The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem by Colleen Paeff and Nancy Carpenter

Hello, Colleen Paeff! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! I learned a GREAT DEAL about poop pollution, London’s poop problem, and Joseph Bazalgette while reading The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem. When did you know you wanted to write this wonderful book about poop?

Colleen Paeff: As soon as I heard there was an event called “The Great Stink!” When I discovered the poop connection and the fact that the hero of the story was an engineer, I thought for sure there would already be a children’s book about it. Luckily, I was wrong.

I love it! 

Please share three of your favorite facts about Joseph Bazalgette.

Colleen Paeff: Joseph’s predecessor, the guy originally in charge of building the sewers, died from overwork––and Joseph still took the job.

Joseph truly had the people’s best interests at heart. He thought the extra land created above the largest sewer pipes should be beautiful open spaces for all Londoners to enjoy. The prime minister disagreed, but Joseph fought hard––and he won. Today we know those spaces as the Victoria, Albert, and Chelsea Embankments.

Joseph didn’t let popular opinion sway him from ideas he believed were right. He wanted to use a new type of cement that got stronger when exposed to water. But it had a reputation for being unreliable. Instead of giving up on the idea (which nearly everyone wanted him to do) Joseph had his assistants test every single batch of cement for strength. If one sample failed the test, the entire batch was sent back to the manufacturer. The tests must have worked because Joseph’s sewers are still being used more than 150 years later!

Scenario: Imagine you’re booktalking The Great Stink to 300 third graders. What do you tell them about it?

Colleen Paeff: Imagine the stench if everything that went into your entire town’s toilets ended up in the closest river. Now, imagine a heatwave baking the contents of that river into a smell so foul, everyone thought it was going to kill them—then people actually started dying! That’s what was happening in London when Engineer Joseph Bazalgette saved the city by building London’s first modern sewer system. This book tells the story of how the river got so smelly, how Joseph fixed it, and how you can keep rivers and oceans from suffering the same stinky fate.

Please finish the following sentence starters: 

Nancy Carpenter's illustrations are the perfect combination of irreverent humor, historical fact, and fun. Plus, the way she handles the cholera epidemic is pure genius.

Picture books are underrated by most adults. Where else can you get museum-worthy art that fits in your lap, paired with wonderful stories you can read in the time it takes to brew a coffee, wrapped up in one gorgeous package the library will loan you for free?

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my research process! I was lucky enough to be living in London just after I got the idea for this book, and I visited Bazalgette’s Crossness Pumping Station. Once I saw the beautiful interior, the enormous rotating beam engines, and the ingenious way the city’s sewage was pumped into a poop-filled reservoir, I was hooked. After that, my fascination far outweighed any squeamishness I felt about the contents of the sewers.

Thank you, Colleen! 

Look for The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London's Poop Pollution Problem on August 31, 2021. 

Margaret K. McElderry Books’ Description:

Something is in the air.

In the summer of 1858, London’s River Thames STINKS. What is creating this revolting smell? The answer is gross: the river is full of poop. But the smell isn’t the worst problem. Every few years, cholera breaks out, and thousands of people die. Could there be a connection between the foul water and the deadly disease?

One engineer dreams of making London a cleaner, healthier place. His name is Joseph Bazalgette. His grand plan to create a new sewer system to clean the river is an engineering marvel. And his sewers will save lives. Nothing stinky about that.

With tips for how to prevent pollution today, this fascinating look at science, history, and what one person can do to create change will impress and astound readers who want to help make their planet a cleaner, happier place to live.

Colleen Paeff is a former preschool teacher and bookseller. Her passion for picture books is rivalled only by her love of research––especially when primary resources are involved. She is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021) and Rainbow Truck with co-author Hina Abidi, illustrated by Saffa Khan (Chronicle Books, 2023). Reach out to her on Twitter and Instagram @ColleenPaeff or via her website at

Nancy Carpenter is the celebrated illustrator of more than forty books for children. Her unique multimedia approach to illustration has garnered numerous honors, including two Christopher Awards and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award. Ms. Carpenter lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family and dog.


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