Summer Reading Program

If you live in Canada, the TD summer reading program is a great way to keep your child reading this summer. This year’s theme is Eureka.

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My daughter loves this program. She has signed up for the fourth year in a row.

What’s the appeal? Her favourite part is playing the games that are offered after you check in with what books you have read. But she also likes entering into the draws for some terrific weekly prizes (how many draw tickets you get depends upon how many books (or pages of books) you have read.) There’s also the excitement of entering the draw for the chance to win one of three grand prizes.

And it’s all free!

While you are there, you can check out the other free programs your library has to offer. For example, my daughter went to her first drop in drama camp on Monday.
Click here if you want to find out if your library is participating.

How do you keep your child reading over the summer?

3 (+3) Favourite Picture Books from Childhood

Today is the second day of PiBoIdMo. I have already had several ideas during the PrePiBoIdMo activities. Let’s hope that I will continue to have ideas and not dry out during the actual challenge.

If you are looking for further inspiration during this challenge, then head on over to the Picture Book Month website, where a series of picture book champions blog about why they think picture books are important.

There have been many other related picture book activities tied into PiBoIdMo. For example, you can twitter your thoughts on #YIWritePB. I’m not big on Twitter, but I couldn’t resist answering the request for people’s favourite childhood picture books. These were my responses (expanded here):

1. “Good Morning Farm” by Betty Ren Wright

I was lucky to rediscover this book at a library book sale. I snapped it up in order to read it to my daughter.

I am a big animal lover, and so this simple story about a dog saying good morning to all the farm animals always delighted me. My favourite part was the surprise creature at the end of the book.

2. “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats

Even before I knew it was groundbreaking, I enjoyed reading this book.

I loved being wrapped up, warm inside, while I read about Peter’s journey through the snow. I still shiver looking at those huge mounds of snow.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this book, then there is a website where you can read it for free called We Give Books.

3. “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey

If you have forgotten the story, then click here for a youtube reading.

My favourite part of the book was when the police officer called Michael stood with his hand raised, stopping the traffic, helping the ducklings cross the road.

I noticed that there have been a couple of similar duckling rescue books published in the last few years including “Lucky Ducklings” by Eve Moore. It would be interesting to compare the differences between the Robert McCloskey book and the newer versions.

Because my mother was German, she read me books that were in her mother tongue. I still have many of my favourites, including these:

1. “Der Schwarze Schimmel” by Ernst Heimeran

When I was young, I was horse crazy. Naturally horse stories always were amongst my favourites.

In this book, the main character, a horse, is uncomfortable in its own skin. So it asks the local artist to paint it a different colour. The horse is ecstatic until the weather conspires to put things right.The horse though is forever left with a reminder of its short journey as a different creature.

2. “Ich bin das kleine Baerenkind” by Ole Risom

A little bear takes us through a day in its life, introducing us to its home and friends.

3. “Wenn die Sonne Scheint” by Hilde Heyduck

This book is nothing more than  few simple statements about what happens when the sun shines.

It is the smell of it that really appeals to me. I have one other book that smells like this, a Christmas story, and I have never know any other books to smell like these. It must be a secret from Ravensburger. But it’s funny how the smell of these books can transport me back to my childhood and the many warm memories I have.

One thing I noticed is that my childhood books are much simpler than the books of today. When studying picture books, I have been advised that I really need to focus on the recent publications in order to find out what publishers really want now. Yet some of my childhood favourites are still popular today. Some stories will appeal for generations, and it is these stories that we as authors hope to write.

What are your favourite picture books from childhood?

Another Reading Game

Because she was overtired, my six-year-old daughter didn’t want to take a walk with me and her grandfather on Sunday. Instead of it turning into a power struggle, I decided to offer to make a “treasure hunt” for her to do on the way. She agreed, so long as it was a question and answer one with multiple choice answers.

I wracked my brain as to what sort of “treasure hunt” I could make up in such a brief period of time. So I decided to forgo a traditional one, and instead I made up some questions about the neighbourhood that she could answer.

I asked questions like “What is the name of the crescent across the road?” I also asked her questions about her neighbour’s houses and streets.

It was a great way to practice her reading skills while also having fun. But not only did she practice her reading skills, she also was able to hone her observational skills. At the same time, she got to know her neighbours and neighbourhood better, which is important for all children.

I was surprised at how many answers she already knew before we began our walk. But she also learned some things that she did not already know.

I am planning on doing something like this again. If you try it yourself, let me know how it goes.

Teapot Tales

It’s out! The chapter book challenge anthology, which has been renamed “Teapot Tales” has gone live on Amazon.

It’s been an exciting process. First writing the fairy tales and having them accepted. Then voting on the title and the cover. And, finally, seeing it go up on Amazon.

I have two fairy tales in the anthology. The first one is called “Rooblefound”, which is a twisted version of “Rumpelstiltskin”. Here is a teaser:

 

The duke rubbed his hands over the fire. “I have found a way for us to make our fortune, my Precious.”

Precious stopped combing her hair and looked over at her father. “Oh I knew you would. But how?”

He smiled. “The king is looking for a queen. The test is for someone to be able to spin straw into gold.”

She tossed her long, dark hair. “But, Father, I can’t do that.”

“Don’t worry, my Precious. I have many friends in the palace. I will sneak in the gold.”

The duke took his daughter’s hand and they danced around the room.

 

The second is called “The Three Little Cherry Trees”. This is an original fairy tale. Here are the opening lines:

 

Once there were three little cherry trees. They lived in a little grove and above them was an older, wiser cherry tree. They used to watch this cherry tree and envy her because of her beautiful blossoms. They had not yet hit maturity.

 

We have already gotten a mention on Aldebaran Publication’s website.

Want to read more? Drop on by Amazon to purchase the Kindle version of “Teapot Tales”. The traditional print version is coming soon.

Book Review: “Inside Out and Back Again”

When I first opened this award winning book, I groaned. Oh no, I thought, this book is entirely poems! But upon looking closer, I realized it was in prose, but just made to look like poems.

Written in short vignettes, some one page long, some a few pages, the stories are delicious.  The prose is so pretty, it might as well be poems. No wonder it is a 2012 Newbery Honor book.

It puts me in mind of something I learned in a recent webinar about dialogue. The presenter, Kerri Majors, mentioned that dialogue should be attractive. And she mentioned that you should consider how you use your white space. Well, here is a great example of elegant use of white space.

The story is about a girl named Ha who flees with her family from Saigon during the Vietnam War to Alabama. She leaves behind everything she knows and enters a strange new country. The author does an excellent job describing her culture shock, some of the writing being based on her own experience.

Living in a different country changes you in ways that you can never imagine. You soon realize that people are the same everywhere; there are good and bad people in every culture, and one whole culture is not the enemy (as many do believe). You also begin to appreciate others who have to live away from their own culture and become more sympathetic to them. And, if you are lucky enough to return to your own country, then you see it in a whole new light.

However, if you cannot live in another culture, then a book from a reliable source such as this one is the next best thing. The book talks about the difficulties in learning a new language in a humorous manner; for example, Ha, puzzling out all the -s rules, observes that the inventor of the English language must have loved snakes. The issue of the forming of stereotypes is also tackled. Although Ha faces many stereotypes of others, such as children pulling her arm hair to see if she is real, she also has her own, like assuming that their sponsor is a cowboy who owns a horse.

“Inside Out and Back Again”, written by Thanhha Lai, is for ages 8-12. At the end of the book, the author talks about why she wrote the book and asks the important question: “How much do we know about those around us?” Then she asks us to, after finishing the book, “sit close to a person you love and implore the person to tell and tell and tell their story”.

 

The Importance of Education: African Books Tell the Tale

Since my father comes from Africa, I enjoy reading African books. I also like to read them to my daughter.

There are two recent books set in Africa that I’d like to share with you.

In “The Paper House” (grades 3 and up) by Lois Peterson, up for a silver birch express award, the main character lives in the Kibera slums close to Nairobi. Ten-year-old Safiyah collects items from the local dump, selling them to buy food for her and her grandmother. She longs to go to school like her best friend, but that takes more money than she can earn from selling the stuff at the dump. There is no money for the books and uniform that she requires for school.

Safiyah finds paper to fill the cracks in her house, hoping this will help her grandmother get well. After she fills the cracks, she papers the outside of the house and the results are extraordinary, attracting attention from unexpected places.

“Gift Days” (ages 6 and up) by Kari-Lynn Winters is about a Ugandan girl called Nassali, who has been put in charge of the household since her mother died. She is not able to attend school, not only because she has to do the chores, but also because there is no money for her uniform and supplies. When her older brother, who does attend school, sees how determined she is, once a week he does her chores and then does her educating himself. These days come to be known as “gift days”.

There are many similarities in these two books. Both children are parentless, although the focus is more on the fact that they are motherless, causing them to step into adult roles at a rather young age. They are both persistent in their goal of education. And both girls recognize that education is the key to a better life.

In many African books there is a stress on the importance of education. Here in North America we tend to take going to school for granted. But in Africa, there is not equal access to education.

Can you imagine not being able to attend school, because you lack the money for the necessary uniform and supplies? Probably not. That’s why I like books like these, books that open our eyes and show us how others live. Often they remind us how fortunate we are. But at the same time, the messages in these two books are positive, showing us that anything is possible if you work hard enough.

What about you? What books do you like to read to your children or students that teach them about others?

Word games for readers and writers

Play is so important for both children and adults.  It is a good way to enhance anyone’s creativity. For writers play can do all sorts of things: solve writer’s block, create new characters, generate new ideas…

A new tool for me is the magnetic poetry series. This kit is great for when I am having trouble coming up with some story ideas or writing prompts.

There are many ways to play. I like making haiku poetry. And I never try to rhyme. Prose can sound just as lyrical.

My favourite way to play is to pick up a handful or two and see what I can come up with in a short time. That is, I try not to think too much about crafting a sentence. A princess dog bikes to a castle and gets mud feet? Could become a story.

I also like coming up with adjective noun combinations, ones that I had never thought of before. That “pink star like bird” may become a protagonist one day.

My daughter also loves to play. She really loves to make nonsense sentences, much like she loves to make nonsense words. It’s a great way to discover the beauty in language. But it also helps her to review the words she already can read. And at the same time she learns to read new ones.

So here are a few sentence prompts I came up with if you are looking for something to inspire you today:

1. Because a bug is family, a frog loves you.

2. I remember a ghost bird with no name. Together we always dug the summer garden.

3. I saw a wonderful balloon pig in the morning sky.

Feel free to use them. And let me know the results. Or leave a prompt of your own.

Self-publishing: Guest Blog by A.A. Riley, Author of “Introducing Sophia Firecracker”

I admire the author A.A. Riley. When faced with the lack of black heroes in children’s books, she set out to write her own. And so “Introducing Sophia Firecracker” was born.

In order to follow her dream, Ms. Riley decided to self publish the book. Then she set out to give away 3000 books across Canada and the U.S. to ethnically diverse students. The superkid tour was born. Wow, she’s as energetic as her main character, Sophia!

I had three questions for the author about self publishing. Read further for some tips and inspirational words from her.

1. Why did you decide to self-publish?

I worked  on and off on “Introducing Sophia Firecracker” for eleven years, sending the book out to publishers many times during those years. Sometimes I received excellent feedback and many times nothing. Funny enough, after watching the movie “The Social Network”, I realized that I could do it myself. The message that I got from the movie was that I didn’t have to make myself fit into the conventional way of doing things. The world, especially technology had changed, and I was no longer dependent on anyone else believing in me to make my publishing dreams happen. I had a vision for my book and could pursue it on my own.

2. What are the pros of self-publishing?

The pros of self-publishing are making your own decisions and working with who you want. I hired my own editor, illustrator and book designer to make the book something I was proud of. I hired the right people, told them what I wanted and then left them alone to do what they were good at. Nadja (designer) and Christine (illustrator) took the book further than I could have dreamed and imagined.

3. What are the cons of self-publishing?

There is a huge learning curve! There are many opportunities that I missed out on just because I didn’t know about them. Things such as awards and contests that would have gotten the book recognized and out there. Also, there is a lot of work. 90% of my days are promotion and marketing. There is also a reluctance of some (publishers, contest, writer’s organizations, bookstores etc.) to recognize the quality of some self-published books. If you are going to self-publish, prepare yourself to work.

Ms. Riley has created a loveable and unconventional character in Sophia, a nine-year-old who thinks that she is a superhero.

I enjoyed reading the book to my daughter and know that it will appeal to both children and adults. As a mother, I appreciated the little truths that are peppered throughout the book, such as how best friends feel about each other or on taking responsibility for yourself.  My daughter became enamoured by the “hush-hush book of secrets” and so made her own. What was in it? Well that, my friends, remains a secret even today…

For more information on Sophia Firecracker, A.A. Riley and her superkid tour, visit the Introducing Sophia Firecracker website.

Books for Girls vs. Books for Boys

There has been much talk about “reluctant readers” lately, and this term generally points to boys. But I have always wondered if these reluctant readers are made or are born. Ah yes, the nature vs. nurture debate.

When you go into stores, you may find that there are books for older children that are labelled either books for boys or books for girls. Studies have found that boys and girls do indeed have different reading preferences. Girls will focus on narrative fiction such as best sellers or romance stories. Boys tend to prefer science fiction and fantasy, comics or cartoons, sports and news.

But what I find most shocking is that by the time boys reach school, many of them view reading as a feminine activity. These studies also stated their theories that boys may have this view because it is generally their mother who read to them when they were young, and then in places like preschool, their female teacher.

That’s not to say that it is the same in all families. In my family,  my brothers are voracious readers. My husband also loves to read. I also know of many other young boys who are passionate readers.

The situation is a complex one, and there is not one easy answer. But parents should be aware of these perceptions. And, as writers, we should also be aware of the situation.

Children’s Reading Programs

I have been volunteering lately at my daughter’s school library. It is the ultimate volunteer position for me: surrounded by children’s books. What a dream for a children’s writer.

Last week the library clerk showed me the Forest of Reading nominated books in their collection. The Forest of Reading program was created to encourage a love of reading. In the program, children must read five of the ten selected books for their age and then vote for their favourite. It’s not just for children either. Adults can participate too by reading and voting on the Evergreen nominees.  In fact, more than 250 000 readers participate in the program.

I was thrilled when the library clerk asked if I wanted to read any of their books. I snapped up that opportunity right away.

The first book that I read was called “In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps it up” by Monica Kulling. The book is nominated for the Silver Birch Express program, for grades 3-4. I have only had the opportunity to read this one nominee, but so far I am impressed. “In the Bag” is about an unconventional woman inventor who is most famous for her invention of the paper bag. It teaches not only about her history, but about history in general, i.e., how young children were when they started work in the 1800s, and how it felt to be a woman at the time. The children’s book carries a great lesson as well about perseverance.

This book inspired my daughter. She informed me that she wished she too could be an inventor when she was older. Later the book encouraged my daughter to engage in some creative play too: drawing machines in a notebook and building a machine first out of blocks and then out of cardboard. Books that spark creativity are always welcome in my house.

In the Bag” is just one of many that are on the list of nominees of the Silver Birch Express list. I look forward to reading some of the other fiction and non fiction choices that are about loons, dinosaurs, Harry Houdini, as well as one by local author Natalie Hyde called “I Owe You One”.

Through its eight reading programs, the Forest of Reading program supports the Canadian publishing industry and encourages children to read for fun. So go ahead and indulge in our Canadian writers’ literature.

 

Tip for Canadian writers:

Submitting your book for consideration for the Forest of Reading program will bring a lot of exposure to it. For submission guidelines click here.