In this day and age you hear a lot about how so many young adults don’t know how to solve problems because their parents never allowed them to encounter situations where they needed to figure things out on their own. I’ve heard people say that millennials don’t know how to handle rejection or failure because they were never given the chance to experience these things because their parents always jumped in to save them from feeling bad. I’m not saying that any of this is true or false, but it did get me thinking about children’s books that encourage them to figure out solutions to everyday problems as well as how to face some really big worries in their lives. I’ve chosen three books that parents can use to help their children develop problem solving skills, which are crucial to the development of the whole child.
SOLUTIONS TO COLD FEET and other little problems, by Carey Sookocheff
This is a sweet book about a little girl and her dog and the problems that occur in daily life. Problems such as a missing shoe, getting caught in the rain, a melting ice cream cone and more. As the book unfolds, this young girl and her dog are faced with many daily problems and then figure out ways to solve them. For example, the solutions for a melting ice cream cone are, “Lots of napkins. Eat fast. Share with a friend. Get another ice cream cone.” The reason I love this book is because it is full of opportunities for the person reading to the child to ask open ended questions that make the child think and come up with ideas and solutions. I would encourage the reader to ask the child at the beginning of each problem, “What would you do if…” and then state the problem. See how many ideas your child can come up with and then compare them with the actual solutions in the story. Talk about how the ideas may or may not work, and what could be done to make them work. You could even do a writing extension with this book and ask your child to come up with a problem that they have had and then draw a picture showing how they solved the problem. Have them write something to go with their picture, if they are able to. Remember, sometimes beginning writers may just scribble, write random letters, write the first letter of a word, or sound out a word phonetically. All of these are great examples of beginning writing, and a sure way to start the path for successful future readers and writers.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A PROBLEM? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
“What do you do with a problem? Do you worry about it? Ignore it? Do you run and hide from it?” What great questions to provoke thinking and problem solving for children! In this book a young boy has a problem, which is illustrated by a little dark cloud hovering above his head. He tries everything he can think of to try and make it go away, but the more he fights it the bigger it gets. He worries about what the problem will do to him if it ever catches him, and this just makes the problem loom larger and larger in his head. He runs from it, he hides, he tries disguising himself, but to no avail. Finally, he decides it has to stop, and he must face his problem head on. Once he does this, it turns out his problem wasn’t actually a problem after all, but it was actually an opportunity! An opportunity for him to “…learn and to grow. To be brave.”
In addition to this being an ideal book to foster creative thinking and problem solving skills in children, I was also impressed with the number of advanced vocabulary words that this book had. Words such as scowled, ignored, shooed, disguise, avoided and opportunities. The best way for children to develop good vocabularies is to read and be read to. When you come to a word that you think your child does not know then ask him/her about it. Say, “What do you think the word ______ means? Let’s read the sentence again and see if you can figure it out. Look at the picture. Maybe that will help.” It is always a good think to ask children open ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with “yes” or “no”) to help promote abstract thinking.
I want to mention the illustrations in this book. They are a combination of pencil and watercolor sketches that are very detailed and unique. Besom captures the young boy’s emotions so accurately in her illustrations and they depict the struggle he goes through in his quest to rid himself of his problem. I imagine readers will find new details every time they read this book, which I imagine will be many, many times.
IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A BROWNIE by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond
Okay, disclaimer here: I know this isn’t exactly a book about solving problems, but anyone who is familiar with Numeroff’s books knows that they are full of fun opportunities for kids to make predictions. In a way this is a form of problem solving, right? As usual, this book follows a boy and the “problems” he encounters when he gives his mouse a brownie. As soon as the mouse gets the brownie he has to have ice cream to go with it. Then he needs a spoon, and as soon as he gets the spoon he starts drumming on the table. That excites him to start a band, and on and on it goes throughout the book, until it comes full circle to the mouse getting some ice cream and wanting a brownie to go with it.
The reason I included this book in with the problem solving books is because each page brings up a dilemma for the boy in which he helps his mouse figure out how to get done all of the things that the mouse wants to do. As one thing reminds the mouse of another thing, the boy is constantly running around trying to do the things that mouse wants to do. This book is perfect for the reader to pose questions to the child about ways the boy can do these things, or what s/he thinks will happen next. As usual, Bond’s illustrations are delightful, colorful and brings this book to life. I love predictable books for kids, and all of Numeroff’s books in this series are circuitous and foster creative thinking. I highly recommend checking this series out. I know you and your child(ren) will love them.
While reading these books to your child(ren) be sure to ask questions such as, “What are some ideas that you would have to solve this problem?” and “What would you do if this happened to you?” It is very important for us as adults to listen, and I mean truly listen, to what children have to say. By encouraging this dialog you are not only helping your child to express himself/herself but you are also exercising the brain by making your child think of ways to solve problems. If your child’s answer is a shrug or an “I don’t know” then be patient and simply say, “That’s fine, I’ll wait while you think of something.” Then be sure that you accept any solution your child comes up with by stating, “What a great idea!” or “You really thought hard about that, didn’t you?” You want to make sure that your child feels comfortable giving answers without worrying about being wrong or right. The main idea is to help your child develop problem solving skills as well as language skills, all while enjoying literature with the people they love.
Kate Glinsmann (she/her) was an owner-partner of BabyNames.com, a lifelong educator with a masters degree in Education. For over 30 years, she worked with preschoolers with special needs, kindergartners, and English language learners.
In her spare time, Kate was a stained glass artist, who built her own studio and gave classes to her local community. Kate was a tireless advocate of those in need, particularly children, mothers and refugees. Kate passed away in December of 2019.