The Next Chapter

Susan Hughes on illustrating the life of city champion Jane Jacobs in a way kids can appreciate

Susan Hughes speaks to Shelagh Rogers about writing a children's book about a real-life urban hero.
Susan Hughes is an author of children's books. (Kids Can Press/Kenneth Logue)

Susan Hughes is an award-winning writer of more than 25 children's books. Her latest picture book, Walking in the City with Jane, is a fictionalized look at the life of the late Toronto-based urbanist and activist who was an active champion for community-based approaches to city building.

The living city

"I grew up in Toronto but I didn't know much about Jane Jacobs. Her observation was that cities are an ecosystem; cities are made of complexity and chaos, brought together in a way that supported and nurtured a healthy vibrant active life.

"She thought of cities as living, which is such a great and interesting concept. I did some research and thought she'd be perfect for kids because she encapsulates so many of the attributes and the character traits that kids would respond to."

The world outside our window

"She was brilliant. She wasn't college educated, but she dove in and looked firsthand, in a very scientific way, at the world around her. She found connections, looked for patterns, arrived at conclusions. She came up with dynamic original ideas about neighbourhoods and cities that have influenced people and cities around the world."

Susan Hughes's comments have been edited for length and clarity.