Read mentor text picture books to teach problem and solution text structure. Understanding the problem and solution story structures improves comprehension and helps readers make informed predictions. (As well as helping children see the creative possibilities in problem-solving!)
Of course, almost all stories have a problem and a solution –with the exception of a concept book. So really, you can search out problem and solution examples in any book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.
When children learn what to expect in a problem and solution story, not only will they be able to predict solutions, but they will also be better able to write their own problem-solution stories. I started teaching this early to my young kids, well before they were school-age because we want our children to become problem solvers. That is an important life skill!
While many picture books model the narrative story structure of problem and solution, these are my favorites to use with kids both at home and in the classroom.
Mentor Text Picture Books to Teach Problem and Solution
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is ready to jump off the diving board. Mostly. His dad tells Jabari that he feels scared too, and sometimes after a deep breath and telling himself he is ready, the thing stops feeling scary and feels like a surprise instead. I like this advice, don’t you? And it works for Jabari, too. Beautiful illustrations, perfect text to picture ratio, and a helpful, relatable problem-solution story make this a best picture book of 2017.
Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty
This kid-favorite picture book shares the inspiring story of Iggy, creative thinker and architecture enthusiast. Unfortunately, Iggy’s teacher does like Iggy’s love of architecture. However, she learns to appreciate his skills when the class gets into trouble and it’s Iggy’s architectural thinking that saves the day.
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
After his fall of the wall, Humpty Dumpty isn’t quite all together again because now he’s afraid of heights. Humpty decides to make a paper airplane that can fly high since he can’t climb high anymore. Only the airplane flies OVER the high wall and is lost. Even though he’s terrified, Humpty wants his airplane back. Eventually, he musters up his courage and climbs the wall. One step at a time. Until he’s not scared anymore. And gets his airplane back! This beautifully illustrated and conceived picture book that shows kids that fear is normal and courage is doing something even when you’re afraid.
Problem Solved! by Jan Thomas
When Rabbit sees his messy room, he learns that he has HIS OWN PROBLEM SOLVING PORCUPINE! Which seems good at first. But, it turns into a disaster. Because to clean up the blocks, the porcupine flushes them down the toilet. And to clean up his shirts, he feeds them to the goldfish. How can Rabbit get rid of his not-very-helpful problem-solving porcupine?
A House in the Woods by Inga Moore
Little Pig’s den becomes filled with friends, but once Moose arrives, the den collapses. Oh, no! Problem. What will they do to find a solution? Together, the animals build a new house in the woods big enough to fit all the friends.
Enigma by Graeme Base
Bertie needs to find the missing magic show props that have disappeared from his grandpa’s retirement home. Each performer tells him what’s missing. Readers help find the items in the illustrations so that Bertie can find the culprit. Like all his books, Base excels in his detailed illustrations.
7 Ate 9: The Untold Story by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
6 bangs on Private I’s door for help! Because there’s a rumor that 7 is eating other numbers because apparently, 7 ate 9. YIKES! But did 7 really eat 9? Pitch perfect tongue-in-cheek number and word humor will crack you up throughout this suspenseful, funny problem and solution story. (Also on: Best Picture Book Mysteries.)
The Brownstone by Paula Scher, illustrated by Stan Mack
The Bear family is ready for hibernation but first, they need to figure out what to do about the noise problem. Their solution? All the animals work together to shift apartments so that everyone finds the best apartment for their specific needs. You’ll love the message and illustrations.
Pigeon P.I. by Meg McLaren
What a unique and delightful mystery story! A little canary asks Pigeon P.I. (private investigator) to help her find her missing friends. Then the canary goes missing, too. It’s up to Pigeon to solve the missing bird mystery. The author writes in the style of the old detective shows– punchy with short sentences. The illustrator captures the details, giving kids clues to notice as they read.
The Little Blue Bridge by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez
Echoing the Three Billy Goats Gruff story, Ruby wants to cross the bridge and pick blueberries. But her brothers go without her because she’s too little. When the brothers try to cross, the log-guard Santiago says, “I’m the boss and you can’t cross…unless you give me a snack.” The boys tell Santiago to wait for the next sibling who packs a better snack and Santiago lets the brother cross. Finally, Ruby starts across the bridge She doesn’t have a snack so she builds her own bridge–which Santiago helps her with. Together, they cross the bridge to pick a blueberry snack on the other side and now Ruby is the boss of the new bridge. What will she ask her brothers to do in order to cross her bridge? Bake her a pie, of course! Talk about girl-power!
One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
This picture book is a great way to teach kids summarizing and word choice as well as a problem-solution text structure! Sophia really wants a pet giraffe for her birthday. As a result, she sets out to convince her family, starting with her mother, a judge. However, Mother says that Sophia’s argument is too verbose. As a result, Sophie tries fewer words with Father. But he says her presentation is too effusive. Sophia continues with each family member until she reaches her last-ditch attempt and says the one word that works: PLEASE.
No Boring Stories! by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Charles Santoso
When a cute little bunny tries to join a group of animal storytellers (mole, weevil, crab, and babirusa), the group doesn’t want to add her to their brainstorming group. As the animals continue their story plans with relatable characters, an inciting incident, rising action, climax, and…. Only the group gets stuck with the ending. That’s when bunny reveals that she likes making up weird (not boring) stories. The group realizes that the bunny has the perfect ending idea. Reluctantly, they agree that she can be part of the group. At least until a “bunch of adorable frogs and puppies show up next week…” This book shows plotting as well as the creative strengths of writers working together.
That Fruit Is Mine! by Anuska Allepuz
This is a charming problem and solution story about learning to share and the power of working together. You’ll crack up watching the elephants’ many failed attempts to get delicious-looking fruit off a tree while simultaneously watching a tiny group of mice work together to get the yummy fruit, too. The problem is getting the fruit but only one animal group succeeds in a solution. Who do you think it will be? Great for prediction! (Also on: Picture Books That Teach Cooperation.)
Great, Now We’ve Got Barbarians! by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Mark Fearing
Mom says that if the boy doesn’t clean his room, he’ll get pests . . . which the boy thinks aren’t all that bad, right? However, things go downhill when barbarian “pests” start arriving. Because they eat everything, use his toys to clean out their ears, and steal blankets and pillows. So there is only one thing to do — CLEAN up his room. It’s a predictable but funny solution with the perfect forgot-to-clean-up twist at the end.
Walrus in the Bathtub by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Matt Hunt
The worst thing about this family’s new home is the walrus in the bathtub. And walrus songs are very, very loud. It’s a big problem. The family tries lots of clever things to get the walrus to leave the bathtub but with no success. So they decide to move. Again. That’s when the walrus shows them his list — “How to Make Your New Family Feel Welcome” — which, surprisingly, includes all the things that annoy the family. It turns out the walrus was just trying to be nice. As a result, the family stays with a few *new* rules. This story will make you want your own walrus in a bathtub.
The Thingity-Jig by Kathleen Doherty, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Wordplay, problem-solving, and persistence! One day Bear finds a Thingity-Jig (aka. a couch), which he thinks is wonderful as a sit-on-it, jump-on-it thing. He asks his friends to help him carry it home but they’re too fast asleep, so Bear figures out some ideas to do it himself. He makes a Rolly-Rumpity! Which is a pack-it-up, heap-it-up, load-it-up thing. That isn’t enough to move the Thingit-Jig so Bear makes something else — a Lifty-Uppity. And then, a Pushy-Poppity. And at daybreak, he arrives back at home where his friends are waking up, with his special Thingity-Jig. Bingity…Bing…Boing…Bear falls asleep.
Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Clara advocated for justice and equality during a time when Black people weren’t permitted the same rights as white people. As a teacher, she inspired her students to believe that change was possible. Clara and her students went to the Katz drugstore and asked to be served — even though the store didn’t serve black people. She and her students returned day after day despite people yelling and throwing food. Eventually, the Katz store relented and started to serve people of all races. Clara and her students finally could enjoy a Coke and a burger without trouble.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeannette Winter
Based on the true story of Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, read how Wangari helped her country of Kenya whose forests were all but destroyed. She started planting trees which started a movement motivating other people to plant trees as well. This is an example of how narrative nonfiction book can also teach the plot structure of problem and solution.
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matt Myers
When Alex gets a silly, sappy picture book called Birthday Bunny, he picks up a pencil and turns it into something he’d like to read: Battle Bunny. An adorable rabbit’s journey through the forest becomes a secret mission to unleash an evil plan–a plan that only Alex can stop. Not only does this mentor text model problem and solution, but also voice and revision.
When Pigs Fly by James Burke
One day, an exuberant pig declares that he will fly. His sister observes with disbelief and horror as one attempt after another fails. The brother pig is so disappointed that he decides to give up. That’s when his sister comes up with an idea — something he hasn’t tried before that will help her brother fly — a pretend airplane. The pigs’ expressive illustrations are absolutely perfect as is the message of persistence despite failure.
Piper and Purpa Forever! by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Olivia Feng
Most stories have a problem and a solution but this story is a great example showing a little girl’s ability to creatively problem solve with a beautiful solution to her problem. Piper loves her beloved purple sweater, Purpa, and is so sad when she grows out of it. Will she be able to keep her sweater somehow?
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