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 Barb Turk

Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson is a long-standing favorite of my young yoga students who love the secret that Otto reveals in the first few pages: when no one is looking, he comes to LIFE! And he comes right out of the book! Launching the narrative with this magical notion, Otto (like Corduroy before him) has independent adventures all over his home—exploring the environment, reading his favorite books, and writing stories of his own.  

Until one day, Otto is left behind.  

This twist addresses one of our primary fears—separation from home and family. Brave Otto takes a moment to consider his options, then forms a plan, packs a bag, and sets off to find a new home—a new place to belong. Otto hasn’t been out in the world before and finds it somewhat overwhelming, yet bravely persists. And just when his perseverance starts to fade, he sees a place “that looks full of light and hope”—the public library.

Otto excitedly enters the library, intrigued by the rows and rows of books! He climbs the shelves, eager to find a book that suits him. And lo and behold he discovers something even better—another book bear, Ernest. Ernest introduces Otto to the many other book creatures at the library, and in the end Otto sleeps peacefully, content and calm, reassured and relieved to have found his new place to belong.

Introduction to the story

I love helping young students consider and appreciate that they have more than one place to belong! You can start story time by discussing what it means to belong somewhere. How do you know you belong there? Who is there who helps you? What does it feel like when you are somewhere you belong?

Yoga Poses

Otto is a bear, and let’s be honest—bears have big bottoms. You might have a giggle about this, but it’s true! Have the children (and their caregivers) look at Otto, then get up and pose in a modified Chair Pose (Utkatasana), making their bottoms as big as they can by sitting while standing.

Once the children are in Chair Pose, bring their attention to their arms, hands near their shoulders, as if to wave hello. You can also have them practice being Otto, growling quiet, friendly greetings at each other. Then point out Otto’s perfect yogic posture on the cover of the book and sit down to mimic that—straight backs, straight legs, hands on knees. From there you can start reading the story.

Read a few pages of the book, and then re-enact what has happened through poses. Start with Otto in the book, sleeping, curled up in Child’s Pose. Next have the children stretch and wake, arching and collapsing their backs while on their hands and knees. Breath in while arching and breath out while curving the back.

As Otto leaves the book, have the children lift opposite arms and legs while staying in one place on their hands and knees. This is tricky! When children struggle to lift opposites at the same time, I start with one leg and encourage them to look back at their stable knee and lift the opposite arm. Once Otto explores the house, have the children sit to continue the story.  

When Otto is left behind, he is sad, and curls up for protection and recovery, again in Child’s Pose. He then makes plans, and packs. Have the children spread their legs wide and consider what they’d need to pack for an adventure—favorite snacks, drinks, toys—putting them deep in our bags, reaching for their toes. Then have them zip the bags by bringing their legs together. And they are ready to head out on the adventure!

The Sun Salutation series of poses, modified for smaller people, makes a great companion to Otto’s adventure. As the adventure comes to a close, Otto’s tired and droopy… until he sees the library. Have the children mimic Otto climbing the shelves in the library by reaching and stretching in place. And then Otto sees ANOTHER BOOK BEAR! The children can return to their earlier Otto poses, greeting each other with enthusiastic, friendly growls.  

Otto has found his place to belong—something we all need.

Further Reading

Other books I love that find the characters becoming more grounded in themselves and their places include:

  • Pezzettino by Leo Lionni
  • Shoe Baby by Joyce and Polly Dunbar
  • The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge

Barb Turk loves that her abundant enthusiasm for children’s picture books can be put to good use both in the classroom and on the yoga mat. She has taught primary school-age children in and out of the classroom for more than 20y years, and created Bookworm Yoga/BloomBRIGHT to integrate her love of both. She currently teaches Year 5 and Mindfulness at an independent preparatory school in northwest London.   

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