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Five Pre-Reading Building Blocks, Five Classic Picture Books

Five tips for teaching your child to read using five classic children's picture books_edit

What is your earliest memory of reading a book? My love for books began when I was a preschooler sitting on my mom’s lap in her rocking chair. She opened the pages of the book and read aloud the story of David and Goliath. From that moment, I loved reading books. I loved writing books. When I grew up, I loved teaching children to read books.


Reading with our children creates a lasting bond. It provides them with a rich language experience that broadens their vocabulary. Our children also learn empathy when they identify with the story’s protagonist.


There are five critical pre-reading building blocks that will give your emergent reader a smooth start. I’ve paired each building block with one of my favorite classic children’s picture books. Each reading concludes with a fun activity you and your child can do together.

1. Letter Identification

The ability to recognize and label some letters of the alphabet.

The picture book: Mrs. Wishy Washy by Joy Cowley


Mrs. Wishy Washy has text repetition and picture clues, and children love reading this story. Read the book with your child until they are familiar with the story. Encourage them to use picture clues, as you point to the text, and read along with you. Once your child is familiar with the story, have a letter scavenger hunt through the pages of the book. Can they find all the letters of the alphabet? What sound does each letter make?

The activity: Using 12x18 construction paper in pink, white, and yellow, trace a pig, cow, and duck pattern onto the pink, white, and yellow construction paper, respectively. Have your child cut out the farm animals following the lines.


Make chocolate pudding with your child. Imagine the chocolate pudding is mud. With your child, finger paint chocolate pudding onto the cut-outs. Have your child write in the mud using their finger all the letters they found on the scavenger hunt.

2. Phonological Awareness

An appreciation that spoken words are made up of and can be broken into small speech segments.

The picture book: The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

The Cat in the Hat is perfect for this building block with Dr. Seuss’s use of word families. Read this story with your child until they can predict words in the story using rhyme.

“The sun did not shine.

It was too wet to play.

So we sat in the house

All that cold, cold, wet....”

The activity: Grab a cookie sheet, some magnetic letters, and you’ve got a phonics activity your emergent reader will love!


Use blue and red magnets to help your child differentiate between consonant and vowel letters. Arrange the magnets on the cookie sheet to form word families such as -at.

Now, change the word by changing the beginning letter. How many new words can you create? Write a story using your new words and create your very own phonics book.

3. Vocabulary Knowledge

An age-appropriate ability to produce and understand a wide range of terms.

The picture book: The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood and Audrey Wood


The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear introduces a wide range of terms for you and your preschooler to explore. Point out interesting words while reading with your child. Explore the meaning of these words within the context of the story.

The activity: Have your child dictate/write words they love on word strips. Write the meaning of the word on the back of the word strip. Collect words in a fun box or canister.

4. Print Concepts

An understanding of the characteristics of books, the purposes for reading and writing.

The picture book: Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James


Dear Mr. Blueberry is a classic story told in letters written between Emily and her teacher, Mr. Blueberry. This format showcases the purposes for reading and writing in one of my favorite children’s picture books. Read this book with your child until they are familiar with the story.

The activity: You and your child are going to mail letters to each other! But, first, take your child shopping for stationery paper. Then, have them pick one of their favorite topics to write about. Emily’s favorite topic was whales. Help your child choose two or three books about their topic for research. Finally, write and mail your letters.


Don’t worry if your child is too young to write. It’s okay for them to draw pictures instead or have them dictate the letter to someone else.

5. Motivation

A positive attitude toward books and reading and a desire to learn more.

The picture book: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt retold by Michael Rosen


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is the perfect story to help your child develop a positive attitude toward books and reading. The sing-song text encourages young readers to venture through long, wavy grass, a deep, cold river, and thick oozy mud to catch a bear. Once your child is familiar with this story (and you’ve been on a few bear hunts of your own), change the roles.

The activity: Create a life-sized board game in your living room! Cut giant paw prints from brown and black construction paper. Create a bear cave from a large wooden or cardboard box. Tape the paw prints to the floor leading to the bear cave.


Pick 2-4 children to be life-size bear game pieces. Take turns rolling a giant 1-3 die. Count the dots on the die. Move forward on the paw prints. The first one to the bear cave wins!

Ready to read with your child?

You don’t have to stick with the classic children’s books I suggested. Though you can! But you might have some of your own classic favorites you’d like to share with your child. Let these five pre-reading building blocks be your foundation as you read.


Happy reading!

S. J. Rosson


Barnsley, PhD, Ruth Fielding. 5 Critical Pre-Reading Building Blocks. 1997.
Moomaw and Hieronymus. More Than Counting: Whole Math Activities for Preschool and Kindergarten. Redleaf Press. 1995.

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