The perfect children’s book both captivates the young reader and provides enough substance to keep parents from tearing their hair out at bedtime. We combed through this year’s fresh crop of picture books focused on cities, architecture, and design, and discovered 16 new books perfect for young urbanists—and their design-savvy parents. These books are sure to visually delight readers of all ages while teaching kids how to become the next generation of smart thinkers, inventive creators, and model citizens.
Some of our favorite new kids books are illustrated by famous designers, some are about specific cities, some are simply about what it means to be home. All would make great gifts for future Curbed readers. Adults, be sure to peruse our list of 101 books about where and how we live for more grownup gift ideas.
The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito
Little Yoshio lives in Tokyo, Japan, a bustling, noisy city that never sleeps. When a musician tells Yoshio that the most beautiful sound is “ma”—the sound of silence—he embarks on a journey to find it. It’s a captivating, fresh look at the cacophony of sounds in urban life and what it means to live mindfully.
Ida, Always by Caron Levis
A heart-wrenching story of two polar bears who live in the middle of a big city, this book is an honest look at what it’s like to lose a best friend. But it’s also a love letter to urbanism, and proof that friendship can live on in the sounds and spaces of the city that you share together.
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell
Mira lives in a gray, desolate urban space yearning for something more. She finds it in art. Based on a true story, this vibrant, beautifully-illustrated picture book shows how colorful drawings and murals can inspire joy and bring a community together.
ABC: The Alphabet from the Sky by Benedikt Gross and Joey Lee
Last year, a geographer and designer set out to create the first-ever “aerial typeface” using only characters found in satellite imagery of Earth (you know, how your apartment building looks like a ‘U’ in Google Maps). While searching the landscape for letters made from malls, culs-de-sac, reservoirs, islands, and more, kids learn how to read maps while spotting their ABCs.
What Color is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts
As both author and illustrator, Belgium-born Anne Herbauts creates a beautiful portrait of the senses in this touch-centric picture book. A blind boy asks everything he meets, “What color is the wind?” and the results are simply stunning.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
In this award-winning book, with illustrations by Christian Robinson, a young boy travels with his Nana by bus through his city, wondering why he has to take the bus and why his neighborhood looks dirtier than others. CJ’s Nana helps him appreciate the culture, music, and vibrance around him: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt,” she says, “you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”
What Can I Be? by Ann Rand
Written by Ann Rand and masterfully illustrated by painter and architecture professor Ingrid King, What Can I Be? uses simple poetics to explore the possibility of individual transformation. A blue square becomes a door for a cat, the top of a box, a window pane, and whatever else the young reader can imagine.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
The Supreme Court justice known as “The Notorious RBG” is celebrated in this smart biography, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, that teaches kids to speak against inequality and stand up for human rights. Each anecdote from her life is based on one of her famous dissents, making for one charming civics lesson.
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford
The slaves who were brought to New Orleans in the 1800s were allowed to roam free on Sundays, congregating in what became known as the city’s Congo Square. In this story, beautifully illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, the vibrant culture that African Americans brought to the South is celebrated as part of an important, if overlooked, place in New Orleans history.
The Brownstone by Paula Scher
Graphic design legend Paula Scher is the author of this gem featuring animal families in a New York City brownstone who learn to live together peacefully thanks to their wise landlord (an owl, of course). Originally published in 1972 and illustrated by Stan Mack, The Brownstone has been lovingly reissued as a timeless tale about how to be a good neighbor.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
In the latest volume of a series that includes Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Marie Twist uses deduction and reasoning to demystify her world, teaching toddlers all about the scientific method in the process. David Roberts’ illustrations are gleefully detailed with funny pop culture references.
New Scientist: The Origin of (almost) Everything by Graham Lawton
A must-have for curious minds, this illustrated mini-encyclopedia features short explainers on everything from cities to cars to computers, organized into whimsical infographics, visualizations, and graphics by designer Jennifer Daniel.
Metropolis by Benoit Tardif
This stunningly diverse tour of 34 cities worldwide is a visual treat for both kids and adults, who will get a taste of architecture, transportation, and culture from familiar places as well as some lesser-known urban enclaves.
Roberto: the Insect Architect by Nina Laden
Inspire your little architect-to-be with this story of a tiny termite that has big dreams. Roberto moves to the city, meets plenty of creepy crawly friends, and transforms a rundown urban block into a thriving, bustling community of bugs.
Los Angeles 1 to 10 by Sara Beth Greene
A delightful new kids book about Los Angeles features witty rhymes alongside slices of Los Angeles life. Jimmy Thompson’s adorable illustrations capture radical surfers and howling coyotes alongside architectural landmarks like Griffith Observatory and Watts Towers.
Listen! Listen! by Ann Rand and Paul Rand
The midcentury design icon and his talented wife wrote this for their daughter using cut-paper graphics and wonderfully syncopated words. Kids will love making the book’s sound effects while design-minded parents marvel at the Rands’ creativity.