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Find more Classroom Connections
The wild and the civilized intertwine in this list of fiction and nonfiction titles that unveil the natural life brimming within our cities.
Urban development doesn’t have to come at the price of our wildlife and natural resources. Describing everything from community gardens and bee hives to green spaces and crossings that allow animals to travel safely in urban environments, the selections in this bibliography give young readers myriad ideas to promote, protect, and live alongside city plants and animals.
Urban Farming and Gardening
Anywhere Farm. By Phyllis Root. Illus. by G. Brian Karas. 2017. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763674991). PreS–Gr. 1.
Root’s rhyming text and Karas’ loosely drawn figures combine to encourage readers to start growing something—anywhere. Questions such as “What can you plant?” and “What do you need?” guide budding gardeners through the steps of planting in an urban setting. As children plant in crates, boxes, pots, and more, the neighborhood’s enthusiasm spreads to a community garden. See also Sarah Stewart’s modern classic The Gardener (1997).
The Chickens Are Coming! By Barbara Samuels. Illus. by the author. 2019. Farrar, $17.99 (9780374300975). K–Gr. 3.
After seeing a flyer that reads, “My Chickens Need a Home!”, a family in a big city decides to let the birds roost in their backyard. Boldly colored, energetic illustrations capture the flurry of activity as the family preps for the poultry, acquires five chickens of different breeds, tries hilariously to bond with them, and waits for them to lay eggs. A concluding chart identifies each breed.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table. By Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Illus. by Eric-Shabazz Larkin. 2013. Readers to Eaters, $17.95 (9780983661535). Gr. 1–4.
After spending his childhood on a farm—where he vowed never to plant again—Will Allen played professional basketball in Europe. While there, he realized that he enjoyed growing food. Once back in the U.S., he purchased a derelict lot in Milwaukee and transformed it into an urban farm. This picture book spotlights his efforts to educate people around the world about growing their own food.
Follow That Bee! A First Book of Bees in the City. By Scot Ritchie. Illus. by the author. 2019. Kids Can, $16.99 (9781525300349). K–Gr. 2.
Mr. Cardinal introduces urban beekeeping to five children in this Exploring Our Community installment. In brightly illustrated scenes, the kids begin in Mr. Cardinal’s garden, buy “bee-friendly” plants, visit a pollinator garden, and return to his yard to learn about beehives. Along the way, plenty of bee facts are introduced, including how pollinators support our food supply and what endangers them.
The Garden. By Gwendolyn Hooks. Illus. by Shirley Ng-Benitez. 2018. Lee & Low, $14.95 (9781620145654). K–Gr. 2.
In this early reader, Lily misses the garden from her old home, so her mother takes her by the public garden in their urban community. After meeting her neighbor Mr. Sam there, Lily recruits her friends to help him plant and tend the garden. Cheery illustrations reflect their teamwork and the different phases of the plant-growing process. See also Marie Lamba’s Green Green: A Community Gardening Story (2017).
Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood. By Tony Hillery. Illus. by Jessie Hartland. 2020. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $17.99 (9781534402317) K–Gr. 3.
Hillery creates a visual history of Harlem Grown, the organization he started after visiting an elementary school and noticing an abandoned, litter-filled lot nearby. Hartland’s earth-toned, childlike illustrations depict Hillery’s idea to initiate an urban gardening project and, with the help of the schoolchildren, clear the lot and plant seeds. His vision helped mobilize the community to positively impact the environment.
Kaia and the Bees. By Maribeth Boelts. Illus. by Angela Dominguez. 2020. Candlewick, $16.99 (9781536201055). PreS–Gr. 3.
In this expressive picture book, Kaia boasts that she’s brave, but she is afraid of bees. Determined to overcome her fear after a bee lands on her arm, Kaia suits up and follows her urban-beekeeping dad to his rooftop hives. When she is stung, it’s a setback, but when it’s time to harvest the honey, she helps in the kitchen and until she’s ready to brave the hives again.
Thank You, Garden. By Liz Garton Scanlon. Illus. by Simone Shin. 2020. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781481403504). PreS–Gr. 1.
Using basic rhymes and happy illustrations, this easy-to-read picture book for emergent readers is set entirely in a community garden. Sometimes the mixed-media illustrations pan out to show such activity as planting and waiting for the garden to grow, while other images zoom in on animal and bug activity and the harvesting of crops. All reflect a community diverse in age and race.
Creating Green Spaces
Finding Wild. By Megan Wagner Lloyd. Illus. by Abigail Halpin. 2016. Knopf, $16.99 (9781101932810). PreS–Gr. 4.
After a girl and boy emerge from a city subway station, they head into a lush forest, thick with patterned foliage, to find wild. While the pair passes mountains, berry patches, singing wolves, and more exotic places, the author uses visceral descriptions to highlight the many kinds of wild. As the duo returns to their urban setting, they continue to look for wild amidst the skyscrapers and busy streets.
A Forest in the City. By Andrea Curtis. Illus. by Pierre Pratt. 2020. Groundwood, $19.95 (9781773061429). Gr. 2–5.
Following a history of the relationship between trees and cities, from settlers cutting down trees to the creation of public parks, this informational picture book looks at the challenges of maintaining urban trees and some of the engineering adaptations used to save them. Predominantly green artwork complements explanations of the benefits of urban forests, from fighting climate change to improving mental health.
A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park. By Ashley Benham Yazdani. Illus. by the author. 2019. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763696955). Gr. 2–5.
Wonderfully detailed watercolor illustrations showcase this accessible story of the creation of Central Park. Details also flourish in the telling as the author describes how Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted (the latter became known as the first landscape architect) transformed swampland into the first large public park in America. Back matter emphasizes the park’s social and environmental roles.
Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden. By Andrew Larsen. Illus. by Anne Villeneuve. 2019. Kids Can, $16.99 (9781771389174). K–Gr. 3.
While spending the summer with his aunt, brown-skinned Vincent is lonely in her gray, rundown neighborhood. When he spots a boy throwing a ball against the wall of an empty lot, he asks the boy, Toma, to help him get rid of his aunt’s mysterious dirt balls. As the boys become friends, the gloomy color palette shifts to brighter hues as seeds in the dirt transform the empty lot into a green space.
My Forest Is Green. By Darren Lebeuf. Illus. by Ashley Barron. 2019. Kids Can, $16.99 (9781771389303). PreS–Gr. 2.
Cut-paper collage illustrations alternate between a boy’s actual forest (a park right across the street from his high-rise apartment) and his virtual forest (a home-art studio where he creates and displays his drawings, photos, collages, and bark rubbings). Simple sentences with a plethora of adjectives—tall and short, fluffy and prickly, crispy and soft—help describe both sets of forests.
Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses. By Shira Boss. Illus. by Jamey Christoph. 2018. Sterling, $16.95 (9781454920717). K–Gr. 4.
As a boy in New York City, Bob Redman longs to escape the city’s chaos and builds a series of treehouses in Central Park. As these platforms are dismantled, Redman, never deterred, just continues to rebuild. Finally, park authorities arrive and offer him a surprise: to work as an arborist in the park—if he agrees to stop building the treehouses. A soft palette illustrates this remarkable true story.
Falcons in the City: The Story of a Peregrine Family. By Chris Earley. 2016. Firefly, $19.95 (9781770858046). Gr. 5–8.
This study of ecological coexistence follows Chicagoan Dacey Arashiba, who shares a window ledge in his high-rise apartment building with a peregrine falcon pair and, eventually, their offspring. By observing the bird family from his window, Arashiba learned about their nesting habits, their brood, their prey, and more behaviors. Dramatic, full-color photos capture these falcons in action.
Going Wild: Helping Nature Thrive in Cities. By Michelle Mulder. 2018. Orca, $19.95 (9781459812871). Gr. 4–7.
This installment in the Footprints series encourages the “rewilding” of urban areas with native trees and other plants, the “depaving” of some streets to create more natural areas of wildlife habitat, and the recognition that city people are healthier and happier when they have more contact with nature. It offers photos on every page, examples from around the world, and plenty of ways kids can help. See also Ann Downer’s Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World (2013).
Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife. By Sarah Grace Tuttle. Illus. by Amy Schimler-Safford. 2018. Eerdmans, $17 (9780802854599). K–Gr. 2.
From the moss in the sidewalk cracks to peregrine falcons on window ledges to brown bats hunting under a streetlight’s glare, 28 free-verse poems celebrate the surprising multitude of plants and animals living in urban and suburban areas. Bright collages capture the frenetic energy of city life, while a final spread offers additional fun facts about the flora and fauna mentioned.
Maggie the One-Eyed Peregrine: A True Story of Rescue and Rehabilitation. By Christie Gove-Berg. 2016. Adventure, $12.95 (9781591935162). PreS–Gr. 2.
This is the real-life story of Maggie, a city-born peregrine falcon that was injured when the wind pushed her into a building in 2014, damaging her beak and eye, and then rehabilitated by experts at a wildlife center. Eventually she becomes an educational animal for groups of visiting schoolchildren. The back matter is brimming with facts about endangered birds, wildlife hospitals, and peregrine falcons. See also Julia Coey’s Animal Hospital: Rescuing Urban Wildlife (2015).
Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City. By Janet Schulman. Illus. by Meilo So. 2008. Knopf, o.p. Gr. 1–3.
In 1991, a red-tailed hawk flew over Central Park and made a home. Named Pale Male by birdwatchers, the hawk chose a mate and built a nest on one of the city’s most exclusive buildings. When residents complained and the nest was removed, animal protection organizations and thousands of fans protested, allowing Pale Male to raise 23 chicks. Airy watercolors aptly illustrate the success.
Urban Biologist Danielle Lee. By Kari Cornell. 2016. Lerner, $26.65 (9781467795296) Gr. 3–6.
Growing up in Tennessee, Danielle Lee enjoyed watching urban wildlife and later earned her doctorate in biology. This entry in the STEM Trailblazers Bios series describes how she connected young people, particularly inner-city kids, with science and served as a role model for those interested in the field. It’s supplemented with photos of the African American scientist and urban wildlife settings.
Wild in the Streets. By Marilyn Singer. Illus. by Gordy Wright. 2019. Quarto/words & pictures, $17.95 (9780711241701). Gr. 1–4.
From coyotes on the prowl in Chicago to pythons sliding through Singapore’s sewers to wild bears foraging in Berlin, Singer profiles 20 animals that make their homes in global cities. Each animal receives a full description, in both poetry and nonfiction prose, with accompanying naturalistic and textured full-page illustrations that reveal people and animals sharing their environment.
The Cities We Live In. By Georgia Amson-Bradshaw. 2019. Cavendish Square, $31.36 (9781502648976). Gr. 5–8.
Packed with facts, multistep interactive demonstrations, photos, and other visuals, this entry in the Eco STEAM series considers issues related to cities, such as urban sprawl, lack of green space, traffic, and light pollution, as well as their environmental impact. Guided questions and activities and hands-on projects allow students to explore these issues and possible solutions in more detail.
Crossings: Extraordinary Structures for Extraordinary Animals. By Katy S. Duffield. Illus. by Mike Orodán. 2020. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $18.99 (9781534465794). K–Gr. 3
Highlighting directional words—over, under, across, and through—this informational picture book considers how animals can travel safely when humans have encroached upon their natural habitats. Double-page spreads with soft, textured illustrations spotlight creative engineering innovations around the world, from overpasses for pangolins in Singapore to tiny crawlspaces for spotted salamanders in Massachusetts. See also Meeg Pincus’ Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife (2021).
Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future. By Allan Drummond. Illus. by the author. 2016. Farrar, $17.99 (9780374379995). K–Gr. 3.
After a 2007 tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kansas, people climbed out of their basement shelters to find only two buildings left standing. But everyone cleaned up the mess and then constructed new homes, businesses, and public buildings designed with sustainability as a priority. Reusing materials and mindful of energy savings as well as their climate, residents built a whole new town.
Home Sweet Neighborhood: Transforming Cities One Block at a Time. By Michelle Mulder. Illus. 2019. Orca, $19.95 (9781459816916). Gr. 4–6.
This lively idea book invites kids to reimagine their neighborhoods as friendlier communities, offering multiple examples of changes taking place around the world as people reinvent their cities. Color photos help readers envision the projects, from “living streets” in the Netherlands and pothole parks in London to community ovens in Toronto and brightly repainted buildings in Albania.
Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs. By Susan Hughes. Illus. by Valérie Boivin. 2018. Kids Can, $18.99 (9781771386531). PreS–Gr. 3.
This picture-book biography of Jane Jacobs, accented with loose lines and soft colors, spotlights the journalist who recognized that cities are ecosystems. When a city planner proposed tearing down part of her New York City neighborhood and its local park to make way for a highway, Jacobs waged a campaign to save her community. In the process, she became a lifelong activist for city living.
What Are Eco-Cities? By Nancy Dickmann. 2018. Crabtree, $27.60 (9780778750338). Gr. 4–7.
Part of the Putting the Planet First series, this volume explains how eco-cities are designed to be zero-carbon through such factors as green spaces, local food, renewable energy, public transportation, water conservation, and eco-friendly housing and buildings. Colorful charts, graphs, and diagrams introduce these concepts while photographs pinpoint a variety of global initiatives.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond, VA.
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