First are those NNAT and OLSAT practice books. They combine a story idea--let's be a detective--with nicely illustrated test questions. They teach how to listen to instructions and use checkmarks to fill in your answers. They help kids learn to think about what's the same, what's different, what's the pattern, and how to count. And, in a way that tests themselves can't, they invite the adult to participate, which allows (hopefully) for dialog, explanation, and recognition of different ways of seeing. I can't help wondering, if my high school entrance exam had been multiple choice (as these tests are), would I have failed? I'd surely have failed the math since I'd never heard the word Algebra in my life, and I invented my own purpose-built algorithm for interpreting and answering the questions. My answers were all wrong, but the test wasn't multiple choice so the teacher could see how I found such zany answers. He kindly allowed me to "pass" the exam. From there, I went on to love math and earn my degree at Cambridge University England. So I guess I'm a bit good, but multiple choice would have doomed me to fail. All the same, in a world where multiple choice rules, these test prep books looks great. Enjoy with some bright lively two-star coffee, and talk to your kids!
Ceri Clark's Space Puzzles - Minkie Monster and the Birthday Surprise offers a much shorter and simpler collection of puzzles. My mathematical critic wished the author and illustrator had played more tricks with matching numbers of ships portholes to numbers on the side and so on. But the simple puzzles cover all the old favorites from my childhood and include a snakes and ladders game plus downloadable content. A fun short read, this is one to enjoy with some mild crisp one-star coffee.
A truly beautiful picture book--purely old-fashioned with gorgeous imagery, well-crafted words, and a timeless message--is The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men by Isabelle Brent. The blend of traditional Christmas Bible quotes and the thoughts of a traveling horse is very nicely done, as wise men, gathered from farflung places, ride together to Bethlehem. The images hold more than the story, inviting adults and children to return to the pages again and again. And the informative author notes make it a book for adults to enjoy after the children go to bed. Perfect when fall's rain tells you winter is coming (No, No NO!), enjoy this with a warm-hearted,well-balanced three-star coffee.
And now for a picture book that's aimed at pleasing adults as well as making them think. Fifty Nifty Facts About Cats by J.M. Chapman & S.M Davis is a lovely fact-and-cat per page book with pictures perfectly chosen to match the very simple and clear information. You'll never look at a wet cat (or a toilet seat) the same way again. Enjoy with some lively two-star coffee and a feline companion (who may or may not be lactose intolerant).
Finally, Out There by Darren Beyer is filled with gorgeous photographs of space, planets and spacecraft--a wonderful picture book for the space enthusiast, and a fantastic resource filled with information about where and how life might develop, The solar system and the reader's imagination might both come to life. Enjoy this cool balance of awe-inspiring pictures and down-to-earth facts with a well-balanced three-star coffee.
So, can picture books help raise thinkers? I think they can, but only if they're well written, well illustrated, and well shared.