In A Curious Garden, (2009) by Peter Brown, a young boy named Liam unwittingly changes a "very dreary" city into a green utopia by exploring an abandoned elevated railway track and turning it into a garden.
He was wandering around the old railway, as he did from time to time, when he stumbled upon a dark stairwell leading up to the tracks. The railway had stopped working ages ago. And since Liam had always wanted to explore the tracks, there was only one thing for the curious boy to do. Liam ran up the stairs, pushed open the door, and stepped out onto the railway.Inspired greatly by NYC's High Line, The Curious Garden encourages children to explore, to do, and to enjoy the great outdoors. I plan on reading this book to Charlotte until she understands its messages. The illustrations are quite wonderful, including the old dreary "before" scenes.
Up Above & Down Below (2006) by Sue Redding is a book that my nineteen month-old will have to grow into, as she doesn't yet understand that there is something "below" every visible "above" world. Many above/below scenarios are illustrated (in a fresh, modern way), in both the man-made (city streets/subway platform; theater stage/under the stage) and natural (the Arctic/water below the ice; jungle/ground) environments. I hope to see the look on Charlotte's face as she finally understands the under/above concept, and I hope that it doesn't involve monsters underneath her bed.
The most frequent type of children's urban exploration book would have to be "animals-in-architecture" genre, as I've found two of these books so far. Architecture ANIMALS (1995) by Michael J. Crosbie and Steve Rosenthal is a board book with photos and accompanying poems for animals depicted in architecture country-wide. For example, The Owl Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico is photographed, and its accompanying poem reads:
Who lives in the desert/In company most fowl/Who watches in neon/Who indeed, this horned owl.
An elephant, duck, swan, stork, squirrel, and walruses are among the other found animals.
Urban Animals (2009) by Isabel Hill differentiates itself by featuring sites only in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Two photos for each site are included, one showing the the animal on the building's facade and then a close-up of the depicted animal. The poetic text itself also provides context:
Over an entrance they shimmer and glow, art deco seahorses stand in a row.
Even if you're "stuck" inside with your dear child, you can share a sense of exploration. Until, of course, they're old enough to go on a physical exploration with you to some of these sites or others.