Kids Corner: Two City Picture Books

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In honor of my recent trip to New York City, I bring you thoughts on two books about the buildings in the city: Urban Animals and Building Stories, both picture books by Isabel Hill featuring images from the buildings of New York City.

Urban Animals

By showing the images of animals as carved in and designed on the buildings of New York City, Isabel Hill teaches some basic terms of architecture in Urban Animals, such as keystone, column, bracket, dentils, and more. Each page has a simple rhyme about the architecture and the animal, and it is nice to read aloud for the most part. Each two-page spread of photographs shows the animal close up as well as from a distance.

My son liked me to read it aloud – and since the first page has a rhyme about a snake, he especially wanted to say “but be careful because there is a _[fill in the blank with the animal on that page]” for each page. He liked finding the animals on the buildings, and while at age three I’m not sure he grasped a concept for the architectural terms, I personally liked how a basic children’s rhyme book introduces such concepts. No reason not to start introducing new vocabulary: I believe Raisin understands more than he lets on.

I must also add that when I was walking New York City with my husband last week, I happened to see the Alligator building from this book and was very excited to point it out to my husband. I can see how, for a New Yorker, this book would be a hit. I enjoyed it even though I am not from New York.

Building Stories

Building Stories has a slightly different feel, although it is a similar book in many ways. It also shows pictures of detail from New York City buildings, but instead of focusing on the architectural elements in the building, it focuses on the history of the building. By looking at the images on the building we can determine what the building was originally used for: from pencils on a former pencil factory to cows on a former dairy. Each page still has a rhyme, and Ms Hill has added historical photos as well as her recent photos.

I liked helping my son predict what he thought each building had been used for, and he still liked the rhymes. It opened up the opportunity to talk about the past. As with the first book, he was a bit young to grasp the concept for some of the building’s pasts, but he still seemed to enjoy it.


Raisin says the animal book was his favorite of these two, probably because as a young child he loves animals. He doesn’t quite grasp history yet. I go back and forth as I think about which is favorite. I loved how Urban Animals taught about architecture, but I also loved the look at history in Building Stories. It makes buildings more alive to see that how they were used has been forever etched into the walls. Depending on the young person’s interests, both books may be of interest.

This was my first foray into digital picture books with my son. I read each book with him via NetGalley, in Adobe Digital Editions. It worked remarkably well, and while I don’t think reading picture books via computer (I read them with Raisin on my netbook) will ever replace the old fashioned bound picture books, it was satisfying to see that for Raisin, the format did not matter at all. In fact, I think he liked reading it on a computer – just click page down for the next page!

Note: Both books were read via NetGalley, from the publisher, Star Bright Books. Urban Animals was published March 15, 2009 and Building Stories will be published August 15, 2011. Cover images courtesy Star Bright Books.

Reviewed on June 2, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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