Category Archives: I spy

Travel by Book!

By Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Take your family on a trip into a wintery wonderland in Jan Brett’s magical children’s stories. Travel by book through her snowy landscapes that depict arctic animals in their winter white fur or in Scandinavia with mischievous trolls hiding among the snow-covered evergreens.

Brett’s illustrations are detailed watercolors that she creates after researching and sometimes visiting faraway places like Russia or Switzerland. Many of her books are reworked traditional folk tales such as “The Mitten,” “The Three Snow Bears,” and “The Gingerbread Baby.” All of her books are delightful and a feast for the eyes.

Brett began illustrating children’s books in 1978 and started writing and illustrating her own books in 1985. Brett lives just south of Boston, MA, but studies the remote locations of each of her stories so she can include authentic costumes and realistic animals and plants of the area. Each page has images of the story surrounded by a border made of artifacts and other cultural details, including cameo portraits of characters in ovals.

If your children are fascinated with “I spy” games, they will want to look at Brett’s illustrations over and over again. A little know fact is that because Brett’s favorite animal is a hedgehog, she includes a hedgehog in almost every one of her books, even if it’s not quite the right climate. Keep a lookout for the little animal as you are enjoying her stories.

Brett has more than a dozen books with winter settings and another handful specifically about Christmas. Unfortunately she has no books of other winter holidays, but does have many more retellings of classic tales such as “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “Cinderella,” and “The Hat.” She also has one story set in India, “The Tale of the Tiger Slippers,” one in Africa, “The Three Little Dassies,” and “The Umbrella,” set in Costa Rica.

Jan Brett’s latest book is entitled “Cozy.” Following the progressive story line of “The Mitten,” Cozy the Musk-Ox offers a warm and snug place to one Alaskan animal after another until there are more animals than could possibly fit under Cozy’s long, thick fur. Readers will learn about polar animals, their habitats, and behaviors as they see the fantastical story unfold. Combining realism with the magical notion that animals can talk to each other makes an endearing and memorable story.

For a listing of Jan Brett’s books, videos showing her illustration techniques, a wealth of activities, and even a card generator that uses her artwork to create cards you can print out, visit her website:

Family Reading Partnership is a community coalition that has joined forces to promote family reading. For information visit You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.

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Take a Look in Picture Books!

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

How is a “p” different from a “q” and a “b” not the same as a “d”? The little details that make letters different from one another require good observation skills that children develop with practice. Noticing differences and similarities also helps when learning to draw, read, study the natural world, and learn a new sport. Details matter! Slow down and just look. You and your child will see a new world.

It’s easy to use picture books to help your child develop observation skills. Most children’s books have little details in the illustrations that may tell even more about the story than the words. The next time you read together notice what is the same and different in the pictures from one page to the next. Are there objects or actions not mentioned in the story that you find? It’s a fun game to play.

Use any of your favorite picture books or try some of these and play the “same and different” game.

“Birds,” by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Simple, playful text describes how birds are many colors, shapes, and sizes. Compare them all. Then in some “what if”” scenarios we see how with some imagination birds can paint colors across the sky with their tails and a tree-full of crows can fly away in a rowdy surprise.

“Little Cloud,” written and illustrated by Eric Carle. A picture book for the very young child. See Little Cloud as he changes from one shape to another before becoming part of a big rain cloud. After reading, look at real clouds in the sky with your child and see if any look like familiar objects.

“Flotsam,” by David Wiesner. This is a wordless picture book, so all you can do is look and see what has changed in each illustration! The pictures reveal the story of a boy at the beach finding an underwater camera washed up on the shore. When he develops the film, he can’t believe what he sees. There are many details to discover on each page.

“The Snail and the Whale,” by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Charming illustrations and rhyming text together tell the story of a great adventure. Seagulls, a cat, and many little snails are supporting characters in the pictures at the start of the story, but are replaced by penguins and seals at the north pole and then parrots and crabs in tropical islands. Each place the snail and whale travel around the world is a new place depicted in detail. Is the cat in the beginning the same cat at the end? Take a look.

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I Spy… Books for Looking, Finding, and Talking About

1001MonsterThings“I spy, with my little eye…” lots of books for looking, finding, and talking about! Some children’s books tell a story, others don’t have a story at all but encourage play. These are “I spy” books that ask the reader to find hidden objects in the pictures.

Even though there is no story, these visual puzzles give your child the opportunity to notice subtle similarities and differences between objects and to develop vocabulary by describing what he or she finds in the pictures.

The book may have clues about what to find and where to look, or you can just scan the pictures and find things on your own. Point out the details that make each object unique. This is a good skill to have later when your child is trying to see how the letter “b” is different than the letter “d.”

As you look at the pictures talk about what you discover. This will develop positional and directional vocabulary, words and phrases such as “above,” “behind,” “beside,” and “at the top.” Depending on the book, your child can also practice numbers, colors, and words that compare one to another like “bigger/smaller” “shorter/taller,” and “darker/lighter.”

Many “I spy” books come in a series by the author or publisher, so you can find for instance one book with items on a farm and books in the same format with images of things in a store or at school. Here are a few to try out at home:

Tana Hoban has a multitude of books for very young children that feature her photographs of everyday life. Most of her books have very few words and some have no words at all. Her book “Is it Red? Is it Yellow? Is it Blue?” has just colored dots on each page to show what colors to find. Also fun for playing “I spy” are her books “Exactly the Opposite,” “Shapes, Shapes, Shapes,” and “Colors Everywhere.”

“1001 Monster Things to Spot” is one in a series published by Usborne Books, written by Gillian Doherty, and illustrated by Teri Gower. The detailed drawings each have a list of things to find with the amount of each on the page. In the “Monster Things” book you are asked on one page to find “7 lumber busters, 9 scuffle bumps, and 5 pocket trolls.” There are also books about finding 1001 things on a farm, in fairyland, on vacation, and many more.

Scholastic has a series of books with photographs by Walter Wick and riddles by Jean Marzollo so you can play “I Spy Animals,” and at school, in the fun house, at Christmas, and more.

“Follow the Line to School” by Laura Ljungkvist is a different kind of “I spy” book that asks the reader to follow a line through the book that winds its way in and out of rooms. Collage illustrations in one book depict rooms in a school, and in another book, rooms in a house. Each page has questions about “How many can you find? Do you see…?”

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