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Find more Classroom Connections
These picture books, where processes and procedures are at the heart of each tale, reinforce simple but important lessons centered around goal setting, computational thinking, and persevering through failure for the youngest readers.
Ruth Krauss’ classic The Carrot Seed, illustrated by Crockett Johnson, celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday with an anniversary-edition board book last May. It is the simply told story of a little boy who plants a carrot seed, tends to its needs, and is ultimately rewarded with a carrot. While this brief procedural picture book does include basic gardening directions, its longevity is more a testament to its underlying messages of perseverance and optimism. The boy diligently takes care of the carrot seed and is optimistic about the results even when faced with his family’s skepticism. Ultimately, he’s rewarded for these character traits with a carrot that’s as big as he is.Some of the picture books in this collection of fictional procedural tales offer practical advice (Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!), 2019), while others practically preposterous tips (The Elephants’ Guide to Hide and Seek, 2020). Some of the books are more sensible while others dip into the fantastical, but they all can serve as mentor texts to model procedural writing. And even the most whimsical among them will help young readers develop the computational thinking and order-and-process skills that provide the foundation for many STEM lessons they’ll learn down the road. Each book offers small, guided steps toward achieving a particular goal, and perhaps more important, many also sensitively address the associated journey of trial and error that comes with learning a new skill. Common themes include the main character’s feelings of reluctance as well as willingness, encounters with failure and success, and evaluations and reevaluations of the problem at hand. Learning something new can be a challenge as well as a reward, but as Chris Raschka reminds us all in his book Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle, “Find the courage to try it again, and again, again, and again, again, and again, and again.”
Caring for Your Lion. By Tammi Sauer. Illus. by Troy Cummings. 2017. 40p. Sterling (9781454916093). PreS–Gr. 2.A little boy eagerly anticipates the arrival of a new pet cat. His room is prepared with cat toys, a food bowl, and a basket suitable for cat naps. Then a box arrives . . . with a lion. A step-by-step guide helps the boy navigate obvious dangers and offers strategies for training his new pet. Through times of chaos and destruction, the young boy forges ahead with daily chores and quiet fortitude to ultimate success. (Compare and contrast with Jason Cockroft’s How to Take Care of Your Dinosaur, 2019.)
“Charlie Needs a Cloak.” By Tomie dePaola. Illus. by the author. 1973. 32p. Simon & Schuster (9780671664671). Gr. 1–4.The bad news: Charlie the sheep herder’s cloak is worn to tatters. The good news: Charlie is a capable and resourceful problem-solver. The reader follows Charlie as he makes a new cloak from scratch—a sort of “From Sheep to Cloak” guide. Keep your eyes peeled: early illustrations show how Charlie’s coat came to be in tatters.
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth. By Mary McKenna Siddals. Illus. by Ashley Wolff. 2010. 32p. Tricycle (9781582463162). PreS–Gr. 2.Recipes are perfect examples of procedural writing. A recipe frequently offers a list of ingredients accompanied by specific instructions on how to prepare a dish. This alphabet book takes that template and adapts it to actions children can take year-round to create “compost stew.” Pair it with any version of the folktale Stone Soup.
The Elephants’ Guide to Hide-and-Seek. By Kjersten Hayes. Illus. by Gladys Jose. 2020. 32p. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky (9781492678465). PreS–Gr. 1.You don’t run across many books written for the elephant audience. This one, purportedly written by the Elephant Hobby and Sports League, is not just for elephants but for any human who repeatedly tries to do something and fails. Elephant ultimately discovers that the qualities that make him unable to play traditional hide-and-seek make it possible for him to succeed at the game in a new way. Elephant ultimately follows the guide to discover that success is sometimes not in staying hidden but in being found.
Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. By Chris Raschka. Illus. by the author. 2013. 32p. Random/Schwartz & Wade (9780375870071). PreS–Gr. 2.A confident declaration indeed! An eager child takes the hand of an obliging adult and declares this is the day for learning to ride a bike. This child is willing and ready. The text offer strategies and encouragement, and the illustrations show different levels of confidence and model the rider’s persistence.
How To. By Julie Morstad. Illus. by the author. 2013. 36p. Simply Read (9781897476574). PreS–K.The book, which begins with the instructive “How to Go Fast,” introduces a cast of children who all respond with the different ways they get speedy: riding piggyback, strapping on butterfly wings, zipping around on a scooter. Numerous other how-to statements follow, showing that, in the same way every person is unique, there are many ways to achieve the same goal.
How to Be a Baby . . . by Me, the Big Sister. By Sally Lloyd-Jones. Illus. by Sue Heap. 2007. 40p. Random (9780375873881). PreS–K.In this guidebook about babies for babies, a big sister reveals truths, semi-truths, opinions, and generalizations about what it means to be a baby. She provides lists of what babies can’t do and can’t eat, things they’re scared of and things they don’t know, and, best of all, “what else you do that’s illegal.” But just when the daily life of a baby seems bleak, the little girl reveals the things that babies are good at. Other books in this series include How to Get Married . . . by Me, the Bride (2009) and How to Get a Job . . . by Me, the Boss (2011).
How to Be a Good Dog. By Gail Page. Illus. by the author. 2006. 40p. Bloomsbury (9781582346830). PreS–Gr. 1.Mrs. Birdhead has banished her dog, Bobo, to the doghouse for reckless behavior. Clever Cat misses Bobo, and when Mrs. Birdhead leaves the house to buy groceries, Cat consults a dog-training book to modify Bobo’s behavior. Bobo’s hyperenthusiasm to share his newfound talents with Mrs. Birdhead proves catastrophic, but eventually he pivots to show off his obedience and is declared a “good dog.” Other books in the series include Bobo and the New Neighbor (2008) and How to Be a Good Cat (2011).
How to Catch a Mouse. By Philippa Leathers. Illus. by the author. 2015. 40p. Candlewick (9780763669126). PreS–Gr. 2.Though the narrator of this book proclaims that Clemmy the cat is a stellar mouse-catcher, the reader of the book quickly discovers that this is not the case. Mouse, the true genius of the tale, uses every opportunity for misdirection to avoid being caught. Of course, Clemmy and the mouse inevitably do meet, much to both animals’ surprise and dismay. Keep your eyes peeled: at the end of the book, Mouse sneaks away with a book titled How to Trick a Cat.
How to Catch a Star. By Oliver Jeffers. 2004. 32p. Philomel (9780399242861). PreS–Gr. 2.Catching a star would seem an unattainable goal, and yet on the cover of this book, a little boy stands on one, reaching out for another. The reader follows the boy as, in a trial-and-error manner, he employs such strategies as waiting, jumping, and climbing. Ultimately, his dream does come true in a gratifying but unexpected way.
How to Find a Fox. By Nilah Magruder. Illus. by the author. 2016. 40p. Feiwel and Friends (9781250086563). PreS–Gr. 1.Our intrepid hero, filled with determination and carrying a camera for gathering evidence, follows a simple set of directions in order to discover a fox. She encounters many insects, birds, and other small creatures. But the fox is never where she looks—instead, it’s quietly in another place, observing her. Though unrelenting, the girl is exhausted and filled with defeat by the end of the book—and the fox knows it is time for the big reveal. A teaching suggestion: compare and contrast with How to Find an Elephant.
How to Find an Elephant. By Kate Banks. Illus. by Boris Kulikov. 2017. 32p. Farrar (9780374335083). PreS–Gr. 1.A small explorer sporting a pith helmet and carrying binoculars chooses a gigantic adventure for a dull day: find an elephant. Our hero suggests appropriate supplies and strategies for the expedition. There are camouflaged images of elephants throughout the book, with some easy to identify, and others taking a bit more effort. Ultimately, the elephant lets itself be discovered, and the journey is over—or has it just begun?
How to Find Gold. By Viviane Schwarz. Illus. by the author. 2016. 32p. Candlewick (9780763681043). K–Gr. 2.When you are a little girl whose best friend is a crocodile, your life is clearly filled with potential excitement. So why not add a treasure hunt to the agenda? Anna and Crocodile create a plan, head out to sea in a boat, discover gold, move the gold, bury the gold, and then move on to more adventures. Just a day in the life of two good friends. See also the sequel, How to Be on the Moon (2019).
How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps. By Nicola Winstanley. Illus. by John Martz. 2019. 40p. Tundra (9780735263543). K–Gr. 3.This book’s title alone calls everything into question. An unseen and “knowledgeable” narrator attempts to assist the earnest cat-owner in bathing her cat, but chaos follows each step while the exasperated owner pursues Mr. Flea throughout the house.
How to Take Care of Your Dinosaur. By Jason Cockroft. Illus. by the author. 2019. 32p. Candlewick/Nosy Crow (9781536205688). PreS–K.Here, common-sense advice on training a new pet is outlandishly applied to a baby dinosaur: the new owner navigates such topics as feeding, going for a walk, “toilet” training, and giving a bath. He ultimately guides his oversize new friend to success—as both a pet and a devoted companion.
How to Two. By David Soman. Illus. by the author. 2019. 40p. Dial (9780525427841). PreS–K.This offers sensitive solutions to a timeless problem: how to play at the playground with different groups of friends. This counting book doubles as a visual dictionary that illustrates what being a friend can look like. At the end of the book, Soman offers an immediate reason to reread the book by including a hidden-pictures activity. Keep your eyes peeled for Soman’s popular character Ladybug Girl in the book.
How to Walk an Ant. By Cindy Derby. Illus. by the author. 2019. 40p. Roaring Brook (9781250162625). PreS–Gr. 3.Amariyah, a professional ant-walker, shares the rules and tips of her successful business model. Her solo adventure ends when she literally bumps into a professional ladybug-walker. This book is an ideal selection for older elementary readers with a strong irreverent streak—the narrator includes recommendations for conducting an ant funeral when plans go awry.
How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth. By Michelle Robinson. Illus. by Kate Hindley. 2014. 32p. Holt (9780805099669). PreS–K.The little owner of a woolly mammoth prepares for a “mammoth” chore: bath time for her extra-large pet. She dons a yellow rain slicker and red rubber boots and assembles various objects for the task at hand, including “anti-bacterial hoof wash” and “tusk whitener.” She is persistent, resourceful, and ultimately successful.
Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!). By Sally Lloyd-Jones. Illus. by Neal Layton. 2019. 40p. Random/Schwartz & Wade (9780399558184). K–Gr. 3. 808.3.Lloyd-Jones has written numerous procedural books for children; here she has written a humorous and practical guide that demystifies the writing process for everyone. The young author in the book makes suggestions for what to do (and what not to do). She suggests creating a writing space with supplies, models the entire writing process, and even includes advice on publishing and book distribution in an achievable manner.
Peanut Butter and Jelly: A Play Rhyme. By Nadine Bernard Westcott. Illus. by the author. 1987. 32p. Puffin (9780140548525). PreS–K.This playful book introduces the purportedly simple activity of making a sandwich and then adds enchantment via an enthusiastic chef. The chef delivers unexpected chaos and unparalleled fun when he engages a boy, a girl, a dog, a cat, and assorted elephants in a large-scale cooking endeavor to create a supersize sandwich from scratch.
The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems. Ed. by Paul B. Janeczko. Illus. by Richard Jones. 2019. 48p. Candlewick (9780763681685). Gr. 1–4. 811.This book assembles 33 procedural poems, with suggestions, directions, and guidelines for different situations. There’s the practical (“How to Make a Snow Angel”), the literary (“How to Tell a Camel”), the aspirational (“Walking on Mars”), and the fantastical (“How to Scare Monsters”). The book concludes with a moment of quiet wisdom (“How to Pay Attention”).
Vampirina Ballerina. By Anne Marie Pace. Illus. by LeUyen Pham. 2012. 40p. Disney/Hyperion (9781423157533). K–Gr. 3.Vampirina joins a dance school in order to becoming a ballerina. The illustrations assist the narrative, emphasizing the role her creative, loving, and supportive family have in her journey, the fear and acceptance of her peers, and unique aspects of her nocturnal life. Vampirina’s story continues in subsequent series installments.
Walk On! A Guide for Babies of All Ages. By Marla Frazee. Illus. by the author. 2006. 40p. HMH (9780152055738). PreS–K. 612.An authoritative narrator guides a baby who is ready, willing, and “somewhat” able to take those first steps. The narrator offers directives, assurances, reassurances, and encouragement. This is truly a book to guide any new endeavor in life.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree. By Jamie L. B. Deenihan. Illus. by Lorraine Rocha. 2019. 32p. Sterling (9781454923817). K–Gr. 3.The title clues us into the hero’s conundrum: What do you do when someone you love (Grandma) gives you something you do not love (a lemon tree)? After extensive considerations of what not to do with a lemon tree, the little girl pivots to deliver advice to the reader. See also the companion book, When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox (2020).
Compost Stew: Activities are available on Mary McKenna Siddals’ websitewww.siddals.com/compost-stew.htmlThe Elephants’ Guide to Hide-and-Seek: Downloadable activity kitwww.kjersten.com/fun-for-kidsHow to Be a Good Dog: PBS video segmentwww.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/btl10.ela.early.howtobeagooddog/how-to-be-a-good-dog/How to Walk an Ant: Author-illustrator Cindy Derby shares photographs of her writing and illustrating processblaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=4831Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!): A downloadable story planner on author Sally Lloyd-Jones’ websitewww.sallylloyd-jones.com/free-story-planner/Kristin Rydholm, a frequent contributor to Book Links, has worked as a teacher, reading specialist, and school administrator.
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