Encourage Creativity with Children’s Books

Creating artwork is one of those things that some adults find easy and others won’t even try to do! Young children, however, don’t judge themselves as harshly as grown-ups, and usually are eager to dive head first into painting, drawing, cutting, and gluing. The process of working with different media and putting colors and materials together is rich with learning experiences and even more important than what the creation looks like in the end. The drawing, painting, or collage they bring home from school is a reminder to your children of how much fun it was to make their art piece.

As children get older they create art with more intention. Children learn to use the real world and their imaginations for inspiration. Because artwork is unique to each person, children can find self-confidence in creating one-of-a-kind pieces with support and encouragement from the adults in their lives.

To encourage your child’s creativity, read some of these children’s books together and then follow-up your read-aloud by doing an open-ended art project:

“The Pencil” by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman. A pencil starts by drawing a line that becomes a boy, a dog, a bicycle, more characters, and a story. A paintbrush joins in to add color. What happens when the pencil wants to change a few things? He draws an eraser for himself of course!

“the dot” by Peter H. Reynolds. A girl believes she can’t draw, but her art teacher encourages her to start with a dot. From there, she finds her confidence, and passes on the feeling to a friend. 

“Ms. McCaw Learns to Draw” by Kaethe Zemach. Ms. McCaw seems to know everything about math and science, history and spelling. But, one thing she can’t do is draw. Dudley Ellington, a student in Ms. McCaw’s class, doesn’t do well with traditional studies at school, but loves to draw. A friendship is formed as the student teaches the teacher.

“When a Line Bends… a Shape Begins” by Rhonda Growler Greene, illustrated by James Kaczman. Lines turn into many brightly colored shapes that become animals, people, and action! Young children will have fun looking for triangles, squares, circles, and more while listening to the rhyming text.

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Back to School Books Ease the Transition

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

We expect a lot of our young children. After the huge tasks of learning to walk and talk we expect them to learn to share and be civil in public! Going to school may be the first time a child’s communication and negotiating skills are put to the test. This is the beginning of learning how talk about feelings. Children start to realize that other people have other points of view, and they must learn to compromise. As adults, we know how important these skills are for successful relationships at home and at work.

Additionally, your child is learning to be independent. This may cause some anxiety at first, for both the parent and the child. It’s a big world out there! Your child will be comforted by the predictability of being home after a day at school. Talk about school and what to expect. Be a good listener and hug with abundance. Your child is growing up!

Try some of these books to help ease the transition to pre-school or kindergarten and provide a way to talk about feelings.

“Kindergarten Countdown” by Anna Jane Hays, illustrated by Linda Davick. This book can be read over and over even after the first day of school. The author counts from seven down to zero, names the days of the week, and weaves in the alphabet and colors as a child waits for school to begin. The rhyming text is happy, playful, and bouncy. Illustrations are clean edged, computer generated images with big areas of solid colors and patterns.

“Don’t Go!” written and illustrated by Jan Breskin Zalben. Daniel is a bit tearful as he waves good-bye to his mother on the first day of school, but he has so much fun during the day that he forgets to be sad. This is a realistic look at separation with ideas interspersed in the story about how to make the transition easier. The illustrations of animal characters at school give many opportunities to talk about your own child’s pre-school experience. A Pumpkin Vanilla-Chip Cookie recipe included.

“Chicken Chickens Go to School” by Valeri Gorbachev. With illustrations reminiscent of Richard Scarry, the author/illustrator uses animal characters to tell a story about the first day of school for two little chickens. They try to make friends all day, but feel that they are being ignored and are discouraged until their fellow students pull together to help the chicks cross a stream at recess. This is a heartwarming story and introduction to school.

“Off to Kindergarten” by Tony Johnson, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. A boy gathers all the things he will need for kindergarten, like his stuffed bear, some cookies, a toy truck, his swing and sandbox… and more and more. He realizes he’ll need a moving truck to get all the items to school, until his mother tells him that all he needs to bring to school is himself!

“This is Our House” by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Bob Graham. As a natural part of their emotional development, young children are self-centered. Remember the “Mine! Mine!” phase? This story is all about learning the difficult task (for a pre-schooler) of sharing. George makes a house out of a box at pre-school and learns to share it with all his classmates.

“The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. Young Chester raccoon is worried about leaving home to go to school. Mama raccoon gives her son a very special gift to keep him feeling loved the entire school day.

The “Miss Bindergarten” series of books is about–you guessed it, kindergarten! Miss Bindergarten is a Border Collie who teaches a class of animals from A to Z. These are wonderful books for a 5 year old, with so many things to look at. As the children in the class drop things, spill, hug, cry and laugh, Miss Bindergarten remains unflappable.

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Laugh It Up!

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Humor can help create friendships, make difficult situations easier, and can make children beg for more books. Humor can work wonders! A lot of humor is based on portraying a skewed view of a normal situation. Children age 3 to 4 and up can start appreciating how something should be, and then the funny alternative way it is described in words and pictures.

What if animals took over a farm for the farmer? What if cows could type? What if you knew a woman named Mrs. Submarine or a housefly that danced? Characters changing places and play on words make stories silly and encourage creative thinking.

Laugh it up with these funny books:

“Buggy Riddles” by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, pictures by Simms Taback. This is a book of riddle just right for a young child. Q: How do you start a lightning bug race? A: On your mark! Get set! Glow! and Q: What does a fruit fly do in a cornfield? A: goes in one ear and out the other! Look for the many other riddle books by these two authors.

“Rainy Morning” by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater. One rainy morning a husband and wife are having hot, corn muffins for breakfast. “Would you like another breakfast, dear?” Mrs. Submarine asks her husband. “I’ve had two breakfasts already,” Mr. Submarine says. “But it is raining very hard. I will have one more breakfast, please, but just a small one.” From there, you won’t believe who joins them for a muffin!

“Cows in the Kitchen” by June Crebbin, illustrated by Katharine McEwen. Pigs in the pantry? Ducks in the dishes? Hens on the hat stand? Silly, silly, pre-school silliness!

“Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type,” written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. A Caldecott Award winner for its bold and whimsical illustrations, this book is reportedly humorous to even two year-olds. Cows can’t type! Cows don’t use electric blankets! Look closely at the illustrations for some surprises.

“Quiet Night” by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by John Manders. A cumulative story that starts with one very large mouthed frog croaking “Ba-rum!” and ends with ten campers yawning on a now noisy night. The exaggerated illustrations are even funnier than the noises.

“Quick! Turn the Page!” By James Stevenson. An interactive story that will tickle your child’s funny bone. This may become your new favorite family book!

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Summertime Reading with Your Children

by Katrina Morse, for Family Reading Partnership

Pieces of chalk and a driveway, a cardboard box in the grass, flour and sugar in the kitchen, or a stick on a sandy beach–children only need common, everyPiece of Chalkday items, a long summer day, and your encouragement, to have fun. Jumpstart their imaginations by reading children’s books about picnics, swimming, berry picking, exploring and other summer activities, and then do them! You’ll be making children’s books “come alive” and giving your child the connection between new words and what they mean, while creating colorful childhood memories.

Did you ever make drawings, hopscotch games, or start lines for races with chalk on the sidewalk or driveway when you were young? Give your children the same experience. With a few colored sticks of chalk a child can draw all day. The next rain will wash away the chalk to make a blank slate for another time. “A Piece of Chalk” by Jennifer Ericsson, illustrations by Michelle Shapiro, follows a little girl as she creates a chalk drawing the width of her driveway. The book names many colors and playfully relates the colors to the objects in the girl’s yard.

Beach DayAre you going to spend some time at the ocean while the weather is warm? Read “Beach Day” by Karen Roosa, illustrated by Maggie Smith, and learn about the simple pleasures provided by a shovel and a pail. If you are staying closer to home and visiting a lake, compare the animals and activities in this book to the experience at the lake. What is the same; what is different? Younger children will have fun with the rhyming text.

“One, two, three. Ready or not, here I come!” Hide and seek has been a favorite game of children for generations. The book “Gotcha, Louie!” by H.M. Ehrlich, illustrated by Emily Bolam, is a simple book about a small boy and his family playing hide and seek on vacation. Who will find Louie in the tall grass?

Yum! Homemade cake! “What’s Cookin’?” by Nancy Coffelt is a counting and baking book. On each turn of the page there is a “knock, knock, knock,” and someone else comes into the kitchen with another ingredient to add to the mixing bowl. The delightful illustrations continue onto pages at the back of the book that give ideas of activities to do while baking and a recipe for “Cousin Alice’s Easy Layer Cake” and “Quick Chocolate Frosting.”

Secret hiding places, magic houses, and even entire pretend towns are part of childhood. “Roxaboxen” by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, is about a special place called Roxaboxen that comes to life with the imagination of the children in this Arizona landscape. With little, white stones, wooden crates, and items found in the sand, the children create streets and houses. When the children grow up, they come back and find the traces of Roxaboxen still there.

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Make Your Home a Book Home

Do you live in a Book Home? Is your home filled with a love of reading, listening to stories, and playing with words and sounds? Are books a part of every day? Does your child have a favorite book and a favorite time to hear books read aloud?

Before children are ready to read, they need lots of “lap time” – time sitting with a grown-up or older child listening to books read aloud. They also need time to look at books on their own, to be comfortable holding a book and turning pages, exploring at their own pace.

Children discover that there is a story inside each book, and pictures too! They learn new words and ideas, excitement and adventure, comfort and delight! Just listening to books, without knowing how to read themselves, children learn how to express themselves in words, how to think creatively and critically, how to ask questions and, children develop a longer attention span.

With all that goodness packed in children’s books, you’ll want to make your home into a Book Home – if it isn’t already!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Own some children’s books, but also borrow from the library or pick up used books at yard sales or a Bright Red Bookshelf, if your community has that program.
  • Have books within reach of children. For baby, put board books in a basket on the floor next to the toys. For pre-schoolers, make sure books are on lower shelves where children can get them.
  • Stand some books up on a table or in the bookcase so their front cover is facing out and they are more noticeable.
  • Take photos of your child enjoying a book and put that picture on the refrigerator, in a photo album or in a picture frame.
  • Give books as gifts for special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
  • Let your children see you reading books, magazines, letters and emails.
  • Play with words! Sing nursery rhymes, say tongue twisters, make up silly word combinations with your child.
  • Talk to your child about the books you read together. Talk to your child about what you do together. Children learn words by hearing them and using them.
  • Do things with your child that you read about in children’s storybooks, like baking cookies, visiting a park, going for a walk. Relate the books you read to real life.
  • Read to your child every day!

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Read to Your Baby!

Read to a newborn baby? YES! It may seem too early, but reading to an infant is the beginning of a lifetime of your child loving books and establishes a reading routine for your family. A baby doesn’t understand the words you read, but he or she feels safe in your loving arms, hearing the familiar sound of your voice, and receiving your undivided attention.

Read anything! In the earliest days of infancy, you can read anything to your baby. The sound of your voice is what is important, not the content of what you are reading. Sing-songy, rhyming text will grab your baby’s attention. Of course, if your baby isn’t in the mood to listen and is fussy, try again later. When a baby is older and more aware of what is around him and can hold objects, he’s ready for children’s books that relate to his world and introduce words and concepts in a fun way.

Start collecting books for your home library, even before your baby is born. Board books are a great type of book to start with because their cardboard construction makes them sturdy enough to stand up to a baby holding them, dropping them, turning the pages, and even chewing on them. You can buy board books at your favorite bookstore, or choose free, “gently-used” board books from a Bright Red Bookshelf  in your neighborhood. Sign up for a library card especially for your baby and start checking out board books from your neighborhood library.

Look for books that have lots of rhythm and rhyme and pictures that show recognizable objects and faces of people. You’ll want to avoid board books with too much text or ones where the pictures are too small. This happens when a larger format book for older children is printed into a board book. Your favorite childhood book may look cute as a small board book, but your baby will lose interest if the book wasn’t meant for a young child.

Keep it fun! When reading to your baby, you may not want to read all the words in the book, or even look at all the pages. Looking at the pictures, asking questions or pointing things out is another way to share books with your child. Most important is to enjoy your time together!

Fifteen Favorite Board Books for Baby (Use this list for your own family and for gift ideas for the next baby shower you attend!)

  • “Hug” by Jez Alborough
  • “Ten, Nine, Eight” by Molly Bang
  • “Snoozers” by Sandra Boynton
  • “Tumble Bumble” by Felicia Bond
  • “Freight Train” by Donald Crews
  • “Color Farm” by Lois Ehlert
  • “Eyes, Nose, Fingers, and Toes” by Judy Hindley
  • “Counting Kisses” by Karen Katz
  • “Peek-a-Boo” by Roberta Grobel Intrater
  • “Ten Little Fingers,” Annie Kubler
  • “Chicka Chicka ABC” by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
  • “I Spy Little Animals” by Jean Marzollo
  • “Guess How Much I Love You?” by Sam McBratney
  • “Say Goodnight” by Helen Oxenbury
  • “Have You Seen My Duckling?” by Nancy Tafuri

Books for Grown-Ups about Reading Aloud

  • “Baby Read-Aloud Basics” by Caroline Blakemore and Barbara Ramirez
  • “Great Books for Babies and Toddlers: More Than 500 Recommended Books for Your Child’s First Three Years” by Kathleen Odean
  • “Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos: A Guide to Choosing and Loving Books Together” by Susan Straub and KJ Dell’Antonia

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Bring Books to Life by Connecting to Activities

Bring books to life for your child! Read a book, then experience what you read by connecting the story to the real world. By extending the book to include the sights, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes of real life, the written word and flat pictures in a book become a multidimensional and memorable experience.

You could read a book about food, such as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” by Judi Barrett or “Dragons Love Tacos” by Adam Rubin and then eat some spaghetti or make your own tacos. Read the book while you sample the food and the story will become an event that your child won’t forget.

You could read “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Mo Willems and then take a real bus ride; or read “Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type” by Doreen Cronin and then type and send a real letter or email to someone your child knows. (Grandma will love getting a personal note from her grandchild.)

A great way to teach your child about music is to read books about music and instruments and then listen to the real thing. There are many free and low cost concerts in your community and at schools that your child may enjoy. Make sure to point out the instruments that you have read about and listen to how each sounds. Stay at a live performance only as long as your child is interested, so that this introduction to music is a pleasant experience for everyone.

Some children’s books about music that will make you tap your toes:

  • “Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin” by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, introduces ten instruments in an orchestra, in rhyming text with illustrations that curve with the rhythm of the music. 
  • “The Bat Boy and his Violin” by Gavin Curtis, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is an endearing story about a young African American boy who would rather play violin than be the bat boy for his father’s baseball team. The boy’s expert music making ends up helping the team overcome a losing streak, and helps win over his dad’s heart. Striking watercolor illustrations are based on extensive research of the time period.
  • “Moose Music” by Sue Porter. When Moose finds a violin and bow in a mud puddle in the woods, he finds out that the rusty strings produce an ear-splitting screech that no animal in the woods can tolerate… except for a lady moose who has a raspy, howling voice. Children will laugh at this pair.
  • “This Jazz Man” by Karen Ehrhardt, illustrated by R.G. Roth. The bouncy text of this book is based on the childhood tune, “This Old Man” and the illustrations are lively collage. The book begins with: “This Jazz Man, he plays one. He plays rhythm with his thumb. With a snap, snap, snazzy-snap, give the man a hand, this jazz man scats with the band.” The book ends with brief histories of nine jazz musicians from the thirties and forties.

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