One of my favorite authors of toddler books is Sandra Boynton . All of her books have great illustrations of cute animals: elephants, dogs, moose, and even turkeys. A lot of her books are filled with rhyme, which lends itself to kids “reading along” or filling in the blank at the end of a line. But in my opinion, her best book for stimulating expressive language doesn’t rhyme at all. Blue Hat, Green Hat. This book is fantastically simple and repetitive. The premise of the book, if you can call it that, is that there is this silly turkey who can’t figure out how to put his clothes on correctly. He puts his shoe on his head and his coat on his beak. Oops! Then on the last page, the turkey finally gets himself dressed correctly, only to jump into a swimming pool with his clothes on. Oops!
If this book is so simple, how can it help stimulate expressive language? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. On most of the pages, there are three animals wearing the article of clothing correctly, followed by the silly turkey wearing the same clothing incorrectly. So the first page reads, “Blue hat, green hat, red hat, oops!” Then on the next page, all of the animals are wearing a different piece of clothing, while the turkey is again wearing it incorrectly. After a few readings of this book, even the most reluctant talkers are likely to chime in with “Oops!” if the parent/reader pauses at the end of the page.
Fun Tip: When reading simple board books with your child, once s/he has heard the book a few times, pause at the end of a sentence or page, point to the word, and look at your child expectantly. In this way, you model joint attention, demonstrate pointing, express a positive desire for your child to interact with you, and help keep your child engaged in the reading process.
Because the animals are only wearing one article of clothing on each page, it’s easy to focus a child’s attention on the individual things we wear and to talk about what they are called. It’s also a great book for learning the names of the basic colors and a few animals.
You can also use this book to talk about basic body parts, especially in a fill-in-the-blank format. “We’re supposed to wear shoes on our ___,” as you point to the child’s feet, “but that silly turkey put his shoe on his ___,” as you point to the child’s head.
Another skill you can easily target with Blue Hat, Green Hat is combining words. This book models the two-word phrase beautifully without sounding infantile. Young language learners, especially those whose language is delayed, learn best by hearing language that is only slightly more complex then what they are already able to say.
Lastly, and this is my favorite part, you can hand this book to a small child after reading it together a few times, and you very well might hear him/her “reading” the book alone. I’ve seen children point to each picture in the book and name the clothing: “hat, hat, hat.” Other children point out the colors, while some name the animals, but they all seem to effortlessly remember to say, “Oops!” at the end of each page. This is the most rewarding part of my job as an in-home speech-language pathologist: seeing the look on the face of a parent when his/her toddler, who has a limited vocabulary and “hates books,” willingly engages with a book and talks.
Do you have a child with a language delay and/or one who needs speech therapy? Gainesville-area parents can contact me for an in-home consultation, and everyone is welcome to comment here or email me for more information.