Teaching Kids What Books Are For

Sometimes a book catches your eye right away and you can tell from the cover it’s going to be a fun read. Other times, it’s the most inconspicuous book that you happen to pick up out of mild curiosity, not expecting much, that turns out to be a real gem. This is one of those books.

The Wonderful BookThe Wonderful Book by Leonid Gore

First impression: Oh great, another children’s picture book with a cute bear on the cover. Yawn!

But believe me, this one is definitely worth picking up. It had my storytime group giggling from start to finish, and at the end, one little boy blurted, “Read it again!” As any literacy educator knows, finding books that appeal to boys is quite often a challenge, so I took this as high praise indeed.

I decided to make a complete fool of myself when introducing this book. I pulled it out of my storytime treasure box and said, “Oh look! It’s a pillow!” As I pretended to go to sleep with my head on the book, the group erupted in giggles. Grumpily, I knocked on the cover and complained about the hardness of my “pillow”. The kids (in vain) tried to tell me, no, no, that’s not what a book is for!

I proceeded to try a few other silly things with the book, like using it as an umbrella in the rain or a chair to sit on, but each time, the kids insisted that I was mistaken. Finally, I asked them to please tell me what to do with the book. Never before has a group of kids demanded with such passion that I read them a story!

Ok, so maybe the fact that I built it up so much helped… a lot. The kids were highly amused by the animals in the story—from the bear who uses a book as a hat to the mice who use it as a dining table—who were just as confused about books as their crazy storytime teacher.

While there are other books that promote reading in a positive way (and they certainly have their place), this one emphasizes the joy of reading by showing what a book is NOT for. That’s what sets it apart and makes it so funny to preschoolers, who delight in such silliness.

Pete the Cat free audio download

“Can we read Pete the Cat again? Please?!”

Be prepared: Kids will beg you to read this book again and again after you read it to them once. It’s a highly requested storytime favourite in at least one library I know.

Children will love singing along with Pete the Cat as he delights in his ever-changing shoes—whatever colour they happen to be at the moment. We can all learn a simple but valuable lesson from this unflappable feline: No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song!

You can download the song and story for free here, so if you ever do get tired of reading the book, your kids can still listen to it over and over again to their hearts’ content. Thanks, Harper Collins!

Read-aloud favourites

I recently used these three picture books for my Play and Pretend Storytime at the library. (Age group: 3 to 6 years.) They’re all loosely related along the themes of imagination and animals, but mostly I picked them because they had new, shiny covers and were fun to read!

Mathilda and the Orange Balloon
by Randall de Sève

I used a sheep puppet to introduce this story. I told the kids her name was Mathilda and she had brought something special to show them, but it was hidden in my bag and they would have to guess what it was. Mathilda the puppet then “whispered” clues in my ear: 1) It was round. 2) It was kind of big, but not heavy. 3) It was orange. They loved this guessing game. The special thing Mathilda wanted to show them was, of course, an orange balloon.

The story has wonderful images, although not much of a plot. Still, who can resist the charm of a cute little sheep who wants to pretend she is an orange balloon? It’s an enjoyable, light-hearted read that encourages kids to use their imaginations and dream because “anything is possible!”

Children Make Terrible Pets
by Peter Brown

I love how this book defies expectations. The picture on the cover says it all: Lucy the bear holding her sweet, lovable human pet. It’s all backwards! The kids and I also loved how the humans kept making funny squeaking noises throughout the book. I let them chime in on those parts.

A good song to go along with this is Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around:

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, show your shoe.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, that will do!

Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark
by Deborah Diesen

The illustrations in this one are great. For some reason, the characters remind me of Fraggle Rock (ah, fond memories from my own childhood!). Anyway, what makes this a perfect read-aloud story is the bouncing rhythm, as well as the elements of rhyme and repetition. It’s what literacy educators call a predictable book; like a song with a chorus that repeats between verses, the story has a “refrain” that kids can quickly learn by heart and read out loud along with the teacher. In terms of helping children learn to read, this is a bonus feature!

My favourite part is when the fish swim to the deepest, darkest part of the ocean. The pages are almost black, but you can faintly see the fishy characters peeking through the darkness. What great work on the part of the illustrator, Dan Hanna. While many may not admit it, I think most children can relate to being afraid of the dark, which makes the book’s messages about courage and friends sticking together through thick and thin highly relevant to young readers.