Puzzle books – why you’ll love them

Sorry we haven’t written much recently. There’s been a few things going on which has made focusing on Mrs ABC a little bit harder. Still, now that things have settled, it’s time to come back! And I’m going to start with one of my favourite types of books. Puzzle books! I’ve been wanting to write about these for a while, as they can be good in so many ways (and for many different children). So let me start by explaining what they are.

Puzzle books are stories which, as you can imagine, contain a puzzles. Mazes, Spot the difference, and “Where’s Wally” type games that all add to the story. They’re sort of like video games but in book form. You can read the story without doing the puzzles, and it will still make sense. However the real joy and wonder about these books is being a part of them. Every time you solve a puzzle you get to feel like you are with the character. So here are my top 5 reasons why you’ll love them too!

illustration of a brain with lots of bright colours, red, green, blue and yellow, splashed on it

1 Puzzles engage the brain

Puzzles can be key for child development. By doing a puzzle you develop problem solving skills, which you can use in other areas of life. As well as developing strategies for solving them, your memory adapts as it tries to hold onto various bit of information. These skills are the same used for solving maths or science problems. So if your child wants to be a mathematician, engineer or astronaut this is a great place to start.

These puzzles don’t just develop cognitive skills, but also emotional skills like patience, which are just as important. They also help raise your child’s self-esteem, due to the satisfaction and accomplishment of solving a problem. There really is no downside of doing puzzles.

photograph of tasty chocolate cakes with sprinkles of little pink hearts on top

2 The imaginative, adventurous settings

These books are set in so many wonderful locations! I love the book about Chocolate Island (the whole island made of chocolate! Sounds like heaven to me…) but there are ones set in the real world too. There’s a few set in the jungle, some on trains, and even some with dinosaurs! Whatever your child is into I’m sure there’ll be at least one story they’ll like the look of.

Having stories in lots of different settings not only makes them accessible to different children, they also make children aware of the different places on Earth. The puzzles in the Arctic are different to those in the Jungle, but both can be solved using the same techniques. This way your child learns that the skills they have can be used in different situations, helping them develop a growth mindset (look out for an article on the growth mindset coming soon).

photograph of a small child reading a book surrounded by sparkles and light

3 Great for children who struggle with reading

Children who find words difficult often find these books much easier. They can do the puzzles and get that warm feel-good feeling when they complete them. This helps them build their confidence with books, allowing them to transition to other books more easily. Although these books may not have as many words as some others, they can be still be great for your child’s development. So if your child only feels comfortable with these books, that’s fine. They’ll get to more complex books when they’re ready. For more tips on helping your child read have a look at our article What you can do when your child is having difficulties reading.

photograph of 2 boys and a girl lying on some grass, reading books

4 Suitable for all ages, genders and interests

What I find great about these books is that there are ones suitable for 4 year olds up to ones for 12 year olds. And even now, I still find the puzzles engaging. And these puzzles are not solely aimed at boys. There is such a wide array of stories that most children would be happy with at least one, whether they’re into mermaids, dragons or trains.

photograph of a grandmother reading to her two grandchildren

5 Great for family time

Although these books are great to be read individually some of the problems may get your child asking for you assistance. And that’s great! Reading books, or doing the puzzles in them, is a great time to bond together. It’s a great chance for them to learn from you, and to spend quality time together. These books are great for that. So prepare your skills in finding binoculars in the jungles, and finding the safest path across the sea.

Most of the puzzle books I’ve found are published by Usborne, and there are so many to choose from! So, as I love these books a lot, prepare to see a few reviews on these. Happy Puzzling 🙂

Why I Love The Minpins

The Minpins, written by the master of children’s books, Roald Dahl, is a great fantasy-adventure book for young readers. It was always a favourite of mine as a child, full of adventure and heroism. Fantasy and reality. I love that it was set in a forest that I could actually stumble across. And as it could be any forest in England, it made every forest in England potentially full of Minpins! (Minpins are the tiny people who live in trees)

The book stars Little Billy who, being told by his mother to not venture outside, heads out into the dangerous forest. There he finds a beast – and the Minpins – and sees the dangers of going outside. However brave Billy sees a way of making things safer, not just for him, but for everyone in the forest.

Read on for my reasons why I love this book, and think it’s so great for young readers.

1 It’s set in a real place

I find it truly magical when a fantasy book has an actual place in reality. Take Harry Potter for instance. The gateway to the Hogwarts Express is set in Kings Cross Station, allowing people to re-live the magic every time they see it. There’s even now half a trolley in the wall, so they can imagine going to Hogwarts themselves! So I love that The Minpins is set in an English forest, so that it could be any English wooded area. Imagine going on walks with your child and pointing out “There! I think I see a minpin!”. As a child I was definitely more receptive to walks if I could imagine there were minpins in the trees.

2 The Minpins

One of the reasons I love this book is because I love the Minpins themselves. I love that they have little suction boots that help them walk up trees. I love that they live inside trees! The whole idea of a whole house, in miniature, inside a tree…for me is incredibly magical. And maybe it’s a bit silly to look at a tree and think there might be tiny people inside, but I think the last line of the book says it all. Sometimes we need to believe in magic to find it. And in life, sometimes we need to believe in the unbelievable (that we can pass exams, go to medical school, become an astronaut, raise a child, whatever it is). Maybe believing in Minpins is a good start.

3 The incredible adjectives

Okay…maybe I don’t love it for the vocabulary, but I do think it definitely adds to the book. And learning new words is always great for children. Words like “whooshing” and “whoomph-whoomph” and “gigantic galloping hooves” really add pace and adrenaline to the story. Maybe you’ll start using words like “guzzling” and “tantalizing” too. These words are great for expanding your child’s vocabulary, helping them to advance to more complex books.

And let’s not forget the beautiful illustrations by Patrick Benson (as shown throughout this post). His drawings really bring the whole world to life. You can almost feel the “orange-red smoke” coming from the monster, as Billy flies through the air above it.

4 The adventure of being outside

This book is so full of adventure. From flying on a swan over a lake, to up above in the sky. Even if you don’t meet the Minpins, there is so much to be gained from going outside. This story will not only make kids excited to have their own adventures, but also encourages them to be brave. Developing resilience, problem-solving and determination by playing outside, or battling their own challenges, are skills that really help children deal with the wider world. Which leads me to…

5 Sometimes you need to step out of your door

Although ignoring the warnings of your mother is not usually the best idea for a child’s safety, sometimes, just sometimes, following your feet can be a good idea. Like Dory says in Finding Nemo “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him”. If you go into the forest you may find a beast, but you might also find that you can beat it.

Thank you for reading this article. If you want other books on going outside do read our article on Percy the Park Keeper. While the Karate Princess is a great story about being true to yourself. I hope this article helped you find another great book. Let us know what you think about it in the comments. Happy Reading! 🙂

Additional Learning
  • Go on a walk to a “Minpin” forest
  • Write a diary entry from one of the Minpins perspectives. What were you doing when you saw Billy? What is it like to fly on a bird?
  • Think of all the other good adjectives you and your children know. What words would they use to describe the Gruncher?

Why I Love the Kate Greenaway Medal

I’m not a fan of all awards, and I don’t care for the developing obsession for celebrities. However some awards are excellent at giving recognition to those who would otherwise not meet the public eye. And raises awareness for unknown, but fantastic, authors.  The Kate Greenaway Medal does that splendidly.

I first became aware of the Kate Greenaway Medal when doing a Masters module on children books.  It was actually this module that, quite literally, changed my life. I realised just how important it was for an educator to show children, and parents, not just good books, but great books, brilliant books, awe inspiring books.  And a great place to find these books is in the nominations list for this Medal.

5 Reasons Why I love the Kate Greenaway Medal

1 It’s been around for generations

The first medal was awarded in 1955, that’s 10 years before I was born, so I have literally been brought up on these books.  There are other awards and medals, but they are not yet able to celebrate their 60th year (which they are currently doing).  Just because something’s been around for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good.  But it’s certainly worth looking at, to see why and to see if you agree with the selection.

2 It awards the illustrators

My obsession about Picture Books is in part because I love books but it’s also because I love art.  I used to take my young children to art galleries and talk about the stories behind the paintings.  By sharing wonderful picture books with children you are not just sharing a story with them, you are sharing art with them.  The illustrators who are nominated have an amazing gift. They can create images that merge with the text, which creates a unique experience for each individual.  This award brings these talented people into our awareness. So that we can enjoy their books and share them with those we love.

3 The list of winners include some of my all time favourite books

With so many wonderful books it is difficult for me to pick just a few. But, if I have to, these are the ones that stand out for me:

  • Where The Wild Things Are
  • Borka
  • Dogger
  • This Is Not My Hat
  • Can’t You Sleep Little Bear
  • Jethro Byrde, Fairy Child
  • FaRther

These books have illustrations that I can see in my mind.  They are, quite literally, a part of me.  As a parent or carer, by sharing one of these, or any other book you love, you could be giving your child a memory that becomes part of them. That is a true gift.

Image of Front Cover of This Is Not My Hat written by Jon Klassen

4 It is a great starting point to finding books that your child will love

One reason we started this blog was to help you sift out books that you and your child will love.  The Kate Greenaway Award has recognised many wonderful illustrators over the last 60 years.  If you want a list of fabulous books, go to their website.  I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

5 It keeps me guessing for 8 months

In October, once the nominations are published, I try to read as many as possible. Then, when the longlist comes out in February, I re-visit them and wonder which will be selected for the shortlist in March.  Following that, I then have about three months to ponder on which one will ultimately receive the medal.  So that, in a time when new books come out every month, I can easily find great books to read to  the children.

There are other awards but this one, for me, ticks all the boxes.  The research evidence is clear, reading books to babies from 6 months old, and talking about the books, will give children greater vocabulary and early literacy skills.  If you can do that with beautifully crafted picture books, then you’re on to a winner, and if you want to find great books, the Kate Greenaway Award has them.  As the meerkat would say “it’s simples”!