Home Is Where the Bookshelf Is: Architecture Inspired Reads for Kids

Editor Elsa Lam's top picks for books about architecture appropriate for kids aged 2-4.

Text Courtesy of The Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Since I have a pre-schooler who loves books, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre recently asked me for recommendations of books about architecture appropriate for kids aged 2-4. Here are my top picks.

The House Next Door
Written by Claudine Crangle
Groundwood Books, 2021

A small house is the protagonist of this story—first standing alone in a field, and later joined by neighbouring houses which he at first shies away from, then cautiously befriends. Crangle’s delightful papercraft illustrations invite young readers to try their own hand at crafting houses from cardboard and fabric scraps.

Over the Shop
Written by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Qin Leng,
Candlewick Press, 2021

This wordless tale is a heartwarming story of intergenerational cooperation: a young couple moves into the apartment above a general store, and work with the store owner and their granddaughter to clean and renovate. The book closes with the group—which grows to include a neighbour and a stray cat—enjoying an evening celebration on the balcony overtop the storefront.

The Rock From the Sky
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press, 2021

I love kid’s books that make clever use of the space of each page, turning the book itself into a kind of architectural project. Writer and illustrator Jon Klassen has a deft ability to do this in each of his books. In this existentialism-tinged story, a rock falls from the sky, creating a spot for a badger, turtle and snake to rest, dream, and watch the sunset. It’s a simple tale about the power of place—and of imagination.

Night Walk
Written by Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Ellie Arscott,
Groundwood Books, 2020

A girl who can’t get to sleep goes on a nighttime walk with her father. In the glow of streetlamps, restaurants, and the lights on inside houses, they notice the activities of the people who live in their neighbourhood. “Seen by night, everything seemed new and strange,” observes the girl.

Your House, My House
Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Kids Can Press, 2020

A Richard-Scarry-like cut-through of an apartment building is the setting for this story of a young rabbit’s birthday party. While Little Rabbit and his family bake a cake and decorate, young readers can observe the adventures of the other inhabitants of the building: cat family moves in upstairs, the mouse triplets make a fort in their room, mother and father fox prepare to have a new baby, and owl sleeps in the attic.

Houses for Sale
Written by Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample
Canadian Centre for Architecture and Corraini Edizioni, 2019

The latest in an occasional series of children’s books by the Montreal-based Canadian Centre for Architecture is a tour through dozens of real-life landmark houses from the past century. Written by two well-regarded architects, it’s a history lesson in modern architecture, couched in the story of a family searching for a new home. The visual variety in the houses presented—sometime embellished with fantastical details—make it fun for kids; while its curated content, detailed illustrations and sly in-the-know visual references make it sophisticated enough for grown-ups. If you’re looking for a gift for a kid with architect-parents, this is a winner.

Written and illustrated by Kim Smith
HarperCollins Publishers, 2019

Meg is a “boxitect”—a kid who likes to make tunnels, towers, and castles out of cardboard boxes. She impresses her classmates with her constructions—but then a new kid, Simone, joins the class, and upstages her with more elaborate cardboard constructions. Their competition eventually transforms into cooperation, and the two build even more brilliant and creative projects working as a team. The book includes instructions for building a tunnel and castle from cardboard boxes and duct tape.

My Winter City
Written by James Gladstone
Illustrated by Gary Clement
Groundwood Books, 2019

Winter in the city comes with pleasures—sledding, making snow angels, hot chocolate—but also the slowed-down pace of bundling in layers of clothing, trudging through snow and slush, and crowding into streetcars thick with the smell of wet clothing. In this prose poem, the buildings are as much characters in the story as the father-and-son whose adventures it tells.

Town is by the Sea
Written by Joanne Schwartz
Illustrated by Sydney Smith,
Groundwood Books, 2017

This beautifully illustrated book evokes the rhythm of life in a 1950s coastal mining town. “It goes like this,” the narrator, a boy on summer vacation says. His saltbox home by the sparkling sea contrasts with the darkness of the coal mine under the sea, where his father works during the day. The details of his house and town—the bright sunlight moving across wood plank floors, the broken swing at a rickety playground, the salt-scented air of an oceanside graveyard—are brought to life in Schwartz’s poetic story and Smith’s exquisite ink-and-wash illustrations.