Cumulative stories are rhythmic stories with a narration that builds upon itself, adding on and repeating previous information. This repetition makes this story predictable, something that is invaluable to growing readers.
As the plot builds, readers will be able to accurately predict and read (even fake read) the repetitive text because they’ll know it’s coming. Even for younger children who are non-readers, cumulative tales give an important predictability.
Plus, they are a blast to read.
Enjoy these 10 favorites!
10 Favorite Cumulative Stories for Kids
The Napping House by Audrey Wood and Don Wood
One of the most beloved picture books EVER, certainly by my family if not the world, The Napping House is a gentle, rhythmic story about the inhabitants in a sleepy house slowly falling into slumber– then, waking back up again.
“There is a house,
a napping house,
where everyone is sleeping.”
As the snoring granny, dreaming child, a dozing dog, a snoozing cat, and a slumbering mouse settle in for sleep, they’re unexpectedly awakened in a surprising chain reaction of events. Muted blue-toned illustrations enhance this book’s perfectly sleepy ambiance.
A Bear Sat on My Porch Today by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Rilla Alexander
The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos
Vamos writes a cumulative tale about making arroz con leche (rice pudding.) Throughout the story, she introduces nouns in Spanish, which, because of her format, repeat as she adds on. Vamos says she was inspired by This is the House that Jack Built.
“This is the duck
that went to the market
to buy the sugar
to flavor the leche
made fresh by the vaca
while teaching the cabra
that churned the crema
to make the mantequilla
that went into the cazuela that the farm maiden stirred.”
The Piñata That the Farm Maiden Hung by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Sebastia Serra
You’ll have a blast reading this cheerful, lyrical bilingual story! The farm maiden hangs the piñata. Who is it for? How did it get to be ready? You will see in this clever cumulative tale how the farmer, his family, and the animals helped to prepare the piñata and the birthday party festivities. Spanish words are in bolded capital letters and supported with lively illustrations so readers can infer what each word means. The repetition will help reinforce each new word.
This is the farmer
who carved figures from wood
while minding the OVEJA
that braided the CUERDA
then wrapped the PAPEL
torn by the GATO
and soaked in the PASTA
stirred by the GAñSO
with flour and AGUA
hauled by the CABALLO
that carried the NIñO
who shaped the BARRO
to make the PIñATA that the farm maiden hung.
You’ll learn the piñata song at the end of this story, too — in English and in Spanish and directions to make your own piñata. A glossary of Spanish words at the ending should also help for any clarification. I love this sparkling celebration of culture and family!
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak
In the tradition of the cumulative poem, “This is the House that Jack Built“, this Hawaiian version shares a familial cultural tradition of Hawaii of making poi for the family’s lu’au. Pak’s atmospheric, stylized watercolor illustrations and Loomis’s lyrical text show the many hardworking hands, so wise and old, that pick the kalo to make the poi to share with ‘ohana, the loved ones. A particular focus of this poem is on the family’s connection to the earth with rain, sun, and mud. The family gathers at the end of the day together on a beach to eat and celebrate.
The Treasure of Pirate Frank by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Jez Tuya
One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
When a snake eats him, the boy (from inside the snake’s tummy) encourages the snake to eat more — which he does. From grapes to bears, to a cat, to a beehive, . . . the list goes on (think Old Lady Swallowing a Fly) until just a small fly makes the snake burp everything all out, including the boy. Good thinking on the boy’s part, right!?
There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle
I found this reimagined tale a delightful variation of the original. Because as we all know, it’s not polite to swallow a knight. Excellent rhyming text (which is my pet peeve when done poorly) and lots of silliness make this a fantastic picture book story for young readers.
Me and Annie McPhee by Olivier Dunrea, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
This is a fun add-on (or cumulative) story about what’s on a small island. It’s not just the narrator and Annie McPhee on the island. NO, there are dogs, frogs, pigs in wigs! WOW. It all adds up to one crowded place. Silly & fun.
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback
I couldn’t neglect this quintessential song and picture book. This old lady eats some disgusting things, as you may remember. First, a fly, then a spider, and the list goes on and on. (“I don’t know why!”) Die-cut holes offer readers a view inside the old lady’s growing stomach.
The House that Jack Built by Diana Mayo
“This is the house that Jack built” begins this familiar cumulative story. Follow along as Jack shows off his house and all that went on while building it — the rat that ate the mouse, the cat that chased the rat, … Be sure to pay special attention to the illustrated antics of the dog.
The Jacket I Wear in the Snow by Shirley Neitzel, illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker
What do you need to put on (and take off) to go play in the snow? “This is the zipper that’s stuck on the jacket I wear in the snow.” It’s quite a bundle of clothing, that’s what. Kids in winter climates can easily relate to the layer upon layer of winter gear. This book is so much fun.
Croc O’Clock by Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
This large crocodile invites us to sing along with him all about what the zookeepers feed him to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”. And it’s quite the feast including toffees, pumpkin pies, french fries, and creamy coffees that will crack up your kids!
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