Monday, May 10, 2010

When a book is more than just a story...

We are closing in on Memorial Day weekend, to be followed by a glorious two and a half months off from school for my boys. (Not that I'm counting or anything. Talk to me at the end of August. I'm sure I'll be just as eager for them to go back.) I don't know about you, but for us that means the season of car and/or plane trips is about to begin. We have a summer beach trip planned, a second possible Disneyland/Southern California trip (to celebrate a family member's birthday) and we always take a few trips down to visit family and friends a few hours away. All of these trips add up to a lot of time in the car (not to mention a lot of time away from our usual stable of toys and games). We of course bring lots of books along to keep the boys entertained. They always select a few picture books and our current read aloud to bring along, but I also make sure our bags our well stocked with "puzzle" books, search and finds and other books that offer interactive elements that keep kids engaged and entertained. In other words, books that are more than just a story

(Some books from our personal collection.)

I have loosely grouped these interactive books into a few categories (some overlap): search and finds, maze books, puzzle books and counting books.

Search and Find Books

Oh, you know which books I'm talking about. Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick's "I Spy" series is a good, popular example of a search and find. If you are unfamiliar with these books, each double page spread contains a photo collage packed with tiny items. The accompanying poem, or riddle, lists objects in the picture that the reader must find. Even without the riddles, the pictures alone keep my kids occupied as they look at all of the tiny objects packed into the pictures.

The "Look and Find" series (populated by licensed characters such as Disney Princesses and Thomas and Friends) by Publications International is similar in concept but the visual clues make these a better choice for pre-readers if an adult isn't able to read clues aloud.

(Below is a comparison between an I Spy book and a Look and Find book. The I Spy book uses textual clues while the Look and Find series employs picture clues.)

Martin Handford's "Where's Waldo" books and Walter Wick's "Can You See What I See?" series fall into this category, as does Counting Colors, a book my four year old and I enjoyed on a four hour plane ride when he was almost two years old. It kept him occupied for a good chunk of time and even now he enjoys looking at it. This book introduces colors and counting in a search and find format:

Seek and Find Counting Colors: Seek & Find


SteamPotVille, by Steve Ouch, is a new addition to this genre. It combines photography and digital illustrations to create a whimsical world in which nothing is quite as it seems. The sheer amount of stuff to look at is, at first, mind boggling. When the story is finished readers are invited to find various animals throughout the book's pages. I will be posting a more in-depth review of this title, along with a book giveaway, on Friday of this week (5/14).

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go (Giant Little Golden Book)

Finally, I must mention Richard Scarry's classic Cars and Trucks and Things That Goa family favorite. While it is an actual (loooooong) story about the Pig Family as they take a day trip to the beach, it is also a very early example of a search and find. The thing most people remember about this book is that it is the one with Goldbug. The character makes an appearance on every page of this book, but it's not always easy to spot him. It's fun to search for Goldbug as the story is read, but the dozens of whimsical vehicles (pencil car, pickle car, etc.) and other details on each page also hold young children's interest. I originally purchased our copy for my older son when he was two years old and I needed something to occupy him while I was nursing his younger brother. The pages full of vehicles (and Goldbug!) did the job. My kids are now six and four and this is still a treasured favorite. (If you purchase this book for your child on my recommendation, feel free to thank me. If you purchase this book for your child and quickly tire of reading it out loud, remember I warned you: it's looooooong.)

Maze Books

My kids love mazes. My six year old has always had a knack for them and my four year old enjoys them as well. There are, of course, lots of maze activity books on the market (Kumon workbooks are a favorite brand). But there are also a few beautifully illustrated picture books out that, rather than pencil mazes, are finger mazes.

Mazeways: A to ZAmazement Park: 12 Wild Mazes

Roxie Munro's Mazeways: A to Z and Amazement Park are two of these maze books. What I enjoy about her books is that they are all distinctly different enough that each book provides a different puzzle solving experience. In Mazeways: A to Z readers follow a set of directions to complete 26 different mazes, each in the shape of a different letter of the alphabet. When finished the book asks readers to find hidden objects within the maze. (For instance in the 'Q' maze--for quarry--readers are invited to find 2 cranes, 2 dump trucks, a steam shovel, 3 ladders, 2 entrance ramps and a gray trailer.)

Amazement Park features two mazes on each page, with each spread depicting a different attraction in an amusement park. You can choose to follow the easier track (train tracks) or the harder track (other attractions like rollercoasters or park paths). Each track connects to the following page and when you reach the end you are able to go back through the book backwards to work the mazes from the end to the beginning. This book also incorporates search and find elements: there are pictures repeated on each page (balloons, ice cream stand, class on a field trip) that must be found.

How do I know these books hold kids' attention? Because I had them sitting on my desk as in preparation for this post and my kids, who had not yet seen them (I had planned to pull them out after homework was done), took them, went off into separate corners, and were not seen for quite some time.

Follow the Line

I don't know if I would call Laura Ljungvist's Follow the Line a maze book, per se, but it certainly fits into the category better than any of the other categories I've outlined. In Follow the Line and its sequels (Follow the Line Through the House--which I actually prefer over the original--and Follow the Line Around the World) pictures are created by an unbroken line that the reader can follow with his finger, from page to page. I personally like the mod quality of the illustrations. My kids like the novelty of being able to follow the line all over the place and seeing how one line can create such detailed pictures. Each spread also brings in search and find and counting elements. Someday, perhaps during the summer when we have more time, I'd like to work with my kids to make our own "follow the line" books.

"Puzzle" Books

I'm using the term "puzzle" to define books that have riddles or brain teasers, or ask the reader to complete a task. Brian Wildsmith's Puzzles is a beautifully illustrated example of this type of book. Each page has an illustration with an accompanying question or riddle for young readers to solve. My only criticism of this book is that it is too short; just as my boys were really getting into solving the puzzles it came to an end. Unfortunately, this one is out of print but if you can find it at your local library or a used book store it is well worth it.

A more recent book with a similar concept is Who's Hiding? by Satoru Onishi Each spread features the same lineup of animals, but some of them appear differently from page to page. Some may wear a different facial expression, or face a different direction--it's up to the reader to figure out which one(s). On other pages the reader may be asked to point out all the animals that share a similar characteristic (horns, color, etc.). It's simple but great for young children who may not be ready for more challenging brain teasers. I love the bright illustrations.

Counting Books
Richard Scarry's Best Counting Book Ever / El mejor libro para contar de Richard Scarry

These are books that have helped my kids learn to count. (Yes, we do own the bilingual edition of the Scarry book.) The nice thing about Richard Scarry's Best Counting Book Ever and Jacqueline Rogers' Kindergarten Count to 100 is that they have lots of things for kids to count and introduce numbers up to 100. Not all kids will be ready for these books at the same time but the counting and repetition does reinforce concepts of counting. Ten Little Ladybugs is another family favorite. Geared toward toddlers and young preschoolers, it introduces numbers one through ten and counting backwards from ten. The raised ladybugs are perfect counting manipulatives for young children and the sturdy, durable pages are just right for toddler hands.

Ten Little Ladybugs

This post is long enough as it is without a recipe to make it longer. Tomorrow I will post the recipe that goes along with these books. (Any guesses? Remember, the theme I'm working around is travel.) I've only just scratched the surface here with my personal recommendations for books that do double duty as both stories and activity books. (Honestly, I feel like there could be an entire blog devoted to just this topic.) What are your favorites that I may have missed?

*The majority of the books featured in this post are from our personal collection or were borrowed from our county library. Mazeways: A to Z and Amazement Park were provided for review by the publisher, Sterling. SteamPotVille was provided for review by the publisher, Running Press. 
**As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn a small commission (at no additional charge to you) if you make a purchase via the linked titles in this post or my Amazon search box.


Paula (Belgium) said...

We had endless fun with the I Spy Book. I think we still have it!

Many thanks for your comment in my blog on neat Zen rooms. You know, combining 'I Spy' & 'de-cluttered rooms', maybe an 'I Spy' game will serve well as a playful way of getting kids tidy up their rooms. :-)

Jays said...

Love all the suggestions. I think I will order a few.

Mary Ann Dames - Reading, Writing, and Recipes said...

"Cars and Trucks and Things that Go" was a favorite around here years ago. When my son left for college, I made him sit with me so I could read it to him again. "Where's Goldbug?"