We all know how important it is for our children to learn to read. We buy endless ABC books, teach them phonics and force feed them the latest reading schemes but, in our attempts to instill knowledge into their pretty little heads, are we teaching them NOT to read for fun?
First, a look at ‘guilty parent syndrome’.
Is doing things for fun, bad?
My grandson loves watching Blaze and the Monster Machines on the TV. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of watching, Blaze is a monster truck who races round Axle City. Now, my grandson isn’t allowed to watch much television but his mum says she doesn’t feel so bad letting him watch Blaze battling it out with arch-rival, Crusher, because “it’s billed as the first TV show for preschoolers to comprehensively cover areas of science, technology, engineering and math.”
And cover them, it does. With story lines and songs about ‘inertia’, ‘potential energy’ and ‘buoyancy’, Blaze has certainly taught me some STEM concepts (not sure about my grandson).
But why do we feel better about our children watching something that pertains to be teaching them something rather than just watching something for fun?
Do you always watch programs that are teaching you something?
Do you screen reruns of Stephen Hawking Lectures or Open University broadcasts?
I thought not.
And if we can do something ‘just for fun’, why can’t our children?
Back to reading.
What’s the educational angle?
That was the question someone asked me about my latest book project.
Because how was I going to market my story without the promise that my young readers would learn something?
How many parents would buy a book for their child to read simply for fun?
Of course we could argue that every story teaches our children something. After all it’s been shown that people who read have a heightened sense of empathy – reading a story puts us in another person’s shoes. They teach us about other people’s feelings. But that isn’t what this person meant. They were concerned that without a the promise of learning something measurable my new book wouldn’t be saleable.
Parents might not want to restrict reading time like they do with television viewing but do they have time in their busy days for a book with no “educational value.” Will it bring on the same guilty parent syndrome?
And children are very perceptive. If you disapprove of the books your child chooses, they will know.
Are you teaching your child NOT to read for fun?
I read a great post recently from Scholastic titled “Raise Children Who Read for Fun.” The fourth part of their ten-step plan was ‘Let the choose what they read.’
When they are young that could mean reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” a thousand times. As they get older, it means don’t insist on sticking with the reading schemes they get sent home from school with. Get them a library card and let them pick books that interest them (even if they don’t interest you). A child who has an interest in the content of a book will be more likely to read for fun.
So, what do you think. Is all our worrying about children learning teaching your child NOT to read for fun? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’ve shared three little-known facts about myself; two are true, one is a lie. Can you tell which one is the bluff?
Head over and have a guess.
The answer will be revealed next week.
I almost missed posting this week … which really bothered me because it would have been the first time since I started the blog back in February.
The last few months I have been reassessing where I want to be in my life, culminating in changing my job this week. I’d worked in my last employment for five years but I’m hoping my new position will be more flexible for my family and free up more writing time for me. Yay!!
So, today’s post is an update on things that have been going on and a look forward at a new era in my life.
This blog is now a ‘don’t-ask-for-review’ zone.
Last week I posed the question To review? Or not to review? (when you don’t love the book you’re reading.) And I got some really great feedback. A big thank you to all who commented.
I’ve decided to contact the author and tell her it’s not a book I could recommend to my readers and ask whether she would like me to post the review anyway. I hope this doesn’t offend her. From now on, I will be only reviewing books I’ve loved on my blog.
Progress on fear of dogs.
Back in June I was looking for books to help my grandson overcome his fear of dogs. Scared of dogs? Books to help your child overcome their fear.
“May I Pet your Dog?” by Stephanie Calmenson has become a firm favourite. After much practice at staying very still and looking away whenever we see a dog, I’m pleased to report he can now pass them in the park without screaming like he’s going to be eaten alive. I feel we still have some way to go before he can actually stroke a dog, but it’s definite progress.
Future writing projects.
With the publication of my picture books “Better Buckle Up” and “Things Evie Eats” earlier this year, my next project is well under way … and it’s BIG. I’ll be releasing the details over the next few weeks but I can tell you it’s a series of books and videos. 🙂
I’m very excited (if not a little overwhelmed) by the prospect. The story lines are in place, the first drafts are with my editor and the characters are being created visually as we speak. Watch this space.
I’ve also updated the website of my YA-writing alter ego over at SuzannaWilliams.com. It is very new (look out for broken links etc, if you visit) so I’ll be working on that too over the coming weeks.
A big thank you to all the people who have helped me kickstart my blog, especially the lovely Shaz and Heidi from #TalkoftheTown Linky who sent me this great pen. It now has pride of place next to my writing chair and makes note of my important editing decisions.
And of course massive. massive thank you’s to everyone who has purchased my books. I hope you will all stay with me in this new era of my life.
P.S. I took the photo of the sunrise out of my kitchen window. It truly did look like the dawn of a new era. Don’t you love the autumn skies?
To review? Or not to review? (when you don’t love the book you’re reading.)
My vision for my website was always to talk about all things book related – not just my own work. This naturally included reviewing the books I was reading from other authors. However, it also leads to a dilemma that probably every reviewer faces sooner or later.
What do you do when you don’t love the book you’re reviewing? To review, or not to review? That is the question.
The start of the problem.
Usually I only review books I’ve chosen myself and love, but recently I was asked to review a book by an author I’d been chatting to online. The book sounded unusual and interesting so I agreed. I’d not finished the first chapter before I realized I’d made a huge mistake.
Firstly, the names of the characters and places were so difficult they spoiled the flow of the prose.
Now I live in Wales. I’m used to words that are hard to pronounce. We have a town with the longest place name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world. I can reduce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch to Go-go-goch and move on without batting an eye but the names in this book were stupidly similar.
The hero (let’s call him X’xfdi) couldn’t be simply X because his sidekick was X’icidh and his love interest was X’ydlth. Already my brain couldn’t sort out who was who and, worse than that, as the majority of the first pages consisted of a detailed description of a desert landscape, I really didn’t care.
Sadly, the book didn’t improve.
Now, I am a love-em or leave-em type of reader. If a book doesn’t keep me interested in turning the pages, I have no problem dumping it. I have more half-read books on my Kindle than any person should have. The fact that I haven’t finished these books means I’m not going to give them 5 or even 4 stars on Amazon.
I didn’t want to give my friend’s book 4 stars either. 😲 What’s a girl to do?
Amazon’s rules make it difficult.
Amazon considers anything under a 4 star review to be the sign of a bad book. So, we have three levels of bad but only two levels of good. This makes my review criteria something like:
⭐️ Terrible book. My three year old grandson could invent a better plot. Almost unreadable editing. Boring as hell.
⭐️⭐️ Couldn’t finish reading as got distracted by emergency fingernail painting. Already can’t remember what the plot was about.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Had some promise and would have been OK as a first draft but should never have been published in present form.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Covers everything from:
- the book was OK but I probably won’t want to read it again and in my author/editor head I found plot holes and spotted problems with the grammar
- I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t the best I’ve ever read.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Loved it ❤ and would recommend to anyone.
Really, I’d like to spread my ‘Four stars’ criteria into the lower categories but Amazon sees this as a black mark …
… and I didn’t want to give the author a black mark.
- Tell the truth – Give it 2 stars and risk upsetting my friend.
- Lie – Give it 4 stars and risk losing the trust of my readers who might buy it on the strength of my review and find out how dreadful it is for themselves.
- Review privately – Send my review to the author and ask if they’d like it posting online. (Also involves risk of upsetting friend.)
- Do nothing – Don’t post a review at all. This option is OK until the friend keeps on asking what I thought, at which point I have to block them and never speak of the matter again.
There has to be a right way but I’m not sure what it is.
What should I do? How do you handle less than favourable reviews?
Let me know in the comments below.
Book review of “I am Otter” by Sam Garton.
One of my grandson’s favourite books at the moment is “I am Otter” by Sam Garton. I first encountered this book on Facebook in the days before it was picked up and published by Harper Collins. Sam Garton is a fantastic illustrator. His work has a retro look to it that I love. Buying the book when it came out was a no-brainer for me.
The funny logic of Otter and his sidekick Teddy makes for a great children’s book. Who can fault Otter for opening a toast restaurant because he’s bored while otter-keeper is at work? However, it’s not all plain sailing at Otter’s restaurant.
Otter decides the problems are Teddy’s fault and promptly fires him but things don’t improve … and then the Otter Keeper comes home. Otter tries to blame Teddy for the mess. But where is Teddy?
Otter and the Otter Keeper search high and low for Teddy but he can’t be found. Otter is very sad. The trouble is, he can’t sleep without Teddy so more searching ensues. Eventually Teddy is found and Otter is happy again. “And now, when things go wrong, I understand they are not actually Teddy’s fault at all.”
There are some good talking points in this book which are particularly relevant at the moment to my grandson and his little sister. Was Teddy to blame for the problems at the restaurant? Why did Otter tell the Otter Keeper it was Teddy’s fault? What should he have done?
Other Otter adventures include Otter in Space, Otter goes to School, and Otter loves Easter but if you join Sam Garton’s mailing list, he regularly sends fun newsletters with the latest exploits of Otter, Teddy and the long-suffering otter-keeper which always make me smile.
This is a lovely book with detailed illustrations that give you lots to talk about with your child. A modern classic.
Library under threat.
This is a rather urgent, unplanned post because I’ve just found out that the library in my home town of Warrington is under threat of closure. I hope you will take a moment to sign the petition to help stop this.
As a writer and a reader, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to close a library. From a very early age my local branch has fueled my book addiction. With their help, I have discovered fantastic worlds, completed my homework, researched my family history, and surfed the internet. And I still borrow books: fiction books, cookery books, craft books, picture books for the grandchildren. It’s a fantastic place for author research too. Where else can you take everything home for free?
The Central library in Warrington opened in 1848, the first public library in the country. It was also my first Saturday job, a buzzing place in the days when you checked out books using paper library cards and looked up information in card catalogues that took up the whole wall.
Do we need libraries?
And that got me thinking about how things have changed. In these days of Google and Kindle Unlimited do we need libraries?
Of course, not everyone can afford an Amazon subscription and, even if they can, not all books are available. There are still mountains of research and genealogy records that are not yet online and finding the information you require is so much easier if you have a knowledgeable librarian to help you.
Young children usually love real books over their electronic counterparts. Cuddling up with a Kindle isn’t quite the same, even if the ebook is all singing, all dancing.
Reading the consultation proposals produced by LiveWire, the company running Warrington’s libraries, it states “A large number of those surveyed that still use libraries said that library opening hours needed to compliment today’s lifestyle and lending needed to be available in more convenient locations.” I agree with this. The Central Library in particular has been left in a rather inconvenient place in the midst of a one-way traffic system with no parking. It was a planning error that left it high and dry, along with many other town centre shops. And, as opening hours continue to be reduced to cut costs, is it really a surprise that usage has dropped?
LiveWire’s answer is a combination of book lockers, whereby titles are ordered online and delivered to locations around the town, and ‘community hubs’, which house other services along with books. Does this mean the end of the ‘librarian’? Will they be reduced to delivery drivers and general dogsbody’s?
LiveWire’s proposals have met with protest. So many people attended the public meetings that some had to be moved to larger venues.
One particularly worrying statement in the consultation document reads, “LiveWire would offer continued support to communities who wanted to run their own library.” Run their own library??? Well, that would cut costs, wouldn’t it?
What do you think? Is closing our libraries the answer to cutting costs? Do you use your local branch? Would you consider running your own library? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. Here’s the link to the petition again. It’d be great if you’d sign. It’s free and only takes a minute.
Despite being able to read before I started school, I hated my first years. I’d never been to playschool and, as the oldest of two sisters with no little cousins or such like, I didn’t understand the noise and boisterousness of the other children. It took the teacher six weeks to coax me to take off my coat.
My favourite time of day was just before we went home, when I sat on the teacher’s table swinging my legs and reading a story to the class. I guess it was the teacher’s favourite time too.
The Teacher, a short story
“Suzie can read already,” says the Mother. “She reads really well.”
The Teacher looks at the child with long blonde plaits hiding behind the Mother’s skirt. So far she’s refused to take off her coat or speak. This child is going to be hard work when she joins the class next week.
The Teacher forces a smile. There’s one final new pupil waiting to meet her in the corridor; a boy with curly hair who has squashed his nose against the glass door so he looks like a pig. Next term is going to be sooooo long. She snaps her attention back to the girl. “What do you like to read, Suzie?”
“We brought her favourite book,” says the Mother.
Suzie doesn’t say anything. She’s watching the pig-nose boy too and sinks further into the bought-to-grow-into new school coat like whatever’s wrong with him might be catching.
The Mother takes a book from her bag and, surprisingly, Suzie starts to read in a loud, clear voice.
The Teacher rolls her eyes before she can stop herself. Just because the child can parrot a story she’s heard ninety-thousand times, doesn’t mean she can actually read. “Would you like to read one of my books, Suzie?”
Suzie chooses a book with a fairy on the front. She sets into the story with great enthusiasm. Surely she hasn’t read this book before. The Teacher takes a book about a dog from her desk. “How about this one?”
Outside in the corridor the pig-nose boy is sliding off his chair onto his head but Suzie is now engrossed in the new story. She actually can read really well for a four-year old.
“That’s very good,” smiles the Teacher. Already a plan is forming. “Maybe you could read to the class on Monday.” Suzie doesn’t smile but she nods. This child could be a useful student after all.
I wrote this story for my YA website under the name of Suzanna Williams. It’s having a revamp at the moment so I thought I’d share it here in honour of the first day of the new school year. Thanks for reading.
Planning my picture book video.
I like watching book videos. I can
waste spend hours on YouTube (in the name of research, you understand). There is such a vast range of styles and variation in quality, from professional movie standard productions down to the most basic, obviously home-made, pan-around-a-stock-picture efforts. I love them all.
I always intended on having a video for Better Buckle Up and Things Evie Eats and creating a video for a picture book is easier than creating one for a text-only book because you already have the visuals sorted. But I had a limited budget to work with, so I had to do a lot of planning to get the job I wanted at a price I could afford.
1) Teaser type trailer v complete reading?
The video for Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson is worthy of a Disney movie. It hints at the story but doesn’t tell it completely, just like a film trailer. This is some seriously nice animation but it’s way above my pay grade.
However, I decided on a complete reading of the books rather than a teaser type with excerpts. As a new author, it’s important that people get a feel for your books before they buy, that way parents can be sure what they’re getting. The full reading video can also be used to entertain children on car journeys etc.
One of the arguments against putting the whole book out is that, if people can read the book online, there is no need for them buy. However, my experience is that 1. children read a book they like multiple times and 2. picture books for children sell best in hard copy, so getting them hooked on a story might actually lead to more sales.
2) To see the person reading, or not to see the person reading?
My next dilemma in planning my picture book video was, did I want it to be a ‘story-time’ type video like Eric Carle in this reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar?
Or did I want to just see the book, like this Usborne Alphabet Picture Book?
I tested several videos out with my grandchildren and found the ones they requested to watch most featured only the book. This surprised me, but they seemed to focus on the story more and were less distracted by the person reading it.
Rather than film myself turning the pages of the book, I decided I could use the file I created in Adobe InDesign to turn the pages digitally. I then used Camtasia, a screen capture software to record me reading the book and turning the pages at the appropriate place.
3) My voice or a voice over?
This was a real dilemma. I never like my Northern accent and paying for a voice-over artist on Fiverr wasn’t too expensive. I spent a long time listening to the various readers but, after recording the page turning, I decided I didn’t sound as bad as I thought. Twenty years of living in Wales has obviously mellowed my voice. And doesn’t Eric Carle’s accent makes the reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar special? So, I went with me.
4) Intro and Outro?
Up until this point the trailer had cost me very little but I wanted the videos to have an Intro and Outro to give them a more professional look. I worked with PlainSightVFX, the people who did the illustrations for Better Buckle Up, and they used the idea from my website to come up with a graphic. The great thing about this is that I can use them on any video I make in the future. This will keep my branding recognizable too.
Wanna see it? Course you do.
5) Music: the food of love?
The finishing touch was the soundtrack. Music copyright is as big a minefield as photo copyright and again I wanted something to go over the Intro and Outro that was unique to me. The answer was to commission my own piece. I sent several pieces of music in a style I liked as a starting point. They also took the animations I’d had done so it fitted exactly. After all, there’s nothing worse than a soundtrack cutting off or fading out mid-phrase. I’m very excited about it all and the finished videos will be available very soon.
So what do you think about book videos? Love ’em or hate ’em?
Win an autographed paperback copy of “Things Evie Eats” on Goodreads
My giveaway on Goodreads for you to win an autographed copy of “Things Evie Eats” ends today, 23rd August.
Entry is free and open to people all over the world. Although you do have to be a member of Goodreads, signing up costs nothing and it’s easy too.
Find out more about “Things Evie Eats” here but this is what people are saying.
Adorable, charming, laugh out loud book for children and parents. Murboyd
Its a perfect combo of old and new styles with a delightful and funny storyline. P. Edwards
The winner will be chosen by Goodreads when the competition closes at midnight. So don’t hang about, click on the form underneath and a shiny new paperback could be winging it’s way to you very soon.
This is not strictly a bookish writing post. Sorry. Normal service will resume next week … whatever normal is … but this is something writers may still be interested in.
I recently signed up to Crowdfire. Crowdfire is an app with a host of handy features that help you monitor your Twitter account. And it’s insanely useful.
- You can turn off your Twitter email notifications so you don’t get a message when you get a new follower. Suddenly your inbox is so much clearer.
All you do is log in from time to time to check out who followed you, and decide whether you want to follow them back. And following them is as easy as clicking a button.
Awesome, right? 🙂
2. It also has a handy feature for finding accounts you might like to follow by searching similar accounts or even keywords which is great for building an online presence.
So cool 🙂
3. You can also monitor who unfollowed you and how many accounts you follow who don’t follow you back.
I never really thought about this before. In my naive little way, I assumed I’d done something to offend anyone who unfollowed me? That my tweets were not up to their high standards? They hated me tweeting about my books? And this is where I started to make some interesting discoveries.
- There are a lot of accounts out there trying to sell twitter followers. If I didn’t follow them, they struck me off their list.
This is fair enough. They weren’t reading my tweets anyhow.
2. There are folks without profile pictures and twitter handles they appear to have chosen by dropping their mouse on the keyboard. For example, @kiubydkgf. (Is this a language from Earth or a different galaxy?) These people haven’t posted one single tweet and yet they have thousands of followers.
Why is anyone following these peeps? Why?
I’m not sure what they are achieving with this strategy but they will not get a follow back.
3. And then there are the people who have a legitimate sounding profile, have made lots of tweets and have an epic amount of followers but who follow no-one. That’s right, no-one. And I’m not talking about some faceless corporation or some mega-famous person. I’m looking at you, author-I-never-heard-of.
It appears their game plan is: follow someone, wait until they follow back, then unfollow them immediately. Now maybe in the platform-building world this is a great strategy for … something???
There are a surprising amount of people using this method. But seriously, if you don’t want to read my tweets, I’m damned sure I’m not going to read yours.
Consider yourself unfollowed, weirdo.
To conclude, Crowdfire is a great app (and no, I wasn’t paid for this post) but it has thrown up some unexpected mysteries. If you can explain any of the strange behaviours I’ve described, please tell me in the comments below because I’m dying to know.
P.S. Don’t forget my giveaway on Goodreads for Things Evie Eats is still open for entries until the 23rd August.
It’s the time of year when little ones everywhere are getting ready for their first day at school. I hated my first days at school. Although I could read fluently, I wasn’t prepared for the noise and boisterousness of the other children. I’d never been to pre-school and had only one little sister. It was six months before I’d take off my coat.
Reading a book with your child can really help them to understand what to expect. Here’s a selection of some of my favourites.
You can’t go wrong with any book by husband and wife team Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and “Starting School” is a classic from 1990. The text goes through, not just the first day, but the whole first term, and it’s fairly comprehensive in explaining everything from hanging up coats to what lessons they might expect. It has elements of fun with the class rabbit and the reassurance that their parents will always return at the end of the day. The names of the children in the book are fairly multicultural but there are mentions of saying prayers in assembly and a Christmas play about Jesus, which may or may not be an issue for you.
I Am Too Absolutely Small For School
“I Am Too Absolutely Small For School” is a Charlie and Lola book by Lauren Childs which tackles the subject of first school days in a sensitive and more modern way. Charlie’s little sister, Lola, is due to start school but she isn’t sure she wants to, so it’s up to Charlie to persuade her. And he does a really good job. “Lola, you need to learn to write so you can send your Christmas list to Santa Claus. You need to learn to read in case there’s an angry ogre who won’t go to sleep until you’ve read him his favourite story.” Great fun stuff.
Now, much as I love this book, there is one thing that really irks me about it. One of Lola’s concerns is wearing a ‘schooliform.’ She doesn’t like to wear the same as other people. But this is tackled by saying, “But, Lola, we don’t have to wear a uniform at our school.” Which is not really helpful for children who do have to wear a uniform and I can’t imagine why the author would put in a concern and not solve it. A minor point but one to bear in mind if your child’s school has a uniform.
Friends at School
“Friends at School” by Rochelle Burnett is a great book. Described as, “A photo essay that shows pre-school children of mixed abilities busily working and playing at school, illustrating the true meaning of the word ‘inclusion,'” this book does exactly what is says on the tin. I loved this book. I loved the photos and the happy feel. It almost made me want to go back to school. If you’re only buying one book, make it this one.
My Teacher’s my Friend
Very often, a teacher can be seen as a scary, authority figure. “My Teacher’s My Friend: by P.K. Hallinan is a great way to rectify this. From the moment the teacher greets them in the morning, until the time they walk them to the bus at the end of school, this story goes through many of the ways that your child’s teacher is their friend. It also explains some of the ways the teacher makes school special in a gentle, reassuring way. An unusual take on the starting school book.
Starting School Sticker Book
The Usborne “Starting School Sticker Book” is another fun way to help explain the school day to your child with the added bonus of over 100 stickers. And how many children don’t like stickers?
I Love you all Day Long
My final choice is “I Love you all Day Long” by Francesca Rusackas.
Owen the pig is worried.
“But Mummy you won’t be with me.”
“That’s right, Owen,” said his Mummy. “But you should always remember this. I love you when I’m with you. And I love you when we’re apart.”
Not just good for first days at school, this book is a lovely choice for anytime your child might be suffering separation anxiety if you have to leave them.
Hoping you and your child both have a happy start to school.
PS Don’t forget my giveaway on Goodreads for Things Evie Eats is still open for entries.