The best children’s books to engage all the senses

Why am I passionate about this?

As children, my brother and I were constant playmates. He was an early riser and often woke me up so our day of play could begin as soon as possible. I have sight, and my brother is blind. Play for us was an all-senses experience. We felt the rumble of our bikes on the street, listened to the screech of the metal swing set, and guessed spices by their smell. We also devoured stories. We listened to audiobooks, he read to me in Braille, and I read to him. All of these experiences, and more, prepared me to be an author of numerous children’s books with sensory details to make stories come alive.


I wrote...

Book cover of Sense of Play

What is my book about?

Sense of Play is a sibling story, as Joy and Chip wake early and spend the day playing together. They ride bikes, read books, take turns, and share treats. Chip is blind and Joy has sight. The story celebrates the senses, especially the sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that make playing together so much fun. I wrote this story to capture the games my brother and I played as children—games that have resonance with young readers too. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of My City Speaks

Dana Meachen Rau Why did I love this book?

I love this story for its simple language that recreates a walk through the city.

The main character uses a white cane, a simple indication that she is blind. Focusing on the sounds, both loud and quiet, the story lets readers soak in the atmosphere surrounding a young girl on her way to a violin recital. The illustrations, created in textured paper collage, are as layered as the words. 

By Darren Lebeuf, Ashley Barron (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My City Speaks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

A young girl, who is visually impaired, finds much to celebrate as she explores the city she loves.

A young girl and her father spend a day in the city, her city, traveling to the places they go together: the playground, the community garden, the market, an outdoor concert. As they do, the girl describes what she senses in delightfully precise, poetic detail. Her city, she says, “rushes and stops, and waits and goes.” It “pitters and patters, and drips and drains.” It “echoes” and “trills,” and is both “smelly” and “sweet.” Her city also speaks, as it “dings and…


Book cover of The Black Book of Colors

Dana Meachen Rau Why did I love this book?

This award-winning book, first published in Mexico, is completely black, yet so colorful in its words and images.

The words describe colors with artful description, such as, “…green tastes like lemon ice cream and smells like grass that’s just been cut.” To fully engage the senses, the words are printed in Braille, and the images are raised, so they can be touched and “read” as well. 

By Menena Cottin, Rosana Faria (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Black Book of Colors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Living with the use of one's eyes can make imagining blindness difficult, but this innovative title invites readers to imagine living without sight through remarkable illustrations done with raised lines and descriptions of colors based on imagery. Braille letters accompany the illustrations and a full Braille alphabet offers sighted readers help reading along with their fingers. This extraordinary title gives young readers the ability to experience the world in a new way.


Book cover of Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Dana Meachen Rau Why did I love this book?

I’m always drawn to books about books and making them accessible to all.

This biography is about Louis Braille in the early 1800s and his desire to read books. The system back then for blind readers was time-consuming and inefficient. When he was only 15, he adapted a finger code used on battlefields into a system of letters made of raised dots. His invention led to an easier way for blind people to read and write, and the system of Braille is named after him.

By Jen Bryant, Boris Kulikov (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Six Dots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An inspiring picture-book biography of Louis Braille—a blind boy so determined to read that he invented his own alphabet.

**Winner of a Schneider Family Book Award!**
 
Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read.
 
Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him.
 
And so he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that…


Book cover of Pat the Bunny

Dana Meachen Rau Why did I love this book?

Pat the Bunny is designed for the youngest children learning to read, yet I remember this book on our shelf throughout my whole childhood.

Each page is interactive as children are invited to pat the soft bunny, smell the flowers, touch Dad’s scratchy face, and more. Besides learning to read, children learn to notice sensory details in the world around them.

By Dorothy Kunhardt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pat the Bunny as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The timeless children's classic full of interactive fun—a perfect gift for new babies and first birthdays.
 
For generations, Pat the Bunny has been creating special first-time moments between parents and their children. One of the best-selling children’s books of all time, this classic touch-and-feel book offers babies a playful and engaging experience, all the while creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime.


Book cover of Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?

Dana Meachen Rau Why did I love this book?

This other classic book was one of our well-worn favorites. My brother and I read it so many times that I still can recite it by heart.

The pages are filled with the various sounds Mr. Brown can make: “He can go like the rain, dibble, dibble, dibble, dopp. Dibble, dibble, dibble, dibble, dopp, dopp, dopp.” The text also asks the reader to make the sounds, and the bouncy language is so much fun to try.

By Dr. Seuss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 2, 3, 4, and 5.

What is this book about?

Moo moo! Hoo hoo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Oh, the wonderful sounds Mr. Brown can do. Now see if you can do them too!

Oh, the wonderful things Mr. Brown can do! He can go like a cow. He can go MOO MOO.
This fabulous and fun book from the one and only Dr. Seuss is ideal for teaching young children all about noises!

With his unique combination of hilarious stories, zany pictures and riotous rhymes, Dr. Seuss has been delighting young children and helping them learn to read for over fifty years. Creator of the wonderfully anarchic Cat in the Hat, and…


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Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams Author Of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

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Why am I passionate about this?

I was first a clinical social worker and then a social work professor with research focus on older adults. Over the past few years, as I have been writing my own memoir about caring for my parents, I’ve been drawn to memoirs and first-person stories of aging, illness, and death. The best memoirs on these topics describe the emotional transformation in the writer as they process their loss of control, loss of their own or a loved one’s health, and their fear, pain, and suffering. In sharing these stories, we help others empathize with what we’ve gone through and help others be better prepared for similar events in their own lives.

Kathryn's book list on Memoirs illness aging death moving vivid prose

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief…

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


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