In “Down by the Barn” by Will Hillenbrand, a dog happily drives a clunky blue tractor around a farm. Hitched to the tractor are two wagons, which the dog uses to collect a scarecrow and an array of baby farm animals. When the wagons are packed full of critters, the dog makes a stop at a school bus full of excited children. The story ends on a sweet note, with the scarecrow reading a book aloud, sharing a story with all of the children and animals.
The text is simple and contains repetitive phrases (Puff puff, clank, clank, moo, moo, and OFF WE GO!), adding new sounds to the end of each phrase as baby animals hop into the wagon. “Down By the Barn” is bursting with cheery art and onomatopoeic text that begs to be orated by all, making it a wonderful read aloud.
The Building Block nominee “Bear Sees Colors” by Karma Wilson allows readers accompany Bear and Mouse on a beautiful stroll through the forest. Along the way they visit their furry friends and discover some of the dazzling colors that nature has to offer. The vivid and charming illustrations practically burst from the pages, and the look-and-find aspect encourages children to thoroughly examine the book to find the colors Bear and Mouse are focusing on.
Have you ever taken a song and added your own words? Jane Cabrera does this with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” As her characters row down the stream, they spot a variety of animals, each making a noise. Have your child make the noise, too. Animal noises are a fun way to practice sounds. This is an early literacy skill—something that lays a foundation for reading readiness.
Children love to move. You and your child could sit on the floor, bottoms of your feet touching the bottoms of his feet. Hold hands and gently pull back and forth as you “row” and sing the song.
Your child could act out the story by pretending that a box or a laundry basket is a boat. Does she have some stuffed animals she could set beside the “boat” and tell her own story? This activity helps with narrative skills and reading comprehension.
Look Out! There is a crocodile eating the letters in this book! We have to make him stop. Oh, dear, now he’s trying to escape from the book!
You and your child, as listener and reader, are part of the story. Not only are books like this fun but they improve a child’s early literacy skills. A child who is actively engaged with a story will probably have a good understanding of the story (comprehension skills), is likely to be able to tell you the story later (narrative skills) and will want to read more books (print motivation). These are important skills to have before a child is ready to learn to read.
Recently I have found several books that I feel are as much for adults as for children. One such book is a recent addition to the collection called “Battle Bunny” by Jon Scieszka. This is the (heavily edited) story of a young rabbit on his birthday. Countless are the stories about a young person who feels forgotten on his birthday, only to be surprised with a party thrown by his friends. We’ve been there, done that. At the outset, “Battle Bunny” is such a story. However, with the help of an additional author/illustrator, only known as Alex, the story takes a drastic turn. Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny and receives special powers, which he will use to put his evil plan into action!
What I love about this book is how it looks. Each page has been altered to look as if a young mind has taken the story into his own hands and not only changed the text, but also added to the illustrations with his number two pencil. You can still see the original text and illustrations, so reading both versions is possible. In my opinion, the story of Battle Bunny is more exciting than that of Birthday Bunny. Check out this clever book and see if you agree!