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Can You Hear the City Sing?

A small child, sometimes on foot and sometimes in a stroller, enjoys the sounds/sights of the city on an outing to a park with a caregiver.

Photo of Orel Protopopescu

Written by

(Caregiver/ reader emphasizes repetitive lines with rhythmic gestures and steps throughout this story. Illustrations show a small child, sometimes on foot and sometimes in a stroller, enjoying an outing with an adult, both of them observing or engaging in all activities. At any point in the story, a verse can be sung aloud, to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, most effectively on the last three verses, as a lullaby.)


Bye, bye rain!                                    

You see the sun? 

Let’s go out

and have some fun.    


Can you hear                                   

the city sing? 

Car horns honk.

Church bells ring.


Stroller wheels go                   

bump, bump, bump! 

Kids play hopscotch—

jump, jump, jump! 


Sirens cry  

and red lights flash.

Stones in puddles                                

splash, splash, splash.


Cars and bikes say

whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

Muddy boots go

squoosh, squoosh, squoosh.                 


Can you see

a bird or two? 

Hear the pigeons

coo, coo, coo? 


Birds have two wings—

Flap, flap, flap!

You have two hands—

Clap, clap, clap!


Try it once more         

on my lap.

One hand, two hands—

Clap, clap, clap!


Screech! I’m stopping!

says the bus.   

Here’s a seat 

just right for us.


See the trees?                                      

We’re at the park.     

One dog, two dogs—

Bark, bark, bark!


Treetops whisper

in the breeze.

Squeaky swings reach  

for the trees.                                        


Jump ropes slap 

and bats go crack! 

Folks on cell phones

yackety, yak! 


Hear the music?  

What’s that song?

Want to sing

and dance along?


You have two feet—

Tap, tap, tap.

You have two hands—

Clap, clap, clap.


Try it once more

on my lap.

One hand, two hands—

Clap, clap, clap!


Tummy rumbling? 

Want a treat? 

Something fruity?

Mmm… It’s sweet!         


Getting tired?

Please don’t cry!

We’ll sing until  

the bus comes by.


Baby birds sleep

in their nest

and we’re going 

home to rest.                                       


I will rock you   

on my lap.

One kiss, two hugs—                         

Time to nap.


                                                              Word Count: 243 

                                            (not including preliminary instructions)


Describe the intended vision for your early childhood book manuscript in 1-2 sentences

I picture a richly illustrated picture book which will make child and caregiver appreciate the sounds of the city and the possibilities it offers them for playful interaction. The words (sung to a familiar tune) make use of repetition to enhance learning and vocabulary building.

Share your suggested book title

Can You Hear the City Sing?

PLEASE USE THE VERSION OF THIS QUESTION AT THE TOP OF THE SUBMISSION FORM: Share a draft of your manuscript (250 word limit, not including title).

Not sure where this fits, but here's a post about some of my recent work with urban children. As a member of PEN, I went to New Orleans in 2016 as a volunteer to conduct poetry workshops with children in the flood-ravaged ninth ward, then partially rebuilt. It was the tenth year of PEN writers in that school:

How has this book been informed by early childhood language development research and evidence? (response minimum 250 Characters)

I experienced the value of early childhood language development from birth. My mother was a third grade teacher in an inner city school in Jamaica, Queens, and a reading specialist who taught other teachers. Her students routinely performed above grade level after a year in her classroom. She taught me to read well before kindergarten and I did the same with my daughters. I am a firm believer in talking as teaching. As a longtime member of Bank Street Writers Lab and SCBWI, I've shared my books in many schools. My text for the Book Challenge uses repetition, rhyme and physical action to reinforce language learning. Frequent questions invite the child to respond. Repetition of the numbers one and two make the child aware of quantity and bodily symmetry ("two feet, two hands, two wings"), reinforced by the tapping of feet and the clapping of hands. Finally, the repetition of "on my lap" reinforces the emotional closeness of child and caregiver. A loved child is eager to learn.

Please describe any familiarity you may have with Philadelphia and its residents? (optional question)

When I was young, I wrote and produced a slide/film show on Philadelphia, using historical documents, for Silvermine films, NYC. My work was shown at regular intervals at the old Wanamaker's Dept. store during the bicentennial celebrations in 1976 and I spent a lot of time doing research in the city for that production. I also have friends who live there and have explored a great deal of the city on my many visits.

How have you crafted this manuscript to resonate with and/or reflect the experiences of those living in urban contexts? (optional question)

All the images in my story are taken from an urban context and what I know of Philadelphia, its streets, parks and transportation system. The book is designed to make young children aware of the joys of listening, observing and interacting with the lively city around them. Some sounds I include that are more prevalent in Philadelphia than other cities: church bells. I am not an illustrator, but hope that the artist chosen to illustrate the book will localize the story in ways I cannot in such a brief text. In addition to building vocabulary by using repetition and rhyme, I want to strengthen the child/caregiver connection through the book's depictions of pleasurable, shared activities.

Location: Country


Location: State or Department

New York

Location: City

My primary residence is Miller Place, New York (Long Island), but I have lived in New York City, Hempstead, New York (the diverse community where I grew up), Paris, France, and am currently a part-time resident of New York City. I adore city life, am a graduate of Queens College, CUNY, and have long been a fan of all forms of dance and music, especially jazz, as is evident in my last published picture book, entitled Thelonious Mouse (FSG).

Website URL (optional question)

Tell us more about you / your team

I have worked in teams all my life, most recently on a poetry app called A Word's a Bird, produced in France. I wrote the text and created the storyboards with the artist, Jeanne B. de Sainte Marie. To learn more about the app (chosen by School Library Journal as one of the ten best of 2013) open this link and look at embedded images and a video on the app's creation: Members of my adult writing group on Long Island, as well as children's groups I belong to on the island and in NYC (SCBWI, LICWI and Bank Street Writers Lab), gave me valuable feedback on this manuscript throughout the writing process. A prime source of inspiration for Can You Hear the City Sing? is Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing." I occasionally teach at the Whitman Birthplace in Huntington, Long Island.

Provide an example visual identity for a look and feel you might like to achieve. ( (optional question, 3-5 visuals)

Kadir Nelson would be my dream illustrator. The look and charm of his illustrations for Tonya and Spike Lee's book, "Please Baby Please," is my ideal. I found the photo of the mural on a free site online. It was taken in Philadelphia and shows a male caregiver (perhaps a relative) with a young child. I imagine the protagonists in my story passing street art like this. I hope the illustrator of my story will be inspired by this example.

Multiple Choice - Have you been previously published (online, self-published, and print included)?

  • Yes

If yes, please list titles and publications.

Poetry in journals & anthologies, plus these books: Since Lulu Learned the Cancan (Simon & Schuster, 1991) The Perilous Pit (Simon & Schuster, 1993) A Thousand Peaks, Poems from China (Pacific View Press, 2002) Metaphors & Similes You Can Eat, And 12 More Poetry Writing Lessons (Scholastic, 2003) Two Sticks (Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2007) Thelonious Mouse (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2011) What Remains (poetry chapbook, Finishing Line Press, 2011) A Word's a Bird (poetry app for kids, 2013)

Do you have an agent?

  • Yes

How did you hear about the Challenge? (optional question)

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)
  • Bank Street Writers Lab member

What best describes you? (optional question)

  • I am/we are creatives, writers, or artists
  • I have taught poetry and creative writing as a visiting author in schools for decades.

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Photo of Orel Protopopescu

Thanks for your kind comments, Sheila. I enjoyed yours too. Good luck to you!

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