5 Interactive Picture Books

interactive picture books

If you’re looking for a fun book to share with a young reader (or, let’s be serious, just a fun book to amuse yourself with…I read these all alone…), look no farther than this list of interactive picture books! Here, you don’t just read the story; you participate!

Cat Secrets by Jef Czekaj

Cat Secrets

This book is only for cats. That means, if you want to read it, you will have to persuade the cats in the book that you too are a cat! Do enough cat-like things convincingly, purring, napping, swatting at things passing by, and you might be let in on some juicy cat secrets.

Crunch, the Shy Dinosaur by Cirocco Dunlap, Illus. by Greg Pizzoli

Crunch the Shy Dinosaur

Crunch is a shy dinosaur who likes to hide from loud noises and overly curious readers by hunkering down in the shrubbery. Your job, as the reader, is to convince him you’re friendly and he should come out to play!  Talk to Crunch and model good behavior as you read through the book. He might reward you by putting on a hat and dancing!

Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book by Anders Arhoj

Find Me A Hide and Seek Book

A book in the vein of “Where’s Waldo?,” Find Me encourages readers to locate a character hidden in the scenes on each page. Scenes vary in setting and color scheme, giving young (and older!) readers a lot to look at. Even better, if you turn the book around, you’re asked to find a different character, so you can read the book both backwards and forwards. (The back cover is blue with big eyes, for those curious. No words at all on the cover!)

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Tap the Magic Tree

In this book, you help a book go through the seasons by tapping, shaking, blowing, counting, etc.  Readers are rewarded with blossoms, fruit, and more.  Vibrant backgrounds can help younger readers learn colors, while slightly older readers can learn about seasons and the life cycle of trees.  (Also very fun for adults, if I do say so myself.)

There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

There's a Monster in Your Book

Oh, no! There’s a monster in your book, and it looks as if he might even be interested in chewing the pages! Your task is to encourage him to leave, as you prod, shake, talk, etc. to the little blue monster on each page.

Can you think of any other interactive picture books?

Briana

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John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister, Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Tolkien Reading Event 2018Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Home and Hearth: The Many Ways of Being a Hobbit. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!  Check out the complete schedule here.


Information

Goodreads: John Ronald’s Dragons
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: March 2017

Summary

A picture book biography of J. R. R. Tolkien that spans his childhood to his writing of The Hobbit.

Review

I suspect that this is the type of book that receives rave reviews, not because it is really that good, but because it is about J. R. R. Tolkien. Any fan who reads it wants to like it.  After all, it promises to introduce younger readers to Tolkien–and who would not want that?  However, I admit myself not impressed with this picture book.  The biography is sparse and wastes a good amount of the word count on making parallels the illustrators should make.  The illustrations are nice, but not original, striking, or memorable.

If were not already familiar with Tolkien’s biography, I wonder how much information I would have gleaned from this picture book.  It reads as very sparse and as a little piecemeal.  It begins with Tolkien loving words and animals as a child, but does not mention important details like the fact that he was born in South Africa or that he moved to England after his father died.  Then it seems to jump around, with no indications at any point about how old Tolkien is.  Thus, he suddenly moves from reading to school to being in a boarding house and falling in love to going to a war that the author would have readers believe sprung from nowhere. Then he is teaching at Oxford and, finally, “following” Bilbo Baggins through Mirkwood and over the Lonely Mountains. There the story ends.

Now, I understand that a limited word count leads little room for much detail, but I still think the transitions could have been smoother.  Nothing Tolkien’s age would have been useful, as would have giving the name of the war Tolkien fought in, mentioning his marriage instead of letting readers assume it, and telling readers what Tolkien actually studied in school (he seems to get a job at Oxford out of nowhere).  These parts of his life need to read as connected.  The depiction of the writing of The Hobbit also, to my mind, is too vague and assumes that readers already know that it is a book Tolkien wrote.  The text does not explicitly say that Tolkien wrote a book, any book.  It simply says he “followed” Bilbo and then gives place names that have meaning only if readers have already read The Hobbit.  Then it suddenly cuts short with an odd line that seems to imply that Smaug is still living but probably means metaphorically through Tolkien’s books.  I suspect younger readers will find this line confusing since it is difficult to read into it a metaphor about books that the biography does not bother to mention exist.

A good deal of more useful information could have made it into the book had the author not wasted a fair chunk of her word count in describing the parallels between Tolkien’s imagination and his surroundings: he dreams of dragon smoke, but just sees smoke on his oatmeal; he thinks of dragon scales, but listens to Edith practice scales; and so forth.  These connections are ones the author should trust the illustrator to make; they read as heavy-handed in the actual text and do not contribute much to our understanding of Tolkien’s life.  The author seems to realize that the text is lacking because she provides a page-length biography at the very end that actually gives us details such as Tolkien’s birth place and so forth.

The illustrations themselves are nice, but that is the only word I can think to describe them.  They are not original or daring or striking. In fact, they read to me as fairly safe because they are so straight-forward.  In a book about the imagination, I would hope for more from the illustrations.  I also find they are too pale and pastel for my taste.  I want bold colors to go with a book about dragons.

Tolkien fans will probably buy this book and enjoy it since it is about a beloved author. I have difficulty seeing it being really meaningful to other audiences, however.  It seems to assume background knowledge about Tolkien, and so it not much use as a biography.  As simply a story, I find it unmemorable.

Some of Tolkien’s Dragons

3 Stars

Mr. Bliss by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien Reading Event 2018Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Home and Hearth: The Many Ways of Being a Hobbit. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!  Check out the complete schedule here.


Mr. Bliss by JRR Tolkien

Information

Goodreads: Mr. Bliss
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1982

Official Summary

Mr. Bliss’s first outing in his new motor-car, shared with several friends, bears, dogs, and a donkey, though not the Girabbit, proves to be unconventional though not inexpensive.

Review

Mr. Bliss is a delightful yet little-known story that Tolkien wrote for his children.  It’s fairly straightforward as children’s stories go, following the misadventures of Mr. Bliss after he buys a new automobile and discovers it might be more trouble than it’s worth, so I can see why the tale isn’t generally mentioned among Tolkien’s bigger works.  However, the story is amusing and a must-read for any Tolkien fan.

The published book is a facsimile edition, reproducing Tolkien’s illustrations and hand-lettered text on the right-hand pages, with typed-out text on the left.  The illustrations are on the smallish side but still detailed and characteristically Tolkien.  There are also some entertaining captions, such as when Tolkien notes that he’s tired of drawing the car in every scene so he simply left it out or when he comments that a character is missing from a certain scene because he rose from his chair to do something else.  Normally I’m not a fan of authorial asides, but these come across as personal notes to the reader and are just in the right space between charming and funny.

The plot is wild and clips along at as a fast pace, as Mr. Bliss encounters an increasing number of troubles with his new car, running people over, picking people up, driving into walls, and so forth.  I suppose it’s a bit of a story of its time, when automobiles were still kind of wild and new, but it doesn’t read as old or out of touch.  Rather, it’s just hilarious and will still resonate with today’s readers.  (As a side note, I half wonder if the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender reader Mr. Bliss because there’s a character here who keeps screaming “My cabbages!” and Mr. Bliss keeps as a pet a Girabbit, a cross between a giraffe and a rabbit.)

I’ve been meaning to read Mr. Bliss for years because it’s currently out of print in the US and can be a bit hard to find.  I was excited to discover my local library actually has a copy (it never occurred to me to look before), and I highly recommend it to anyone else who can locate a copy.

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4 stars Briana

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

 

Information

Goodreads: A Wrinkle in Time
Series: Time Quintet #1
Source: Library
Published: 1962

Summary

Meg Murry’s father went missing years ago during his experiments with the fifth dimension.  Now, Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their new friend Calvin are going on an adventure through space to bring him home.

Review

“We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

I have never liked A Wrinkle in Time.  I did not like it as a child and I do not like it now that I have reread it as an adult.  I understand that it is a children’s classic beloved by many.  I even understand that it is celebrated (or sometimes criticized) for its blend of science and Christianity, demonstrating that the two can coexist (though, honestly, I think the majority of people already know this).  But the fact remains: I do not like it.  I find it boring and simplistic without complex characterization.  It is, at least, mercifully short.

A friend suggested to me that this book appeals to children and teens who feel out of place or who have difficult relationships with their parents.  I can see that this might be so.  Still, Meg does not resonate for me as a character.  I do not mind her stubbornness or her anger–sticking points for many.  I simply do not  find her an interesting character.  She starts out stubborn and she ends that way, without readers ever really getting a chance to see her channel her faults into a positive avenue in her regular life. I wanted to see her return to school and advocate for herself, not just hug everyone at the end like it’s all good now because the family is reunited.

The other characters are  just as boring.  Calvin is a nonentity, brought into the story solely to act as the love interest for Meg.  He’s ostensibly good at communication, but we don’t get to see him have any success with this on the journey.  Otherwise, he seems pretty poor at communication, calling Charles Wallace a “moron” (at first in earnest, later presumably as a sign of affection) and indicating to Meg’s father that Meg is…not as intelligent as the rest of them.  Charles Wallace is probably the most interesting character, but quickly leaves the story once he’s taken over by IT.

The rest of the story?  It’s not that interesting, sorry.  We don’t see enough of any one world to make it interesting.  I think this is because the worlds represent ideas more than they actually are worlds.  Some have seen Camazotz as a representation of communism; L’Engle seems to think it’s just about the need to celebrate difference.  Either way, Camazotz is an allegory, not a place.  Just as Aunt Beast’s world is a representation of an unfallen land, not a place.  I didn’t get the sense that there were other locations to explore, cultures to learn about, people to meet.  I got the idea that Aunt Beast and Co. are unfallen creatures and that’s what I think I was supposed to get.

I give L’Engle credit for publishing a sci-fi story with a female lead when that was unusual.  I give her credit for showing that Christianity and science coexist when people apparently also wondered about that.  And I give her credit for creating a heroine with whom many teenagers have sympathized.  But I still don’t enjoy the story.  It doesn’t feel like a story to me but a message.  And it isn’t a message that I felt had enough subtlety, depth, or new information to make me interested in hearing it.

3 Stars

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle Book

Information

Goodreads: The Jungle Book
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: 1894

Review

What little I know of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book comes from having watching Disney’s animated version exactly once, several years ago.  So, I knew basically nothing going into this besides there being something about a young human boy being raised by jungle animals.  Imagine my surprise upon discovering the book contains seven stories, and only the first three are about Mowgli.  I do think, however, these three stories are the strongest.

Mowgli’s stories are, interestingly, not told in chronological order; they start with the story of how Mowgli leaves the forest, then circle back to tell one adventure he had while living in the jungle and one story of how he eventually returned to the jungle.  The biggest themes seem to be about power and “the law of the jungle,” which is powerful but apparently not as binding as many would like.  I enjoyed reading about the adventures Mowgli, his wolf family, and his other friends had, as well as how the laws of the jungle were sometimes helpful and at other times ignored.  I have not yet fully decided whether Kipling’s depiction of certain animal societies is supposed to be commentary on something broader, however (such as the depiction of the monkeys as a species completely ignored by the other jungle animals because there is no clear monkey society or law).

The other stories in the book were more hit or miss for me.  The first story to break away from Mowgli is simply about a seal who wants to find his seal friends/family an island uninhabited by men so they can hang out without fear of being hunted.  It’s pretty straightforward, and I didn’t find it all that interesting.  Another story is basically about army mules/horses/elephants/etc. debating who has the coolest, most important, most courageous job.  I think readers, especially younger ones, who happen to like animal stories will enjoy some of these offerings.  (Humans feature in some of the stories but are generally not the point, and I’m certainly not an expert on whether Kipling is portraying the societies with accuracy.) Personally, I found the stories amusing enough while I was in the process of reading them, but I’m not sure I would go out of my way to revisit them.

The Jungle Book was worth a one-time read for me since it is a classic piece of literature, and it does have some of the unique charm of older children’s stories, if you’re into that particular style.  However, since I’m not really an animal story person, I don’t think it spoke to me the way it may speak to some other readers.

Note: I read the MinaLima edition of the book, which is beautifully designed and definitely worth picking up if you like adding pretty books to your collection.  I think the claim of “interactive elements” is a bit overblown because this generally means you might be able to spin an illustration or unfold a map, but they do add some fun to the book.

4 stars Briana

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Information

Little Women by Louisa May AlcottGoodreads: Little Women
Series: Little Women #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1868

Summary

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are doing their best to grow up into women their father would be proud of.  If only he weren’t so far away at the war!  Still, despite their poverty, they try to be happy.  Along with their neighbor Laurie, they have plenty of good times, from producing plays in the garret to writing their own newspaper.

Review

Little Women is one of those classics that never grows old.  Perhaps it is because the titular little women range in age (12 to 16 at the start) and so can present an array of experiences sure to resonate with a wide audience.  Perhaps it is because they age over the course of the book (Jo ends it at the age of 30) and so can encompass the humiliations of childhood, the first blush of love, the trials of married life, and the rocky starts of careers.  Or perhaps it is because the characters are so vibrant, so lifelike.  Who would not want to spend a day with the March family?  Whatever the charm, Little Women endures.

And Little Women endures despite the complaints of some readers, who find the tale too wholesome, too moralizing.  But this, I believe, is part of its charm.  The book, it is true, makes no secret of its desire to instill good morals in its readers.  It opens, after all, with the girls playing Pilgrim’s Progress and receiving Bibles or New Testaments for Christmas.  Yes, it wants it readers to learn to fight vanity, to control their tempers, to become generous and loving and uncomplaining.  But the book really believes in all this.  It does not feel like a moral tale, but like the inspirational example of a friend.  And, in the end, even though we may be uncomfortable with a book that points out that we are not perfect, its message that we can all try to do better is a message I believe that many people still need and want to hear.

I have always appreciated Little Women for its encompassing look at womanhood, from Jo’s fiery independence to Beth’s comfort in domestic life to Meg’s struggles to be the wife and mother she thinks she ought to be.  There is no one right path here, no correct way to be a woman.  Rather, all the girls’ choices are valuable just as all their personalities are appreciated.  Each one gets to be the focus so that readers can see their flaws as well as their strengths, and learn to love them even when they are weak.

And you get to grow along with them.  Today, we might not think that a chapter about learning how to balance childcare with a relationship with your  husband is the type of thing children want to or should read.  We might not think that a child or teen wants to read about a character in her late 20s falling in love with a man nearly forty.  Or that any child wants to read about a thirty-year-old running a school.  And yet it works.  The work is beloved by many.  Because it gives a glimpse ahead.  It says that life is weird and unexpected and sometimes painful or tragic.  But life goes on.  And you have a hand in shaping it.  It tells its readers that they have agency and that they are important, no matter the path they choose.

5 stars

Penguins Love Their ABC’s by Sarah Aspinall

Information

Goodreads: Penguins Love Their ABC’s
Series: Penguins #2
Source: Received from publisher
Published: August 29, 2017

Summary

The penguins are back, but now that they’ve learned their colors, they’re going to review their ABC’s!  Come along on a journey to uncover the alphabet.

Review

Penguins Love Their ABC’s takes readers on a colorful scavenger hunt to find the letters of the alphabet.  From “B is for broccoli” to “Z is for zucchini,” the story brings a fresh twist to the alphabet book by including some surprising objects .  The fun of discovering what each letter stands for along with the vibrant illustrations will keep young readers engaged as they learn.

The text helpfully includes questions to ask young readers so they can practice responding to the story and anticipating what might come next.  Adult readers are, of course, supposed to ask such questions to teach reading skills, but the inclusion of questions in the story itself will help adults who are not yet accustomed to  asking their auditors to interact with the story.  They also provide a helpful guide so that the adults reading out loud can add questions of their own as they progress through the book or go through a reread.

However, the colorful pictures, the cute penguins, and the sense of playful humor (such as the penguins dancing about in their “lucky underwear”) will surely charm children and make learning seem fun.  Penguins Love Their ABC’s is a delightful addition to the concept book shelf of any home or library.

4 stars