Sometimes we all need a little bit of help to fall in love with a book

posted in: Eric Litwin, James Dean | 19

**Readers, please note, there is a single word in this post that you may not wish children to read**

A couple of week’s ago I picked up a picture book, read it and didn’t feel any particular connection to it.

The illustrations were ok, following that school of illustration which imitates what children themselves might create. The text was simple, with the type of repeated refrain that can often engage little listeners, and a nice enough message about always looking on the bright side of life. Nothing of particular note, nothing that I found great or terrible. So I shrugged my shoulders and put it back on the shelf.

Except our bookshelves are so packed that at some point in the night it fell off and on to the ground. It was still lying on the floor the following morning when M bounded down for breakfast.

M picked it up, read it and then started badgering me to read it to her. Inside I was quietly groaning. “Oh M, we have so many lovely books, if I’m going to have to read a book to you when I’ve barely woken up, not yet had any coffee, am still fighting with my body to bring it into the land of the living, can’t you choose a book I love?

Now M is able to read for herself, you can’t keep anything from her. “Mum, mum, it says the DVD is double sided, can we watch the other side?” “Mum, mum, it says you get sparkling white clothes if you use it!“, “Mum, mum, what does C -U -N …. umm, -T mean?” (the latter, I hasten to add was some graffiti on a pavement when we were out walking last weekend)…

The book on the floor had a little sticker style announcement on its cover. “For Free Song Go To….”. “Mum, mum, can we listen to the song?” “Mum, mum, mum…

My body and my brain were still only reluctantly surfacing so I thought, maybe a video would give me a little more peace and quiet. I picked up the book and checked what it said about the free song, and then I saw that it was possible to see the whole book being read on You Tube.

Aahh. Hooray! Someone else could tell M the story whilst I emerged into the land of the living.

So I put the video on for M and the kettle on for me.

Before the coffee had even brewed, I was sat next to M swaying, clicking fingers and clapping hands. Wow! The video was really fun! M was immediately hooked. I was immediately hooked! And suddenly I had a lightbulb moment with the previously unloved book.

Photo: Victor Bezrukov

Borrowing heavily from the performers on the video I re-read the book, pretty much copying what we’d seen on YouTube. Wow again! What a transformation. Suddenly the book was tremendous fun to read, and clearly lots of fun to listen to. M was giggling, joining in, begging for more and more.

Next day I even used the book as an excuse to buy a ukelele (a long time hankering) so I could add a bit of what’s perhaps best described as “je ne sais quoi” to my own performance reading!

So what was this book that went from bottom of the pile to top of the pile in 4 minutes 25 seconds?

Pete the Cat: I love my White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (which has been out in the US for a while, but has only recently reached UK shores) isn’t the most beautiful or sophisticated picture book you’ll come across this year, but I can’t deny we’ve had a lot of fun reading it. If you enjoy the opportunity to sing, dance and make silly noises when you read a story, I’m pretty sure you and your kids will enjoy this book. A lot.

Of course, of course, what the girls wanted to do after I had to stop singing because my voice was getting hoarse and my unpractised fingers were getting sore on the ukelele was to try out what actually happens in the book – stepping in strawberries, blueberries and mud to see what would really happen to some white shoes.

We negotiated somewhat and in the end we agreed that we’d make coloured dye from a selection of different fruit. With the summer holidays just around the corner, a new batch of playdough seemed like a good idea and with some guidance from this post by Mini-eco on natural dyes and playdough we got going.

We followed (more or less) Mini-eco’s instructions to extract a coloured liquid from strawberries, plums and blueberries (we also started off with turmeric but I chickened out of using the yellow liquid created, for fear of turning everyone’s hands and the kitchen table yellow).

I love making playdough with the girls as they can do so much of it themselves – pouring, measuring, mixing and kneading. The recipe is simple enough for an early reader to read themselves, then there’s the maths involved if making multiple batches, the sensory experience of handling the flour, salt and the final playdough. All in all a great activity.

Although probably not necessary we mashed up the fruit in the saucepan before simmering it in water – I knew the girls would love the physicality of this. It also gave them the opportunity to see that the inside flesh of the fruit was quite pale, and not the same as the outside skin. Indeed, both girls were quite surprise by how “green” the blueberries were inside.

Maybe you’re better at keeping things under control than we are, but making playdough can be pretty messy!

M covered with strawberry splatter!

Mini-eco’s playdough recipe worked really well, creating lovely-to-feel playdough. The colours extracted from the fruit were not quite what we were expecting (this little activity could make a great mini science project, predicting what colour you’ll get from different fruit). The plums gave us a pleasant pink, the strawberries gave us an almost red, whilst the blueberries definitely did not give us a blue, but rather a really vivid, rich purple.

I was quite surprised by how strong all the natural colours were. Also, the resulting playdough carries a surprisingly strong scent of the fruit used, particularly the strawberry playdough. I’m not sure how long the scent will last, and I’m monitoring the playdough to see how well it survives (I have slight concerns that having bits of fruit flesh in it may mean it doesn’t last so long, but so far so good!)

So there you have it. A book that didn’t immediately sing to me ended up getting me and my girls singing and doing science. In the words of Pete the Cat, “…it’s all good.” In fact, it’s really good!

Whilst we made our playdough we listened to:

  • Pete the Cat and His White Shoes by Mr. Eric (of course!)
  • Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis Presley
  • Goody Two Shoes by Adam Ant
  • Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes by the Re-Bops
  • Where’s My Shoes Blues by AudraRox

  • Other activities we could have tried alongside reading Pete the Cat include:

  • Dressing up with lots of different shoes – a trip to a charity shop might yield a good selection eg flipflops, boots, shoes with velcro, shoes with laces. Alternatively just let your kids try on all your different shoes – they’ll love it!
  • Making a Pete the Cat collage, like these here from Mrs Jump’s class (scroll to the bottom to see the images)
  • Exploring the Pete the Cat activity pages at Making Learning Fun

  • What’s the last book you’ve changed your mind about? What helped you change your opinion of it?

    Disclosure: I received my review copy of Pete the Cat thanks to 5_minutespeace. However, the opinions expressed in this post reflect my own and honest reaction to the book.

    For more views on Pete the Cat, check out what Andi at Laundry on the Line and Janelle at Brimful Curiosities had to say about it – they’re both people whose opinions I listen to!

    19 Responses

    1. Stacey

      What a true sentiment- sometimes books really do need a little extra introduction. Although I must say, for some reason, I fell in love with Pete immediately! I am always looking for books that will be fun for emerging readers to read on their own and Pete is such a great title for these little guys…

    2. Zoe

      Hi Stacey, you’re right it’s a great book for emergent readers, what with its simple, repetitive text, tho several words would have to be guess from context (“strawberries” and “blueberries” are much harder than the rest of the vocab in the book).

    3. Zoe

      Hi Damyanti,
      Yeah… I don’t really know why I even considered it as I know from cooking how turmeric just needs to be near something to turn it yellow… I guess I was just tempted by some bright yellow playdough with an interesting smell!

    4. Kate

      Hi…just wanted to say that I have never had any staining problems with turmeric once the playdough is made…give it a go…you’ll be suprised I’m sure!!

    5. Jackie@My Little Bookcase

      I love that your girls are old enough to negotiate reading activities with you. It’s beautiful and makes the connections to the book even more meaningful.
      I’ve also made playdough using Mini Eco’s recipe. You’re right. It’s so silky smooth.

      As for ‘Pete the Cat’, that song is super catchy. The books was certainly written to be sung wasn’t it?

      I had an extremely similar experience with a book. With the help of my two year old’s enthusiasm for the book it is now one of my favourites. I wrote about it here:

    6. Stacey

      Oh yes… Some words are certainly too hard for the little ones to read but the memorization factor is huge because the darn song is so catchy- for better or worse!

    7. Zoe

      Thanks Kate (Mini-Eco) for such a great original tutorial! Yours is a lovely blog, full of inspiration.

    8. Andi

      This book continued to be a favourite in my classroom for the rest of the school year, but you are right, it is definitely meant to be sung! 🙂 My students especially enjoyed acting out the story (we used paper to make the different things Pete stepped in.) I love the idea of making naturally-dyed playdough as a tie-in to the book, you always have such wonderful ideas!

      • Zoe

        Singing can really change a dynamic I think Andi. The new children’s laureate here in the UK is very keen on bringing more singing and drama into reading, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with that.

    9. Isil

      Looks like an interesting book, will look it up for my budding reader.I love the colours of your playdoughs.

      • Zoe

        Isil, the colours are super – I was really surprised by how lovely and vibrant they are.

    10. Jenna

      I am a children’s librarian, and Pete the Cat is one of my all-time favorite stories. Every time I read it I hook the kids and leave them singing. Every time. I’ve had kids come in and ask specifically for that book if they’ve seen me read it at their school or daycare. I’ve had kids come in and tell me it’s now their favorite book. The fun goes on and on and on. So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the great activity ideas.

      • Zoe

        Thanks Jenna for sharing your experience! I’m really glad that I too discovered it!

    11. Emma Phillips

      I have been looking for a gift for a birthday party next weekend and this book is perfect. I think I will put a post-in on the front pointing them to the song online though to make sure they get the most out of it!

      Great play dough, I love the colours. Going to give this a go when school finishes this week.

    12. Renee Taprell

      Pete the Cat is such an appealing book for children and adults. I’ve been singing the catchy song.

      Eric Litwin has cleverly incorporated all of the things that children love such as, colours, rhythm, humour, involvement, predictability, and repetition. I even like the pauses and the’ Oh No!’ part he uses to make the story come alive.

    13. Deb Marshall

      Well now! Thanks so much for sharing Pete! I’m a fan now and will for sure get it…..doing a story time for a day camp today, how I wish I had that book!

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