Engage Pre-Readers with Interactive Stories

July 3, 2015 | Daniel

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Convincing pre-readers to sit for a story can oftentimes be a tough sell. You may find that with toddlers, energy levels are high, interest in stories is low, or, as I sometimes find when reading to a new group of kids, they just aren’t comfortable enough with me to sit and take in a story without becoming distracted. 

I’ve found that a great way to get reluctant pre-readers engaged is to read stories that encourage movement and actions; what I call “interactive stories”. These stories encourage toddlers to stand on their feet and follow along with the actions described in the text, as opposed to listening to the story while seated. While the books I list below are ones that I use in group storytime settings, they also work very well for one-on-one reading:

Teddy bears teddy bearsTeddy Bears, Teddy Bears:

With rhyming text and very simple movements (“teddy bear, teddy bear, touch your nose; teddy bear, teddy bear, touch your toes”), this is one of my favourites because it builds a level of confidence. Most toddlers can do the actions alone or with gentle prodding, and this sparks a sense of achievement.


Betty goes bananasBetty Goes Bananas:

A newer book that I enjoy reading as much as the kids enjoy acting it out. Betty the gorilla has trouble peeling a banana and, to put it mildly, she doesn’t react well. I encourage the kids to act out the tantrums (yes, tantrums, plural) along with Betty. They can cry, sniffle, stamp, and then scream – it’s a full-blown meltdown.  


We've all got bellybuttonsWe've All Got Bellybuttons:

A lively way to learn about different body parts and then get those body parts moving, just like the animals in the pictures. This is one that you can use with very young children in an effort to teach them about the parts of the body in a fun and interactive manner.


Press herePress Here:

I have a fond memory of this picture book. As a librarian, I read this for my first class visit (a kindergarten class, and they loved it). Kids will be asked to press, rub, clap, and blow on coloured circles to alter what they see on the next page. Those in the 3-5 age range often buy the concept that their actions influence the book and are convinced that it must be magic. If your child enjoys this one, try Tap the Magic Tree and Shake to Assemble.


Can you make a scary faceCan YOU Make a Scary Face?:

Jan Thomas writes several interactive storybooks, and they’re all a lot of fun. In this one, there are a few silly actions to take part in before things get serious: a giant hungry frog shows up and kids have to scare him away.



Im a dirty dinosaurI'm a Dirty Dinosaur:

This story encourages kids to stand and get clean along with a dirty dinosaur, who has very interesting ways of cleaning himself: stamping, shaking, sniffing, tapping, and sliding.



From head to toeFrom Head to Toe:

Last but certainly not least, Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, whose large, vibrant illustrations challenge kids to mimic the actions of various animals. These actions include thumping your chest like a gorilla and stomping your foot like an elephant.




I’ll often follow up interactive stories with a song or another book with a more standard structure. Having just stretched out and moved, I find that children are more amenable to sitting for the next story or activity. I hope you’ll try out some of these suggestions, and if you know of any other interactive stories, please share.