Raising a Reader: how picture books help develop narrative skills.

By Sarah S. RSS Tue, April 5, 2011

Narrative skills--the ability to tell or retell a story, or to narrate a series of events--are key pre-literacy skills that every child needs in order to become a motivated and successful reader. One of the best ways to exercise your baby or toddler’s brain and build the neural pathways that will help support narrative skills is reading picture books with simple plots, and then asking your child about what happened. Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton is my new favorite storytime choice, and is the perfect book to practice narrative skills.

Haughton’s illustrations are vivid, with a forest full of saturated purples, greens, browns and oranges. Each page features a simple but beautiful illustration with just one thing happening, making it easy for two and three year olds to narrate the action. The story is simple, too: a baby owl falls from the nest and goes searching for Mommy. A helpful squirrel brings him to a big bear, a pointy-eared rabbit, and a wide-eyed frog before they figure out that the the baby is really looking for Mommy Owl, who has all three characteristics: she’s big, has point ears and large eyes.

So what about those narrative skills? The rising action of the baby’s three interactions with different animals are classic conflict structure, and the pattern of finding an animal that shares just one of the mom’s characteristics will help your baby or toddler form the neural pathways to support more complicated narrative and plot patterns. Other books with similar structures include Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino and Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman, . For older children, try If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff (or any one of her “if you give an animal a something” books).

Remember to ask questions before, during and after the story. For example, during Little Owl Lost, ask your toddler any questions like these: What other animals have big eyes? Owls can fly, but can bears fly? Do frogs fly? These owls live in a tree, what other animals live in trees? This owl lives with its Mom, do you live with your mom? and so on. 

Remember, it’s never too early to raise a reader!

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