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.

Visit http://www.vandelsopress.com for more info or sign up for the newsletter here.

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!

I’m sort of famous! My not so secret love of pens.

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here

A month or so ago I was asked by Goulet Pens to offer some insight into why I, as a writer, love fountain pens. They were talking to six writers to be included in a blog and I was lucky enough to be one of them. I had to think about it because it’s really something I’ve loved without really thinking about why.

 

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here is the link

I’ve always loved pens and paper. Holding a pen and making lists or notes is comforting 20180918_180510 (2)to me. If I can’t sleep or if I’m anxious then a blank paper and a good list can calm me right down. But for years I resisted fountain pens. I thought they would leak all over, and be a lot of work. My brother, Dan, loves them, and my friend Dani is a huge fountain pen fan. I was starting to feel a bit left out. I decided to quietly try a fountain pen to see what it was like. There is no pen store in Kamloops, where I live, so I went to Michaels and bought a cheap plastic Schaeffer calligraphy pen on a whim. I started to use it to write Morning Pages (3 pages of constant writing every morning) and I was thrilled to discover how smooth they wrote and how fast my hand moved across the page. It felt so free. I was instantly smitten and had to eat a bit of crow when I admitted my new love to Dan and Dani. I believe I may have acted like I was the first person ever to discover them but they have since forgiven me. We now share notes on favourite pens, ink and paper. It’s become a bit of an addiction.

I know a lot of authors use fountain pens for their first drafts. I remember a quote from Robertson Davies, one of my favourite authors, who said he wrote by hand because he wasn’t tempted to edit right away. This is exactly what I love about writing by hand. I don’t judge my words so harshly. I’m not tempted to erase them before they have a chance to breathe.

I have a favourite pen (a Pilot Metropolitan with a fine nib) for editing. It always has red ink. I have a Jinhao and a Parker that are my desk pens and are filled with Noodler’s Black ink. I have a Lamy Al Star (Lime green with turquoise ink), a Lamy Safari (matt blue “Petrol” with dark blue ink) and a white and purple Monteverde with purple ink for all my notes and creative writing. Dan gave me the Monteverde. Dani gave me a Claire Fontaine coil notebook, which I love, because she wanted me to try real paper. It is amazing. I need more.20180918_181024 (2)

To be mentioned in a blog by Goulet pens has boosted my status in my pen-loving circle quite significantly which is awesome! I think my brother is still coming to terms with it.

I’m planning to add to my pen / ink / notebook collection soon. I need to commemorate writing / directing and producing my first short film. Then I’ll need another set as a reward for finishing my next screenplay. The list goes on and on and on…

When I’m Dead – the journey

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March 29, 2018

It’s been a little over a year since I was sick at home with bronchitis and decided I had to write a short film script about something that happened with a late friend and her mother. Fast forward through a year of grieving the loss of my friend and trying to get this project off the ground.

It was a year of applying for a huge grant and in the process meeting a great producer who I hope to work with in the future, discovering how to write a grant application and a budget, casting two amazing people to star in my film, and being devastated and then actually relieved that we didn’t get the grant. The timing wasn’t write and it would have been rushed.

At the time I wondered if we would get to make the film at all. I was at the end of something and I didn’t know what direction to take. I didn’t know where the new beginning started. This was September, 2017. I had no idea how, or if, I would be able to make this 10 minute film that meant so much to me.

Then, on a cool fall day I went for a bike ride to the lookout at Stake Lake. This was where I wanted to shoot part of the film. It’s a place with memories, and a place where I can think. After long rolling hills and a steep uphill, the lookout is on a plateau with short winding tree-lined trails that open up to an expansive view of Lac Le Jeune. The winding trail is flat with tight curves that weave through the trees. As I was riding I heard a loud whooshing noise beside me. I looked, and there was a Great Grey Owl flying at my eye level right next to me. I was astounded. It pulled ahead of me and soared along the path, gracefully tilting as it took the curves. Then, still stunned, I heard another noise behind me and there was a second owl. It followed the path of the first ahead of me and then both rose up to the tree tops and disappeared. Right then I arrived at the lookout and the view hit me. Owls have always been special to me. I don’t see them very often, but when I do I pay attention. To me they always seem to indicate big moments that make me pay attention to where I am. Standing at the lookout I knew I would make this project happen. I had no idea how, but I knew I had to do it.

In October I went to the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Totally Indie Day and heard Jonas Woost, (Executive Producer, Telus Original Content & STORYHIVE), talk about the Storyhive granting program and I suddenly realized I might qualify for a Storyhive grant. They are a lot of work, (making pitch videos, etc.) and the grant amount of $10,000 wouldn’t be enough to completely make the film, but it would go a long way.

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Nolan McAllister and Amanda Cowell helping me with the pitch video.

After that I talked to local people who might be interested in helping me make the film. Suddenly I have a talented cast and crew and a huge cheering squad.

So, here we are. Our pitch is in for the Storyhive Digital Shorts edition and voting will be happening between April 3 – 6. Either way we are shooting in early May. We have a small window of opportunity when our dream cast and most of our dream crew are available to shoot for 3 days. We have to make it work. We will need to do some crowdfunding to cover things like equipment rental (if we don’t get the Storyhive grant), and making sure people get paid and fed if we do get it. I’ve decided to document the process here. I’ll keep a bit of a journal about the entire production process. We are shooting in a little over a month and there is so much to do!

Wish us luck!

Daughter for Sale – available for viewing

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On set – Daughter for Sale (Justice Unleashed)

Update – the link is no longer available 

OK this is pretty cool. My first movie of the week, Daughter for Sale (Lifetime, US) is now available for Canadians to view via Youtube. Not sure who has uploaded it, or if it will last, but finally my friends and family can watch it. Now, remember, they can do (and did do) whatever they wanted after I handed in the script and it is a low budget Movie of the Week. Still, it’s pretty cool to see my name in the credits.

Dangerous Designs is the next Movie of the Week – I have no idea when that will be filmed. There are other irons in the fire as well but I won’t report on them till they actually become something.

 

Making Movies – A Crazy Thing Gets Really Real

20160614_123322An addendum to Crazy Thing #45.

I finally got to see my first paid screenplay being filmed. After months of rewrites from the producers and director and with changing budgets, directors, and locations it was finally out of my hands. Although I have been insanely overscheduled and busy this month I managed to keep one whole day free for a quick day trip to Vancouver.

Originally the production was supposed to be shot in Duncan but they changed to Vancouver, which was extremely convenient for me. A 3 ½ hour drive vs. 6 hours and a ferry ride was very manageable.

I actually really enjoy driving when I’m not in insane traffic or three feet of snow so leaving at 6am and driving the Coquihalla on a (then) sunny June day was a treat I should give myself more often. I got to Ft. Langley and followed the directions to the parking area for the crew. On the way through Ft. Langley I drove through another film set where they had the streets set up for winter – not my movie. There are over 50 film projects underway in Vancouver and there is a desperate scramble for locations, crew, and equipment. The crew parking was at a golf course where they were sharing the parking with the crew from the film I had just driven through.

When I arrived I was asked which production I was with and had a bit of a shiver when I said, “Justice Unleashed” – well now, this was starting to feel real. They directed me to park and another crew member asked if I was in the crew. I said no, I was just visiting.

He looked skeptical. “Do they know you’re coming?”

“Yes, I’m the writer.”

“Oh, sorry!”

Suddenly the conversation moved much quicker. I was driven to the shooting location where the trailers for the cast were set up. After checking in with the AD, who apparently didn’t expect me to check in with anybody, I walked to the very modern, very “out of my budget” house where the day’s shooting was taking place and I was greeted by another crew member. Although I wished, for the sake of claustrophobia in crowds, that it was an outdoor shoot. The astonishing waves of rain later in the day made me glad I was inside. I lived in Vancouver for 15 years and never did like the rain but it’s not often you see it come down that hard.

When I arrived they were shooting in the garage. I was shown into a tiny hallway where more crew were working and the sound guy was huddled in a tiny corner with headphones on.

Having driven for three hours the urge to pee was pretty huge so I asked one of the production assistants where the washroom was. He pointed me to some trailers outside – no big deal. The man who greeted me at the door interrupted and said, “Actually she’s a VIP – she’s the writer. She can use the washroom in the house.” Well! There was a perk I never expected. Everyone in the hallway stopped working and stared at me when I went into the washroom – awkward!

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Finally, they finished the shot and I was escorted in to meet Farhad Mann – the director. We had spoken for hours on the phone but had never met in person. He invited me in and told me what they were shooting and let me watch the monitors with him. The garage was so crowded it was making my skin crawl – I don’t do crowds of people in tight spaces – not a big fan of parties either. I sucked it up, though, because when I saw the crowd it hit me that I had created a project that, for a brief time, was keeping all of these people employed. That was a pretty huge dose of reality.

I remembered when I was in my early 20’s and worked as an extra and a script reader to make extra cash. That was a long time ago, but a feeling came back to me that I had forgotten – despite the crowds, the “hurry up and wait” pace, and the frenetic energy – this was a place where I felt comfortable, where I belonged.

Through the day the crew and equipment moved from one part of the house to another. I felt in the way a lot but I was trying to be more of a fly on the wall than a fly the crew wanted to swat. I think I was partially successful.

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Farhad introduced me to a lot of people, most of whom did a double take when they found out I was the writer. In true introvert fashion I said hi to a lot of people but really only connected with a couple. Sarah, the Script Supervisor, and I had a great talk about writing and the Director of Photography and I had a few laughs.

As the day went on I realized I wasn’t very interested in what the actors were doing, but I was more interested in what the crew was doing. I was trying to absorb as much information as I could and that’s where most of the action was happening. I loved it.

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I got a message in the afternoon that there was a snow storm brewing on the Coquihalla and they were expecting at least 6” of snow so I decided to leave a bit early. It had been a great day and a total success from my point of view.

On the drive home I was thinking about the next Movie of the Week I have in the works – I’m waiting for notes from the producers and the network, and a short film I’m writing that I’m really excited about, as well as other writing projects I have lined up. From start to this point the process for Justice Unleashed had taken two years, but it was more like a year if you took out all the long waiting periods. The story idea I submitted in the beginning is completely different than the story I watched being filmed. That’s OK. That’s how the process works. Working with Odyssey Media has been awesome and I’m looking forward to what our next project becomes.

I’m writing this on the last day of shooting for Justice Unleashed – now they move on to editing and post production. I’ll post again when I know when it will be broadcast.

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From the drive home

 

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50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #45 – Write a screenplay

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I do feel a bit weird about announcing this. It’s not a totally done thing yet but my part is done and the rest is out of my hands.

Actually, that title is a little bit misleading. I have been writing screenplays, among other things, for many years. The difference with this one was that I was going to sell it and it was going to be made into something that someone other than me could see. Generally, the criteria for my crazy things is that it had to be something I had some control over. You can’t just say “I’m going to win the lottery” because we don’t really have control over that… or at least we shouldn’t!

I had pitched some ideas already to Odyssey Media of Vancouver. They produce a lot of movies of the week for networks like Lifetime and SyFy, among others. Right before my crazy year began they picked one of my story ideas and asked me to develop it further. I did, and eventually I got a contract to write a script for a movie of the week that would air on the lifetime network. This is a pretty big deal. It’s not a union production and it’s not huge money, but it’s a 90-minute credit on a major network and it’s a nice toe in the industry door. The fact that I didn’t have to be living in Vancouver or Los Angeles was extraordinary – yay for the internet! I was given deadlines for the synopsis, treatment (basically an outline) and once that was approved, the full script. Now came the hard part, I had to deliver a script and they had to approve it.

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When I tell people I’m having a writing day, I (usually) really am writing and this year I had an extremely tight schedule because I didn’t want to have to take time off my job to get this done. 90 pages needed to be finished and approved. I also have some minor… or maybe major… issues with procrastination.

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I’m happy to say I accomplished my goal and in October the script for Justice Unleashed, a mother-daughter thriller about human trafficking, was complete and approved. This was very much a process of writing for the specific needs of a client rather than just writing creatively with no need to have anyone approve what I’ve done. They did request changes, and some of them were … well… ridiculous… but in the end they are the client and what they say goes. It was difficult because I could see somewhere great that the story could go but the network has very strict requirements based on demographics, markets, etc. Not my call.

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I have done a lot of professional writing in the past – magazine articles, book contributions, marketing writing, etc. I’ve also been paid to write video scripts for different organizations for training and promotional purposes so being paid to write is not new to me. The fact that I created a project that will have a $2-3 million budget (making it a low budget production) and take a year to complete – that’s new for me.

I didn’t write this earlier because the crazy thing is still ongoing. When the script for Justice Unleashed was approved, they asked me if I felt like doing another one. I said.. “Sure!”… (duh!). I’m currently working on it and I’m hoping the first draft will be finished in the next few weeks.

Justice Unleashed has a director, but he’s not yet locked in with a contract and I’ve just been told it will likely be shot at the end of June or early July in Vancouver. If it is in Vancouver I’ll also be able to visit the set, which should be exciting! I’ll do more blog posts on this as I know more.

Once the one I’m currently working on is finished I’m going to take a break from movies of the week and concentrate on a script I’ve been dabbling at for about a year or so… something about a woman who does 50 Crazy Things in her 50th Year.

Why was this crazy?

How many other people do you know who are doing it and getting paid?

Would I do it again?

Oh yeah!

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The Spray-paint Lady Smiles

Dublin cement bridge 1989

 

For my first post I thought it would be most appropriate to highlight some of my writing. Part of the reason for the blog is to be more available and more visible in my own world and the world at large. I wrote this in January for the CBC Canada Writes Creative Non-Fiction contest. I didn’t win, or even place (there were over 1,800 others who didn’t either) but I’m very proud of what I wrote and writing it got me fuelled for writing for the rest of the year. Even now, seven months later, I’m still proud of it and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The story is one that haunts me even 25 years after it first happened. It’s hard to believe 25 years ago I was living in Ireland trying to figure out my life. I’ve since discovered that trying to figure out my life is like trying to bottle a cloud. It just doesn’t work that way.

I hope you enjoy.

Click here to read:   The Spray-paint Lady Smiles