Portrayals of City Life: Picture Books About Cities for Children

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Portrayals of City Life: Picture Books About Cities for Children

These picture books illustrate the many different aspects of urban life in cities for children. Children view life in the city in so many different ways! In some of these stories, children find ways to make where they live even more beautiful. In other stories, children find ways to overcome their fear of loud noises in the city - even the sound of a thunderstorm! Some stories provide a way for the reader to practice identifying shapes by observing shapes in the city and counting items in the city.

In Florette by Anna Walker, Mae’s parents are moving from the country to the city. Mae tells her mother that she will miss her garden, but her mother tells her that she will be able to make a new garden. But there’s no room for a garden in the city. Mae’s initial attempts fail her, but she is able to find beauty hidden in the city's nooks and crannies. The illustrations in this book are amazing!

Count on the Subway by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender introduces numbers to children via commute by subway in New York City: “Big Apple subway, 8 cars long. 9 people off, 10 people on.” It’s great as a one on one read-aloud and you and your child can count the stops, people, turnstiles and seats together.

In Flower Garden by Eve Bunting, a girl and her father surprise the girl’s mother with a garden in a box as a birthday gift. Together they go to the grocery store to buy the flowers, put the flowers in a cardboard box, and take the flowers home to their apartment on a bus. The illustrations in this book are colorful, vivid and beautiful! This is also a good book to read to introduce colors to your child.

Maybe Something Beautiful by Isabel Campoy is based on a true story. At one time the East Village near San Diego, California did not have colorful murals on the walls or benches that are works of art. Rafael Lopez, an artist, and Candice Lopez, a graphic designer and community leader, brought this beauty to the East Village. In the book, a girl who loves to draw, doodle, color and paint meets a muralist. Together, with the help of others in the community, the neighborhood becomes a place of beautiful art. The illustrations are bright and vivid. There is a section in the back of the book that tells the reader the true story.

In Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle, a huge storm comes to the city with a “tap, tap, boom, boom, and a crackle boom!” The residents of the city find shelter from the storm in the subway below ground. Elizabeth Bluemle notes that, “The storm above makes friends of strangers. We laugh under cover at thunder and danger." Underground, the people of the city are eating pizza, listening to music and talking to each other. When the storm is over, a bright rainbow appears across the sky. Elizabeth Bluemle says that, “This book was inspired by an experience waiting out a storm in the subway in New York City. Everything depicted here was something I actually saw on that rainy afternoon.”

City Shapes by Diana Murray is a wonderful book to help your child learn shapes! A girl takes the reader on a tour of the city and points out the various shapes that can be found throughout the city. For example, “a silvery cart with hot pretzels for sale, and stacks of brown packages hauled up the stairs … some shapes in the city are on-the-go squares.” Our narrator points out rectangles, triangles, circles, ovals and diamonds throughout the city. The illustrations in this book are amazing and were done in watercolor and collage.

City Lullaby  was inspired by Marilyn Singer's experience of living in Brooklyn, New York. In City Lullaby baby sleeps through ten horns beeping, nine phones ringing, eight dogs barking, seven cans bashing, six alarms shrilling, five cabs rattling, four players thumping, three buses grumbling, and two bikes growling, but one small bird “chirpity-chirps” baby is awake! This book is a wonderful book to read to introduce children to the concept of counting.

In Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo, a young boy goes to visit his grandmother in the city, but he does not like it. The city is “busy, loud, and filled with scary things”. His grandmother says that the city is wonderful and knits a red cape for her grandson to wear so he will feel brave in the city. The next day, her grandson puts on the red cape and discovers for himself that although the city is busy and loud it is not filled with scary things; it is filled with extraordinary things!

In the inspiring story of Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena, CJ’s grandmother helps CJ  to appreciate daily aspects of his life instead of wishing for what he doesn’t have. When CJ complains that they don’t have a car, CJ’s grandmother replies, “Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis who always has a trick for you.” When CJ sees the crumbling sidewalks, broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows, and boarded-up stores, he asks his grandmother, “How come it’s always so dirty over here?” She replies, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” 

The Adventures of Taxi Dog by Debra and Sal Barracca: This story is about a taxi driver in New York named Jim and his dog, Maxi. Maxi rides in Jim’s taxi beside Jim. Life wasn’t always good for Maxi though. As Maxi says, “I grew up in the city, all dirty and gritty, looking for food after dark. I roamed all around, avoiding the pound, and lived on my own in the park.” Jim and Maxi take an opera singer to her show, a pregnant woman to the hospital and clowns to the circus. The story closes with Maxi saying “It’s just like a dream. Me and Jim we’re a team! I’m always there at his side.” Debra and Sal Barracca are native New Yorkers who were inspired to write this book after riding in a taxi whose owner kept his dog with him in the front seat.