valérie Boivin
The life and times of urbanist pioneer and Canadian transplant Jane Jacobs is illuminated in this fictionalized account of her long fight for strong neighbourhoods and more livable cities. Insatiably curious even as a child, Jacobs was lead by her keen powers of observation to take on the status quo that put cars and roads ahead of people. Inquisitive readers will love to read about how she remained undaunted despite tough opposition. Boivin’s quirky, lush illustrations make the city come to life.
Going Up, by Sherry J. Lee, illustrated by Charlene Chua
When Sophie and her dad are invited to Olive’s birthday party on the 10th floor of their apartment building, they must squeeze in the elevator with a motley crew of neighbours and pets, including the Flores family in their dancing shoes, the (hilariously) tattooed Santucci brothers, and the Habib family, who are carrying Sophie’s favourite dish, gulab jamun. Just when you think the elevator won’t hold another thing, a pair of musicians slip inside with their bass! The whole pack pour out on the 10th floor where readers discover Olive is actually a pampered pink poodle. This sweet story with fun and celebratory illustrations is a wonderful reminder of the joys of urban neighbours.
A Park Connects Us, by Sarah Nelson, illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Parks unquestionably make city life better, and this new book filled with colourful collage and a rhythmic text highlights all the ways we use and enjoy them. Filled with active verbs— the park “spins and blows and bounces and rolls us”—and a diverse collection of urban denizens, parents and kids will like reading it over and over. Nelson ends with a note to readers about the history of city parks and encouragement to appreciate and care for the green spaces in our midst.
My City Speaks, by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron
The city is noisy and fascinating (it “dings and dongs, and rattles and roars”) for a visually impaired girl who navigates the streets with skill, her father in tow. Lebeuf’s poetic language and Barron’s colourful cut-paper collage make this picture book a sumptuous immersion in the sounds (and sights) of city living. The story will help encourage discussions with young readers about what they notice—and don’t—about their own city streets.
48 Grasshopper Estates, by Sara de Waal, illustrated by Erika Medina
Sicily Bridges is a maker. She makes seven-tailed dragons and a long-distance sailing vessel out of sticks and paper and milk boxes. But when she tries to make a friend in her low-rise apartment building at 48 Grasshopper Estates (where she’d “never seen one grasshopper, or come to think of it, any grass”), she finds her crafting abilities have a limit. This charming story features a cast of characters any city kid will recognize, suggesting the power of imagination to bring people together—and maybe even launch an unexpected friendship.
My Winter City, by James Gladstone, illustrated by Gary Clement
I adore this lyrical and stunningly illustrated story about enjoying winter in the city—from a kid’s eye view. A boy, his dad and their dog trudge through the snowy streets, “a soup of salty slushes” and take the reader on the bus, to the toboggan hill, to the park to make snow angels, noticing everything along the way. Kids and their adults will recognize both the beauty and messiness of a city under snow. A total sensory delight.
Our Green City, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, illustrated by Colleen Larmour
This interactive nonfiction picture book asks kids to search the fun, diverse illustrations for little details (a grasshopper, a bee, a carpenter’s missing hammer). It imagines a green city, classroom, garden and home where “we take care of all living things. People, plants and animals, too!” From beneath our homes and deep under the ground, urban aviaries to outdoor classrooms, the illustrations offer thoughtful suggestions for how to make our cities more sustainable. Lloyd Kyi ends on an encouraging note, urging kids to dream of a greener tomorrow, with a few suggestions to get the ideas flowing.