Nonfiction Picture Book Reviews

The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem by Colleen Paeff, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021. 9781534449299. Includes a detailed timeline of London’s sewage issues from 1500 -2018, an author’s note, suggestions for further reading, a selected bibliography and an afterward, “Poop Pollution Today” that includes ways to prevent water pollution in your neighborhood.

A wordy, just-gross-enough book on the history of London’s sewage issues, why nightsoil men and early sewers couldn’t keep up, and how that led to terrible smells, cholera outbreaks, and many, many deaths. Luckily Joseph Bazalgette had ideas on how to solve the problem, and after some pushback, he was able to get funding to implement his plan. My favorite two-page spread shows a London street in 1819 with people emptying their chamberpots from upper floor windows while the people below try to avoid the mess. (Young Joseph is even there with his father holding an umbrella over their heads!)

Napoleon Vs. The Bunnies by J.F. Fox and Anna Kwan. Kids Can Press, 2021. 9781525302022.

In 1807 Napoleon and the Tsar of Russia signed a treaty. Napoleon wanted to celebrate with a rabbit hunt. But when the thousands of bunnies gathered for the event were released, they ran right at the hunters! Based on a true event that I’d never heard about.


Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How A Teacher Led An Unlikely Team To Victory by Julie Abery and Chris Sasaki. Kids Can Press, 2021. 9781525300318. A preface and author’s note (with photo) help fill in details of this story told in verse, and there’s a list of resources with internet links as well.

Hawaiian science teacher Soichi Sakamoto started coaching the kids who he saw swimming in sugar plantation irrigation ditches. Many of them went on to dominate competitive swimming events in the U.S. and worldwide, and one of them even won two Olympic gold medals. Sasaki’s illustrations make this book feel like an instant classic, and Abery’s short, elegant rhymes really work with them to tie the story together; no detail is wasted and every element works together perfectly.


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