The best picture books about the infrastructure of our cities: subways and buildings and roads, oh my!

Who am I?

I never thought much about what makes our cities habitable until I started doing research for The Great Stink. But learning about sewers and wastewater treatment (They’re surprisingly interesting!) turned out to be the beginning of a fascination with other types of city infrastructure that I had previously ignored. Kids have a natural fascination for infrastructure of all kinds, but I was surprised when I couldn’t find any lists of picture books that group different types of city infrastructure together. So, I made one. I hope you and your little ones like these books as much as I did, and I hope you find many similar books to enjoy!


I wrote...

The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London's Poop Pollution Problem

By Colleen Paeff, Nancy Carpenter (illustrator),

Book cover of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London's Poop Pollution Problem

What is my book about?

It's the summer of 1858, and London's River Thames stinks. What is creating this revolting smell? The answer is gross: the river is full of poop. But the smell isn't the worst problem. Every few years, cholera breaks out, and thousands of people die. Engineer Joseph Bazalgette dreams of making London a cleaner, healthier place to live. His grand plan to create a new sewer system to clean the river is an engineering marvel. And his sewers will save lives. Nothing stinky about that! With tips for how to prevent pollution today, this fascinating look at science, history, and what one person can do to create change will impress and astound readers who want to help make their planet a cleaner, happier place to live.

The books I picked & why

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Roadwork

By Sally Sutton, Brian Lovelock (illustrator),

Book cover of Roadwork

Why this book?

A nonfiction book in rhyme for the very young, Roadwork does double duty as a fun read-aloud with plenty of Onomatopoeia (Bump! Whump! Whop!) and an educational book about the road building process. The book takes readers all the way from planning the road and marking it on the map to planting trees, installing signs, and celebrating a job well done. (Toot! Honk! Vroom!) Kids will love the colorful illustrations–especially all the trucks–and even parents might learn a thing or two about how we build our roads. A page of “Machine Facts” towards the back of the book describes each truck or tractor seen throughout the book and gives a quick explanation of what the machines do.

Roadwork

By Sally Sutton, Brian Lovelock (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Roadwork as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Load the dirt. Load the dirt. Scoop and swing and drop. Slam it down into the truck. Bump! Whump! Whop!

There are many big machines and busy people involved in building a road, and this riveting board book follows them every step of the way. From clearing a pathway (screek!) to rolling the tar (squelch!) to sweeping up at the end (swish!), Roadwork is sure to delight young truck-lovers with its rambunctious rhymes and noisy fun.


I Am the Subway

By Kim Hyo-Eun, Deborah Smith (illustrator),

Book cover of I Am the Subway

Why this book?

This was one of my favorite books of 2021. First published in South Korea (where it was a bestseller), I Am the Subway takes readers on a subway ride through Seoul, narrated by the subway itself. “I rattle and clatter over the tracks. Same time, same route every day. Carrying people from one place to another….” We see the passengers get on and off the subway. We hear the subway sounds–ba-dum, ba-dum– and we catch an intimate glimpse into the lives of the people who step on board. I Am a Subway is an unexpectedly beautiful meditation on the many people we cross paths with each day as we make our way through the city. 

I Am the Subway

By Kim Hyo-Eun, Deborah Smith (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am the Subway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A cinematic journey through the Seoul subway that masterfully portrays the many unique lives we travel alongside whenever we take the train. A poetic translation of the bestselling Korean picture book.

SIX STARRED REVIEWS

★ “Lucky readers, climb aboard: extraordinary explorations await.” ―Shelf Awareness

★ “I Am the Subway makes for an unforgettable journey.” ―Bookpage

★ “[S]ensitive, closely observed portraits.” ―Publishers Weekly

★ “A contemplative, poignant rendering of everyday journeys.” ―Kirkus Reviews

★ “[B]eautiful and unusual.” ―Youth Services Book Review

★ “Bewitching.” ―Foreword

Accompanied by the constant, rumbling ba-dum ba-dum of its passage through the city, the subway has stories…


Someone Builds the Dream

By Lisa Wheeler, Loren Long (illustrator),

Book cover of Someone Builds the Dream

Why this book?

What I love about this book is that instead of focusing on the engineers, architects, artists, and other high-profile designers who tend to get the credit for creating so much of what we see in our cities–it focuses on the laborers who take their plans and make them a reality. Someone Builds the Dream will get kids (and their parents) thinking more about the building process and the people who spend their days putting together the parts of the many buildings, bridges, fountains, and other structures that come together to create a city. Young children will love the rhyming text and older ones will find much to wonder about as they scan the vibrant illustrations.

Someone Builds the Dream

By Lisa Wheeler, Loren Long (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Someone Builds the Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All across this great big world, jobs are getting done

by many hands in many lands. It takes much more than ONE.

Gorgeously written and illustrated, this is an eye-opening exploration of the many types of work that go into building our world - from the making of a bridge to a wind farm, an amusement park, and even the very picture book that you are reading. An architect may dream up the plans for a house, but someone has to actually work the saws and pound the nails. This book is a thank-you to the skilled women and men…


Underground

By David Macaulay,

Book cover of Underground

Why this book?

Strictly speaking, I’m not sure this should be called a picture book because it has a lot of text, but David Macaulay does such a masterful job at rendering the world beneath our feet, that a list of books about the infrastructure of our cities would be incomplete without it. This book will intrigue anyone and everyone who picks it up–no matter their age.

Underground

By David Macaulay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Underground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Macaulay takes us on a visual journey through a city's various support systems by exposing a typical section of the underground network and explaining how it works. We see a network of walls, columns, cables, pipes and tunnels required to satisfy the basic needs of a city's inhabitants.


The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks

By Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen (illustrator),

Book cover of The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks

Why this book?

No one plans a school field trip like Miss Frizzle! In The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, her students ride their amazing, magical bus to a cloud in the sky, where they experience the path of a drop of water, first as rain, then through a purification system, then through underground pipes all the way back to the school bathroom. There’s a lot more that happens along the way and the illustrations are really helpful at showing this complex process. It’s fun and it’s educational. A win for both parents and kids!

The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks

By Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Scholastic is re-releasing the ten original Magic School Bus titles in paperback. With updated scientific information, the bestselling science series ever is back!

The classic title that started the award-winning series! Join Ms. Frizzle and her students as they follow the trail of water, from its sky-high source to the school bathroom sink on this wet and wild fieldtrip. After parking the school bus on a cloud and shrinking to raindrop size, Ms. Frizzle's class gets to see the waterworks from the water's point of view.Don't miss the all-new Magic School Bus: Rides Again book…


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