Category Archives: childrens

Young Frank, Architect

Young Frank, Architect by Frank Viva
MoMA 2013
Hardcover, 40 pages

Billed as "MoMA’s first storybook for kids ages three to eight," Young Frank, Architect tells the story of two architects name Frank, one young and one old. No, it's not a time-capsule portrayal of Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright (though they do make appearances in the book), but two generations of one family—a boy and his grandfather.

Like a lot of children's stories, this one embraces being different, saying it's okay to build chairs out of toilet paper tubes and make skyscrapers wiggle. These are the things young Frank wants to do but old Frank tells him it's not right. MoMA validates the former's wishes when, on a visit to the museum, they see how the Franks, Gehry in particular, actually designed paper chairs and wiggly towers. Back home, Frank and his grandfather embrace the lessons they learned and together design whimsical chairs, towers, and eventually a whole city.


I could talk about the drawing style, the way the story is a vehicle for MoMA, or how well the story conveys educational concepts for the age 3-8 range, but it seems more fitting to describe how my 5-year-old daughter liked the book. At first averse to reading it as a bedtime story (she thought the cover looked dark and boring), her attention was rapt on the story as I read it last week. This could stem from that being our first read through the book, but the short text and large illustrations that tell much of the story certainly did their part to draw her into it.

Her favorite parts involved Eddie the dog, a bystander for much of the book but also a participant. He can be found on each spread (outside of those taking place at MoMA, of course), almost a stand-in for the child reading the book about the two Franks. Spotting Eddie and seeing what he's up to was fun for my daughter, as was discussing the creations that young and old Frank make together in the last part of the book. It's only a matter of time (a couple more reads, I presume) before my daughter will be gluing our old paper towel tubes into coat racks and stacking my books into wiggly towers for her stuffed animals to climb upon. If so, MoMA will have done its job.

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Three Children’s Books

Draw Me a House: A Book of Colouring in, Ideas and Architectural Inspiration by Thibaud Herem
Cicada Books, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

A green home for Sophie and Henry by Andreas Ernstberger
DETAIL kids, 2012
Hardcover, 48 pages

Sky High by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine
Chronicle Books, 2012
Hardcover, 48 pages

Raising a child means opening oneself up to the literature that caters to developing brains and bodies. There is a heck of a lot out there, especially if we take television, movies, and interactive education as well as books into account. Regardless, very little of this output touches directly upon the impact of design on the built environment. Amander Walter discovered two dozen books fitting into that mold (later expanded by three times)—two of which I've reviewed here—but that is a pretty dismal number when seen in the context of how many children's books are produced even in a given year. Architecture and related disciplines are ripe subjects for many more kid's books, especially in relation to the impact of building and cities on our futures. Here are but three books that might point the way forward.

Draw Me a House is a book that prompts kids to understand architectural form and function through drawing. It is somewhere between a coloring book and sketchbook because many of its pages are filled with drawings but a lot of them are blank, usually accompanied by provocations like, "Draw a green roof on this house," or "Draw a magnificent dog palace for this pampered pup." Thibaud Herem's hand drawings have just the right amount of detail (not too much to leave room for imagination, but enough to lend understanding of the different drawing types) and a good ink thickness for coloring.

My four-year-old daughter is a bit young for grasping its ideas, but I look forward to her using it someday as intended. My only quibble is that at 240 pages the book might have been better as a spiral binding, due to the two-page spreads where kids are encouraged to create a single drawing (the connect-the-dots Sydney Opera House is one example), which is hard to do in the fold without breaking the glued binding. Otherwise it's a great introduction to kids of various ages to draw what they see in the buildings around them, and to create new things from their imagination.

Draw Me a House:
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A green home for Sophie and Henry bills itself as "a short story about energy, carbon dioxide and architecture." It tells the story of Sophie, Henry and their dog, Sam, as they learn about energy, carbon dioxide, and how to build a green home. I'd guess the book is intended for kids of at least eight or ten years old, both in terms of the subject matter and the way the story is told. The writing is informative if a bit dry, but the drawings are wonderful, telling the story through long lines, patches of gray, and splashes of yellow. I love, for example, how a drawing of the earth (akin to the cover) illustrates the sun's rays hitting the oceans and sea creatures that over time turned into oil and gas, which is piped out of the ground into a flying airplane flown by Henry and Sam—just one story told on that spread. At each point of the story the information is clear and carefully drawn, aiding in understanding a simple yet profound message—the impact of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and what to do about it. This sort of children's book should have been around when I was a kid, but nevertheless I'm glad it's here now for my daughter and the rest of her generation.

A green home for Sophie and Henry:

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Sky High is a fantastical account of two neighbors that keep building their houses higher and higher, as if in a race with each other and the laws of nature—gravity, mainly. Flipping a page reveals a little bit more that has been added to the houses, each facing the other across the spread. Each element looks like it should exist by itself, rather than as part of a supertall tower. Therefore toward the end of the book each tower is completely absurd, both in its form and the construction required to keep building higher. The little bit of text that is keyed to the drawings is often humorous, such as the ever-changing "highest paid architects in the world" and the long description needed to direct the pizza delivery person from the ground to nearly 4,000 feet in the air.

The book's end is surely a commentary on humankind's current preoccupation with building taller, even as the neighbor's creations are as far removed from them formally as is possible. But it's a book that can be enjoyed outside of any connection to real-world parallels, particularly due to Albertine's whimsical illustrations. The tall-format of the book, reminiscent of a menu at a fancy restaurant, is a nice touch, making it something special that will stand out on a child's bookshelf.

Sky High:

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The Three Little Pigs

The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale by Steven Guarnaccia
Abrams, 2010
Hardcover, 32 pages

In the oft-told tale where three little pigs build their own houses of straw, sticks and bricks, it's clear which house withstands the hungry wolf's attempts to "blow your house in." But if the houses were more complex in their design, more modern, and were designed by famous architects, who would prevail? Steven Guarnaccia retells the story with Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson and Frank Lloyd Wright as the pigs, again striking out on their own "to make their way in the world." The results are no less surprising, but the journey in this carefully illustrated version is a good deal of fun for children and their parents alike.

Within the architects'—I mean pigs' houses are artifacts of modern design, be it a chair, rug or even a coffee pot. These and many other designs litter the illustrations, creating a landscape of modernism within the familiar story. Helpful endpapers allow the designers to be known. As the parent of a two-year-old girl I can see the myriad educational opportunities, from matching images to word association and even creating stories within the story. The addition of these elements that go well beyond the inclusion of three famous names in architecture make this book not only justifiable, but highly rewarding.

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Le Corbusier: in his own words

Le Corbusier: in his own words by Antoine Vigne and Betty Bone
Papadakis, 2009
Hardcover, 48 pages

When my daughter was born last year, one of the gifts she received was a children's book on Roberto, the Insect Architect. This gift came from a friend, an architect. And being that it was given to a girl whose parents are both architects, the gift is entirely appropriate. But since then I've noticed a number of books on architects and architecture that are geared to children, like a reworking of the Three Little Pigs with Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Frank Gehry. Are there enough architects giving their own or other kids books on architecture to sustain this trend? Or is architecture achieving a level of popularity where books on the personalities creating architecture are appealing to a wider audience? It's probably not so black-and-white, but books like these have the potential of making architecture more understandable and appealing to a younger audience. Perhaps they won't all go on to become architects, but they will at least have an interest that acknowledges the importance of ideas and personalities in shaping buildings and cities.

This children's book on Le Corbusier uses, as the title indicates, the architect's own words to explain key concepts from his writings and in his buildings. The Maison Domino is here, as is the Modular, the Plan Voisin and much more. It could be called a "highlight reel" of Le Corbusier's career, but in a book for children that seems more than satisfactory. What comes to the fore in reviewing this book is how the architect's words work on the page. Devised by Antoine Vigne and illustrated by Betty Bone, the large-format book is a collage of drawings, clippings, photographs, colorful illustrations, and the architect's words layered on top. When Vigne and Bone have some fun -- juxtaposing the Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles with the inspiration of steamships on the architect, setting the building afloat on waves -- the book is most imaginative and successful. As well the book does a commendable job when it ties the various words and ideas of Le Corbusier together across subsequent spreads, though some become standalones detached from the larger whole of the architect's life.

Overall the book uses illustrations to convey complex ideas to a young audience. By using Le Corbusier's own words, the concepts cannot be dumbed down, but they can be further explained with the accompanying images. That is the key to the book's success. Produced in sponsorship with the Fondation Le Corbusier, in the future I could see the same treatment for other architects happening, particularly the other "two little pigs."

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