If you want to read or write in a non-traditional story format, cumulative and how-to books add a fun variation.

Cumulative Stories (or chain tales) contain dialogue or action that repeats and builds throughout the story.

“How-To” Picture Books are often written in steps. They teach the reader how to do something and they usually have a second layer of education/and or humor built in.

The following are some of the BEST around. They are great as mentor texts or storytime reads.

“How-To” structured Picture Books

Picture book HOW TO GIVE YOUR CAT A BATH with a little girl, a cat, and a tub.

HOW TO GIVE YOUR CAT A BATH by Nicola Winstanley & John Martz is a brilliant mess. Hahaha. This cat does not want a bath…so the steps do not go as smoothly as you might expect, making it perhaps my favorite instructional picture book.

Picture book HOW TO TEACH A SLUG TO READ with a cute slug and a book.

How do you teach a kid the steps to take to be able to read? You teach him HOW TO TEACH A SLUG TO READ (Pearson/Slonim) and he will pick up the steps himself along the way. This book is darling.

A girl and her robot laying on the beach on the cover of a book called HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE.

HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE by Josh Funk & Sara Palacios is about a girl who is having a hard time building a sandcastle, so she brings a robot along. The problem is that the robot needs programming. That is where the code comes into play. As the reader learns how to write code for this robot, they will pick up on general coding rules in a kid-friendly and engaging way.

Little Girl Sitting on a Lamb, knitting.

IF YOU WANT TO KNIT SOME MITTENS takes readers back 18 steps before you have mittens…back to when you are at the stage of “Get a sheep.” Between the sweet illustration and wording of the steps, this book will knit itself right into your heart.

Young Girl working to write a story.

HOW TO WRITE A STORY by Kate Messner & Mark Siegel simplifies the steps of writing a story for kids, but even adults reading this story might learn a thing or two. They are all legitimate, important steps for writing any story. This book is great for school or home.

Cumulative Structured Picture Books

Little mouse on a rock in the forest. Other forest animals around.

THE QUIET FOREST by Charlotte Offsay & Abi Cushman is a brilliantly structured story that starts with a mischievous mouse and builds in chaos to the waking of a bear, but then the calm winds blow, the bear is hugged by a cub, and the chaos calms to a sweet, satisfying end. This book is cumulative with enough repetition to be predictable for kids but not over-repetitive for parents. Don’t miss this one!

Little Boy in a boat on a river

THIS IS THE BOAT THAT BEN BUILT by Jen Lynn Bailey & Maggie Zeng is the House that Jack Built with much more charm. As Ben floats down the river, he comes across adorable wildlife in beautiful settings. The back matter teaches kids more about each of the animals introduced in the story. I never tire of this delightful story.

Girl looking at a very big pumpkin.

Another story based on the basic structure of the House that Jack Built, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW by Sue Heavenrich & Chamisa Kellogg uses the cumulative structure to teach the seed-to-plant cycle. In the end, the pumpkin Molly grows is used to make a pumpkin pie. Perfect for Pi Day, Thanksgiving, or any day of the year you want to read a great story.

Large, Red dragon with a blue horse and knight peeking out from behind it.

I am a HUGE fan of the original There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly story. My grandma read it to me when I was little and sang the song. Never would I have thought I would hear a version that I liked more than the original…but this may have done it. I burst out laughing and was smitten from the start, “…I don’t know why he swallowed the knight. It’s not polite.” [Insert illustration of a knight inside a dragon’s belly who looks quite put out. Hahaha.]

Family tip-toeing in a line.

Both GOING ON A BEAR HUNT (Rosen/Osenbury) and THE NAPPING HOUSE (Wood) are classic cumulative tales that you are probably already familiar with, but their greatness cannot be overlooked. In GOING ON A BEAR HUNT, a family is going to look for a bear. With sing-song text and onomatopoeias, this book is a favorite in most households. THE NAPPING house talks about a granny sleeping on a bed. As each page turns, another animal is piled on top of the granny and the zaniness grows. Once again, this is another popular family favorite.

Bed with a granny and other pile of people on top.

Enjoy your writing and reading!


Another unique form of picture book is an epistolary tale:

Epistolary Picture Books mailbox and picture books with letter themes.