Episode 31-Helping our Kids Develop Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

In this episode we look at books that help our children understand problem-solving and critical thinking as we celebrate Puzzle Day, Lego Day, and Lewis Carroll’s birthday. 

Books Discussed in This Episode:


Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.

Did you know that this week we have Lego Day on Thursday and Puzzle Day on Friday, and on Wednesday it is Lewis Carroll’s birthday. And so it just seemed appropriate with Lewis Carroll being the author of Alice in Wonderland and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and how throughout that story, Alice is trying to solve the mystery and tried to solve the problems in the different situations she encounters. And I love that book for that reason. It is a very strange book, but it is a fun book as we watch her tackle each problem and try to conquer each problem in this bizarre and strange world she finds herself in. In honor of that and in honor of Lego Day, which is my favorite toy for children to learn how to be creative and to build things and to think how things work together and connect. And of course, Lego has outdone themselves with so many ideas of how to help children think in the STEM realm of things with engineering and energy and physics and all of those wonderful things that they need to learn. So that is awesome. And then of course, Puzzle Day–learning to think critically and solve puzzles. We’re going to talk about some great books, mostly picture books and storybooks that deal with characters who have to solve problems or think outside the box. Now I could give a whole list of books on critical thinking, literally, that we can use with assignments, with puzzles, with ideas, with our kids for critical thinking. But I decided not to go that route. I wanted to stick with picture books and story books that deal with critical thinking,

Talking about Lewis Carroll today, and this being his birthday on Wednesday, I wanted to let you know a little more about him. Lewis Carroll is his pen name. He was an Oxford mathematician, logician, photographer and author. His real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He was famous for his books. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but he also had some other stories and poems, The Hunting of the Snark, Jabberwocky, and Sylvie and Bruno. And in addition to that, he had some logic andpuzzle books that he wrote. And so it’s appropriate that we’re celebrating his birthday the same week we have Lego Day and Puzzle Day. And his story of Alice in Wonderland is one of the few stories I actually enjoy getting the Disney version of for young children. It’s a better picture book for the little kids, but the books he wrote are more chapter books for middle elementary to older children. The logic books have a lot of really difficult brain teasing puzzles. So you might even enjoy looking at some of those with your kids.

There is one children’s book that is called Thinking Outside the Box by Justine Avery, and illustrated by Liuba Syrotiuk. If the children understand the idiom to think outside the box, then it works. Otherwise, we’ll have to explain the idiom of thinking outside the box in this book. It says, “Whenever you find a problem, wherever there’s a puzzle to solve, however, you get stuck in a sticky situation, just think outside the box. In a world filled with rules, where there are so many different opinions, when you need to find your own way, just think outside the box. If you find yourself a bit confused, if you’re searching for a solution, if you want to find the very best way, just think outside the box. Think outside the box. Your super brain does a great job of thinking neatly tucked inside your head between your own ears and seeing through your own personal view. But think what your super brain might think if you could place it outside your own head. Now that’s thinking outside the box. Thinking outside the box is like coloring outside the lines on purpose or doing the opposite of the most obvious thing. It’s like trying to run a race the slowest or eating an ice cream cone from the bottom up. It’s like checking out the view while standing super tall on something way up high or taking something apart to put it back together again in a different way. It’s like looking at a problem while you’re upside down or standing in someone else’s shoes. And sometimes the best way to think outside the box is to just close your eyes, cover your ears, and wait for the new ideas to come to you. Thinking outside the box means to be creative. It’s noticing the details that no one else sees it’s the same as slowing down or even stopping when everyone else is rushing around or taking the time to listen instead of talking.” I think it’s cute. And I think it offers us some ideas and definitely offers an opportunity to talk about some things with our kids, because there are many times we do need to think outside the box. We do need to let God show us ideas and options that we haven’t even considered yet in our situation or in whatever we’re trying to solve. So I think that’s important, but I also think it’s important to point out that we need to often think differently than the crowd, but that there is truth. And we need to make very clear and very sure that our children understand, of course, that there is truth. And we do not transgress that. We know that God is truth and his word is true and we hold onto that. But when we’re facing a problem, letting God open our eyes to his perspective, letting Him show us a way to think of something in a creative way or outside the box instead of just trying to do things the same way as they’ve always been done or seeing a problem as a dead end, then, yes, that’s good. But I think this book borders on going a little too far at times, I think it opens the door for great conversations about these topics.

Another really great book about problem solving and critical thinking is What Do You Do with a Problem by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. And this book is really cute about this little boy who realizes that wrapped up in the center of his problem, he finds an opportunity. And so now he doesn’t dread the problems. He’s not afraid of them, trying to avoid them because he realizes in the middle of each of them is an opportunity. And also Kobi Yamada wrote, What Do You Do with an Idea and What Do You Do with a Chance. And they also come in a boxed set. You can get all three of them together in a boxed set that is really nice. So these are some cute books and they would be great for talking about problem solving, having a different perspective to realize that not every problem is something to be feared, but to be embraced because we can learn from it. And there’s an opportunity within it.

A really unusual and cute book is called The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, who is the author and the illustrator of this book. And it’s about this little girl, and she is going to make the most magnificent thing. She collects all these different things, and she’s working and working and is going to make this magnificent thing. And everybody comes by and is watching her to see what she’s going to do. But first she makes things, she unmakes it. And then she draws some plans and tries to figure out what to do. And so I love that it shows it’s not just an instant solution when you’re trying to create things, when you’re trying to solve problems, it’s not like abracadabra, boom, it’s done. That sometimes it takes a lot of time and work and energy and thinking and creativity and undoing and redoing and trying and making mistakes before you finally find your solution. So I think that’s an awesome part of this book. And it’s really a cute book.

And other one is called Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts. “This Is the story of Rosie Revere, who dreamed of becoming a great engineer. Where some people see rubbish, Rosie reveres sees inspiration. Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends: hot dog dispensers, helium pants, python-repelling cheese hats, Rosie’s gizmos would astound. If she ever let anyone see them afraid of failure, she hides them away under her bed, until a fateful visit from her great, great aunt Rose who shows her that a first flop isn’t something to fear. It’s something to celebrate.” So that’s the intro to this cute story. And it shows this little girl who faces her fear of failure. And of course, she’s this wild, crazy inventor. I keep going back to this throughout the different podcasts, that there is such power in encouragement and helping our children to be willing to step out of their comfort zones, to take a chance, to make a difference in this world. It takes courage and it takes determination and it takes failure and getting back up again and continuing on. And if we can help our children understand that, then we help equip them so much more for life when they understand that is how life works. That is how the world is. That sometimes things come with much difficulty. Very few things come very easily that are worth having. I really like books that talk about that and that bring home that point.

Now there’s a silly, crazy book that is called Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. It’s kind of absurd, and I’m not sure if it’s really going to help your child be more creative in a positive way or not. But this little boy gets his kite stuck in a tree, then he’s trying to get it out of the tree. He throws absurd things into the tree, but eventually he does get his kite out of the tree. So it’s pretty funny. And this is the illustrator who illustrated The Day the Crayons Quit, if you know that book. But I mean, he uses an orangutan, a boat, the front door, all kinds of things that he’s trying to throw at this tree so he can get his kite free. So kind of silly. Anyway, it’s lots of fun.

Another cute book about numbers and solving puzzles, and it’s also a mystery, is called 7 Ate 9 written by Tara Lazar and illustrated by Ross MacDonald. And this is a very silly punny, funny book, and it plays with numbers and letters and puns throughout the story and solves a mystery. One of the main characters is a private I, and, of course, he’s the letter I, and he solves the mystery of seven ate nine. It starts out, “I was dozing in my chair when an urgent banging on my office door bolted me awake. It was six. Something had scared the pants off him. ‘Seven Is coming to get me!’ said six. As a private I, I’m used to his type–numbers. They’re always stuck in a problem, but I knew about this seven fella. He was odd. So it plays with the language and with the words and the numbers. And it’s just cute.

One book I want to share with you today is called Solutions for Cold Feet and other little problems by Carey Sookocheff. This book is really cute. It’s a little girl who solves several different ordinary problems, such as what to do if you’ve lost your shoe. And so she goes through, “look under the bed, look in the closet,” and what to do for cold feet and several other problems that people face every day. And she makes a little book of all her solutions and possible solutions for each problem. But I think it’s a really cute book to look at and to talk about with your children and to talk about how to solve a problem, how to look at the situation and figure out what you can do to try to solve or remedy the problem. So I really like it for that reason.

If we’re thinking of critical thinking, another kind of book we may want to read is to look at some of the mystery books that are available for children. One set is called Critical Thinking Detective by Michael Baker. This book has several short stories. It’s for grades 4 through 12th grade and over. This one is more geared toward actually problem-solving exercises written as kind of a mystery, but they’re puzzles to solve, logic questions, and math concepts are used and critical thinking. So it’s meant to be like a purposeful opportunity for critical thinking for your older kids. Here’s an example, “The car thief today, police in the city of Reedsport arrested one of the four boys shown below for stealing Tommy Porter’s car. The theft took place on April 12th of this year between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM. Porter had his car stolen from outside a restaurant in Reedsport where he was eating lunch. After lunch Porter returned to where he had parked his car, but the car was gone. A witness to the theft said he saw a lone young man break into and drive away in the car. Just minutes earlier. The witness said the thief was six feet or slightly taller with blonde or brownish hair tanned, or kind of darker skin, some facial hair and dark pants. The arrest was made in the evening on the day of the theft, and the thief confessed to the crime. Then you have these four suspects, and it tells about each one, and you have to figure out which one is the thief. So this is the kind of book this is. It has different pages that have these little short mysteries that your children can try to solve. And there are quite a few books out there where you’re playing with words or you’re playing with puzzles and mazes and all these different types of things that are available for kids that are fun to get. But even if you get the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew Mysteries, or any kind of fun mystery books for your kids to read, those, help them to build critical thinking ideas as well.

I thought we should have a few biographies. One biography I really like is the story of Dr. Temple Grandin. She is a person who deals with autism, and there’s a really cute book written about her life. The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, in the Amazing Scientists Series of books. And this one is written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley. There are others in this same series that are biographies of different scientists throughout history. These are written for children ages 5 to 10 years old. In the book about Temple Grandin, it says, “If you’ve ever felt different, if you’ve ever been low, if you don’t quite fit in, there’s a name you should know. Temple Grandin’s that name. In her tale you’ll find glory. So get ready, get set, for this cowgirl’s true story.” If you haven’t read her story or seen the movie about her life, it’s a fascinating story of all that she’s accomplished and all the determination she had to be successful.

Then as far as on a spiritual sense, there’s a book that I’ve mentioned before by Louie Giglio called How Great Is our God. They’re devotionals based on God and science. There’s one Indescribable that is also the same kind. They’re both 100 devotionals that deal with science and God. And so those are fun for our kids because it brings science and faith together. There’s also a Bible called the Apologetics Bible for your older children that will help them. And also the Evidence Bible. I think both of these are really good for helping our kids to think how to defend their faith, how to reason, and to be reasonable when talking to others who have questions or doubts about our faith. And part of critical thinking and part of problem solving is being wise and knowing how to answer the questions people may have for why we believe what we believe. And so I recommend these study Bibles. I think they have a lot of good information in them.

For us as parents I like Ravi Zacharias–his books. The man who wrote the God’s Not Dead movies also has a book by Rice Brooks. He has a book called Man, Myth, Messiah. He’s got lots of books out, but this one is a book on apologetics and talking about who Jesus was. So this is a really good one. Another writer whose books I really enjoy and appreciate are Lee Strobel’s books: Case for Christ, Case for a Creator, Case for Faith, Case for Christmas, Case for Miracles. He has several books too. These writers have some really great writings and ideas and helps for us to make us think, but also to help us understand why we believe what we believe in, who Jesus is, and how to defend our faith or to answer questions when people have those.

For my devotional thought today, I’m reading from Louis Giglio’s book, How Great Is our God: 100 Indescribable Devotions about God and Science. And this one is the second devotional in that series. And it’s called “That’s Impossible.” “He is the maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. Psalm 146:6. The first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1 tells us that in the beginning, before there was an earth or people or the starry sky, God existed. That same verse and the ones that follow tell us, he himself created the heavens and the earth and life. Everything we see is a product of his creativity. One of the coolest things about studying science is discovering how miraculously detailed God’s creation is. From the tiny hairs on your head to the massive mountains and stars, God created living things with some essential building blocks called peptides. It sounds just like it looks, ‘peptides.’ When joined with other chemicals, peptides help make a cell, and cells are the basic parts of every living thing. How great! Peptides are in every one of the estimated 37.2 trillion cells in your body. There are many different types of peptides, and each has a special role in maintaining your overall health. Some peptides help your muscles grow and repair while others carry messages throughout the body. Peptides are so tiny that we can’t see them without the help of some mega powerful microscopes. But just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re simple. Each peptide is made of two or more chemical components called amino acids, which need to be joined in just the right way to create the variety of peptides our bodies need to function properly. The chances of that happening by accident are slim–about one in 10 Dua does Caelian or…” It has a number that’s a one with 40 zeros after it. “Sound Impossible? Not with God. God made amino acids, peptides cells, and all of creation to show us how great and powerful he is. What’s really amazing is that the same great God who designed peptides put them together in just the right way to create you.” And then it has a prayer, “Lord, everywhere I look, I see signs of how great you are. Thank you for your amazing creation, including me.”

Thank you for joining us today for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life. Please check out my website at terriehellardbrown.com. I want to encourage you to find a wonderful puzzle to work with your children this week in celebration of Puzzle Day, or get out the Legos and build something phenomenal together as we celebrate Lego Day and remember Lewis Carroll the writer of Alice in Wonderland.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!

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