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 17 new books perfect for young urbanists—and their design-savvy parents.
The best books of 2017 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 this year’s fantastic books are about famous architects—here’s looking at you, Zaha Hadid and Frank Lloyd Wright—some are about cities, and 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.
This Book is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson
Brooklyn-based author and artist Kelli Anderson takes reading to another level in this brightly colored, well-designed book. Pop-ups reveal six fully functional tools, including a working planetarium projecting the constellations, a musical instrument, and a speaker that amplifies sound. Think of it as a tactile science book that helps kids explore the world around them.
Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
The colors and illustrations alone make this book a lovely addition to the bookcase, but the captivating story of Disney artist Mary Blair will keep kids coming back for more. Expand your child’s color repertoire and learn how Blair saw the world in azure, mauve, apricot, and indigo.
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey
Impeccably illustrated, this thoughtful picture book tells the story of Maya Lin, the American artist who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The book is an experiment in minimalism—mimicking Lin’s style—with lyrical text, a light color palette, and a softness that invites readers to relate to Lin’s life and work.
Windows by Julia Denos
Walking through a neighborhood at night, it’s easy for kids to get a glimpse into the life of strangers as they peek into well-lit windows. Julia Denos’s new children’s book, Windows, is a love letter to the post-dinner walk, an inviting look at the possibility, beauty, and camaraderie that can be found in our communities.
Claymates by Dev Petty
Inspire creativity in young readers with a claymation story about two blobs of clay that can become anything. Billed as a “photographic friendship adventure,” kids will love the funny dialogue so much they will beg you to read this one again.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Despite not being as design-focused as some of the other books on this list, Little Leaders makes the cut thanks to its descriptions of 40 trail blazing Black women from throughout history. The beautifully illustrated books brings to life the contributions of artists, economists, writers, social activists, and more. It’s a civics lesson in just under 100 pages.
All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle
Fans of onomatopoeia—when words imitate a sound—will love this boisterous tale of a boy’s journey to the city of Havana, Cuba, in his parent’s car. The streets come to life as the family rolls by, but the trip is paused when the old car engine needs work. A loving take on Cuban culture.
Most People by Michael Leannah
It can be hard to talk to kids about the dangers of the world, especially when we’re confronted with a 24-7 news cycle that churns out doom and gloom. But Michael Leannah’s Most People offers parents a good place to start. The story follows two pairs of siblings through crowded city streets to show that despite big differences in appearance, most people love to smile, laugh, and live.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
Whether it’s a produce stand, bakery, or a bodega, local shops are the life-blood of cities. In Crown, Derrick Barnes celebrates the neighborhood barbershop. Readers will love the paint-inspired picture and the story of how a young boy feels getting his hair cut in the barber’s chair: “A fresh cut makes boys fly.”
The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
Burgeoning designers and architects will love this ode to the late Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s foremost architects. The book reveals how Iraq-born Hadid dreamed of designing her own cities and how she overcame challenges to make her ideas a reality.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers
Most children are familiar with the Statue of Liberty in New York, but few know that the statue stands in mid-stride, with one foot raised forward. Colorful depictions of urban life mix with little known history to reveal a profound lesson about our country’s most famous statue.
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin
Stunning illustrations supplement an enthralling story in Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters. Introduce kids to a blues musician who laid the foundation for rock and roll, despite setbacks and struggle. Muddy’s tale of perseverance will inspire children again and again.
The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright by K. L. Going
A biography of the iconic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, design-minded parents will love the story of how a small boy became a world-renowned architect. But kids will appreciate this book’s brightly colored, whimsical drawings that show Wright’s inspirations in top-notch style.
Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz
With notches on many best-of lists, Town is by the Sea uses captivating illustrations by Sydney Smith to tell the tale of a typical day in a Cape Breton mining town. Repetition and simple words mimic the patterns of a young boy’s life: His town is by the sea and everyday his father toils beneath the earth in the mines. Children find the story interesting and the pictures beautiful; adults are captivated by the knowledge that the boy will one day head to the mines, too. “I’m a miner’s son. In my town, that’s the way it goes.”
Noisy Night by Mac Barnett
City dwellers rejoice: Noisy Night offers a fresh take on what it’s like to live in an urban space. Rich illustrations combine with simple phrasing as readers climb floor by floor to see who’s singing, dancing, and laughing in a tall apartment building.
Here we Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
This award-winning book is a must-buy for parents who want to inspire kindness and a budding appreciation for the Earth. Artist Oliver Jeffers’ beautiful illustrations show the world in all of its diversity and grandness, from the smallest child to the largest ocean.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
A few of the women included this book are more familiar to families—short blurbs describe how women like Helen Keller and Harriet Tubman persisted against insurmountable odds. But this well-organized picture book also features lesser known women like Clara Lemlich, a garment factory worker who helped to expose the factory’s dire conditions and improve working conditions in cities across the U.S.