Thursday, 13 December 2012

Follow Your Dreams

"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." Walt Disney.

As a child I was a prolific reader. I read everything I could get my hands on and more. It seemed only natural that eventually my dream would turn to writing books someday. 

For years I practised by sending family and friemds letters of my life story, whether they wanted to read about it or not. I wrote poems and stories for the children in my classes and for my own boys as they grew. 
Eventually I challenged myself to attend a few short story writing courses at the local Community College. With the confidence that came from that I extended my horizons to a Diploma in Professional Children's Writing through the Australian College of Journalism. It was a fantastic correspondence course that was very comprehensive and lasted over six months. The feedback I received once again was so positive and helpful I finally felt ready to put myself "out there" and send off those first manuscripts. Unfortunately my timing was all wrong. The inital chidren's book I sent away was an adventure set in Bali and while held for over twelve months by a very promising publisher who assured me they were certainly keen, the Bali bombings hit, and all things Balinese understanably were not so popular anymore. The manuscript was returned and all went quiet. I immersed myself in my teaching career, studying further, this time a Graduate Diploma in ESL/LOTE. Study, teaching full time and raising three boys kept my basket full, but I still yearned to write for children. So I once again began to write stories for the children in my classes, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to reach more children. I wanted to see the delight in their faces as they read my books.

Finally I decided to retire from teaching. I joined an online writing group. It didn't take long for the rave reviews to come flooding in. I even started to win the odd award and competition or two. My confidence in my writing grew once more and with the backing and wonderful support of my husband and family my journey to self publishing began.

Gingerbread Aliens is now available via my website for those interested in grabbing a great book for the kids for Christmas before it's too late! The second book in the series is with the illustrator now, I can't wait to see the final product myself! Books three, four and five are not far behind.

So follow your dreams, as Walt Disney said, it only takes a little bit of courage and faith in yourself and you can get their in the end. 

More on my journey to publication and beyond to follow.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Variety is the Spice of Life.

Photo: via @Sparta Books  
And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul.
The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life  .

 The Anceint Greek Philosopher, Plato, was a very wise man, more than two thousand years ago even he recognised the importance of books being kept in the home. Books provide not only entertainment but a wealth of knowledge and learning that opens a world of possibilties to those who choose to indulge. Learning to read is the first step towards all future endeavours and providing a library in the home for your child is a wonderful building block to support the foundations of growth and understanding.

A library in a house doesn't have to be huge but provision for a wide variety of reading material allows the young emergent reader to decide what type of reading he/she might like.  That also may change from day to day, morning to night. We all feel like reading different things at different times often depending on our moods. So why do we expect our children to read the same things all the time?

Your library may consist of a bookshelf in the loungeroom or fill an entire study. It doesn't really matter as long as there are plenty of choices. Picture books, novels ranging for all ability levels and encompassing all genres, adventure, science fiction, comedy, romance, action, thriller, the list goes on. Also include non-fiction books, biographies, geographic, scientific, nature, astronomy etc. Don't forget comics and magazines for those days/moments when they want a rest with a little light reading.

A library on hand at home also allows a reader to put aside a book mid-way and come back to it later.  If they don't feel like finishing it now, don't stress, let them have a break and read something else, they'll be more ready to return and enjoy the other book another day. How often have you heard people talk about the pile of books they have on the night stand beside their bed? It's only natural to swap and change depending on how you feel or how tired you are. After a long day at work you may not be able to concentrate on anything too in depth, a bit of fluff may suit the moment. Another time that political drama might be just what you are looking for. Remember kids have some hard days too, and some not too draining. Their energy levels may determine what they feel like reading as well. Make sure you allow them the same courtesy to read a variety of books wherever the mood may take them.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Do you use multi media to your advantage?

Reading resources come in all shapes and sizes just like our kids!

What suits one child may not particulary suit another. They are all individuals that learn in so many different ways. As a parent, we need to be aware of these differences and find a variety of reading avenues for our children to cater for their learning differences.

Let your child watch a favourite TV programme or DVD but do so with the closed caption feature on so that they can read along. This will build their sight word vocabulary as the frequently used words become more recognisable.

Watch a movie, then read the book. Compare the two. Which does your child prefer and why? This can be done for different age groups by carefully selecting the level of story book and movie. An early reader may watch a Disney cartoon then read the corresponding picture book. The detail in the book obviously is much more limiting but enjoyable as an easy bedtime story. A pre-teen might read the first Harry Potter after seeing the movie and realise how much more detail and storyline are actually in the books. They may even decide to read the entire series!

Audio books and ebooks are great to read along with in the car on those long drives especially as we enter the summer holiday season, they are especially entertaining and useful. Your child hears and sees the printed word, making it easy to follow along.

Tape your child reading, either audio only or include the full video. Kids are naturally egocentric so they'll love playing it back to watch themselves and hear how they improve each time they read.

X-box and Play Station both have Kareoke games. I can't think of any little girl or boy who doesn't love to hold a microphone! Let them sing away! Look at all the reading they are doing while they are interacting, dancing and having fun!

 In fact any console games you can name include a certain amount of reading. It is up to you to decide which are appropriate for your child and how often or limited the use should be. Good  supervision is always the key.

The same can be said for PC use. You may allow your child access to certain games on your computer or restrict it to internet usage to research information. As an information tool the internet can provide a world of information but there are some excellent learning games available also. This an an excellent example of reading  games available/for free on the internet. Is ideal for the reluctant reader in years 3/4. All about an alien coming to earth and in need of learning our language to communicate. Do your homework, research the many differnt types of games that might be appropriate and that your reader might enjoy.

While you're on the internet and playing with aliens, check out youtube, your home reader might like to see my brief video for my book Gingerbread Aliens. Gingerbread Aliens! Gingerbread Aliens! Find out what happens when three brothers making gingerbread men in their mothers kitchen, goes horribly wrong? htpp://www.inspiringbooks...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Board Games, not Bored Games!

Summer holidays meant the annual camping trip to the South Coast and Merry Beach. Included in the packed essentials was always the board games for great family and friends entertainment each evening around the campfire or huddled together in a tent in the case of summer rain.

While the boys were off surfing, swimmimg, bushwalking and generally doing what boys do best, pre-teen girl lay in a hammock strung between the trees of our campsite and studied the cards of Trivial Pursuit. No wonder when time came to play each evening everyone wanted to be on her team! Grandma had the history covered, the dads knew the sports, us Mums were pretty good with general knowledge and entertainment and mid-teen know-it-all covered geography and science. Amazing how the competition grew each year as the group grew larger and older. Each team grew 
more determined to beat the rest, but through all the friendly rivalry, laughter and competition one thing stood out.....the desperate desire to read! No matter how old, big or small, every child wants their turn to read the questions and answers.

This is true of so many board games. Our reluctant reader loved all things Star Wars. So what game did we buy him? Star Wars Monopoly! Whenever he had mates over for a visit or sleepover, out came the Star Wars Monopoly. They would spread it all over the dining room table or lounge room floor and play for hours. Imagine how much reading they were doing each time they picked up a card to play and they didn't even realise it!

There are so many board games out there these days, the possibilites to involve your kids are endless. Trivial Pursuit of course comes with a childrens version to help level the playing feild. As does Articulate, another great game well worth a look into. Basically it works by silently reading  the word on a card then trying to give hints to your partner without saying what the word actually is. Your partner has to guess the word in a given time frame. The excitement builds as you try to guess as many words as possible in a certain length of time.

Along the same principle are charades, pictionary and rapidough which is where you get to model a representation of the word instead of illustrating it. Betweeen these you cover all types of learners, auditory, visual, kinesthetic as well as read-write and they are all having lots of fun!

Of course there are always the old stand-bys, scrabble and boggle but please play them at an age appropriate level. be prepared to bend the rules a little for younger players. There's no point being a stickler for the rules and turning off your reluctant reader because he can never have any success as dad always wins! I know they are out there, admit it, I've met one or two over the years. Remember who you are playing with to help learn to read!

Christmas is almost upon us, time to think about those Christmas gifts. Why not give a little thougth about a board game to include some valuable family time. You may be surprised how much fun you'll all have and how much learning to read will accidentally happen along the way over those long summer holidays.

Monday, 19 November 2012

What's Black & White & Read All Over ?

A Newspaper!

I know it's an old joke, but it still stands the test of time.
A friend recently told me how she found that by reading the newspaper in front of her son everyday he eventually learnt to read. Not only was she providing a good role model, but  "curiosity killed the cat" so to speak. The more she read, the more intrigued he became in what she was doing and he had to get involved.

Slowly he began to look for articles that were of interest to him. As his reading improved and he began to ask questions about current affairs, instead of getting the answer from mum, he could look it up in the newspaper. They bagan to keep a srapbook of all the articles that he found interesting. This way he could re-read them whenever he wanted.

This is a simple idea that anyone can adapt to suit their child, age level and interests. 
Your child might be interested in soccer, so cut out the local teams efforts from the weekend out of the local paper. Add along with it the Socceroos playing in the World Cup and before you know it you have quite a scrapbook collection.

Another sibling may be more interested in celebrities, (one in particular or more) there are plenty of magazines out there to take advatnage of. Always read along with your child to pick and choose the most suitable.

They might be into building a vegetable patch in the backyard. Help them collect lots of information in their scrapbook. You'll be amazed at how many articles are out there in all sorts of newspapers and free magazines as well as gardening magazines.

Having backyard chooks are all the rage these days, if your child thinks they might be intersted in keeping their own chickens, again they first need to be armed with all the information they can gather.

While I always advocate to keep reading fun, searching for information that your child is really keen to learn about can also be just as much fun! Especially if you put it in a scrapbook, let your child decorate around each article, make a bit of a fuss, make it special! 

I have shown the importance of reading newspapers even in my book "Gingerbread Aliens" as a reporter from the local newspaper comes to the school to investigate the strange "happenings". His resultant artcile is found later in the story.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Playing with Words

Dr Seuss was a master at it. So clever with rhyming words his books have spanned several generations.

The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish are just a few of his tales that have delighted children all over the world with word play as they have leanrt to read.

Books written in rhyming verse provide hours of entertainment for young readers. Whether it is Dr Seuss, a favourite nursery rhyme or a million other cleverly written children's books. They are a valuable resource that will engage your young reader for hours. 

As you or your child reads each line, get them to guess or predict the rhyming word at the end of the next line. They will have fun making up words and seeing if it makes sense or not. They might even guess the right word, providing instant success in their reading. is an online resourse that lists an abundance of word families (rhymimg words) that you can use to get you started. It lists rhyming words from back,crack, Jack, stack to bunk, drunk.skunk and trunk.
It includes a list of nursery rhymes like, Hey Diddle Diddle, Five Speckled Frogs, Humpty Dumpty and There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, just to name a few.
The site also provides printable activity mini books to read, complete and colour. They look at rhyming words with endings such as "at", "ad" and "all'.

"Lester and Clyde: and "Lester and Clyde Running Scared" written by James Reece are two great colourful picture books full of fun and fantastic word play. They provide ample opportunity for word substitution or "prediction". I'm sure you can find just as many useful books on your shelf or in your library.

Above all have fun with it! Word play is just that, "play!" What better way to learn to read?

Below is my favourite quote from Dr Seuss, if you can read you can learn and do anything with your life. Reading enables you to strive to achieve!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Caesar's Big Day Out!

This book was simple to make yet provided hours of reading practise.

1. Choose a favouite stuffed toy or "introduce a new member of the family"
2. Start taking photos of it sharing in family activities.
3. Make a powerpoint presentation with captions below each photo.
 (Alternatively print photos and glue into a blank page book to write sentences underneath.)
4. Laminate to keep off sticky little fingers..
5. Bind together.
6. Read with your child and watch the delight spread across their face.

For several years as my Kinders grew, they always asked me how Caesar was doing and if I could bring the books back to school to read.

Kids Imagination is a Wonderful Tool.

Kids have amazing imaginations, so use that to your advantage and tap into the greatest resource avaiable to you. As a Kindergarten teacher I always did, and you can at home too!

 Meet Caesar the white lion cub.

Caesar came into my care several years ago as a new member of my Kindergarten class. He was a little apprehensive at first being the new kid in class and tried to hide and watch the children from the safety of my bag. Slowly, with encouragement and a lot of love and care from his classmates Caesar began to fit in and feel safe and comfortable around the class, the school and the community.
I wrote stories about Caesar's adventures with myself and our family and then turned them into delightful books for the class to read. They could read the stories on the Interactive White Board as a whole class or small group activity as well as spiral bound, laminated copies for the children to read individually on the floor in class as well as a take home reader. Caesar would always go along for the ride to experience family life with each of the class members.
"Caesar's Big Day Out" was much loved by the class and read over and over again. To see how easy it is to write amd make your own book from a favourite stuffed toy, see my next blog "Caesar's Big Day Out!"
Caesar had many fantastic advantures with the kids in my class. We kept a journal of all his weekly activities and experiences. The kids loved to take photos, write and share what Caesar did with them each evening and especially on weekends if they had the opportunity to take him somewhere special. Whether that was a trip to the snow or a simple bike ride around the lake. Caesar loved to sit in the bike's basket and join in all the family fun.

You can take this concept and make it your own just as easy at home. Select a favourite stuffef animal or buy a new one especially for the task. There are so many wonderful things you can include your toy in at home. It is only limited by you and your child's imagination! Take photos of the toy playing cards, sharing a family meal, cuddling with the dog, sleeping with the other stuffed toys on the shelf or bed or picking vegeatbles from your garden, just to name a few. Add a short sentence for each picture and before you know it a journal of it's adventures has begun! Your child will love making it and reading it over and over again. Take the toy on family outings and holidays and you can make more books that will delight your child for years to come as the memories flood back each time they read. You'll be amazed how often your son/daughter will love to read your very own home made stories.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Make Reading a Bedtime Ritual

Tropical Treasure
The Secret in the Bottle.

I hit something!’ my brother cried out with excitement.
‘What?’ I asked, not really paying much attention.
‘Something really hard!’ he shouted back as he began to dig frantically, making sand fly furiously in all directions.
‘Hey, slow down and let me see,’ I demanded as I tried to push him out of my way. He refused to let me get a look and tried to push me back out of the hole. We began to wrestle in the sand. Arms and legs went thrashing in all directions.
‘What are you guys fighting for? It’s only a hole.’ My other brother, Luke, announced as he jumped into the hole and pulled us apart. ‘Cool! Look what ’ve found!’ Luke reached down and began to dust off an old green bottle.
‘Give that back! It’s mine!’ demanded Max.
‘Finders keepers,’ Luke replied as he turned away from us to look inside. ‘Wow! There’s a secret message in the bottle!’
Max yanked the bottle from Luke’s hands screaming, ‘It’s mine, I found it, I’ll see what’s in it!’
He ran away from us as fast as he could. The chase was on. The three of us raced up the beach, darting in and out between sunbaking holidaymakers, foodcarts and a swamp of beachwear sellers. Everyone yelled at us to watch where we were going. With a great leap worthy of a last minute try saving tackle at the rugby grand final, Max, Luke, and I came crashing to the ground, spitting out the taste of Bali sand.
‘O.K. O.K.!’ I began breathlessly. ‘Let’s all have a look.’
Max pulled out the cork and tipped the bottle upside down. The paper inside slid into Luke’s eagerly waiting hands. Slowly and carefully he unrolled the paper. It was faded, brown and burnt around the edges.
‘Look! It’s a map!’
Max and I leaned closer over his shoulder and stared in amazement.
‘Do you think it could be a treasure map?’ Luke whispered, still clutching it tightly. ‘Maybe some pirates stole a wonderful treasure from some rich King or someone. Maybe they buried the treasure somewhere here on this tropical island that they thought was uninhabited long, long ago. Then, before they could return to collect it, they were chased by a Spanish Armada and a big battle took place.’
Luke stood up and begun to pretend to wield a sword. ‘Guns and cannons were firing in all directions. There was a sword fight to the death, but the pirate captain kept a secret map and threw it overboard in this bottle, just in time, before he was captured or killed.’
‘No, couldn’t be…’ I started.
‘But what if it is!’ Luke’s eyes were wide with excitement.
‘How can we find out?’ asked Max.
‘Let’s go on a treasure hunt!’ Luke beamed.
‘Will there be a treasure chest?’ said Max.
‘Just imagine if there was and it was filled with gold and jewels. We could be rich!’
‘Yeah great! Think of all the things we could buy.’
‘A new Play Station,’ said Max.
‘A computer,’ said Luke. ‘And games and robots.’
‘My own science lab with heaps of test tubes, chemicals and room for my rock collection and experiments,’ I added.
‘What about the cubby house I always wanted to build. With ropes, ladders, slides, castle turrets, the lot,’ Luke continued.
‘And don’t forget a bike track,’ Max included.
‘Or even our own pirate ship to sail the seven seas and go on fantastic adventures.’ I could see Luke was letting his imagination run wild now.
‘Shshsh…not so loud.’ I suddenly had a feeling that someone was listening to us. The beach was fairly crowded in the heat of the late afternoon Bali sun. We were on Kuta Beach after all. It’s a pretty popular tourist destination. Heaps of Balinese were bartering with many of the tourists. They weren’t a problem, couldn’t speak much English, but then there were other people just quietly sunbaking, now they could easily overhear and understand us.
Like the girl having her hair beaded or the group having their fingers and toenails painted. Then there was the guy not far from us having an oil massage. He looked really relaxed, but he could be listening to everything we were saying.
‘I’m going on a treasure hunt!’ said Luke, suddenly jumping to his feet. ‘Are you guys with me or not?’
‘Quiet!’ I insisted, but he wasn’t listening.
‘We’ve got a great chance here for a fantastic adventure and maybe find a secret treasure too. I’m going, even if I have to do it alone.’ Max and I jumped to our feet too. I wiped the sweat from my face as I glared at Luke. Who knows what sort of trouble he could be getting himself and us into?

This is the beginning of a novel I wrote for 8-12 year olds many years ago but sadly never published, (perhaps one day). The inspiration came from our family holiday in Bali way back in the mid 1990's. At the end of each long, hot, humid and incense fun filled yet adventurous day our three sons snuggled down into our king sized comfortable bed with the two of us, eager to listen to the next exciting chapter of "Indian in the Cupboard" beautifully written by Lynne Reid Banks.
Our sons were 2, 5 and 8 years at the time, ideal to demonstrate that it is never to early to start a life long habbit of a love of reading. Amongst all the wonderous discoveries we made during that holiday in Bali, our boys still remember the joy of being read to each evening at bedtime.

It is important no matter how busy our lives seem to get, to stop and take the time to read to our kids. Whether it is one on one or whether the entire family become involved, it is a marvelous experience they will thank you for one day.
 You can read out loud, dad can read, each of the kids can take a turn to read, but it is important to share and do it together. That is the key, if they see you enjoy reading, they will learn to love it too! Good role models are essential and who better a role model than mum and dad? A good role model goes a long way in establishing individual habbits later. 

Select a variety of genres. Books you love and books you know your kids will love.They could be classics you loved growing up or recently released books. Browse your local bookshops,  library, fetes, garage sales etc, you never know what treasures you might find! Look for books with great catchy chapter headings that sparkle and entice you and the kids to read more. Headings for example like "Muddled Mixtures and Explosion in the Bread Maker" from my book "Gingerbread Aliens" build intrigue and suspence. Kids want to know what is going to happen next? It also always helps if the chapters have great hooks at the end so that everyone cann't wait to read on tomorrow night. As Helen says in her kind review of Gingerbread Aliens -

 “I loved reading Gingerbread Aliens to my kids! It was very entertaining and I particularly enjoyed all the different characters and exciting plot. I had planned to read it over a few nights but found myself so engrossed in the story that I finished the whole book in one reading!” Helen, mother of 2.

Of cause the kids might only want one or two chapters a night, but hey, fantastic if they want more!!