Stories of City Living
Buses, trains, buildings, sidewalks, street signs and people (lots of people!)... Such is city life. These are sights and sounds that we experience every day here in Washington, DC. You'll find all of that—and much more—in the picture books listed below. These titles are some of my favorites that take place in a city, and I hope you and your children enjoy them as much as I do.
Flower Garden written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
With a title like Flower Garden, you might not guess that this book takes place in a city—and that's one of the things I love about it. After buying an assortment of flowers at the market, a young girl and her father head back to their apartment on the bus. Once they arrive, they spread out newspaper and start to pot the plants in a window box. Everyone admires the "color jamboree" they've created; however, no one is more surprised and delighted than the mother who receives this garden as a birthday gift at the end. What a sweet, simple story. And, with short, rhyming sentences and vivid, colorful illustrations, this book makes a great read aloud. Recommended for ages 2-7.
Zoom! Zoom! Sounds of Things that Go in the City written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Tad Carpenter
Whenever a customer asks for a book with trains or trucks, this is one of the first that comes to mind. Zoom! Zoom! has it all—cars and taxis, a garbage truck, a fire engine, a subway train and even a double-decker bus. The short, descriptive sentences take readers on a tour of the city, where we find all kinds of great sound and action words like "vroom," "swoosh" and "rumble" accompanying various modes of transportation. Each page also ends in a sentence that addresses the city itself—such as, "Good morning, City!" and "Good job, City!"—which your child will enjoy exclaiming right along with you. Recommended for ages 2-7.
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
Little Elliot is an adorable, polka-dotted elephant who lives in a big city. Although Elliot likes where he lives, he sometimes has a hard time with things like opening doors and catching cabs because he is so small. He even tries to buy a cupcake one day, but no one notices him due to his short stature. On his way home, he comes across a tiny mouse who's also having a hard time reaching something. Elliot loves that he has a chance to help someone smaller than himself, and the two become fast friends. If this little elephant captures your heart like he did mine, be sure to check out the rest of his adventures in Little Elliot, Big Family; Little Elliot, Big Fun; and Little Elliot, Fall Friends. Recommended for ages 4-8.
Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson
After church one day, a young boy named CJ and his grandmother make their way to the bus stop in the rain. They're heading to the last stop on Market Street, just as they do every week. Throughout their trip, CJ asks question after question: "How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?" "Nana, how come we don't got a car?" "How come we always gotta go here after church?" His grandmother answers each with patience and wisdom, highlighting the beauty of the city and the people that inhabit it in the process. I just love this book's heartfelt message and authentic feel. Recommended for ages 3-7.
The Silver Button by Bob Graham
This book is so beautiful and thought-provoking in its simplicity. The story starts with one family. A girl named Jodie puts the finishing touches on her duck drawing; her little brother stands up and takes his very first step; their mother plays away on her pennywhistle in the next room. Then, readers learn what's happening just outside their house... then next door, down the street, across town, and all around their city. In a single minute, we get just a glimpse into the lives of each character that's introduced. To me, this book simultaneously shows how small one person can feel, while also illustrating that we are all connected. Recommended for ages 4-8.
Sidewalk Flowers by John Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith
In this wordless picture book, a child in a bright red jacket meanders through the city with her father. Along the way, she collects flowers that hide in small sidewalk cracks. The little girl leaves these flowers with people and animals she passes—on top of a dead bird in the park, by the shoes of a man taking a nap and in the collar of a friendly dog. As she collects more flowers and shares them with others, the mostly black-and-white illustrations gradually gain color. She and her father make their way back home, where they are reunited with the rest of their family. There, the girl enjoys one last flower for herself. What I like most about this book is that it encourages readers to spread joy and find beauty in their surroundings. Recommended for ages 4-8.
City Shapes written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Bryan Collier
What shapes can you find in the city? In this book, a flying pigeon makes its way through a busy city and shows readers what lies below. Rhyming, rhythmic sentences describe the scene—we see a truck delivering the mail, a table with scarves and bracelets for sale, some wheels on a taxi and many other city sights. Each observation is linked to a certain shape; you'll find that squares, rectangles, triangles and circles are everywhere if you just know where to look for them. This book would be great for children who are learning their shapes, and, as a bonus, serves as a suggestion for a fun game to play around town. Recommended for ages 3-6.
Blackout by John Rocco
On a hot summer night, a young boy searches for a family member who will play a board game with him. When he finds that everyone is busy, he reluctantly heads upstairs to play a video game. But then... all the lights go out! Everyone stops what they're doing and gets out the flashlights and candles. The city transforms into a whole new place, with parties happening up on the rooftops and down in the streets. Even when the electricity come back on, the family remembers how much fun they had during their temporary blackout and continues to spend quality time together. This book has fun, lively illustrations and a message that reminds us to slow down and enjoy the moment with those we love. Recommended for ages 4-8.
City Lullaby written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Carll Cneut
Toot, toot! Bash, clang! Ring, ring! The city sure can be noisy sometimes, but that doesn't stop Baby from sleeping soundly in the stroller. In this cumulative story, we count down from 10 and encounter horns beeping, dogs barking, trash cans clanging and much more along the way. All the while, Baby sleeps—that is, until one more small noise adds to the city lullaby. With its fantastic rhythm and rhyme and rich vocabulary, this book is such a joy to read aloud. The busy, energetic illustrations could also lend themselves to a game of "I Spy." Can you find all eight dogs? What about each trash can? There's just so much to explore! Recommended for ages 3-7.
Peggy: A Brave Chicken on a Big Adventure by Anna Walker
Peggy is a charming little chicken who lives on a quiet street in a yard full of yellow sunflowers. One day, a large gust of wind blows her all the way to the nearby city, where she finds all sorts of things she's never seen before. After a while, she starts to get used to her surroundings and enjoys all that the city has to offer. When Peggy spots a girl with a bouquet of sunflowers, she eagerly follows her onto the subway train and gets off at the same stop, which ultimately leads her back to her humble home. Peggy is glad to be back and resumes all of her usual routines, with one new one added to the mix—a trip to the city every now and again. Recommended for ages 3-8.