Books for Children about Sexuality


A helpful tool for starting conversations about sexuality and sexual health with your child is an age appropriate book. For young children, age 8 and under, they might enjoy having you read the book to them and discuss it. Older children, especially tweens and teens, may not want to talk to you about the book – just put it on the shelf, let them know it’s there, and that you can answer any questions they have about what they read in there.

Other people’s recommended books can be found here:

I checked out many of the recommended books from these sites, and wrote up summaries of the books. I also created a comparison chart to show what topics they address, and tooks notes on details about specific wording they use to describe various concepts, so that you can find the one that best aligns with your values and with what you are ready to teach your child.

For preschool age:

For early elementary:

For upper elementary:

Comparison of Content


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Amazing You: Getting Smart about Your Private Parts by Saltz.

  • Body Parts: Hands, arms… the parts you can see. Vagina, labia, urethra, uterus, ovary. Penis, scrotum, testicles. Illustrations of internal anatomy, and external in both children and adults. Puberty.
  • Privacy and Masturbation: Private parts hide under clothes or underwear. “It’s natural to be curious and private parts and want to touch them. This is something you should do only in private place, like your room.”
  • Conception: “When a man and a woman love each other… a man’s sperm joins with a woman’s egg.”
  • Pregnancy & Birth: “The baby grows inside the mother’s uterus…. Uterus starts to squeeze…. The baby will come out of the mother’s vagina
  • Gender: “If you are a girl, you have [these parts]…  if you are a boy, your penis and testicles will grow as you body gets bigger…”
  • Two page parent guide at the end about how to talk to children about sex.

It’s Not the Stork: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends by Harris.

  • Body Parts: Vagina, penis. Where pee comes out – penis, small opening between girls’ legs. Illustrations label thumb, ankle and so on, plus anus, buttocks, vulva, nipple, scrotum, circumcised penis, uncircumcised penis, clitoris. “X-ray” illustrations show bladder, urethra, vas deferens, testicles, ovaries, Fallopian tubes. Talks about puberty. Eggs, sperm.
  • Privacy & Masturbation: “The parts of our bodies that are under our underpants or bathing suits are called ‘privates.’ If you touch or rub the private parts of your own body because it tickles, or feels good, that’s an ‘okay touch.’”
  • Safe / Unsafe Touch: “Everyday hugs and kisses and touch and holding hands with our families and good friends are ‘okay touches.’ … during a checkup, the reason your doctor has to look at or touch ‘your privates’ is to make sure every part of your body is healthy… If a person touches ‘your privates’ or any other part of your body that you do not want them to, these are all ‘not okay touches.’… tell that person “Stop!”… If any kind of ‘not okay’ touch happens to you, tell a grownup right away.”
  • Conception: “A sperm from a man’s body and an egg from a woman’s body must come together. When grown-ups want to make a baby, most often a woman and a man have a special kind of loving called ‘making love’ or ‘having sex.’ [Illustration shows man and woman embraced under blankets.] Sperm swim from penis into vagina. [Addresses assisted reproduction.]
  • Pregnancy & Birth: Fetal development in detail. Muscles push the baby out through the mommy’s vagina, which stretches… Or doctor makes a cut into the uterus. Covers different kinds of families.
  • Gender: Boys and girls alike in many ways, difference is body parts.

What Makes a Baby by SIlverberg

  • Body Parts: Vagina, uterus, eggs. Sperm. Some bodies have them, some do not. Parts not illustrated, except uterus.
  • Conception: Egg, sperm, uterus – not all bodies have them. “When grown ups want to make a baby they need to get an egg from one body and sperm from another body. They also need a place where the baby can grow.” (This neutral description allows families to then add in any details they choose about what their process was.)
  • Pregnancy & Birth: After fertilization, “sometimes this tiny thing does not grow. And sometimes it grows into a baby.” (Allows parents to discuss history of miscarriage.) “…This usually takes about 40 weeks… Some babies are born by coming out through a part of the body that most people call the vagina. And other times, doctors will make a special opening….”
  • Gender: Completely gender free.

What’s In There: All About You Before You Were Born by Harris

  • Body Parts: Uterus. Penis. Vagina.
  • Conception: Babies begin as one tiny cell; half comes from a woman’s body, half comes from a man’s.
  • Pregnancy & Birth: Babies grow in a woman’s uterus (just below her tummy). Fetal development – how baby grows, where baby gets nutrients, baby can hear. Mommy’s muscles squeeze and push – baby comes out through a stretchy opening between its mommy’s legs, called the vagina. (Or doctor makes a special cut in the uterus.) “All babies are born into or adopted into their family.”
  • Gender: Pictures show a pregnant woman and a man, kids say “Daddy’s on the phone! Our new baby’s been born.” Baby grows a penis for a boy or a vagina for a girl.

What’s the Big Secret by Brown

  • Body Parts: Face, chest, navel… nipple, penis, scrotum, testicles, vulva, clitoris, vagina. Includes illustrations.
  • Privacy & Masturbation: “You may be curious about…. the parts usually covered up by clothes. Just remember everyone’s privacy needs to be respected…. Touching and rubbing your genitals to feel good is called masturbation. Some of us try this and some of us don’t. However, it’s best to do this private kind of touching off by yourself.”
  • Safe / Unsafe Touch: “Whether it’s hugging your parents, wrestling with a friend, or shaking your teacher’s hand, touching brings you closer to someone… If someone doesn’t want to be touched, then respect his or her wishes… If you want a hug you can say so. But no one has the right to touch you in a way that feels wrong or uncomfortable… tell a grown-up.”
  • Conception: “Inside a woman’s body are tiny eggs… a man has even tinier sperm. When a sperm combines with an egg, this now-fertilized egg is the beginning of a new baby. Usually the sperm and egg meet during sexual intercourse, when a man and woman fit his penis inside her vagina. It feels wonderful to share this special closeness when you love someone.”
  • Pregnancy & Birth: Illustrations of baby, umbilical cord, placenta in uterus. Talks some about fetal development. “When a baby is ready to be born, muscles in the mother’s womb start to tighten and relax… in most births, the baby comes out the vagina…”
  • Gender: “Boys and girls wear different clothes. Sometimes but not always… all sorts of toys, games, and activities appeal to both boys and girls…. The only sure way to tell boys and girls apart is by their bodies. If you’re a boy, you have….”

Where Did I Come From? by Mayle

  • Body Parts: Illustration of adult man and adult woman, nude. Woman has two round bumps – some call them bosom, titties, or boobs, the proper name is breasts…. The milk that kept you alive for those first few months either came from a bottle or your mother’s breasts. Hips. Penis, vagina
  • Conception: “Babies are made by grown-ups. One of them has to be a woman, and one a man. The two people who made you were your mother and your father… are lying in bed together… the man loves the woman… they kiss… the man’s penis becomes stiff and hard… the man wants to get as close to the woman as he can, because he’s feeling very loving to her… he lies on top of her and puts his penis inside her, into her vagina. Making love is a very nice feeling for both the man and the woman… it’s a gentle tingly sort of tickle… the parts that tickle most are the man’s penis and the woman’s vagina… the man pushes his penis up and down… something really wonderful happens which puts an end to the tickly feeling and at the same time starts the making of the baby.” Sperm, eggs, etc.
  • Pregnancy & Birth: baby grows in the womb… fetal development… a special kind of stomachache (called labor pains) get closer together… mother pushes the baby out through the opening between her legs.
  • Gender: Stereotypical. Talks about men and women, so doesn’t address some of the things that others touch on about how boys and girls might have similar interests and only body parts are different.

Who Has What: All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies by Harris

  • Body Parts: Head, ear, elbow, belly button… “Between their legs, girls and women have three openings… where pee comes out, an opening to the vagina, and an opening where the poop comes out. Boys… do not have an opening to the vagina.” Penis, scrotum. Shows illustrations of external genitals and internal organs on humans and on dogs. Ovary, uterus, testicles. Touches on breasts and breastfeeding.
  • Privacy: Shows that there are clothed people on the beach, and when it shows genitals, they’re shown on children who are in a changing room getting dressed. Text does not touch on privacy.
  • Pregnancy & Birth: “The uterus is where a baby can grow until it is born.”
  • Gender: “That baby is either a girl baby or a boy baby.” Most things are the same… (interests, activities, most body parts)… but some parts are different… what makes you a boy or a girl… will make you a man or a woman.”

A note about gender. In the chart above, I call something stereotypical if it only talks about men and women in a heterosexual, cisgender context. I say biology if it’s generally fairly diverse (in talking about how boys and girls can do all the same things, or talking about alternate family structures at all) but it still categorically says: what makes a boy a boy is a penis and what makes a girl a girl is a vagina. As modern culture is shifting toward thinking of gender beyond the binary, some of these books may change wording in future editions, but in the meantime, some parents may choose to supplement these books with Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity.

To learn more about having difficult conversations with kids, check out Talking with Children About Sexuality, and Better You than YouTube.

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Just for You – books featuring families of color

Today I stumbled across a series of books called “Just for You!” They are 24 early readers for kindergarten to second grade, all written and illustrated by African-American authors and artists and featuring African-American children, often in urban settings.

I have only read one, which I really liked. (Lights Out by Medearis and Tadgell) Great illustrations, nice rhyme and rhythm to the text, a loving daddy, and a mischievous girl who sneaks out of bed to look at the city lights and make shadow puppets on the wall. So many children’s books feature Caucasian kids in pastoral settings, and the chance for an urban African-American child to see themselves represented in a sweet bedtime book is rare and, I’m sure, appreciated.

The book also includes a note to parents at the beginning about ways to read to your child: take a “picture walk” through the book, point out words as you read, and ask questions. At the end, there are suggested activities related to the story: making up a bedtime rhyme, looking out your own window and describing what you see and hear, making your own shadow hand puppets, and other things to talk about.

The Amazon reviews of other books in the series say they’re a little hit and miss in quality, so you may want to pick and choose from the best of them.

Here’s the full listing of all the books in the series. You can look up details and reviews on Amazon, and get them from your favorite online bookseller or your local library.

Book Series about Simple Machines

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[An updated version of this post can be found at: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2016/10/26/simple-machines-engineering-for-kids/]

There are several series of books about Simple Machines. I got samples from each series, and will write up here my first impressions of each. These are not meant to be in-depth reviews, just snapshots of my opinions. Of course, what book is best depends on your audience and your setting. I am looking for books to read aloud in group time to children age 2.5 to 7. Many of these books that I don’t rate high might be great for a 5 – 7 year old, but I’m trying to find something to appeal to a very wide range.

In this post, I summarize my impressions of the series, based on the books I read (starred). In the attached spreadsheet, I share my specific ratings for the books I read. Here are the four criteria I ranked them on:

  • Pictures: Are they good photos (current, focused, visually appealing) of things that are interesting to kids?
  • Words: Would this be a good read-aloud book for a group of 3 – 6 year olds? Easy to understand and interesting to listen to?
  • Big Idea: Does it get, and adequately convey the key concepts about this simple machine and how it works? (For my summary of what I think those key concepts are, see my Inventors of Tomorrow posts on each of the types of Simple Machines.)
  • Examples: Are there several good examples of the machine that would be interesting to children? (But I don’t want examples of every single way this simple machine can be applied, because sometimes that makes it hard for a young child to remember the big picture.)

Series Name: Amazing Science: Simple Machines. Author: Dahl
Books: Roll, Slope, and Slide*; Scoop, Seesaw, and Raise*; Pull, Lift, and Lower*; Cut, Chop, and Stop; Tires, Spokes, and Sprockets
Review: Engaging pictures and words, though a little high level for us. But I didn’t think the pulley book and inclined plane book did the best job of explaining key concepts.

Series Name: Blastoff Readers: Simple Machines. Author: Manolis
Books: Ramps*; Levers; Pulleys*; Screws; Wedges; Wheels and Axles*
Review: These would be my top choice if I had only 5 – 7 year olds, but they’re a little too long and too sophisticated for my little ones. Brightly colored and engaging pictures. Good diagrams and descriptions of key concepts – very clear. Nice examples

Series Name: Early Reader Science: Simple Machines. Author: Dahl
Books: Ramps and Wedges; Levers; Pulleys; Wheels and Axles*
Review: Pictures OK, but not especially appealing to young ones. Length-wise, it would be OK for circle, but vocabulary a little high level. It gives examples of so many kinds of wheels and axles (steering wheels, gears, sprockets, cranks, cams, etc.) that the basic concept is lost. Does not mention friction.

Series Name: How Toys Work. Author: Smith
Books: Ramps and Wedges*; Levers*; Pulleys*; Screws, Nuts and Bolts*; Wheels and Axles*
Review: I want to love these books. The pictures are great. The language is age appropriate and engaging. There are lots of good examples, all of which are toys and other things that appeal to young children. In some of the books, the big idea is explained well (Pulleys and Screws) But others seem to miss the big idea. (Ramps and Wedges; Wheels and Axles.) I would use these books to engage the younger students, but also want some of the other series to share with the older readers to better explain concept.

Series Name: My World of Science. Author: Randolph
Books: Inclined Planes in my World*; Levers in My World; Pulleys in my World; Wedges in My World*; Wheels and Axles in my World [there doesn’t appear to be a Screws book]
Review: Pictures are fine; words are appropriate level and the book is a good length for circle time, big idea is explained well, and there are lots of examples, but they all tie together in a clear logical way to the same big idea. It ends with asking “can you think of [wedges] you see around you?” Then offers a picture glossary of key words. This is a reliable, useable, but not exciting series.
Note: this series is bilingual English / Spanish. So Wedges in My World is also Cunas en mi mundo. Each page has the text in English first, then Spanish.

Series Name: Simple Machines. Author: Armentrout
Books: Inclined Planes, Levers*, Pulleys*, Screws*, Wedges*, Wheels*
Review: The language level and the length would be fine for 5 – 7 year olds, but too much for our little ones. They also go beyond what we need with our younger age group (level book addresses first, second and third class levers and compound levers.) Pictures are fine, examples are good, but in some books there are so many examples the big idea is lost.

Series Name: Simple Machines. Author: Bodden
Books: Inclined Planes; Levers, Pulleys*, Screws*, Wedges*, Wheels*
Review: They’re pretty books, but photos may be a little artsy for little kids. Words are a little dry. In general concepts are very clear and easy to understand and examples clearly illustrate the ideas. But, I thought the screw book was unclear and jumbled examples together that it wasn’t clear how they related. We used several of these books in our circle times in class, but tried to balance with How Toys Work, which are brighter and more fun.

Series Name: Simple Machines. Author: Tieck
Books: Inclined Planes*, Levers, Pulleys*, Screws*, Wedges, Wheels and Axles
Review: A little long, a little old, and too dry for our purposes. But, I think these are the best descriptions of the big idea. We didn’t read these in circle, but I did have them on the bookshelf for the older kids to check out.

Series Name: Simple Machines to the Rescue. Author: Thales
Books: Inclined Planes to the Rescue*; Levers ttR, Pulleys ttR, Screws ttR*, Wedges ttR, Wheels and Axles ttR
Review: I see these recommended on other people’s sites, but I’m not a fan. The pictures aren’t great, the language is a little advanced. And I just find that they do the weakest job of explaining simple machines concepts. For example, in the screw book, their first example is a lid on a soda bottle, then a spiral staircase, then Archimedes screw, then an olive oil press, and then it talks about things that are held together by screws. Nowhere in there does it really describe what a screw is and what type of work each of these tools has in common.

Series Name: Useful Machines. Author: Oxlade
Books: Ramps and Wedges; Levers; Pulleys; Screws*; Wheels
Review: Good pictures, engaging and easy to understand for 5 – 7 year olds. I have only read the screw book, but I like it a lot. However, I would not use it as the intro to screws. Once kids had a solid grasp of the basics of screws, it does a nice job of giving examples of all the different applications

If you’re teaching about Simple Machines, be sure to check out my Inventors of Tomorrow series… I give examples of lots of hands-on activities you can use with kids 2.5 – 7 to teach these concepts.

Twenty Recommended Parenting Books

Today, I put together a handout on 20 Recommended Parenting Books. Click above for a printable handout, or check out the list below.

Title Author topic
And Baby Makes Three Gottman relationship skills
The Baby Book Sears overview of infant care
Becoming the Parent You Want to Be Davis parenting style
Brain Rules for Baby Medina brain development
Breastfeeding Made Simple Mohrbacher nutrition
Child of Mine Satter nutrition
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting Lansbury parenting (infant/toddler)
Heart Tending: Creating rituals that nurture you and those you love Watson daily routines and rituals
It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules… Shumaker discipline
Last Child in the Woods Louv activities: nature
Mind in the Making Galinski development
The No-Cry Sleep Solution Pantley sleep
No-Drama Discipline Siegel discipline
NurtureShock Bronson & Merryman development
Our Babies, Ourselves Small culture of parenting
Parenting Without Borders Gross-Loh culture of parenting
Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn Simkin, et al pregnancy & birth
Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child Gottman emotional devel
Simplicity Parenting Payne parenting style
Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors Doorley activities: STEM

Growing Up Wild Activity Book

See the source image

Project Wild offers a great resource for educators and parents with children aged 3 – 7. The Growing Up Wild book (order it here) covers 27 themes, including “Oh Deer (a habitat theme)”, “The Deep Blue Sea”, “Who Lives in a Tree”, and “Wildlife is Everywhere.” Each theme includes: several ideas for group activities, and for self-guided exploration stations, recommended books (fiction and non-fiction), songs and movement activities, outdoor exploration ideas, math activities, art projects, snack ideas, links to videos (listed here) and “take home” sheets with ideas for parents to try at home. (See sample theme here.)  Each theme also includes a list of numerical codes for which Head Start Domains and which NAEYC Accreditation Criteria are met by the activities, and warm up and wrap up activities to assess children’s prior knowledge and learning outcomes. (Learn more about the contents of the book here.)

I attended a training where we had the opportunity to try out several of these activities. Some samples:

  • Looking at Leaves. The instructor had collected 25 leaves, and given us each one. She asked us to look at our leaves and memorize them. You could ask children to think about how to describe their leaf: shape, color, texture, and so on. Then we put them all in a pile and mixed them up, then had to find our own. Simple, free, and great for teaching attention to detail, visual discrimination, and short-term memory. Easy to customize to age group, or to start a year with leaves that are very easy to tell apart, and over the course of time, have collections with more subtle differences. After the leaf match, you could take them outdoors to find the plant their leaf came from. You could also do leaf rubbings or leaf prints, then add the leaves to a collage.
  • Spider Web Wonders. Draw a spider, discussing its anatomy (head, abdomen, 8 eyes, 8 legs that attach to the “head”). Children create spiders with a variety of craft or snack materials. The math game is “how many legs”. The teacher holds up a sign saying 0, and asking what creatures have zero legs. After children guesses, turn over the card to show a picture of the answers. (Snake, worm, etc.) Then do 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 14, 30+. A take home at Halloween time could be to check out Halloween decorations, and see how many of them get the spider anatomy wrong.
  • Hiding in Plain Sight. Gather a collection of toy animals (stuffed or plastic). Begin with a matched pair, and hide one in plain sight before the children arrive. Then show them the matching animal animal and see if they can spot the hidden one in the room. Talk about how it was hiding  in plain sight – for example, placed in front of a similar colored item it could blend into, or placed somewhere that’s visually very busy so it could “hide” in the clutter. Explain the basics of camouflage. Next, the teacher or some children “hide” more animals, either in the classroom or outdoors. BUT… they should be told to hide them in plain sight. Then take the other children out to search. Then, build camouflage collages: cut out photos of animals, have the child paste one onto paper, then surround it with tissue paper squares in the colors that would camouflage it. Play “freeze birds”, explaining that even when animals are camouflaged, they give themselves away if they move. The “hawk” closes his eyes while the “bluebirds” play. When you call out freeze, they freeze, and the hawk opens his eyes. If he sees anyone move, they become the hawk.

That’s just a small sampling of ideas. For educators this book could provide a full ready-made nature curriculum for  your class, or could provide lots of ideas you might sample as you build your own curriculum. For parents, there’s plenty of fun and easy ideas in here – you can try out any that seem fun to you.

To learn more about nature play, click on these links “Recommended Daily Allowance of Outdoor Time“, Benefits of Outdoor Play, and Overcoming the Barriers to Outside Play.

Recommended Parenting Books

This list includes 20 great books on parenting kids age birth to five. They are some of my personal favorites, and also include books frequently recommended by my colleagues in the Bellevue College Parent Education program. I have included links to the Amazon description so you can learn more (they’re not affiliate links) – just click on the publication date. If you live on Seattle’s eastside, check out the spreadsheet at the bottom of this post to see what you can check out from the library for free.

Pregnancy and Birth

Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn:The Complete Guide. Simkin et al, 2016. (Fair disclosure: I’m a co-author on this book.)

Breastfeeding and Nutrition for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Breastfeeding Mothers by Mohrbacher and Kendall-Tackett. 2010

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Satter. 2000

Parenting a Newborn or Toddler

Elevating Child Care: A guide to respectful parenting by Lansbury. 2014

The Baby Book: Everything you need to know about baby from birth to age 2. Sears. 2013

Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture shape the way we parent by Small. 2011

Parenting, general

Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years by Davis and Keyser. 1997

Heart Tending: Creating Rituals that nurture you and those you love by Watson. 2014

It’s OK not to share and other renegade rules for raising competent and compassionate kids by Shumaker. 2012

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole Brain Way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing brain by Siegel. 2014

Parenting without Borders: Surprising lessons parents around the world can teach us by Gross-Loh. 2013

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Gottman and Goleman. 2011

Simplicity Parenting: Using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids by Payne. 2009

Child development / Activities that nurture child development and brain growth

Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from zero to five by Medina. 2014

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Louv. 2008

Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every child needs by Galinski. 2010

Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children by Bronson and Merryman. 2009

Tinkerlab: A Hands-On guide for Little Inventors by Doorley. 2014

Relationships (and the impact of children on a relationship)

And Baby Makes Three: the 6 step plan for preserving marital intimacy and re-kindling romance after baby arrives by Gottman. 2007

Sleep

The No-Cry Sleep Solution (or the No-Cry Nap Solution) by Pantley. 2013

Learn more

Here’s an Excel spreadsheet with another 30 great books to consider… Recommended Parenting Books from the Bellevue College Parent Education instructors.

If you find books to be an overwhelming time commitment when caring for little ones, and are looking for short, sweet, little 1 – 4 page summaries of key topics, you can check out my collection of handouts at https://gooddayswithkids.com/for-educators/

Question:

What are your favorite parenting books and why?

Books that Sing

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Nancy Stewart, a local kids’ musician (check out her work and her upcoming show schedule at http://www.nancymusic.com/).

On her Sing with Our Kids website, she has created a song library (http://singwithourkids.com/song-library.htm) which includes lyrics and .mp3 audio recordings of lots of great traditional kid songs. This site is great for everyone, but I imagine this would be an especially useful resource to parents who have moved to the U.S. from other countries, and want to become familiar with those songs that “everybody knows” that always seem to get sung at library story-times and other places families gather. [Note: I also have lots of song lyrics here.]

Nancy Stewart has been doing a lot of work in 2012-13, in partnership with the Mercer Island library and Island Books, to explore benefits of music, and ways in which singing can be used to enhance early learning and literacy skills. She has lots of great information on her Sing with Our Kids website. What I think is especially unique and special is her “bookshelf” page (http://singwithourkids.com/bookshelf.htm)

She has collected lists of recommended books that fit into four categories. Here are the categories, benefits of sharing these types of books with kids, and my personal experience with my almost-three-year-old son Ben. [Note: If you click on the links below, they will take you to Amazon, where you can read details and reviews about the books. You can then get them from your local library. If you decide to buy them from Amazon after clicking on my link, I will get a small portion of the proceeds – this helps support my work here….]

Books Based on Traditional Songs and Books Based on Original Songs. These are picture books which illustrate traditional songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Old MacDonald’s Farm, and The Wheels on the Bus, or original songs like Baby Beluga and Puff, the Magic Dragon. Some books contain ONLY the familiar words, some add additional verses, like a The Bear Went Over the Mountain that adds verses about the five senses and the four seasons. Some add a whole new (and entertaining) twist to a known song, like I Know a Shy Fellow who Swallowed a Cello.

Children get excited when they realize that a book contains words that they already know, and enjoy seeing illustrations that go along with the song – creating beautiful new images that can play in their head anytime they hear that song. These books also help with a key reading skill: “Print awareness” is about noticing print, and understanding how those marks on a page are associated with the sounds that they hear and say. When a book contains the familiar words of a well-known song, and you sing it through while pointing to the words, the association becomes clear.

My son knows the song “Five Little Ducks” very well – we have lots of rubber duckies, so we sing it in the bathtub all the time. (As a side note: this song is a fabulous tool for teaching: counting in reverse, subtraction, and the concept of zero.) We checked out from the library two different book versions of the song, and he loves to “read” them. Because he already knows the words of the song, and he can tell by the pictures what part of the song is represented on each page (4 little ducks came back…) he can flip through the book, telling it himself, which he’s very excited about. And the books divide up the verses on the pages differently, so he’s had to learn two different systems for when to turn the page. It’s really reinforced his awareness of how books work.

Picture Books with a Song in the Story. These are stories where a song is woven into the storyline, and repeats throughout the book. As you read through the story, each time you sing the song, your child will tune in more closely to your reading, and soon start humming along or singing along. Being able to predict what will happen is a very empowering thing for a young child – they rarely know what’s happening next, so there’s great joy in knowing! There are also countless books that feature repetition of a similar phrase, or a refrain that comes up again, such as Jump Frog Jump and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? The repetition and learning of a song or refrain also helps to develop your child’s memory.

One of our family’s favorite books is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. At the beginning of the book, a mother sings a lullaby to her baby, then her baby grows and grows into a challenging toddler, and she sings it again, and again when he’s a child, a teenager, and an adult. We then see him sing the song to his own baby, and then to his dying mother. My son knows the melody and will hum along with it when we read the book, but he prefers the funny parts of the story (like where the toddler flushes things down the toilet!). My girls, who are 16 and 20, still remember the book from their childhood, and could sing the song to you if you asked. Now, they certainly memorized other books from their childhood, but the ones with the repeating refrains are definitely the best early memory builders.

Books with a Beat. While they’re not necessarily songs, some books are written with such a strong rhyme scheme and rhythm, it’s impossible to read them without getting into the sing-songy rhythm. As Nancy Stewart says “Rhythm is the foundation of music and language. [These books] help build a sense of rhythm with lots of repetition of words, phrases, sounds and sentences…. They draw children into the rhythm of oral language.” These help children to recognize rhymes, which can make it easier to grasp word families when starting to read (once you read pig, it’s easy to figure out big, wig, dig). They begin to recognize words when the same word is used repeatedly on a page, which then lays the foundation for figuring out what the other words are that fit around that one. And these books are FUN, which means kids may want to read them over and over again, and easy to memorize.

My family loves Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin. It goes through the alphabet, beginning “A told B and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree. Whee said D to E F G – I’ll beat you to the top of the coconut tree.” The rhythm is infectious, and due to the alphabetical order and the musicality of it, I memorized it after just a few readings with my daughters, and could still repeat it word for word for my son many years later. Ben also loves it and has memorized the whole thing and will recite it word for word. Remember, he’s not yet three years old! He likes to look through the book, and point out each of the letters in the book, which has helped reinforce his knowledge of letters, it’s also helped him with learning alphabetical order. Sometimes he’ll play with his magnet letters on the fridge and work on putting them in order while he says the words of the story. By the way, if you like Chicka Chicka, check out the videos on YouTube. LOTS of people have created a pretty wide variety of videos – some professional looking, some not so much, but most are very enjoyable. But there is one awful one where the narrator seems to have missed the rhythm of the book completely – I don’t know how you could not hear the rhythm in the words, but apparently it’s possible!

If you’re looking for some books that pair a great traditional song with beautiful illustrations, and have a lovely animated video version of the book, check out Barefoot Books YouTube channel. I recommend Over in the Meadow, Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush, and If You’re Happy and You Know It.