Colleen Paeff's debut is quite pleasant, despite the fact that she's writing about something best described as noxious: "No matter what you call it--feces, stool, discharge, dung, number two, or excrement," Paeff chronicles London's poop pollution problem and the innovative engineer who devised the city's sewer system, Joseph Bazalgette. Accompanying Paeff's playful historical narrative are Nancy Carpenter's hilariously apt illustrations, presenting this nose-wrinkling moment in London's history. Together author and illustrator make a revolting topic utterly enticing.
Paeff takes readers through the early 19th century in London: population growth, the cholera outbreaks and the birth of Bazalgette. She progresses swiftly to mid-century, highlighting the events that lead to Bazalgette's new sewer system and evidence of its effect on cholera. Paeff's pacing is gripping and readers will eagerly await the fate of the engineering marvel, as well as that of the Londoners who can't safely breathe the air. Carpenter (A Letter to My Teacher) uses watercolor and ink to depict in lively images the drama of the "Great Stink": a man swimming in a poop-filled river, Queen Victoria rushing away from the foul waterway, Bazalgette's enthusiasm for his solution. Carpenter's shift in color scheme from before Bazalgette's sewers to after conveys a sense of relief for both city and readers.
This delightful picture book with a malodorous subject concludes with information on the current state of water pollution and ways the audience can help to make a difference in their daily lives. The Great Stink is a surprisingly sweet traipse through history. --Jen Forbus, freelancer