Educational Picture Books that move beyond “A is for Apple”

Just so you know, having more than about 50 library items checked out at a time makes me nervous. This week, I had 80. EIGHTY. Who here thinks my house needs 80 more items cluttering up the rest of my clutter? Ridiculous. I’m working hard to keep two teeny tinies alive. I don’t need to be responsible for 80 pieces of public property too!

Well, I took the kiddos to the library this morning with two bursting bags full of books to return. And…I ended up checking out 19 more books. Therefore, I now have only 78 items to my name.

Why is the government entrusting me with so much? Thorn in my side…grumble, grumble.

Anyway, I keep sifting through mediocre books to discover the lovely, surprising, and dreamy titles to share with you people. I wouldn’t want to be blamed for annoying reads, after all! I strive for excellence! Today’s list includes five books that teach something–rhyming, counting, ABC’s, vocabulary (though, when you’re 2, nearly every book expands your vocabulary).

I also enjoy reading all of these books with George, so win-win.

BigWordsBig Words for Little Geniuses by Susan and James Patterson

Yes, yes, I mean THAT James Patterson. The man who wrote every book on your father’s bookshelf. He’s also written a surprising number of children’s books, this one with his wife, Susan.

Doesn’t the title make you want to strategically read this book to your kid in public? Like, “Hello, fellow coffee shop customers, why, yes, my brainiac progeny does love to add to his vocabulary daily. Admire his genetic good looks and J. Crew duds from afar, please.” My mom told me she used to whip out pureed spinach to feed my brother in the mall food court. I would do this too–humble-grinning at moms whose kids were scarfing down greasy, nutrition-lacking French fries–if only my kid would eat spinach instead of French fries.


This book goes through the alphabet, but instead of “A for Apple, B for Ball,” you get mouthfuls of fun like “A for Arachibutyrophobia” (pronunciation guide included for baffled readers) and F for Flibbertigibbet (every woman either is a flibbertigibbet or knows one well). I suppose I can’t expect my 2-year-old to pick up the word “lilliputian” and use it correctly in context, but if I start using them when talking to him, maybe we’ll get there. Just thinking about it gives me horripilation! After all, there are times when George is a rapscallion, causes a kerfuffle, and deserves a smack on the tokus.

orangeNothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

I’d recommend this book for kiddos older than 2. Maybe like 5. Or 27. George likes naming all of the fruit pictured throughout the book, but he isn’t really at a level to understand puns yet. And he doesn’t know what a quince or lychee are…but do any of us, really? Basically, there are fun rhymes for every fruit except for Orange, and he’s feeling left out. Orange even points out how many of the rhymes are ridiculous, but the narrator continues to skip over the little citrus. Here’s a rhyme you don’t expect in a picture book:

“I think cherries are ‘the berries; and a lychee is just peachy.

‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ is a book by Friedrich Nietzsche.”

Orange has trouble understanding why Nietzsche made it into the book, but not an actual piece of fruit. Also, the pear gets bitten by a wolf and becomes a “pearwolf.” ‘Nuff said.

The moral of the story: Smorange. Smorange rhymes with orange to make Orange feel included.

oopsOops Pounce Quick Run!: An alphabet caper by Mike Twohy

I actually discovered this little charm on our family vacation this summer when I was desperately flipping through our library’s collection of e-books from afar. I’m not overly savvy with e-books. However, I found this one, and George loved how the Kindle would read it aloud (while Mama sneaked in a few pages of her own book). Following a dog chasing a mouse, you bounce through each letter of the alphabet. In this case, the ABCs are an actual story, not simply a random collection of words. It’s an excellent way to encourage your kidlet to sight-read a word or two. Basically Tom and Jerry, but with less classical music and violence.

24879775Frog on a Log? by Kes Gray

So, logs are hard, uncomfortable, and dole out splinters. However, a clever-clogs cat decides that the story’s frog must sit on a log, because it rhymes.

“It’s not about being comfortable,” said the cat. “It’s about doing the right thing.”

You run through a surprising number of animals and their rhyming resting places, from “lizards sit on wizards” to “gibbons sit on ribbons.” However, the frog just had to ask one more question…

“What do dogs sit on?” asked the frog.

“I was hoping you weren’t going to ask that,” said the cat…

How could you not see that coming?

seaI Spy Under the Sea by Edward Gibbs

This book not only teaches sea creatures, but also counting. George’s favorite part is the hole cut out of the back of the book. When Mama looks through it, she looks like a clown fish from the other side, setting off peals of laughter from the toddler set. And then she gets poked in the eye by said toddler. Good times all around!

I realize most children’s books have some kind of moral, but I can appreciate those that teach just for teaching’s sake. I truly appreciate authors who put effort into the education and find more creative examples than “A for Apple.”

talkingJust to keep y’all in the know, I’m currently reading actress Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can. As a fan of Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and good books in general, I’m thoroughly enjoying her autobiography. She’s a bright woman, not just a pretty face. She details her writing formula and records her thoughts on ever season of Gilmore Girls. Apparently, she and the cast were just as confused as the rest of us about the direction of that last season…

I’m also writing for a local mom blog (to launch late-September!), so I’ll keep you posted there. I plan to use Graham’s autobiography as an online book-club starter. I miss being in a book club, so all of y’all join me over there and we’ll dish.

Published by Christine Boatwright

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