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.
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.
Picture books about the beach.
August is here. The summer is in full swing. Whether you’re heading for the beach or just getting in the holiday mood, here are some of my favourite picture books to share with children who are just discovering the sea and sand.
Just Grandma and Me.
In this book from the Little Critter series by Mercer Mayer, Little Critter has to navigate the problems of a trip to the seaside including dropping his hamburger in the sand, the tide washing away his sandcastle and almost being blown away with the beach umbrella. The illustrations are beautiful and there’s plenty to talk about with your child.
Where is Baby’s Beach Ball
In this fun lift-the-flap book by Karen Katz, we help Baby find her ball, discovering shells, crabs and other beachy stuff along the way. Great for very young children.
Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach.
There are several titles in the series by Melanie Watt about Scaredy Squirrel and they’re all very funny for both children and adults. In this book our anxious little hero comes up with a plan to visit the sea in order to collect a shell to complete his own private beach under the nut tree.
And if you’re not going to the beach this year, Scaredy Squirrel’s guide to building a safe beach would be a great starting point to build your own 🙂
Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef.
This book, by Marianne Berkes, hits the spot in so many ways. Not only are the illustrations fantastic but the text is set to the tune of ‘Over in the Meadow’ and there is even an audio version of the book if you need some assistance with your singing. We see puffer fish puffing, seahorses fluttering and octopus squirting. Who could ask for more? This is a true classic.
The Seaside Switch.
The Seaside Switch by Kathleen Kudlinski is a great book which explains how the beach, ‘pulled by the moon and the sun,’ changes with the tides. Reading it before a trip to the sea will give you plenty to talk about and look for. It’s aimed at slightly older children, 5 and up. However, younger children will enjoy talking about the creatures in the pictures they could discover.
My final choice by Adam Gamble is a great way to end a tiring day by the sea. This board book goes through all the things you might do at the beach, fishing, splashing in the waves and looking at the wildlife before having a bonfire and falling asleep.
Whatever you do this summer, I hope you have a wonderful time. I leave you with my grandson discovering the waves. 🙂
P.S. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway on Goodreads for Things Evie Eats.
Goodreads Giveaway for Things Evie Eats
I’ve holding a Goodreads Giveaway for Things Evie Eats and it starts today, 26th July. You can win a brand new paperback copy of the book simply by entering on the form below and to make it even better I’ll autograph the book to you or your child.
You do have to be a member of Goodreads but joining is free and easy and you could enter lots of other giveaways too. Bonus 🙂
The winner is chosen by the Goodreads team on the 23rd of August and I’ll be posting it straight to the lucky person.
Fingers crossed for you to win.
I’m sorry but this is an unashamed promotional post because my book, Things Evie Eats, is available on Amazon and I’m super excited. Hurray!
There was going to be a lot more promotion of my book but, after last week’s attack of author overwhelm, I ran away to the seaside for a few days. I feel much better now 🙂
So, “Things Evie Eats” is the story of a little girl with very definite ideas on the things she’d like to eat, as told by her big(-ish) brother.
Find out more about Evie’s story here.
I had so much fun writing this book and I love the gentle illustrations. I hope you’ll love Evie too.
OK, promotion over.
We’re having some super, awesome weather here in Wales. I hope the sun is shining on you too 🙂
What do you do when progress on your to-do list is so slow you think you might be going backwards?
You need an escape from author overwhelm.
What did I do? Took the grandkids to the river. It’s been raining for days here in Wales and the water was wild and angry. The roaring water drowned out the to-do list in my head.
I had so much planned to do this week. Somehow it all went wrong.
I spent last night updating my web page with the details for Things Evie Eats but then my laptop threw a wobbler and deleted the files I had taken hours sorting out.
Start again time.
I was already behind schedule sending the files for “Things Evie Eats” to the printers and then, as my hand hovered over the ‘send’ button, I noticed that, when converting the size of some image files in Photoshop, I’d put the numbers in the wrong boxes which caused them to be waaaaaay smaller than they should have been. This meant the quality was severely reduced.
It took a whole day to check and redo them. But the Kindle edition is finally uploaded and available for Pre-Order and I’m awaiting the proof from the printers for the Print edition. Yay!
I had a great Blog Post planned for this week. It was about making flower food for kids and tied in neatly with Things Evie Eats. But it took longer than anticipated to make flowers out of fruit and vegetables.
Maybe I’ll finish it next week.
Anyway, I enjoyed my time by the river. It was a perfect escape from author overwhelm. Back to that to-do list tomorrow 🙂
Me v Picture Book Text Design.
Have a look at these pages from my grandson’s copy of ‘The Little Boy who Lost his Name’.
I love how the text in the first picture follows the movement of the water and the mermaids hair in swirling lines. The irregularity of the size of the letters and the variation in the boldness of the font makes them interesting to look at.
In the second picture, the text complements the houses as it marches up the hill, whilst the huge word ‘Ants?’ emphasizes the little boys horror when the kindly Aardvark offers him some to eat. Brilliant.
My next book, Things Evie Eats, is a completely different design to Better Buckle Up. The illustrations are painted by an artist rather than being computer generated and I’ve tried to capture the lovely texture of the art paper she used for the pages of the book. This gives it an old-fashioned feel.
After spending so long perfecting the words of the manuscript, I wanted the layout of the text to be visually interesting so that actual letters add to the look of the book.
I chose a font which has simple letters similar to those used in early reading books. This should support letter recognition and help any early readers I might have. I felt this was important even though the book is most likely to be read aloud by parents, rather than by the children themselves,
Here’s a sneak peak at some of my pages.
Cheese Block Tower.
On this page I wanted the text to mimic the wibbly, wobbly tower that Evie builds with her cheese blocks.
Pouring milk down Mummy’s leg.
Here the text follows the milk and cereal as naughty Evie pours them down Mummy’s leg.
Squishy, squashy peas.
This makes use of a different size font and I tried to make the word ‘spoon’ into a spoon shape. This taxed my InDesign skills to the limit.
Spider’s web text.
This is the text that goes with last illustration. It took a while to suss out how achieve the spider’s web and make the text hover above it. Thankfully, my artist drew the ‘biscuit’ spider 🙂
I am not an expert in layout design. In most cases my ideas are greater than my skill set but am still pleased with how the book is shaping up … just a few more tweaks before it goes to the printers.
So, do you like wibbly, wobbly, squishy, squashy picture book text?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Man’s best friend … or not.
There are lots of books for children featuring dogs. More often that not they’re presented as a child’s best friend. But what if your child doesn’t think they are his best friend? What if he’s scared of dogs?
Let’s face it, to a small child a dog is a pretty scary animal with big teeth. Even a friendly dog can be bouncy and knock the child over, can’t be stopped from giving unwanted face-licks and has the breath of a hound straight from hell.
Whilst walking in the park my two-year old grandson happened to pick up a stick and started carrying it. Unfortunately, a nearby dog thought it was playtime. It ran over and wrenched it off him. Since this incident he screams if a dog comes anywhere near. And I’m talking ear-splitting, I’m-in-danger-of-being-eaten-alive screams. A reaction way out of proportion to the behaviour of the dog. We needed a plan.
Books for children who are scared of dogs.
My first job was to find some books that might help. We already books like Spot and Hairy Maclary and he was quite happy with these ‘book dogs’. I needed more. In the end, I ordered two books.
“Kids Learn Dog Behavior: Help Your Child to Overcome Fear of Dogs” by Jill Jones looked an obvious choice.
First impressions: the printers had trimmed it slightly crooked and the paper wasn’t the greatest quality. I’m not sure how many reads through with children it will stand. However, the illustrations are bright and colourful and the text is in rhyme … which I always like.
It explains how to tell if a dog was frightened, angry or wanting to play but … there was a picture of a dog baring it’s teeth with the text that ended, “Give me my bone back to chew… Or you better watch out – I will bite you,” … which wasn’t the message I wanted to send.
I haven’t read it to my grandson yet.
Next to arrive was “May I Pet your Dog?” by Stephanie Calmenson.
In contrast to the first book, I was surprised and impressed it was a hardback. The illustrations are sweet and the text is gentle and fun to read.
This book isn’t aimed specifically at children scared of dogs but has lots of dog-meeting etiquette and general good advice on how to approach a dog, which would also be good if your child was too eager to cuddle animals they were unfamiliar with.
My grandson was very interested in the book and, even after several reads with me, he took it to his Mum to read yet again.
We practiced asking, ‘May I Pet your Dog’ and also holding our hand with the fingers pointing down so a dog could come and sniff. We also practiced standing very still and not looking at a dog if we were afraid. We had great fun with me pretending to be a dog although I thought it was telling that, when he played the part of the dog, he crawled around growling and wouldn’t be a ‘friendly’ dog.
This book was a winner.
Other books I looked at were “Not Afraid of Dogs” by Susanna Pitzer
It is aimed at slightly older children than my grandson but sounds a good read and I may order this if he needs more encouragement.
I think we need plenty of practice meeting pretend dogs before we attempt it on the real thing and I’m looking for someone with a really, really laid-back pet for the first meeting.
Do you know of any books I missed? Or any suggestions on helping children overcome their fear of dogs? Let me know in the comments.
Will let you know how we get on.