Dance, Ride, Wriggle & Run with These Great Books

With spring break behind us, we are in the home stretch for school. Summer is right around the corner. But that’s almost worse, because many of us want to be outside in the warm sunshine, which can make listening to a teacher while sitting at a desk tough. That is why, for this month’s reading, I’ve chosen books that encourage us to get up and move or get outside.

One of my favourite things about Victoria is seeing the cherry blossoms in the spring. There is such a magical and inviting feeling when you’re walking on a street with cherry blossoms raining down on your head. Outside In by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cindy Derby (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020), captures this emotion. And Derby’s paintings are gorgeous. The images add to the brilliant magic of Underwood’s words. And together they tease us with butterflies, sunbaked smells and chirps and rustles. After reading it, your kids will likely feel the pull to go outside and try to find a butterfly for themselves. For ages 4 to 7.

We All Play by Julie Flett (Greystone Kids, 2021) is just as whimsical. This story celebrates the different ways that people and animals move and play. Your kids can slip and slide, rumble and roll along with the different animals Flett showcases. While this might seem like a strange idea, this could be a good book to read before bedtime. It’ll help your children get out any last wriggles before settling down to sleep, and Flett’s fantastic illustrations have a fairly muted palette, which brings a calming sense to the story in spite of the actions within the pages. Also, for those of you who are interested, We All Play is semi-bilingual. Meaning, not all the words are in two languages, but several Cree words are included in the story. And if you want to learn more, there are additional Cree words at the back of the book along with their translations and pronunciations. For ages 2 to 4.

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The third book also encourages children to move, though in a different way. A Mermaid with No Tail by Jessica Long and illustrated by Airin O’Callaghan (Sounds True, 2023) is about a mermaid named Tatiana who, as the title suggests, is missing her tail fins. Undeterred, Tatianna decides that she wants to win the Mermaid Games. While A Mermaid with No Tail is written as a fictional picture book with gorgeous illustrations, mermaids and a shark named Phelpsy, it is based on the life of its author, who has won 29 medals at the Paralympic Games and more than 50 other medals at world championships. Her hope when she wrote this book was to help children learn that “the thing that makes you different is your greatest gift.” For ages 4 to 7.

Another book that encourages children and adults to move regardless of their age or ability is Ride Beside Me by Lucy Knisley (Alfred A. Knopf, 2024). This book, which is about a community cycling event, will be right at home in many island households. The story captures the joy and excitement of those events and shows how cycling brings people together. Who knows, maybe you could even bring this book with you to the next cycling picnic and share it with the other riders you meet. For ages 3 to 6.

The last book for this issue is Amy Wu and the Ribbon Dance by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023). Amy Wu loves to move and then one day she sees a ribbon dance and it is magical, so she invites friends over for a ribbon dance party, but there’s just one problem: she doesn’t have any ribbons to dance with. Dance along with Amy as she tries to find something that will work. I love the colours and vibrancy in this book, and for those of you who want to have your own ribbon dance, there are directions in the back. For ages 4 to 7.

Five books that will hopefully encourage your children to get up and move, to believe in themselves, to get outside and to find joy in the little things. I hope you and your family get a chance to read at least one of these books and that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenburg lives in Victoria with her husband, children, and cat. She is the author of One Tiny Turtle: A Story You Can Colour and many articles. To read more of her work and learn about her upcoming books, check out her website at