How the story grows…

picture books and beyond – stories and activities to share

Little Bear Story Suitcase

Little Bear's Day

These two little board books featuring Jane Hissey’s Little Bear were favorites of one of my daughters.  Each time she looked at them, she wanted to help Little Bear with all of his activities.

“Time to give our teeth a brush. Storytime – now listen! Hush!”

As Michelle got ready for bed, so should Little Bear.

“Breakfast time, then time to play. I think I’d like to paint today.”


Little Bear Story Suitcase
This story suitcase provides all the necessary accessories for Little Bear’s day.


Listening to a book and then acting it out step by step teaches memory and sequencing skills – both important for future readers. Further open-ended play with the objects allows for development of creative thinking and imagination. Asking your child to tell you what Little Bear is doing develops language and communication skills. Besides, it’s just fun!

These books are no longer available in board format, but they are still available as  cloth books. We were lucky enough to find a stuffed version of Hissey’s Little Bear years ago, but any small teddy bear would do.

For more on Michelle’s thoughts about Little Bear, follow this link.


Storytelling and the Matchbox Diary

Matchbox Diary 2I just read an amazing and thoughtful picture book. The Matchbox Diary, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, tells a story of a little girl meeting her great-grandfather for the first time. As they look together through his collection of matchboxes, she learns the story of his immigration to the United States.

As a little boy who couldn’t read or write, he still yearned to document his life in a diary. Rather than the written word, he chose to collect small objects that would remind him of pivotal moments in his life, keeping these objects in matchboxes he found. For instance, the matchbox containing 19 sunflower seed shells reminds him of the difficult 19 day journey on the boat to Ellis Island. His favorite matchbox contains a ticket stub from the first baseball game with his father.

This book is filled with detailed life-like illustrations that along with the text tell a story of immigration, of determination, the importance of literacy, and of love. I think it would be best for ages 5 and up as a starting point for learning about family history and the importance of telling our own stories.  Find a small box that you can use for your own “matchbox diary”. Look for an object you have kept from your childhood or from any memorable event in your life. Tell your child a story about that object. I have chosen this tiny ceramic plate.

Treasure Box
When I was a very young child, I would bother my older sister by trying to play in her doll house. My clumsy hands could have broken the precious miniatures and messed up her doll house, but it was so hard to keep my hands away! There was an old cabinet in my house that wasn’t being used for anything at the time. My parents decided to fix up that old cabinet into a doll house of my very own! My dad built a floor and cut out some windows. My mother decorated with tile, carpet and fabric scraps that were lying around. My house was furnished with tiny furniture, rugs, and dishes. One of those original dishes is this little ceramic souvenir Chicago plate. And guess what? This little plate has been in my doll house ever since!

Then have your child pick an object meaningful to her. Encourage her to tell her own story. Not only will the two of you learn about each other, but your child will also learn important literacy skills. Effective communication, a skill necessary for life, is basically the ability to tell a story well. Confidence in communication comes with practice. Telling their own stories will give a child the ability to verbalize her thoughts and feelings.

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Itsy Bitsy Thumbprint Spiders

itsybitsyThe Itsy Bitsy Spider is a rhyme that has been around for generations now.  Recently, during a storytime at the library, I used the book The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Iza Trapani. In this book, we encounter the beloved spider not only climbing up the water spout, but going on many additional adventures as well.  Building on the traditional rhyme, Itsy now travels up a kitchen wall, a yellow pail, and a rocking chair, encountering obstacles along the way.  The book can be sung or read.  The children really enjoyed singing a song that was already familiar to them and listened closely to the entire book.


An enrichment activity for this book could be creating your own rhymes about Itsy Bitsy’s travels.  How about:

The Itsy Bitsy spider climbed up upon the sink.

In walked my brother to get a big cool drink.

Down jumped the spider to get out of his way

  Then the Itsy Bitsy spider went outside to play.

Another creative activity uses an example from an old book of mine, Ed Emberley’s Fingerprint Drawing Book.  Get out those washable ink pads and markers and make a whole cluster of little spiders.



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For the Birds

nestSpring is finally here and the birds are building their nests.  It’s a perfect time to read this simple yet beautiful picture book.  In Nest, artist Jorey Hurley depicts a pair of robins from nest building to caring for their chick and back to nest building again.  The text is minimal, with only one word per spread, yet the pictures manage to show not only the nature cycle, but feelings of safety, love, and danger.

The simple text allows you to tell the story in your own words, sparking conversation about the circle of life and the growth of all animals, children included.

I’ve been watching several bird couples building nests around my yard.  A great follow-up to this book is to give the birds a little help in finding nesting materials.  Gather some narrow strips of natural fabric and yarn, small twigs, shredded paper, straw, moss,  even dog hair.  For a container, use a mesh produce bag and hang it from a tree. Or, just set the materials in a box outside.  If you have an extra whisk in your kitchen, fill it with some nesting materials and hang in from a branch.  Here is one that’s all ready to go, filled with wool roving.

What a wonderful surprise it would be to find some of your offerings woven into a nest in your neighborhood.


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Create your own “I Spy”

The I Spy books by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick are fun for all ages.  Did you realize they also teach rhyming skills, attention to detail, and memory skills?  All are essential skills for future readers.

Even more fun than reading and working through the puzzles in the books is creating your own “I spy” puzzles.

Just take a  collection of small objects from around your home and make up your own rhymes including some of the objects.  Dig through that junk drawer and clean out the bottom of the toy box.  The group of objects can have a theme if you want, such as “at the zoo” or “on the farm”.  Or, you can focus on colors and counting, like I did here.



I spy an ostrich, a fuzzy blue ball, a tiny red wagon, and ten keys in all.

Seven green army men, a cow that is red, DANCE DANCE DANCE, and a little baby’s bed.


After you do a few puzzles yourself, perhaps your child will be ready to set one up for you!


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