A Collection of Middle Grade Adventures

Gearing up for summer reading we’ve gathered an awesome selection of middle grade titles for the kids in your life. From Action and Adventure to Sci Fi, Fantasy, Baking, and every genre a kid could love, there’s a little something for every avid reader.

The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers by Vesta L. Giles

Book 1 of the Spyders Series

With adorable illustrations and interesting facts about spiders, Slither Me Timbers is a chapter book for kids who like adventure and the creatures in the garden!

After days stuck inside because of rain, Thaddeus, Gracey, and Curt Spyder are finally able to go outside and explore. When they reach the edge of the puddle, where they aren’t supposed to go, the temptation of a pirate adventure proves to be too much. A smooth sailing sea voyage soon turns dangerous and it will take teamwork, the help of a new friend, and using all of their spider skills to make it home safely by dinner.

Winner! Best Middle Grade Book (Self Pubby Awards, 2021)

Get your free ebook copy of Book 1 in the Spyders series here!

Amalie’s Perilous Journey by Jacqueline Vincent

The Bronze Age Series: Book 1

“I’ll get to the coast before those thieving boatmen,” Amalie says to Roble.

Amalie and Roble are alone. Amalie’s sole possessions are on their way to Os Pericos market. Roble, her loyal pony, is beside her throughout the journey to reclaim them. He takes her weight and protects her from harm.

After her family’s death, the new clan chief gives her two options: live with him and his many children, or leave!

She leaves. Her destination; The annual market in Os Pericos on the coast.

Her future: Arriving before the boatmen cheat her.

Is time against her? Can she trust the boatmen now mama and papa have died? And will wolves, thieves, or wild elements defeat her?

Ride with Amalie and Roble to find out. Check out the first two chapters of Amalie’s Journey for free!

Dragon’s Future by Kandi J Wyatt

Dragon Courage Series Book 1

Ever ridden a dragon? You’re about to, so hold on tight! Dragon’s Future is quite the ride!” ~Ridley Pearson, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Trapped in a boring life, Carryl longs for something different. With the death of a dragon rider, she realizes her dream of becoming a rider herself. But first she must save the despondent dragon’s life.

Ruskya has settled into his new role as a dragon rider. A sinister rider has attacked the colony. The fate of all that Ruskya holds dear lies in his hands.

Ruskya and Carryl step into leadership roles to defend the colony and their village. Now they battle dragons and their own insecurities. They’ll need the courage of a dragon to defeat their enemies or die tying.

Dragon’s Future is the fabulous first book in the coming of age fantasy series Dragon Courage. If you like enticing worlds, captivating stories, and a new twist on dragon lore, you’ll love Kandi J Wyatt’s fantastic series.

Get your copy of Dragon’s Future to soar with dragons!

Get Dragon’s Heir (book 2) for free!

Bake Believe by Cori Cooper

Bake Believe Trilogy Book 1

Baking is messy enough without adding Magic to the mix.
Cat Anderson has everything she could ever want. So what if her mom refuses to touch the oven? It’s just food. Who even cares? But food, it turns out, is a very big deal. Cat’s family has a secret too fantastic to stay hidden, too incredible to be real. Something happens when they bake, something that changes everything. Can it be true?

Or is it Bake Believe?

Get your free first chapter here!

The Munchkins by Candice Zee

Book 1 in the Munchkins series

“A dark, gripping, & suspenseful read!”-Belle’s Middle Grade

Capricorn Munch and her twelve siblings are found outside a children’s home, but no one knows who they are or where they came from, including themselves. At 10 years old they all stop aging and develop powers that give them incredible abilities, like healing wounds and manifesting objects. They strive to live a normal life with their loving adoptive father, hiding their powers, until a sociopathic neighbor moves in next door. As the dangerous neighbor encourages them to be reckless with their powers, the siblings realize he’s up to something more sinister and they need to find out what—before it’s too late.⁠

The Munchkins “has all the “ingredients” for a fantastical, magical, YA story that also caters to adults who absolutely love the Potter-esque world that happens maybe twice in a lifetime.” – Reader Views  

Gold Award Winner in Teen Category of the 2021-2022 Reader Views Literary Awards!

Get the first 4 chapters of this award-winning book by clicking here!

The Dragon Slayer’s Son by Robinne Weiss

Dragon Defense Series Book 1

They said Dad was a dragon slayer. They were wrong.

When Nathan’s dad goes missing, presumed dead, Nathan is whisked away to the Alexandra School of Heroic Arts to train as his replacement. At school, he and his new friends soon learn:

Dragons are not the worst monsters out there.

And Nathan’s dad might not be dead … yet.

Nathan and his friends escape from school to find his dad. To succeed, they’ll need to seek the aid of the dragons and unravel an international ring of wildlife smugglers. If they fail, none of them will survive.

This action-packed novel, the first in the Dragon Defence League series, imagines dragons in modern day New Zealand. If you like adventure with a dose of fantasy, this is the book for you!

Read The Dragon Slayer’s Son (Book 1, Dragon Defence League Series) for free!

The Pickpocket and the Thief by Susie Dinneen

There’s no place like home.
But how far would you go to find it?
Cairo hates living with the Mulch family, but she’s only eleven and has nowhere else to go. Forced into a life of stealing, she’s desperate to find her real parents and ask them why she was left in a trunk when she was a baby.

When she meets Mel, a petty thief, Cairo realizes that she might be able to discover the truth about her past. But as she gets closer to solving the puzzle, she learns that her choices come with a price – a price she might not be able to pay.

The Pickpocket and the Thief is a short story in the Stolen Treasures middle-grade series. If you like timeless adventures, brave heroines, lying auctioneers, tall tales and quirky humor, you’ll love this introduction to Susie Dinneen’s enchanting series.

Start reading The Pickpocket and the Thief today – for free – for an adventure that you won’t want to end.

Wilds, Warnings & Little Wolves by C.J. Kavanaugh

A mysterious campground, a lost boy, and spooky werewolf legends. Enjoy this adventurous middle grade novella for ages 9-14. 

Get the first chapter for free!

The Little Wanderers: The Everlasting Seasons by L. K. Silver

Too small that they can fit into the palm of your hand, Snowy and Kokoro are two boys on a quest to find the village of everlasting happiness and its mysterious treasure. However, as if being tiny is not enough of a problem, the two have to face creatures with great magical powers. But what if Snowy and Kokoro fell upon a magic item that grants magic? Would that be enough for them to survive in a world much bigger than them? Find out in this enchanting middle-grade fantasy adventure, where danger and magic lurk behind every corner.

Click here for the first three chapters!


Can Kyra control the mythical chimera or will it control her?

Kyra has lost her family. Her mother has been snatched by the rat people, and her estranged dad is too busy fighting them to help. The reluctant princess of Antiica, Kyra, 13, goes against her father’s wishes and sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her mom. 

She meets Coyne, a teen who deserted the army, and rescues Mercy, an enslaved rat girl. The trio of unlikely companions must put aside their differences and brave the unknown reaches of a strange land. 

But Kyra’s life is changed completely when she’s forced to bond with the ancient Chimera, a magical creature that can read her mind and transport her across the land. Will Kyra learn how to control the chimera in time to save her mother? 

In the tradition of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, The Chimera’s Apprentice transports the reader to a magical world of adventure.

Get your copy today!

Atlas and the Multiverse by Chandon Simon


On Atlas’s first day of middle school in Boise, Idaho, a mysterious voice lures him and then appears to him, leaving him with a single clue: Find Dr. Faraday! With the help of his foster siblings Lilou and Nico, Atlas goes on a quest into the Multiverse to discover the truth about his father’s whereabouts. Their adventure takes them to countless new realms, where they encounter various characters — some friends and some foes — and through courage, overcome a series of challenges as they race to uncover the mysteries of family, friendship, and loyalty.

Get your copy here!

The Heart of Bakers and Artists by Antoinette Truglio Martin

The first book in the Becoming America’s Stories series

It is 1911, and nine-year-old Lily, an American-born child of Sicilian immigrants loves to sing, and wants to, has to, prove to her bossy older sister Margaret that she’s not a little kid. But when she gets the chance to bake bread at Goldberg’s bakery,  Lily learns that it’s hard and sometimes dangerous to be a big kid in the crowded Lower East Side Little Italy neighborhood, where she must skirt around old world traditions, tackle bigotry, unrest, and disasters, and cross treacherous streets by herself.

Sign up for my Stories Served Around The Table News to Nosh Newsletter and receive a FREE copy The Heart of Bakers and Artists, the award winning first book in the Becoming America’s Stories Series.

An exciting new program!

Sponsor a book for a child or a classroom!

We have an exciting new program to announce! You now have the option to sponsor a book (or 2 books… or more!) for a child or a teacher who is stocking their classroom library!

How it started

This all started when I received an email from a new fan. Her teacher had won The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers as a prize and this girl, who is in grade 4, loved it. Her favourite character was Thaddeus because he’s brave and she had really good questions about the story and where my ideas came from. She said her teacher was going to buy the second book so she could read it. This was really the most awesome thing – I love connecting with readers, and I remember when I was that same age and attended the Young Author’s Conference in Kamloops (I think it was the first one they offered). I wrote to a poet and she wrote back to me and I was completely hooked.

I told a friend about this and she was so blown away that she offered to sponsor the book so the teacher didn’t have to pay out of her own pocket. Teachers pay for a lot of things out of their own pockets, and many build their own library collections or classroom sets of books for their kids to read – all with their own money. And many kids can’t afford books of their own.

This started the ball rolling and my brain has been buzzing with this ever since!


I later connected with the teacher through Twitter and she told me more of the story. This student is a bit of a reluctant reader and the teacher was trying to connect her to a book that would capture her interest. The teacher had won a copy of The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers I had given to CBC Radio and was going to read it to her class. But when this little girl said she liked spiders, the teacher took a chance this might be the book. That young reader persevered with the help of her teacher. She was so proud of herself when she finished it.

When I heard this I was pretty much sobbing on the floor. Teachers, librarians, and parents often struggle with finding that right book to light up a child’s interest in reading. I can’t express how honoured I am that my book was that book for one child. That is the ultimate praise and I will treasure this interaction always.

Friends… with no kids!

I have had many friends who are thrilled about my author journey and tell me how proud they are of what I’ve done. They always say they wish they could support me more, but they don’t have any kids in their lives who are the right ages. Well, here is an easy way people can support literacy, teachers, readers, and authors even if they don’t have kids who are the right age.

How it works

I’m so pleased to be starting the Book Sponsorship program. I’m hoping to eventually include other independent authors and expand the program, but for now, it will be about getting books about spiders into the hands of readers and teachers.

If you want to sponsor a book (or two books) to go to a child or a teacher, you just need to click on the sponsorship links in my store. These funds will be held in a reserve and when I have teachers or children who are nominated or sign up for this program, I will deliver the book(s) you paid for directly to them. Each book will have a sticker on the inside cover indicating that it was part of the sponsorship program, and I will sign the copies. With their permission, I’ll share their stories in a special newsletter.

For children, I am being very careful that lower income children aren’t singled out or identified in any way and their privacy will be protected. But the books aren’t just for lower income children, they are also for avid readers, and kids who really like to write stories. Putting a book in the hands of a child opens a world of possibility for them and sometimes connecting with an author can be a life changing event like it was for me.

This program isn’t a charitable program and no tax receipt will be issued as I’m not a non-profit organization. But you will enjoy the knowledge that because of you, more children have access to books. And really, isn’t that just the best thing ever!

Let’s get books in the hands of kids and teachers!

How to help:

If you would like to sponsor a book (or 2), the link is here.

If you want to send a copy to a teacher or book outside of the Kamloops area please send an email to Vandelsopress@gmail.com first!

If you know an elementary school teacher or student you would like to nominate for this program please fill out the form here!

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Audiobook Review

I can’t remember how I came upon The Death of Mrs. Westaway but I picked it up on Audible and it sat in my library for a few months before I actually listened to it… and then couldn’t stop listening to it. I think I’ve listened to it three times now.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a classic mystery with plenty of plot and psychological twists and turns that centres around an old inheritance, and murder from long ago, names and identities, and just plain greed. Hal, Harriet Westaway, is the main character in the story. A tarot reader who is barely getting by, Hal tells herself she doesn’t believe in the cards she turns for others, but she does, in some way, believe in them for herself. She is alone in the world. One day she receives a letter about an inheritance and everything changes, but instead of being showered with money, she is thrown into the intrigue of a story that played out decades earlier.

Narrator Imogen Church has a haunting, understated voice that works wonderfully for Hal and all of the characters, both male and female.

I really love this book and it’s now in my collection of books to go back to when I need something to listen to and don’t want any new surprises. That list is very exclusive. It’s also one I recommend to my library patrons all the time.

(14 hours and 14 minutes) Simon and Schuster Audio, 2018)

The Death of Mrs. Westaway on Audible

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Audiobook Review

In true Brontë style, The Thirteenth Tale is not a story of the external ghosts that haunt buildings or graveyards. Rather, it tells of the internal ghosts that haunt us all. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart. Jane Eyre, a recurring theme in the book, is referenced often and I have the urge to listen to it again so the mood this book has put me in doesn’t escape me. Setterfield manages to create a landscape for her book that is on the one hand bleak and on the other splashed with colours of passion and madness. There is A LOT of madness in this book.

The story is told from the point of view of a biographer, Margaret Lea, who has been commanded to listen to and record the story of a famous and reclusive writer, Vida Winter, who is dying. In the process, Lea uncovers the truth about Winters’ past, and at the same time acknowledges her own tragic story.

“All children mythologize their birth…” is how the story begins and through the pages we encounter a string of characters who not only mythologize their births, but grip the story of their births to point where they are almost unable to see anything else.

Setterfield has done a masterful job of maintaining the voices of these two women who are reliving their pasts while the present is crashing down around them. It’s hard to believe how well she captured the feel of Jane Eyre while telling a completely new story. The twists and turns of the plot were natural, and yet always unexpected. I found myself driving to work saying things like, “But what about…..”, or “Ah, so that’s it….,” out loud. I’m glad nobody was watching.

At first I thought it was a bit distracting having two readers, one for Margaret (Bianca Amato) and one for Vida (Jill Tanner). The two voices at first don’t have the same kind of contrast I’d come to expect from audiobooks that utilize multiple readers. As the story progressed, however, I saw how subtly and skillfully each embraced her part. By the end I couldn’t imagine only one reader bringing justice to the book.

I haven’t heard either Amato or Tanner read before and both were exquisite. It would be interesting to hear both of them read a book that was more upbeat – I wonder what that would sound like.

I listened to this on CD and it was well worth the irritation I felt changing discs all the time. There is a blank track at the end of each disc which I’m assuming was there to indicate that it was time to change discs. I haven’t encountered that before. It’s less irritating than a strange voice telling me what to do. I see it’s now available on Audible which would be much easier to listen to.

Apparently there is also an abridged version of this book on audio. I don’t do abridgements (EVER!) so I can’t really comment on it. It has different readers as well.

(15 hrs and 38 mins), Simon and Schuster Audio, 2006

The Thirteenth Tale on Audible

* Note: This review was previously published many years ago on my old Audiobook Freak blog.

The Final Flight by James Blatch

Audiobook Review

The Final Flight by James Blatch, narrated by Matt Addis, was an unexpected thrill ride for me. I was expecting a decent military story about the RAF. What I was not expecting was a first-class thriller that had me scrambling for every five minutes of listening I could find. Blatch has placed compelling characters, authentic research, and a believable storyline in an era that is underrepresented in the thriller genre. Set in 1966, the story is so vivid you can feel the heat of a summer’s afternoon, see the military row houses and period vehicles driving by, and feel the vibration of jet planes taking off and landing. Blatch expertly ratchets up the suspense with sequences of twists and turns that I did not see coming.

As an avid audio listener, I’m very picky about the voices I listen to and Matt Addis has been added to the list of readers I will search for more books by. He has an easy-going style that is similar to Simon Vance. His character voices are consistent, and each character has a unique voice that adds to their personality. My only criticism is how he does women’s voices. They sound less clearly defined than the men’s voices, but not to the point where it’s annoying.

Overall, I found this to be an astonishingly good thriller that I would highly recommend.

Helping anxious kids through books

Helping kids deal with big feelings

Today’s preschoolers and elementary school-aged children have lived a good portion of their young lives under the shadow of a worldwide pandemic and now, if they are in British Columbia or many other places in the world, wildfires that may be threatening their homes.

Talking, no matter what the age, helps people identify and then deal with feelings around stressful situations in their lives. Books can be an excellent resource for starting conversations and easing anxiety. Some good keywords to use in a library or bookstore search include:

community helpers



I took a quick look in our library catalogues for some titles that might help. Here are just a few.

Books for kids dealing with anxiety:

A Terrible Thing Happened

by Margaret M. Holmes and Sasha J. Mudlaff

David and the worry beast : helping children cope with anxiety

Anne Marie Guanci ; illustrations by Caroline Attia

The worry (less) book : feel strong, find calm, and tame your anxiety!

Rachel Brian

All birds have anxiety

by Kathy Hoopmann

I will be okay!

by Laurie Wright ; Illustrations by Ana Santos

What to do when you worry too much : a kid’s guide to overcoming anxiety

by Dawn Huebner ; illustrated by Bonnie Matthews

I am a peaceful goldfish

by Shoshana Chaim + Lori Joy Smith

How big are your worries little bear? : a book to help children manage and overcome anxiety, anxious thoughts, stress and fearful situations

by Jayneen Sanders ; illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

A feel better book for little worriers

by Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen ; illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez

This is not a complete or exhaustive list. These are just ones I found when I did a quick search of our library system. There are many other excellent resources as well.

If you or your family are experiencing anxiety about events going on around you, whatever and wherever you are, spend some time in your local library or bookstore and ask staff for help finding the books you need.

Vesta Giles is a Kamloops-based author and filmmaker.

The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers is available now!

Audio reviews: 4 Books from Bombay

After many years away from reviewing audiobooks I’ve decided to start up again. You can find my old reviews on my old Audiobookfreak blog.

Today I’m diving into four books I recently listened to that all take place in Bombay, India, in the 1920’s and 40’s. It’s a time and place I really know nothing about and I loved every minute of my time in these books.

Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan

Narrated by: Maya Saroya

Series: The Malabar House Series, Book 1

Length: 10 hrs and 41 mins

Release date: August 20, 2020

Published by Hodder & Stoughton


I loved this fictional story of Persis Wadia, the first female police detective in India. Caught in a time of cultural and political revolution, she is strong, hardworking, incredibly smart, and the wrong gender to gain any respect. The story is a great detective story that relies on observation and intelligence rather than force or intimidation. The chief support she has behind her as she pursues the case of a murdered British diplomat is a Caucasian criminalist from Scotland Yard, Archie, who is the right gender to gain respect but can see a glimpse of what her struggle is.

I find the delicacy of how Persis threads her way along the edges of acceptable societal and cultural permissions fascinating. It’s that grey area, between old traditions and the early signs of feminism where she has the most to lose in her quest for the truth that is so compelling. Persis is the type of character who doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, so picturing her in a world completely filled with men and knowing the depth and complexity of her thoughts as she quietly ignores her detractors is really interesting. Given that just a few decades earlier she wouldn’t have been allowed out without a chaperone really drives that point home.

Maya Saroya is a fantastic narrator who really captures Persis’s frustration, intelligence, and struggles and is a genuine pleasure to listen to.

This was a splendid book and I highly recommend it if you like a good cozy mystery and want to explore a culture that I personally have had very little exposure to.

Author Vaseem Khan just released the second book in the series, The Dying Day. I was part way through the first book when I realized I had already listened to another one of his books, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, the first in the Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation series, which I also loved and I now see there are many more books in that series so I’ll be listening to those as well.

Next are the first three books in the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey

The Widows of Malabar Hill

Narrated by: Soneela Nankani

Series: Perveen Mistry, book 1

Length: 14 hrs and 34 mins

Release date: January 9, 2018

Published by: Recorded Books


This series follows Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer in the early 1920s. We see her struggles as a woman who cannot do many things in her profession because of her gender, but is also the only person possible who can take on certain tasks because of her gender.

In this book Perveen investigates irregularities in a will for her clients, three Muslim widows living in full purdah, where they are isolated behind a garden wall in and the women’s half of the house, with no direct contact with men who aren’t their relatives. Because she is a woman, Perveen is the only one who can get behind the curtain of the lives of the widows and actually see them face to face.

The culture of her world and the delicate dances Perveen needs to make as she achieves her goals while not crossing the boundaries of social and gender permissions is frustrating and fascinating at the same time. Perveen’s own painful history is revealed as the story progresses, which feels like knowing a train wreck is about to happen and not being able to stop it. This backstory was heart wrenching to get through and there were times I wanted to scream in frustration at how women were controlled in these situations and what little recourse they had. Through all of it, the legal rights (or lack of rights) of women in India at the time are at the forefront of Perveen’s mind and inspire her actions.

Soneela Nankani narrated the first book of this series and was excellent. She has a gentle accent that is warm and she does a good job of handling the variety of voices in the story.

I really loved this book and I couldn’t wait to dive into the second book.

The Satapur Moonstoon (book 2 in the Perveen Mistry series)

Narrated by: Sneha Mathan

Series: Perveen Mistry, book 2

Length: 12 hrs and 1 min

Release date: May14, 2019

Published by: Recorded Books


This second book in the Perveen Mistry series was even more gripping than the first as the author has introduced a potential love interest for Perveen – a love interest who is wrong in so many ways. He is not only not Parsi, as her family is, he is British and white. In the story Perveen is sent to a princeley state in the distant Sahadyari mountains where two widows, the mother and the wife of the prince who has died, are living with the children in purdah (isolation) and are battling with each other in a power play to determine the education, and possibly safety, of the young prince and heir to the throne. It’s a vicious duel of old world and new world thinking. In this story the stakes are higher for Perveen, the physical danger is greater and the emotional and cultural danger is escalated by a forbidden friendship. Perveen and the British agent for the prince’s stately concerns are drawn together, which makes every step she makes look like she’s about to walk on a landmine. Oh, and there is a curse. Curses are always fun!

This book welcomed a new narrator, Sneha Mathan, who has a smooth voice that is extremely pleasing to listen to. She covers a variety of voices exceptionally well and it was hard to remember it wasn’t a cast of actors reading a script but one woman creating distinct and easily identifiable, authentic sounding characters.

The Bombay Prince (book 3 in the Perveen Mistry series)

Narrated by: Sneha Mathan

Series: Perveen Mistry, book 3

Length: 12 hrs and 37 mins

Release date: June 1, 2021

Published by: Recorded Books


As crowds in Bombay riot over colonial rule and the visit from Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, Perveen is driven to uncover the circumstances behind the death of a young female student who she had briefly met with a week earlier. In this book, the teetering edge of colonial rule and the uprising that turned violent in the streets form the backdrop to the story that still leans heavily on gender roles and power.

In this book, the author, Sujata Massey, continues to allow Perveen to push her own boundaries and experience the effect of the resistance to her growing independence. Colin, the British agent she met in the second book, is in Bombay for the prince’s visit and their friendship and the romantic tension between them grows. The stakes become higher and the danger Perveen faces reaches the point when her survival is seriously in question.

Each of these books also explores the different subcultures that exist in India which I found really fascinating. I found the differences in Parsi, Hindu, and Muslim cultures in India really interesting to the point where I had to research how a Parsi woman would wrap her sari verses how a Hindu woman would wear hers. In my shallow understanding of these worlds, I thought they were all the same. I like it when I learn little details about worlds I know nothing about.

Sneha Mathan continues as narrator for this book and again, I completely forgot that she was reading, and giving depth and character to all the male and female roles. She is an excellent narrator.

And now I wait for a fourth book, which is always frustrating. I discovered that Sujata Massey also wrote the Rei Shimura Mysteries so I will start on those to tide me over.

Book I just finished:

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

(read by Robert Glenister)

Book I’m currently listening to:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

(Read by Susan Duerdan)

Check out the audio for my new kids book

The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers

(read by Michael Gallagher)

Vesta Giles is a Kamloops-based author and filmmaker.

The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers is available now!

Picture Books to Read Aloud

After 12 years of reading picture books to kids, these are some of my favourites. A good picture book is so perfectly written and edited it just feels natural. That is harder than it seems to accomplish and many authors and publishers miss the mark but the ones that do it well do it really well.

What is a picture book?

Picture books are usually between 24 and 32 pages and their large size makes it easy to spread out and read with a child tucked next to you or on your lap. From my perspective, they are easy to hold in one hand when you’re facing it forward to a group of children and the images are large and easy for kids in a group to see. The words are easy to read when looking from the side so you can read without having to move the book around a lot and so you can read it in front of you Storytime-style.

Reading aloud

Picture books are meant to either be read aloud or flipped through by children who understand the story by exploring the pictures. The print often isn’t huge as it’s meant for the adults who are reading them. The images, though, are usually spectacular and that’s the part that the children connect with. They hear the story orally and connect with the pictures as they listen.

This oral way of delivering a story emphasizes when the words are written well … and when they aren’t. I cringe when I see picture books with large amounts of text filling a page. Not in all cases, but in many the text is over explaining and lacks the crucial rhythm and flow that make reading aloud so magica. A great picture book to read aloud has beautiful flow and a natural and engaging rhythm. Every word is chosen with precision with the reader and listener in mind.

Tips for reading aloud.

Reading aloud when you’re reading to children in your life (children, grandchildren, friends) is easier than reading to a critical group of toddlers or pre-schoolers in a storytime program. But even if you know the children some people worry that they don’t have a great voice or get nervous about the performance aspect of it. My biggest tip if this is intimidating to you is to just relax and read “with wonder” – meaning embrace the story. To a child that knows and loves you, your voice is already perfect. It makes them happy and gives them comfort. Don’t get stuck on trying too hard or trying to be perfect. Just slow down and embrace the wonder and the story. Play with some voices too. Try giving big creatures a lower voice and smaller creatures a higher voice. Don’t make it complicated. It should be fun for you too and if it’s not, the children will know right away.

The biggest thing is to slow down and play with the story. If you know there is a surprise coming, then maybe hold off on turning that page and build the suspense. Children love play, and books and stories are a big part of that. Play involves experimenting and trying new things.

Allow for questions about the story as you read. Books provide great opportunities to talk about relationships, emotions, morality, and even cultural details that are different than what the child experiences in their everyday life. There are picture books that are written to deal specifically with issues of diversity and life issues such as grief and loss, and behaviour issues like sharing or kindness.

Some of my favourite picture books to read aloud:

Here are some of my favourite pictures books to read to children. There are thousands or amazing picture books around and I’ll review more as I come across them, but these are my trusty standbys. They are all a little older but they have stood the test of time. I know the stories well and I can easily get into the voices.

The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak (Dial Books, 2014) Ironically, the first picture book I’m going to recommend has no pictures! This is easily the most popular book I read to preschool, kindergarten, and even grade 1 and 2 kids. It’s so popular they request it when they walk in the door and I limit them to twice per year or I’d have to read it every week. This is a performance piece for readers. It’s the book I recommend all parents get their kids and read it to them. Must use voices! They never get tired of it!

The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) There are lots of Pout Pout fish books now but the original, just titled “The Pout Pout Fish” is the best – you will need develop good voices!

Brontorina by James Howe, illustrated by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2013) This is a great one if your family likes dance but even if nobody dances, it’s a fantastically fun story about inclusion.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees (The Watts Publishing Group, 2001) This is a great book about individuality and self-expression.

The Wide Mouthed Frog (popup book) by Keith Faulkner, illustrated by Jonathan Faulkner (Dial Books, 1996) This is so much of a favourite for me that I’ve pretty much memorized it and it both read it to children and tell it to children. I love it! I have developed some good voices and the sense of surprise is fun to build up. Pop up books are a favourite of children but for the little toddlers they will destroy them. They are a great lesson on how to care for books but if they get destroyed, you just get another one. It’s worth it.

Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter, illustrated by Bill Cotter (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013) There is a surprise on every page of this book and kids and adults have a lot of fun with it. It has some good reminders about cause and effect.

Fortunately, Unfortunately by Michael Foreman (Anderson Press, 2011) This is a really fun book with lots of adventure that really emphasizes how you can feel like all is lost but really you have the tools at hand to solve a problem. Plus there are pirates and aliens!

If You Give a Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond (Scholastic Paperbacks, 1988) There are several of these books but I like the original one the best. They are all excellent and lots of fun to read and to listen to.

Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Athenium Books for Young Readers, 2000) This one never gets old. It’s all about negotiation tactics.

A Porcupine in a Pine Tree by Helaine Becker, illustrated by H. Werner Zimmerman (Scholastic, 2010) – This is the 12 Days Of Christmas Canadian Style. Each year I read this to any kid or group of kids I can find. If they’re older I break them into groups and let each take a part which makes it a lot of fun. I think it’s best Canadian Christmas book ever!

My first chapter book, The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers, will be out soon in print, ebook and audiobook.

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The Joy of Chapter Books

My first chapter book, The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers, is coming out in print, ebook, and audio around the end of May (date still to be determined) and I am beyond excited. While there are many books I want to write for both adults and kids, and I have plans to finish several in the next year, I’m pretty pleased that my first book for my new publishing company and for me as an author will be a chapter book and it’s the first of a series.

I think chapter books are the unsung heroes of children’s literature and I don’t think they get the respect and admiration they deserve. Chapter books are the keys to accessing countless worlds of wonder for new readers.

What is a chapter book?

A chapter book is a short novel that’s usually in the 100 – 150 page range. Think of the Captain Underpants series (by Dav Pilkey), Diary of a Wimpy Kid (by Jeff Kinney), or the Magic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne. Aimed at newer readers in the 7-10 age range, chapter books look like novels. They have chapters (hence the name) and usually black and white images that are sprinkled throughout the book. Their print size is larger than the standard novel but not so big they look like words for babies or little kids.

In the beginning – board books and picture books

Books for younger children, picture books or board books, or even beginning readers, lean very heavily on brightly coloured images with few words per page. These are books that parents read with kids on their laps, and little kids flip the pages and make up stories based on the images they see and the words they remember grownups reading. They are often filled with spectacular artwork and for many of us they are the first books we remember as adults.

Beginning readers

The first books kids actually learn to read are usually beginning readers, with somewhere in the range of 30 pages, roughly 20 words per page, and simple, colourful images that enhance the words. In the old days they would have been Dick and Jane books, and then Dr. Seuss. They are wonderful for becoming the first books where children sound out a word and read a page, and then a whole book. When those first words are read, a window is flung open in their minds and they devour these thin little books like the sweetest candy.

Moving up to chapter books

Next comes chapter books. The kids that are reaching for chapter books want to read like their parents and their older brothers and sisters. They want a book that doesn’t look like it’s for little kids. A chapter book feels like a novel. The size and the paper feel the same. They are the gateway to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and A Wrinkle in Time for kids who aren’t quite ready to tackle those books solo. But these chapter books are starting to have more complex stories, and they now feature many more words than pictures.

Beginning readers are the window to the joy of reading, allowing kids to look out on a world of stories and feel a sense of independence. They give kids a glimpse of what is possible. Chapter books allow them to step out the door and if they find the right book, their lives are never the same. They land on other planets, in ancient Greece, in a magic treehouse, or in my case, the tiny, unexpected world of spiders in the garden. Chapter books are also the first experiences these new readers will have of becoming hooked on a series.

Moving up from chapter books kids will begin to dive into longer novels with much more complex and emotionally challenging subjects and content. I love seeing them at this stage too, but nothing beats the first time hearing those magic words, “Can I read just one more chapter?”

The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers will be out at the end of May, 2021. Sign up for the newsletter for the latest details!

A book nook nerd in the making

What is a book nook?

A book nook is a piece of miniature art, designed as a scene, that sits on a bookshelf between books.

My first booknook.

How did I start?

When COVID hit and I was at home I became restless and decided I needed to completely redo my office and it had to happen NOW! I’m calling the projects I completed between April and August COVID projects. Surfing Youtube and Pinterest I started to see book nooks appear. Most of the early ones were Harry Potter themed but there were others and I was fascinated. Over the summer book nooks have shown up all over the place.

I went from loving book nooks but not knowing where to start, to being determined to create one after I saw a Youtube video by Rachel Maksy. She normally does amazing cosplay videos but she made a book nook in one video this spring and her easy way of making the structure convinced me I could do it. You can watch her video here.

I started watching other videos from people like Ara at Bently House Minis and Black Magic Crafts (I’m not a DnD player or gamer but this guy’s techniques and enthusiasm are awesome!) and fell back in love with miniatures, something I was interested in when I was a kid. I’m now completely obsessed.

Maybe it’s the filmmaker in me who loves models, or the little girl that read The Borrowers and the Littles when I was growing up that made miniatures so interesting. I’m not interested in doll houses because of the dolls – it’s about the stories.

The thing I like about this kind of activity is that it lets me give parts of my brain a rest. When I’m writing I often run into stumbling blocks and problems I can’t see easy solutions for. I need to have activities like knitting, or making crafts, or cooking risotto, or even long solo cross country ski days that put the problem on the back burner in my brain. It’s hard to describe but by taking the pressure off solving the problem the problem often solves itself. This has been a very good project for me during COVID when I was trying to do a lot of writing.


Keepsake box from Michaels
  • Keepsake Box (make sure it isn’t too tall to fit on your shelf. It will be sitting on it’s back edge with the opening flap on the top)
  • popsicle sticks
  • stain (I used Unicorn Spit because I had a lot available)
  • white glue
  • super glue
  • mod podge
  • craft paint (I used acrylics and basic craft paints from Michaels)
  • watercolour paper and paints
  • Tim Holtz Distress Ink pads
  • sharpie markers
  • clear vinyl (this is the type that they make table coverings out of. I had some on hand.)
  • foam core (sheets from Michaels)
  • craft foam (thick and thin – Dollar Store)
  • scrapbook paper
  • polymer clay
  • metal gear-shaped findings
  • steampunk charms
  • wooden skewers
  • Rustoleum clear coat
  • aluminum foil
  • silicone sealant
  • lights from Evan Designs



I started by cutting the end off the keepsake box for the opening. I saved the piece of cardboard I cut away as I used it later to make the back wall. This was a great idea from Rachel Maksy’s Youtube video (see link above). I didn’t want to build a box and this suggestion made all the difference. I roughly marked out where things would go on each wall with a sharpie. I ended up changing it pretty drastically by the end but it was good to have a reference to start out with.


The first thing I worked on was the floor. I used popsicle sticks and since I was already working on a massive bookshelf project using Unicorn Spit stain and I loved the bright colours, I used some for the floorboards. I laid out the bare floorboards first to make sure they fit. I lightly sanded the popsicle sticks and dampened them down first so the stain would penetrate. Once they were dry I varnished them with a Rustoleum clear coat that I also had on hand due to my large bookshelf project.

I laid the floor boards down in a pattern that looked pretty realistic with the colours and seamed spread out. I posted pictures on Instagram and some people thought it was a real floor.


Next I started working on the stairwell. I started with the arch and made it out of foam core. I discovered I hate cutting foam core. I then discovered the softer foam that is 5mm thick and I like that a lot more. The archway didn’t need to be that strong because it would be stuck to the wall and didn’t need to support anything.

For the backing of the archway I used a piece of cardstock and a layer of the thinner dollar store craft foam over top. I cut thin slices to make a ledge and I dug into the surface with a pen to make the stones and the stairs. I used wadded up aluminum foil to make the texture on the foam. I made sure to go really deep with the pen so the ridges between the stones and along the stairs were really deep.

I glued them together and realized I didn’t like the edge of the original foam core so I cut thin strips of foam to make some edging and trim around the arch.

To finish the arch I painted the stone using the stone painting tutorial by Black Magic Craft on Youtube. It’s perfect and I use it all the time now. I used Sharpie markers to colour the wood on the stairs and then I added a bit of watered down black paint as a wash to age them.

Originally I planned to have a wall sconce with a light in the archway but I realized at the end that it wasn’t deep enough and the light would have stuck out too much.


Next I made the fireplace in basically the same way I made the arch, minus the foam core. The fireplace is all thick and thin crafting foam. I didn’t need the top to be really strong because it was going to be glued to the wall. Later I added banners with fabric, wooden skewers, steampunk charms, and some of the gears I included in other places as well that I painted and folded in half to make brackets.


The bookshelves were made with thick and thin foam as well. The outside panels are made from the thick foam and the shelves and back are made from the thin. I painted them and aged them to look like wood. The books are made from individually cut pieces of the thick foam and coloured on 3 sides using sharpie markers. Then I used a combination of fine gold or black pen to make the lines across the back. I coloured the tops of the books (where the pages would be) with beige or gold marker.

Furniture and Accessories

Most of the furniture, lighting fixtures, and accessories were made from polymer clay and the metal gears I got from Michaels in the jewellery department.

The chair is polymer clay with a metal gear piece in the back and fabric for the seat cover. The logs for the fireplace are polymer clay and the metal piece the are resting on is made from pieces from the gear package. The books that go on the desk and the fireplace mantle are polymer clay and paint. The desk is a combination of wood for the top, with legs made of foam, wood skewer, and metal gears. The crow, typewriter and inkwell are polymer clay.

The light sconces on the wall are polymer clay with translucent polymer clay on the top (with a bit of orange ink added in) and gear parts. The main chandelier on top is made of curved gear pieces.

Stained glass window and view

The back window is made from vinyl from a fabric store. I tried other types of acetate but the colours looked dull on them. I used bright sharpie markers for the stained glass. The back wall is the cardboard I cut from the side of the box that I trimmed down a bit. I covered it with foam so I could have the same stone look as the arch and fireplace and added trim and a chair rail before using the stone painting technique again. Behind the window is a watercolour painting that is just layers of orange and yellow to try and make it look like a sunset.


I wanted the ceiling to look a bit like it was falling apart and boards could be seen where the plaster had fallen. I used the thin foam again and dug really deeply with a pen to make deep wide grooves between the boards and roughed it up a lot with a ball of aluminum foil. I gave it a light wash of watered down brown paint. I then got watercolour paper and added layers of colour by taking distress ink pads and just rubbing the whole pad along the paper. I then dampened the paper and ripped it so it would show the edges. and then aged it. When I showed the picture on Instagram a friend told me she was sorry to see I was having ceiling troubles. Best compliment ever!


The walls were textured scrapbook paper that I rubbed a yellowish distress inkpad all over. I wanted them to look like old plaster.


The lights were the best and most frustrating part of this project and I learned a lot from them. The staff at Evan Designs are fantastic and really helpful. I’ll be making a large order soon for future projects. The nightmare with the US Postal Service this summer was very frustrating and it took a long time for the lights to arrive but that wasn’t the shipper’s fault – it was the shut down of the postal service.

The wires on the lights are very fine so the most important thing I learned is to not keep messing with them and connecting and disconnecting them. Just stop!

Now that I’ve had the lights I would do things a little differently. First, if I was going to keep opening the side of the box to work on it after placing the lights I wouldn’t put lights on that wall that moves. I had one wall sconce and the fireplace on that wall and they kept becoming disconnected, which kind of makes sense of you think ahead! If you do put lights on that wall then put them all on one switch.

The flickering lights all need to be on the same switch (or with other flickering lights – they can’t go with steady lights). When you put them all on one switch they will flicker at the same time. I would put them on a few different switches. It will mean a bit more expense and more switches to deal with but the randomness of the flickering would be nice.

I had 3 nano sized lights in the chandelier and they worked well. The fireplace that flickers is awesome and I used a small amount of silicone sealant to make a blob (spread it on a piece of glass and let it dry, then peel off) that wraps around them so they aren’t so bright.

I used a white nano sized light and an orange pico sized light in the back to light the sunset. I will be replacing the orange with a bigger one as it wasn’t big enough.

I started with only 2 switches in the back. One for the flickering lights and one for the steady lights. Doing it again I would use more switches based on the location of the light in the scene so I wasn’t stretching wires all over the place. The wires are glued in beneath the ceiling and behind the wallpaper and I’ll be removing them soon to redo my lighting.

The finished project

I love my book nook! There are definitely things I would do differently, like plan the lighting better and alter the layout a bit so it was easier to see things at the back, but overall I love it! I painted the outside black with acrylic paint that is already scratching off so I would definitely use some sort of scrapbook paper or something to cover the pattern on the box.

I made a front piece to glue on so the edges would be really clean and I would probably plan that better on the next one as well. I would also put some thought into scale early on. I realized I hadn’t done that and needed to know how big to make things so I created a little stick person who was the right size for this room, but it’s definitely not a standard scale. You can see my little stick person in some of the photos.

Other than that I am really pleased with my first attempt!

Next one(s) – the addiction continues

I have already started my next nook and I have plans for a couple of others as well as a condo building of rooms that pay homage to different murder mystery authors. I’m hoping this isn’t an indication of how long COVID is going to last.