When it starts to rain, a little boy leaves his friends to go indoors and spend some quiet time with his blocks. During the course of a gray afternoon he builds castles and palaces, temples and docks. As the block city grows, the boy imagines that his city is real, and that he is the emperor of his imaginary world. Eventually he tires of his creation and knocks it all down. When the sun comes out, the boy goes back outside to play with his friends, and finds that the real world has been colored by his fantasy play.
Block City was originally part of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Child’s Garden of Verses. In this new version, Daniel Kirk brings playtime building fantasies to life with vivid colors and bold design. Budding architects and builders will love to see what a little boy with a lot of blocks and even more imagination can create.
Reviews of Block City
Review from School Library Journal
PreSchool-Grade 1–This colorfully illustrated version of Stevenson’s poem is as relevant today as when it was written for A Child’s Garden of Verses in 1883. On a rainy day, a small boy constructs a city with building blocks. His imagination soars and his creation soon includes a harbor, mill, palace, and kirk (the illustrator helpfully defines the word kirk on the verso of the title page). The couch becomes a mountain range and the carpet an ocean, while a collection of toy people populate his vast domain. Done in colored pencils and gouache in rich, deep colors, the large, clear pictures have a retro feel. The boy’s real and imagined towns are both blanketed by dark rain clouds that soon give way to sun and bright blue skies. Demolition appears to be as satisfying as the building process for this youngster: Now I have done with it,/down let it go!/All in a moment/the town is laid low. Having had enough quiet entertainment for one day, he runs out into the sunshine to join friends, but his imaginary world remains clear in his mind. This enduring poem will charm modern children.–Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI
Review from Children’s Literature – Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Stevenson’s poem opens up the world of possibilities for a child with imagination and a large set of blocks. As the rain pours down outside, Kirk invites us to explore with a young boy the wondrous construction that takes him on the adventure the poet describes. The nostalgia of the author’s memory of “my town by the sea” can be felt by the adult reader, but the sense of power in the building and even the destruction is clear to all. Using Prismacolor pencils and gouache paints, Kirk slickly fills his spreads with inventive but believable block constructions and peoples them with wooden dolls. The lucky young boy with the buckets of blocks gives scale to and personalizes the creations. But it is the care with which the blocks are rendered, and the town, city, palace, etc. are designed that draw us into his artistic processes. The visual story ends with the end of the rain and friends calling to come out to play, as the words reminisce about the past. 2005, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Ages 3 to 6.
Review from Kirkus Reviews
Echoing Ashley Wolff’s 1988 approach to Stevenson’s poetic tribute to the power of imagination, Kirk begins with neatly drawn scenes of a child in a playroom, assembling large wooden blocks into, “A kirk and a mill and a palace beside, / And a harbor as well where my vessels may ride.” All of these acquire grand architectural details and toy-like inhabitants as the pages turn, until at last the narrator declares, “Now I have done with it, down let it go!” In a final twist, the young city-builder is shown running outside, into a well-kept residential neighborhood in which all the houses except his have been transformed into piles of blocks. It’s a poem that every child should have an opportunity to know. (Picture book/poetry. 5-7)
Daniel Kirk speaks about Block City:
I always loved playing with blocks, tinker toys and Lincoln Logs when I was little, and I always wished that I had as many blocks as I needed to build my grandest designs! So it was a pleasure to paint the world of a boy who has the resources to build anything his imagination can create.
While I was making the illustrations for this book, I imagined Robert Louis Stevenson was looking over my shoulder, marveling at the way an artist in the 21st century was interpreting his poem.
I spent a lot of time working with my editor over how the end of the book should look. At first I thought that it should end with the boy seeing his fantasy block city fading away in the distant clouds. Eventually, however, we decided to show the boy’s actual neighborhood turning into a version of Block City, except on a massive scale!
Things to think about and do, after you have read Block City:
1. Sometimes it is as much fun to knock a block tower down as it was to build it. Why do you think it is fun to knock down your blocks after you have made something you really like? Is it the noise, or the way the blocks fall, or how it makes you feel for a moment like you are a powerful giant? If you had enough blocks, would you leave all of your creations standing forever?
2. Try building a miniature town with your blocks. How many buildings can you make? What part of your imaginary city is your favorite? The houses where pretend people live? The castle? The school building? The candy shop? What part of a real town would you choose to leave out of your block city? What parts are important to include? If you could have all the blocks you ever wanted, what would they be like?