Book to Boogie is a monthly series that pairs picture books with dance and movement activities for preschool story time. The series is curated by Kerry Aradhya of Picture Books & Pirouettes and written by a different guest writer each month. We hope that children’s librarians, as well as classroom teachers and dance educators, will find these activities useful and fun!

by Amy Seto Forrester

city-shapes-coverToday we’ll take a look at Diana Murray and Bryan Collier’s joyous new book, City Shapes. Murray’s rhyming text pairs beautifully with Collier’s watercolor and collage-on-watercolor paper illustrations depicting a vibrantly diverse urban setting.

In the book, a curious young girl follows a pigeon’s flight through the bustling city to the bird’s circle of a nest high on a rooftop, where the bird falls asleep to the sounds of the city’s “sweet lullaby.” Along the way, the girl discovers that “the city is bursting with SHAPES.” The shapes start out as simple ones — squares, rectangles, triangles, and circles — and then progress to more complex ones — ovals, diamonds, and stars.

City Shapes is a perfect fit for a preschool story time because it emphasizes shapes, and shapes are the perfect jumping off point for movement. Shapes are the foundation for many letters, and the better children can recognize shapes, the easier it is for them to recognize letters. Letter knowledge (knowing all the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make) is a building block to learning to read.

The illustrations and text in this book are equally strong and engaging. When viewed from a bit of a distance, the kaleidoscopic and textured layers of the mixed-media illustrations meld and pop, making this a wonderful book to read with a group. Murray’s rhythmic text, with fabulous vocabulary (e.g., “dazzling,” “gleaming,” “aglow”) and evocative imagery (e.g., “chitchatting crowds hustle-bustle below”), encourages caregivers to fill their children’s lives with wonderful words. The more words a child knows, the easier it will be for him or her to read when it’s time.

As #WeNeedDiverseBooks points out in its vision statement, we are all instrumental in creating “a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” Whether you work with urban kids who will see themselves reflected in this story or you provide a window into a different world for urban or suburban kids, the diversity in this book is joyful and inclusive.

Movement activity for story time

  • As each shape is introduced into the story, explore making that shape with your body. Can you make a circle with your hands, feet, legs, arms, or whole body?
  • Take this idea one step further by making shapes with a friend. This could be a child or adult caregiver. This encourages kids to practice communication and negotiation, which are both very important skills for school readiness (i.e., skills kids need to excel in school).
  • If you have the space, ask the whole group to work together to make the outline of a shape. Take hands, create a circle, and then morph it into an oval. You can do the same by modifying a square into a rectangle into a diamond.
  • Tape the outline of shapes on the floor and have kids walk along them. Walk on tiptoes or hop on one foot to develop balance. Turn on music and have the group practice freezing when the music stops. All are excellent activities for developing self-control and the ability to follow directions.
  • Make shapes with stretchies. Lay them on the ground, step on them, and stretch them high, or use them with a partner. Stretchies are super simple to make from cotton lycra (used to make leggings). Cut the fabric into 4” x 60” strips. Tie or sew the ends together to make a loop. Lycra doesn’t fray, so there’s no need to hem.
  • Make shapes with the entire group using a giant stretchy. Sew or tie several stretchies together to make a big circle. A giant stretchy can then be used like a parachute. I actually like it more than a parachute because it can be stretched in multiple directions at one time, it can expand to include more participants of different heights, and you can always see everyone around the circle. Plus, some kids like to stand or dance in the middle and that’s a-ok with a giant stretchy.
  • Give out scarves and wave them in the air to make each shape. Do it fast and slow, and high and low.
  • Pair each shape with a yoga pose:
    • Rectangle: seated forward fold
    • Square: cow
    • Triangle: triangle or downward dog
    • Circle: make your arms into a circle above your head or in front of your body
    • Oval: child’s pose
    • Diamond: butterfly pose
    • Star: five-pointed star pose
  • Encourage families to extend the book by looking for shapes around the library, on their way home, at the grocery store, or in any other place they go together. When they find a shape, see if they can make it with their bodies.

Additional ideas and pairings

Pair this book with another about shapes, such as Round is Mooncake by Roseanne Greenfield Thong or Michael Hall’s Perfect Square. Sing “A Circle is a Shape” or “Do You Know What Shape This Is?” 

You could also use this book for a city-themed story time. Sing the “Elevator Song” and read poems from Lee Bennett Hopkins and Marcellus Hall’s City I Love. Read Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, Blackout by John Rocco, or Lauren Castillo’s Nana in the City.

Amy UkeAmy Seto Forrester earned her MLS at Texas Woman’s University and is a children’s librarian for Denver Public Library’s Central Children’s Library. She is an active ALSC member and has served on the Library Services to Special Populations Committee, the 2016 Geisel Award Committee, and currently the School Age Programs and Services Committee. She is a co-host for the new Mock Geisel blog:

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