Cumulative Stories

Cumulative stories are a great way to engage your kids in reading time! This type of story features some type of repeated action or question that builds on each page. Just think of the Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas – it’s a cumulative song. One of the most famous of these stories is This is the House that Jack Built.

House that jack built

You may remember that it begins

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the mouse that ate the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built.

This may not seem like much of a plot to adults, but this type of repetition is actually very good for kids. Preschoolers will delight in being able to join in as you read the repeated phrases. Meanwhile, you are secretly working on their memory skills!

Cumulative tales often have multiple adaptations on the same theme, allowing kids to become even more familiar with the structure and plot. Here are some other examples from the style of This is the House that Jack Built.

tidy and neat   this is the van

We also have multiple books that begin with “There Was an Old (Something) Who …” or “I Know a …”.

Swallowed the Sea     there was a dragon

cello     There was an Old Monkey

Kids will enjoy hearing different versions, and there are even some based on holidays.

 I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Pie makes a terrific story to read after Thanksgiving dinner!

lady pie

Cumulative stories, or “chain stories”, have a rollicking rhythm that makes them fun to read and fun to hear. Watch out, though; many of these end up almost like a tongue-twister.

Sometimes vegetables grow so large, it’s hard to pick them, as we see in these three books based on a Russian folktale!

carrot     big pumpkin


These books are great for really turning on the silliness! Try acting out different voices for characters or have your listeners put motions to the words. Kids also love it if you make a big show of trying to read longer, repeated sentences with one giant breath.

Have fun with these! They are a great way to get the entire family involved in a story. Here are some more examples from our collection. Let me know if you have other favorites.

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain: a Nandi Tale by Verna Aardema

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: a West African Tale by Verna Aardema

By the Light of the Halloween Moon by Caroline Stutson

The Napping House by Audrey Wood

A Fly Went By by Marshall McClintock