How To


Written and Illustrated by Julie Morstad

Simply Read Books, 2013

How to go fast

There are lots of ways to go fast, such as running or riding a scooter, and some ways to go slow, such as lying in the grass to look at butterflies. You can see the wind by flying kites and feel the breeze by going downhill on a bike. By crossing your feet together in the bathtub, you can be a mermaid and by banging on pots and pans, you can make music. There are many ways to make both sandwiches and friends. There are innovative ways to do things, such as looking at your shadow to see where you’re going or braiding your hair with someone else’s to stay close to them. And by doing all of these (and lots of other) things, you are showing yourself how to be happy.

Wash your face

And the ingredients in this face wash are all natural!

I was really intrigued by the title of this book, since it is so vague and open-ended. Even with no real expectations, I was surprised and delighted with this one. Author/illustrator Julie Morstad offers no real plot here. It’s just a collection of illustrations of children, demonstrating ways to do lots of different things, which doesn’t sound as compelling as it actually is. What makes it interesting is that some of the things are pretty straight forward, while others take an unusual approach to the activity. The way, for instance, that the kids here ‘wash their socks’ is to splash their socked feet in a rain puddle. And the way to ‘make a sandwich’ involves sofa cushions and other children stacked together. The artwork has a soft and beautiful vintage look and the children have wistful and focused expressions, as though they were considering the importance of their images. The ending page shows more free movement and conveys a quiet joy. It’s both silly and thought provoking and that takes some doing. And based on its title alone, a great way to close out our ‘How To’ month.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that there are multiple ways to do just about anything and to be happiest, find the one that works for you.


How to Read a Story


Written by Kate Messner, Illustrated by Mark Siegel

Chronicle Books, 2015

Step 1 – Find a story.

The main character takes us through all the steps to read a story, starting with finding the right book. Then you find a reading buddy and the perfect spot to settle in and read. You should take a good look at the book’s cover and maybe guess what might happen in the story. Once you open the book, you can start reading aloud, but make sure you don’t go too slow or too fast. Do appropriate voices for the different characters and don’t forget to show the pictures to your buddy. If you find a word you don’t know, try sounding it out or look at the pictures for context clues. Get excited when you read the exciting parts and say, “The end” when you come to the end. When you get to the end, you’re done! Unless, of course, you want to go back and read it again.

Turn the page

This kid is getting INTO this story!

Author Kate Messner knows that there’s a difference in knowing how to read and knowing how to read a story and I love the way she breaks it down here. It’s a love letter to the process of sharing a good book with someone you love and it made me super nostalgic for the days of reading chapter books with my kids. The main character is a boy who chooses his dog as his reading buddy. Mark Siegel’s colorful illustrations, in ink and watercolor, show us a small crowd of people gathering around the boy as he reads the book, clearly drawn in by his storytelling. I love this aspect of the book, especially because one two-page spread shows us these people from his point of view (where we get to be the reader) and then from their point of view (where we get to be the listener). It’s a bright and cheerful celebration of reading and I will always be in favor of that.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that it takes some effort to read a story and it’s almost always worth the time.

How to Be a Hero


Written by Florence Parry Heide, Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Chronicle Books, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a nice boy and his name was Gideon.

Gideon wants to be a hero, with his name and picture in the newspaper. But he doesn’t think of himself as brave, strong or clever. He notices, from reading fairy tales, that lots of people become heroes simply by being in the right place at the right time. (He also notices a lot of kissing, but isn’t prepared to go to those lengths.) So he tries to pay attention to everything around him to look for opportunities to be a hero. He goes to the supermarket and picks out a candy bar and as he pays for it, he is suddenly surrounded by people congratulating him. Without knowing it, he has become the 10,000th person to shop at the store and because he was in the right place at the right time, he gets his name and picture in the paper for it, just like he always wanted.

Author Florence Parry Heide passed away in 2011 and from the dedication page, it appears that this book was put forth for publication by her children. It’s definitely one of those in which the illustrations tell the larger and more important part of the story. The summary above doesn’t show the fact that, on his way to the store and even in the store itself, there are multiple opportunities for Gideon to do real heroic things. Over and over again, he keeps missing them. This makes the actual story ironic and leaning into satire, which will merit a lot of discussion with your kids.


A cape doesn’t make you a hero, kid.

Chuck Groenink’s pencil and digital illustrations use muted colors and softer colors in the depiction of Gideon’s real world and fuller, richer colors in his imagination. There are lots of little funny moments in the artwork as well, such as the headlines in the newspaper his mother is reading (‘Adults do boring stuff’) or the names of the neighboring shops, which all reference fairy tale authors. If you’re so inclined, you could definitely make a case for a political or social message at the end, when the African-American girl who saves the falling baby at the grocery store gets less recognition than the white boy who lucks into a meaningless award. This story offers a lot of opportunities for good conversation.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if you spend all your time focusing on your own greater glory, you can miss real opportunities to do genuine good.

How to Teach a Slug to Read


Written by Susan Pearson, Illustrated by David Slonim

Two Lions, 2011

When you teach a slug to read, you should:

  1. Start out by putting labels on his favorite things.

The second step is to find the right book. One that is interesting and preferably also has slugs in it is best. Rhyming books are good, because rhymes will help with remembering. Prop the book up on the ground and help your slug sit on a rock so he can see the book well. Show him the words that repeat, so that he will find them easier. Help him to sound out words and teach him the meanings of words he doesn’t know. Let him underline his favorite words and be ready to read his favorite books over and over. But be patient, because it can take time for him to master reading. One day, he will be able to read books to you. Books will open lots of doors for him, showing him the whole world. And he will have you to thank for teaching him to read.


I love this picture so much.

Author Susan Pearson must have a thing for slugs, because this is the first of three books she’s written about them. What’s great about this one, though, is that her advice for teaching them to read is actually very good advice for teaching anyone to read and if your little ones aren’t reading yet, they’ll likely be motivated to learn from the examples set here. Even better, they’ll be motivated to laugh, as the books pictured here are ‘slug-ified’ versions of real poems and picture books. Illustrator David Slonim uses charcoal and acrylics to make these slugs appealing and enthusiastic. As a parent, the ending, in which you’re reminded of all that your little one can do once you’ve taught them to read, is a satisfying and upbeat conclusion. I’d love to know how many kids have used the advice here to help younger siblings get an early start on reading.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that with a little patience and a good plan, almost anyone can learn to read.

How to Cheer Up Dad


Written and Illustrated by Fred Koehler

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014

Little Jumbo’s dad was having a bad day.

Dad makes a few mistakes throughout the day (in Little Jumbo’s opinion), including putting raisins in his oatmeal, suggesting a bath and forgetting that Little Jumbo was not a fan of his brown overalls. But when Little Jumbo tries to put his dad in time-out, he winds up being put there himself. While in time-out, he thinks about ways to cheer up his dad, who seems a little grumpy. He starts with a hug, and then they have a catch. Little Jumbo shares an ice cream cone with dad and then they go fishing. They end the day by reading dad’s favorite story and snuggling before Dad falls asleep in Little Jumbo’s bed. Little Jumbo starts wondering how much cheering up his dad will need tomorrow.

Ice cream

I hope Little Jumbo paid for that ice cream.

Author/illustrator Fred Koehler makes his picture book debut in this funny story that is loaded with subtext. Even young readers should pick up on the fact that Dad’s ‘bad day’ is all due to Little Jumbo, who is a rambunctious little guy. The story is told from Little Jumbo’s viewpoint so he doesn’t take any responsibility for his dad’s bad mood, but he does at least take the initiative to make him feel better and the love between these two is very clear. The comic punch at the end is that he is already starting on mischief for the next day, so poor Dad appears to be in for another rough day. The illustrations, in digital media, pencil, pen and ‘lotsa love’ are extra cute and you wind up loving both of these characters.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that cheering the ones you love up is great, but not annoying them in the first place is even better.

How to Hug


Written by Maryann Macdonald, Illustrated by Jana Christy

Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011

When you’re happy or sad, hugs can show how you feel, but hugs can be tricky!

You have to be careful not to hug anyone too tight or in such a way that you get stuck together. It’s important to know when to let go, so that you’re not holding on too long. If someone is angry, you should give them time before you try to hug them. Realize that some people are shy about hugging. Some folks might just want to hold hands or others might want a kiss on the cheek. It’s okay to speak up if you don’t want a hug. There are all kinds of hugs out there and lots of ways to feel about them. The best way to approach them is to open your heart, then open your arms and wrap them around someone.

Guess who

I have no idea who it is!

Author Maryann Macdonald states on her website that she wrote this book while living in France, where she noticed that French people kiss others more than they hug them. This story covers a lot of the basics on hugging, including the fact that it’s not always the right time to hug someone (which is important) and the crucial issue of consent. Towards the end, when it just starts covering different types of hugs, it veers away from the ‘how to’ concept and it loses some steam, in my opinion. Jana Christy’s digital illustrations show nearly all of these hugs happening between children and animals, which gives them all an extra boost of cuteness. I liked the idea of the book more than the execution of it, but all things considered, I have to endorse anything that gets more people hugging.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that hugs can be awesome, but it’s good to know when and how to do it properly.

How to Train a Train


Written by Jason Carter Eaton, Illustrated by John Rocco

Candlewick Press, 2013

So you want a pet train? Well, of course you do!

If you want to have a train for a pet, you first need to figure out what kind of train works best for you. Then you’ll need to catch one, which can be tricky. Give your train a new name and help it adapt to its new surroundings. You can help settle your train in by reading it stories and playing train sounds to help it get to sleep. Get to know it by finding out what it enjoys and what makes it nervous. Try teaching your train a few tricks and some good manners. Introduce it to your friends’ pets, especially if they are also trains or trucks or planes or even submarines. And when your train is happy, you will know.

Author Jason Carter Eaton proves that the best way to make a silly concept book work is to present it in the same way that you would present it as a serious thing. The book’s narrator is dressed as a safari guide, which gives him the appearance of being an expert on his topic. A lot of the advice offered is the same advice you would give to anyone learning to care for a new puppy or a kitten, so it’s likely to strike a chord with pet owners as well as train aficionados alike.


Even dressed up, your train is probably not welcome at the school dance.

John Rocco’s illustrations are done in graphite, with digital coloring, and they beautifully convey all the details of different types of trains and the environments where you find them. Again, the comic twist of showing these giant machines in backyard pools or leaving mud tracks in the kitchen, just as though they were domesticated, really takes it up a notch. There’s a great note to the reader in the back of the book, pointing out the things in the book that should not be tried at home and should only be done by ‘fully trained illustrated characters.’ It’s a lot of fun.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all pets, even the strange ones, need care, affection and love to keep them happy and healthy.