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The Picture Book Buzz

Night in the City - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

There are some books that make you wonder, "how was this not done before?" This is one of those books! Unless a relative works the night shift, or someone needs medical or fire assistance, few people and likely even fewer kids, think about all the people who keep our cities functioning. This amazing book highlights many of the people who start their jobs as kids snuggle off to sleep.

Cover image of book

Night in the City

Author/Illustrator: Julie Downing

Publisher: Neal Porter Books (2023)

Ages: 4-8



Night-time jobs, city at night, and community.


An ingenious account of the jobs people do all through the night, when kids are fast asleep.

In Night in the City, author and illustrator Julie Downing cleverly uses multiple panels to follow eight people throughout the course of their busy evening, from waking up just as most people are contemplating bedtime, through the following morning.

The jobs depicted are nurse, baker, taxi driver, fire fighter, on location film tech, janitor, museum security guard, and emergency dispatcher.

Together, their stories bring the beating heart of a city to life, making for a book sure to have kids pouring over meticulously designed pages, following the exploits of our lead characters over the course of a single ordinary evening.

Opening lines:

When it is night in the city and

your day is almost done,

some people are just waking up.

What I LOVED about this book:

I love it when the endpapers, encapsulate the story. Julie Downing offers us a visual treat in her end pages as the book moves from sunset to sunrise.

Left - front endpage of city skyline at twilight. Right - back endpage of same image in the morning.

Text & Image © Julie Downing, 2023.

The opening spread is wonderful; the soft peach glow of the sky darkening with a tantalizing image of the moon beginning to shine in the sky and the warm light inside the apartments. Using a set of panels, Julie ingeniously introduces us to nine individuals preparing for the night jobs - a nurse, baker, taxi driver, movie location tech, 911 operator, museum security guard, firefighter, hotel manager, and museum janitor. And then gives us a sweet peek into their windows as they kiss their kids and pets goodnight.

Internal image of  a nurse, baker, taxi driver, movie location tech, 911 operator, museum security guard, firefighter, hotel manager, and museum janitor getting ready to work the nightshift..

Text & Image © Julie Downing, 2023.

Switching to the blue and black tones of the city at night, with yellow silhouetted windows, the book offers a transportation collage of numerous ways to commute to work. I love how the main cast of characters are in color and the rest of the commuters are in shades of blue and grey. Except for the dog in a limo - an illustration foreshadowing of an adventurous pooch kids can follow throughout the book. Then, unless they work outside, or in a darkened museum (where the lights are off), the characters are featured in yellow vignettes. If you want to see the stunning image of the janitor (aka Julie Downing) dusting a T-rex nose in the museum, be sure to check out Julie's interview (here).

There are so many intricate details in these awesome illustrations and the sparse text encourages the reader to stop and "read" the images, too, as Julie Downing masterfully weaves a few of the stories together. Such as the connection of the taxi driver, the nurse, and an expecting new family seen earlier in a window. To keep the child reader personally engaged, in addition to the second-person text, the book ties the child's moments of getting up to use the bathroom and returning to sleep with moments in the worker's night.

I adore this culminating image of the nine main characters (+ dog) and many other city inhabitants working through the night - construction workers, doctor, and artist. I also love the whimsy of the museum guard making shadow shapes, a cat burglar, and the dog riding in the taxi.

Internal spread - cutaway image of many people working in city buildings at night.

Text & Image © Julie Downing, 2023.

it's busy in the city. All night long,

people are awake. They keep the

city safe and clean. Together,

they make the city work.

The final images beautifully wrap up the night shift, subtly connecting the characters and shifting the position of light as the child wakes. This is a stunning and endearing look at many of the people who work the nightshift in a city.


- draw or make a collage of your house, city, yard, or favorite spot during the day and the same image during the night. [Use the end pages as inspiration.]

- can you think of a job that is done during the day and also at night (like a bus driver)? What do you think the differences are between these shifts? Can you draw a picture or write a description of these differences?

- check the Night in the City activity sheets.

- pair this with Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo.

If you missed the interview with Julie Downing on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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