The Great Stink – Perfect Picture Book Friday

What we have here today, for your perusing pleasure, is history at its smelliest—a fascinating story that leads me to think more about the stench that emanates from San Francisco’s storm drains every summer. But I digress. Let’s head to London.

From its water-borne disease vector endpapers to its funny and macabre illustrations, The Great Stink will grab kids by the eyeballs and earbuds and not let them go until they’ve reached its satisfying conclusion, a London with a sewer system that doesn’t make everyone sick.

Just look at how this illustration makes the problem VISUAL. It adds such a visceral element to the text, as only images can.

Text ©️Colleen Paeff Illustrations ©️Nancy Carpenter

You know what’s being thrown out those windows. You know what they’re stepping in. You know what all this must smell like. You KNOW. And it only gets worse as people die in waves from cholera, a disease that everyone mistakenly thought was transmitted through the air.

Nancy Carpenter has created some amazing split spreads that show what a “higgledy-piggledy mess” London’s waste removal system was,

Text ©️Colleen Paeff Illustrations ©️Nancy Carpenter

one that shows Joseph Bazalgette with plans to get at the root of the problem,

Text ©️Colleen Paeff Illustrations ©️Nancy Carpenter

and a stylized vertical spread that shows how they tunneled through the streets and under buildings in London to build the new system. You’ll have to check out the book to see that one!

It’s a visual feast matched with some truly scrumptious text:

No matter how you describe it—

smelly, foul, fetid, rank, putrid, bad, or reeking—

in the summer of 1858, London’s River Thames STANK.

What created such a revolting smell?

No matter what you call it—feces, stool, discharge,

dung, number two, or excrement—

the answer is gross. The river

was full of poop.

Everyone should read this book. It’s fabulous!


Check out these hands on activities provided by the author.

Pair with Smelly Kelly and His Super Senses by Beth Anderson. Discuss how these two men used their talents to fix problems in their cities.

Read the back matter in the book, and do one of the activities suggested there, such as making a rain garden, planting trees, getting your class to take a tour of a sewage treatment plant, and finding others who want to do similar projects.

Title: The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem

Author: Colleen Paeff

Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry, Simon & Schuster, 2021

Ages: Elementary School+

Themes: sewage, London history, water-borne diseases, plumbing, STEM, water pollution

For many more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

14 thoughts on “The Great Stink – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    What a great story about human behavior. Kids will have fun with this story, but will also learn about how people lived. They didn’t realize they were causing disease. The same thing happened in NYC — remember reading a MG book. Love the title and cover! Will be checking this one out.

  2. FictionFan says:

    It was lucky that the Houses of Parliament were built on the Thames so they couldn’t fail to be aware of the Great Stink, and were strongly motivated to deal with it! Perhaps we should learn that lesson for climate change and stick all the politicians on an island about to be overwhelmed by rising sea levels, and tell them we won’t take them off till they deal with the crisis!

  3. Colleen Paeff says:

    Thank you, Jilanne! I don’t know if I missed this when it first came out or if I saw it and then promptly forgot all about it (more likely). Derp! I’m so glad you enjoyed The Great Stink and I really appreciate you spreading the word about it to your readers.

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