Get Busy! Fun with Interactive Books

Inject some entertaining challenges into your summer reading lists, programs, or displays with these puzzle, seek-and-find, and participatory storybooks.
Launch an enjoyable summer with this selection of interactive books that demand participation, encourage imagination, and keep young minds actively humming along. Included here are stories that invite kids to take part in the telling, titles that explore basic learning concepts in fresh and innovative ways, and puzzlers that provide seek-and-find conundrums and other brain-teasing challenges. In addition to wiling away the hours, these engaging offerings will foster visual focus and concentration skills, encourage creative problem solving, and help children associate reading with having fun.

Read, Imagine, and Play

Blending lively rhymes with vibrant artwork, two picture books by Jessica Young and Daniel Wiseman (Bloomsbury, May. 2018; PreS-K) invite youngsters to step right into the storytelling. In Play This Book, endearingly depicted kids ask readers to join the band, strumming a hot-pink guitar, tapping piano keys, and more. Each instrument is clearly depicted and sized appropriately for hands-on pretend play, whether participants are patting a drum, turning the book vertically to finger saxophone keys, or closing it to make the “CRASH” of cymbals for an applause-worthy finale. Featuring an equally winsome cast, Pet This Book calls upon readers to join in and caretake an array of appealing critters. With eye-grabbing page designs and fun-to-imitate actions and sounds, these titles are great choices for sharing one-on-one or with groups. Similar in format to his other crowd-pleasing offerings, Hervé Tullet’s Say Zoop! (Chronicle, 2017; PreS-Gr 2) focuses on playing with sound. The action starts out with a painted blue dot (“Put your finger on this dot and say “Oh!”), and as the dot’s size changes, so does the volume. From there, the easy-to-follow text encourages readers to adjust loudness, rhythm, pitch, and tempo to match the visual clues, resulting in a celebration of sound and motion (and a basic introduction to musical notation). After a red dot (“Ah!”) and a yellow dot (“Waahoo!”) are added to the mix, kids are instructed to make them converse, bounce on a trampoline, and even combine their sounds (and colors) to invent a whole new language. Throughout, Tullet’s simple text and clean compositions creatively convey the storyline while leaving plenty of possibility for youngsters to provide their own vocal experimentation and imaginary adventuring. In Nicola O’Byrne’s What’s Next Door? (Nosy Crow, Jan. 2018; PreS-Gr 1), readers are recruited to help Carter, a lost crocodile, find his way home. After drawing a door (tracing the dotted lines on the page), youngsters “jiggle” the book to help the big-bottomed reptile fit through the die-cut space. Alas, the page turn reveals that the cantankerous Carter has landed in a stormy sea, definitely not his preferred environment. The expedition continues through various terrains until the croc, growing increasingly aggravated, is finally returned to his proper habitat. This lighthearted tale’s deadpan narration, humorous warm-hued artwork, and pleasingly predatory protagonist will have audiences giggling aloud. Youngsters can use their fingers to follow along as a boy, a girl, and an orange cat embark on a whimsical excursion to the Playground (Lemniscaat, 2016; PreS-Gr 2). Mies Van Hout uses effervescent sherbet hues to depict dreamy landscapes with mazelike paths that span from left to right (small arrows mark starting and ending points). The kids must find their way across a stand of turquoise trees (while avoiding bird nests), leap across bridges to ford a river (watched by crocodile eyes), navigate through a dusky cave (don’t wake up the monster!), and more, joined by various critters along the way. When the protagonists finally reach their destination—a rather dull swing set drawn in black-ink lines—they quickly realize that the joy was in the journey and head back for more. Readers will happily join them, pouring over the entrancing pages to seek additional details, possible pathways, and imagination-powered wonders. That’s My Hat! (Thames & Hudson, 2016; PreS-Gr 3), declares stick-figure boy, as his blue semi-circle-shaped chapeau (which he has just sketched with a pencil) is swept away by a gust of wind. Never fear, he quickly draws a rectangle taxi to follow after. Illustrated with crisp pen-and-ink lines and geometric spots of flat color, this seek-and-find romp incorporates sturdy, low-profile pop-ups that add dimension (and additional hiding spots) to the pages. After the hat is grabbed by a cheeky monkey at the zoo, the chase continues through park, bakery, market, department store, art museum, and library, before climaxing with a dangerous moment atop a towering skyscraper (thankfully, the boy draws another semicircle and transforms it into a parachute to guarantee a safe landing). Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud’s cheerful book brims with gentle humor, visual enchantments, and draw-and-tell story-making possibilities.

Back to Basics

Julie Safirstein’s Night and Day: A Big Book of Opposites (Princeton Architectural Pr., 2017; PreS-K) explores familiar concepts with innovative book making and stylish graphics. On the first spread, splotches of color delineate sizes (readers lift the flap for “Very Small” to discover a red ladybug silhouette, “Small” for a yellow butterfly, and “Large” for a gray elephant, while a gatefold for “Huge” reveals a blue whale). On another double page, circle sliders can be moved closer to other labeled shapes (for “Together”) or to the much-less-crowded page top (for “Alone”). On the final spread, a snake silhouette grows from “Long” to “Very Long” when a three-panel gatefold is opened. Throughout, images are playfully reintroduced and ideas are explained and expanded upon, providing opportunity for repeated readings and connect-it-all-together discussion. Up, Down & Other Opposites  (Phaidon, Mar. 2018; PreS-K) features reproductions of artworks by Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015), an abstract artist known for utilizing bold, simple shapes, and bright colors. The engaging text asks readers to look at each pairing and make comparisons that reinforce the basic idea (“This square is HUGE…and these squares are TINY!”). Other combinations include empty and full, apart and together, straight and curvy, horizontal and vertical, and rough and smooth. In addition to reinforcing the concept and cultivating descriptive language, this sturdy board book can be used as a launch point for creative endeavors that explore shape and color. Various animal babies have gone missing, and Satu Kontinen’s Mokomaki! (POW!, 2017; PreS-K), little owl-like critters with big round eyes, are determined to find them. A concerned mama or papa appears on the left side of each spread to provide a clue, while very similar-looking (possible) offspring are grouped on the right. For example, a reindeer parent reveals that Little Reindeer was feeling hungry, guiding readers to look closely at the six babies and reason out the answer (one has a tiny pie in its mouth). Throughout their adventures, which become more and more challenging, the chattering Mokomaki encourage readers to count, name colors, search for differences, and make other comparisons and observations, further enhancing visual literacy skills.

Look Closer: Search-and-Find Fun

Kids can journey through Letter Town (Orchard, 2018; PreS-Gr 1) along with Bus Driver B to search out a variety of letter-shaped characters from Astronaut A to Zookeeper Z. Bursting with eye-dazzling hues and humorous touches, Darren Farrell’s playful spreads challenge readers to identify a whirlwind of blobby individuals and practice associating letter sounds with words with images. For example, a stop at the beach showcases numerous B’s—holding balloons, blowing bubbles, playing baseball, and more (a roster appears on the end pages). In addition, youngsters also help solve a mystery, as sneaky Robber R appears early on to purloin various objects and stow them in his sack (Detective D is soon on the case, and the chase begins). This entertaining adventure encourages multiple readings and reinforces letter awareness. Everyone in Cycle City (Chronicle, Mar. 2018; PreS-Gr 3) is gearing up for tonight’s Starlight Parade, but the planning committee (a quintet of pigs ensconced on a circular merry-go-round-style scooter) has not yet delivered all of the invitations. It is up to Mayor Snail (and sharp-eyed readers) to journey through this busy town and find these individuals, each of whom has a unique bicycle (like Frog’s “amphibious” three-wheeled canoe). Alison Farrell’s charming watercolor-and-ink illustrations depict a whimsical world jam-packed with enchanting animal characters. The cheerful text directs the action, setting each scene and encouraging youngsters to seek additional details and fully immerse themselves in this bustling, bicycle-loving community. Additional storylines unfold in the artwork, initiating comparisons from spread to spread and unleashing imaginations. The book culminates with the big event, where enthusiastic Etta Elephant, visiting Aunt Ellen for the day, is named Grand Marshall. Fans of the "Where’s Waldo?" books will enjoy tagging along on Dinosaur Detective’s Search-and-Find Rescue Mission (Wide Eyed, 2017; K-Gr 4). Decked out in old-school aviator hat and goggles the eponymous sauropod flies his small plane out of his mountain lair and gets busy helping various individuals locate lost friends (and other items). Wonderfully envisioned and intricately detailed, the 11 scenarios include a mountain scene (complete with grazing sheep, skiers, and a green monster biting off a snowy peak), a museum setting (browsed by a diverse crowd of humans, ghosts, and one-eyed aliens), and outer space (there is an eyeball planet, zodiac-style beasts, Death Star, and much more). After Dinosaur Detective returns home (his exact location in this multi-leveled structure must be pinpointed), readers are challenged to go back for another round of forgotten objects. Sophie Guerrive’s colorful scenes are crammed with humorous details that will captivate and amuse youngsters as they pore over the pages. Sarah Dennis and Sam Hutchinson’s Animal Camouflage (Princeton Architectural Pr., 2017; Gr 1-5) takes readers to seven locales to learn about—and search for—the animals that live in each environment. For example, a spread on “African Animals” broadly introduces that region and several of its most well-known denizens (i.e., zebra, cheetah, giraffe, lion, etc.). A page turn reveals an elegant, monochromatic cut-paper illustration with all of the featured creatures hidden within. A key on the left lists the 11 species readers must seek and provides an extra challenge (“Pick out the horned animals in this scene”). Lovely to look at, this search-and-find puzzler contributes to readers’ awareness of the diverse and wondrous life forms that share our world and just might inspire further investigation.


Xu Bing’s Look! What Do You See? (Viking, 2017; Gr 3-6) opens with a top-secret mission for readers: they must crack the book’s secret code to decipher mysterious text that looks similar to Chinese calligraphy. Each spread pairs phrases of code with Becca Stadtlander’s exquisite folk-style paintings. Kids are informed that the first 12 spreads feature classic American songs (heard perhaps during “campfire or school bus sing-alongs”), while the last 5 are translations of classic Chinese songs. They must interpret the action depicted in the scene and try to equate events with a song (e.g., illustrations showing a baseball diamond and cheering fans might bring to mind “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”). As youngsters match the familiar lyrics to the coded characters, the wheels will begin to turn, and the mysterious ciphers will begin to come into focus (though they look like Chinese calligraphy, the glyphs actually consist of Roman letters). Readers can then apply the code to other selections. An explanation of how to write Square Word Calligraphy is appended, inviting kids to take the experience further, along with an answer key and song lyrics. This handsomely illustrated volume introduces art appreciation and encourages cross-cultural explorations while providing code-cracking fun. Andy Mansfield invites intrepid youngsters to See the Stripes (Candlewick, Mar. 2018; K-Gr 5) hidden away in 10 visual puzzles by manipulating pop-ups, fold-outs, and pull tabs. For example, finding a purple stripe relies upon folding and overlapping a series of lift-up rectangles in just the right order, while a pink stripe only appears when three sets of pull-tabs are aligned in the correct way. Grids of small colored squares have parts that can be lifted up and folded—and refolded—in different directions until the sought-after stripes are exposed. The final spread features a 3-D pop-up that can be manipulated to reveal nine different cleverly hidden stripes. Put this entertaining brain-teaser into the hands of only the most patient and persistent puzzle lovers (warning: no answers provided).

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