The best picture books celebrating cities

Erica Silverman Author Of Wake Up, City!
By Erica Silverman

The Books I Picked & Why

Secret Place

By Eve Bunting, Ted Rand

Secret Place

Why this book?

This is based on the L.A. River (which is undergoing an exciting revitalization) but it could be any industrial downtown: freeways, warehouses, graffiti, smog. A boy discovers a secret place, where a river still runs through a concrete bed. In hushed tones, he tells us who else knows his secret - an egret, a green-winged teal, nesting mallards, coyotes, and possum. The vivid description makes me feel as if I am right there with him, sharing his sense of wonder. This deceptively simple book offers a powerful argument for restoring green space. 


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Old Pearl

By Wendy Wahman

Old Pearl

Why this book?

Young Theo rescues a bird from a lunging dog, but when he brings her home, his grandmother insists that wild birds should be free. But Old Pearl can no longer fly, and big-hearted Theo makes a compelling argument: “…if we can do something about it...shouldn’t we, Grandma?” Grandma agrees. Bird and boy share a sweet friendship until Old Pearl inevitably dies. Theo’s grieving makes me teary with every reading and his healing lifts my heart. A sensitive story of grief and healing, it’s also a celebration of city nature and the human-animal bond. In an afterword, Wahman provides sound advice and resources on what to do if you find injured wildlife in your city.  


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Finding Wild

By Abigail Halpin, Megan Wagner Lloyd

Finding Wild

Why this book?

Told in lyrical language, two children wander through their city, looking for “wild” and finding it in motion, size, sounds, touch, and smell.“It leaps and pounces and  shows its teeth.” The words dance around, hinting at flora and fauna, using adjectives and verbs to suggest and evoke. This journey arouses awareness of the natural world that lives all around us in the city. Young readers will enjoy guessing what is being hinted at. This is such an original way to talk about the urban wild!  


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Tokyo Digs a Garden

By Jon-Erik Lappano, Kellen Hatanaka

Tokyo Digs a Garden

Why this book?

I love fairy tales and this is a fairy tale for our time. Surrounded by skyscrapers, Tokyo wishes his home could be surrounded by nature, just as it was when his grandfather was a boy. When a mysterious woman hands him three wishing seeds, a magical transformation brings. Trees grow taller than buildings, wildflower meadows cover cement, the river flows through the city, and all manner of wildlife romp and climb. When Tokyo’s mother has to take a rowboat to work. Grandfather worries about how they will handle the inconveniences. But Tokyo, whose wish has come true, has words of wisdom: “I think….that we will just have to get used to it.”


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Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood's Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife

By Meeg Pincus, Alexander Vidal

Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood's Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife

Why this book?

A true story about my favorite cougar. P-22, (Puma 22) became famous when he miraculously managed to cross four freeways and make his home in a big city park near downtown Los Angeles. His fame inspired a campaign to build a wildlife crossing between two mountain ranges, over one of the world’s busiest highways. This book tells of P-22 and the scientists who are creating a better future for wild creatures and the humans who love them. I’ve been a fan of P-22 for many years and was thrilled to read this wonderful book about him. 


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