• Dr. Elisabeth Paige

The Resolution of London's Big Stink: Interview with Colleen Paeff



Colleen Paeff: Author of “The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem”




“No matter how you describe it—smelly, foul, fetid, rank, putrid, bad or reeking—in the summer of 1858, London’s River Thames STANK. What created such a revolting smell? No matter what you call it—feces, stool, discharge, dung, number two, or excrement—the answer is gross. The river was full of poop.”


So begins Colleen Paeff’s debut award winning children’s book about London’s first modern (for its time) sewer system. In this conversation with Dr. Elisabeth Paige, Colleen talks at length about this book, what led to the idea to write it and the research process behind writing it.


The book begins in 1500 with the first type of sewer system (created for rainwater, as opposed to human waste) which worked for hundreds of years. But eventually, with the growing population, London outgrew this system.


In 1819, Joseph Bazalgette is born. By 1832, 6,536 people have died in London of cholera because of the poop in the water and Joseph reaches the age of 13.



By 1852, Joseph is the chief engineer in charge of London’s


sewers. In 1858, after several plans for his new sewer system have been rejected, The Great Stink has taken over London along with cholera epidemic and Parliament allows him to begin building his soon to be successful sewer system.



The book continues until modern days when Colleen talks about poop pollution today. The book is a little engineering, a little history and a lot of fun.


The nonfiction book market for kids has been selling really well, more so than in the past demonstrating that kids enjoy nonfiction books as well as fiction.


Colleen’s first children’s story was one about a pet lizard she had who jumped onto his father’s face which never got published. But she did get a few adult magazine articles published and wrote a column in her local newspaper. When her daughter moved out of the house, she started solely trying to get children’s books written and published.


Her next book, coming out from Chronicle Books in 2024 is going to be “Rainbow Trucks” about a Pakistani decorated truck making its way through Pakistan trying to figure out what its true purpose is. Her co-author, Hini Abidi, is Pakistani-American.


Along with talking about her own books, Colleen explains layering in picture books as well as different kinds of backmatter.


Collen is super interesting as you would expect from her debut children’s book and her upcoming book.


You can learn more about Colleen on Elisabeth’s podcast: Mindful, Happy Kids-https://www.buzzsprout.com/1012396



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