Thursday, December 1, 2011


Buildings are like books with stories that last

They tell us our present and also our past!

The outside of a building says quite a lot.

About setting, about character, and even about plot.

Beloved Children’s Author Gives Advice to Parents of Budding Architects

National Building Museum Online sat down with Isabel to discuss her work and her advice for the parents of budding architects.

National Building Museum Online (NBM Online): As an urban planner and architectural historian, what motivated you to create books for young children?

Isabel Hill: Quite honestly, I was inspired to write my first children's book, Urban Animals, by my own daughter, Anna. When Anna was younger we used to take walks in Brooklyn where we live and I would always point out architectural details. One day, as we were wandering around our own neighborhood, I stopped to point out an interesting floral detail on a building and Anna interrupted me saying, "Mama, there is a dog on that building!" So my wonderfully-observant 5-year old daughter gave me the idea to create books for young children about architecture.

NBM Online: What was the inspiration behind your latest book, Building Stories?

Isabel Hill: For many years I worked as an urban planner in an old industrial neighborhood in New York. I walked by a building with spectacular, yellow, terra-cotta pencils on the outside and just had to find out why they were there. I researched the building and discovered that it was the Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory, famous for making those yellow, Number Two pencils that were used for generations all across America. Fast forward to two years ago: as I began to brainstorm about a second children’s book on architecture, the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Building came to mind and inspired the book.

NBM Online: In Building Stories you look at the details of a building as being the characters, plot, and setting of a story. Have you always thought of buildings in this way?

Isabel Hill: No, this was a new concept for me but I think it works extremely well. Buildings do have stories and, when you think about it, what goes on inside can be mysterious as well as educational. Sometimes a building can have many plots and characters depending on what goes on inside and who is involved with the building.

NBM Online: What advice do you have for the young readers who enjoy your books?

Isabel Hill: I am so excited about these books and want them to be the catalyst for walking around one’s own neighborhood and observing all the interesting architecture that surrounds us. My advice would be to go out, walk the streets, take the books as your guides, but find your own architectural treasures. Photograph them, draw them, write about them, and share what you find with other children and adults.

NBM Online: What advice do you have for parents of budding architects?

Isabel Hill: I think it’s great for parents to read the books out loud, to help their children tackle some of the harder words, and to ask their children what they see in the books that relates to what they see in their own neighborhoods.

NBM Online: As an architectural photographer, what is your favorite city to photograph?

Isabel Hill: I must admit I love the city I now call home—New York—because it is so vast and has so many different kinds of buildings, architectural styles, and fantastic details. But Washington, D.C. is the place I used to call home, and I have a huge affection for the beautiful choreography of scale, material, and ornament that characterizes that city. Many years ago I worked in the Pension Building, now the National Building Museum’s home, for a part of the National Park Service that documents historic, industrial sites throughout the country. I loved working in this incredibly beautiful building where the architecture was alive with meaning and power! The National Building Museum, with its descriptive ornamental frieze, is actually a perfect place to start “reading a building.”

Language arts, rhyme, vocabulary, appreciating history, neighborhood awareness, photographs, perspective, visual discrimination, informative text, social studies

ISBN 978-1-59572-279-9
40 pages, 10"x8"
All Ages
Hardback, $17.95
Paperback, $7.95
This title is available in:

To Purchase:, or your local book store