Sep 14, 2013

Best "HOW-TO" Book Ever? This Is It!

In the last post I featured two outstanding titles on how Mother Nature, in her symbiotic and gorgeous way, makes volcanic islands and chocolate. The authors and illustrators of those books harnessed their talents to make complex scientific information accessible and appealing to young readers, sparking curiosity in the process. I pointed out the importance of sharing these books with kids in school, using high quality visual literature to open minds to the wonder of science.
Simple Read Books, 2013

In the case of Julie Morstad, author and illustrator of HOW TO, the inspiration comes not from Mother Nature but from Human Child. On Goodreads I said,

"This nearly wordless book uses minimal text, wide white spaces, and children of diverse ages and ethnicities in every combination to suggest just a few of the many ways children can make themselves happy. It's light, bright, and enlightening. As the final page dares to state "the end",  a glimpse of a departing child's foot and back exiting to the right of the page suggests children will continue to figure out "HOW TO"... live. This is one book that should be shared with children of every age, if nothing else but to remind them of the power that lies within themselves."

The starred review in Kirkus included this note:

"...the characters’ delicate features exhibit an absorption in their activities that simultaneously signals the seriousness and satisfaction of concentration. The “be happy” conclusion portrays unself-conscious movement—including that initial runner, leaving the book."

Further, ForeWord Magazine had this to say:

"Another stunner from the gifted Julie Morstad. "How To" relays visual instructions on such events as washing your socks (stand in a puddle), watching the wind (fly kids), disappearing (hide behind a curtain), and watching where you're going (track your shadow). A perfect way to elevate familiar children's activities to capture their everyday magic. Innovative cropping of delicate drawings makes them even more precious."
Simply Read Books, 2011

Morstad's previous illustration work has received strong praise, too, including illustrating "The Swing", Robert Louis Stevenson's classic poem. Her work with Caroline Woodward's text in SINGING AWAY THE DARK generated a picture book ranked as  finalist in four Canadian Book Award competitions.

Julie resides with her family in Vancouver, BC, and her work spans some of the most impressive companies and media, including Chronicle Books, Harper Collins, Random House, Penguin, Simply Read Books, and Warner Bros. Music.

There has been a strenuous focus on Common Core, STEM, and other non-fiction titles, including picture books.  This has has extended the use of picture books into upper  elementary and middle school classrooms. *Yippee!*  Non-fiction "how-to" titles fit into that scenario beautifully, for reading and as mentor text for writing. *Again, yippee!*

My worry is that the various demands for measurable, testable, data-bubbled responses as decisive factors in measuring the lives of students, teachers, and even entire schools will nudge (or elbow or stampede) more reflective, open-ended titles such as these out the door.

As kids (and their families) are sucked back into a ten month pattern of tightly scheduled days and evenings, likely weekends, too, I'm hoping that this book might inspire us all to savor the spontaneous moments, encourage creativity, and keep the calendar "open" for openness of thought and deed. I wrote about this last year when reviewing Liz Garton Scanlon's celebration of passion and performance, THINK BIGIf spontaneity  appeals but you're wondering "how to" make it happen,  HOW TO is a great place to start.


  1. I can't wait to read these titles with my daughters!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny, and I know they'll love them. Hope you clicked on The Swing link- it has a video that will give you a better idea of how incredibly expressive her seemingly simple characters are. Enjoy!


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