Kids lit that looks beyond white picket fences

Jackie Burns, who is writing a series of books about kids who live in condos, makes the case for condos to appear in children's literature. She says there's nothing out there for kids who have grown up in apartments and high-rises, rather than single-family homes.
Toronto-based writer Jackie Burns says children's books should also reflect the lives of children who live in high-rises. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Whenever Jackie Burns went to the bookstore to look for a children's story featuring characters that live in highrises, she always came up empty.

The Toronto-based writer was looking for a story that was relatable for her two children, who she is raising in a condo building.

Writer Jackie Burns noticed an absence of children's books that tell the story of urban kids living in condos or apartment buildings. (provided)

So she decided to create her own.

Her book The Condo Kids: Adventures with Bob the Barbary Sheep draws inspiration from the highrise upbringing of her own nine and six-year-old boys.

"They started having these great adventures with my neighbours in the condo, and I thought, 'You know what, I really should get on this children's book, because this is a topic that hasn't been explored in children's books and I think it's a great setting.'

"I knew that it was a niche that was waiting to be filled."

It is important that children who live in highrises have their experiences reflected in the books available for them to read, Burns says.

Children are increasingly growing up in highrises, but the idea that kids should grow up in a house, ideally with a backyard, continues to persist, she says.

For some reason it's this idea of a white picket fence and the kids run down the street to play with their friends or they have these adventures in the backyard, but that's not the reality for many kids. It's important to have kids books that portray families in all kinds of living situations.- Jackie Burns

Burns had previously felt the societal pressure to get a house to raise her kids in, and thought perhaps her children would be missing out if they didn't grow up in a house.

But then she saw how happy her kids were. 

There are about 50 or so children that live in her condo building, and many of them play together — whether that's having play dates in each others' suites, playing in one of the building's games rooms, or kicking a ball around on a stretch of grass next to the building. 

One of the illustrations from the first Condo Kids book, which describes how protagonist Noah sneaks a Barbary sheep home from the zoo and takes it on adventures around the condo building where he lives. (Ana Patankar)

"We don't have our own private backyard like you would in a house … but we do have a backyard that we share with all of their friends, and I think they actually prefer that because there's so much more going on and they always have people to play with."

Burns' book, which is the first in a series of three, appears to have resonated with people who are raising children in apartments, or themselves grew up in highrises. 

She has been contacted by bloggers in Vancouver who want to review her book, and even got an email from someone in Singapore (who told her "they all live and grew up in highrises there and they all turned out fine," Burns laughs).

I've had people email me since I've launched the book to say, 'Thank you for writing this, I had my kids in an apartment or a condo, or I grew up in an apartment or a condo and it's nice to finally see a book that reflects this lifestyle.'- Jackie Burns