Wednesday, February 24, 2016

World Read Aloud Day: My Favorite Read Aloud Books

Today is World Read Aloud Day, a day set aside to bring "global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories."

If you ask me, reading aloud is one of the best things ever thought of. What better way to share stories with the people around you than to read them aloud?

I believe the best stories to read aloud are those that take the greatest advantage of all the fun and interesting things that language has to offer. Stories with interesting vocabulary, unique voice, onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhythm, rhyme, and word play. These are all elements of some of my favorite read-aloud stories, whether they are picture books or novels.

I hope my list gives you a few new books to love to read!

Picture Books

Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson (rhythm, rhyme, word play)

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, by Jon Scieska (voice)

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, by Doreen Cronin (onomatopoeia)

Little Red Gliding Hood, by Tara Lazar (word play)

The Three Ninja Pigs, by Corey Rosen Schwartz (rhythm, rhyme, word play, vocabulary)

Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds (word play, vocabulary, alliteration)

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (voice)

Hooray for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester (alliteration)


The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (word play, vocabulary)

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (voice, vocabulary)

The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van Dolzer (voice)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (voice, vocabulary)

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo (voice)

What are some of your favorite books to read aloud?

Monday, February 22, 2016

12 Easy Ways to Make Books a Bigger Part of Your Family Life

I have a lot of books. Some people might say I have a "book habit." Others might call it a problem. Personally, I don't think I have a book problem; I have a lack of shelf space problem! But my shelves didn't get so full because I was out spending money on every new hardcover I ever wanted to read. Many of these books were gifts, or they were purchased used, or I found them for 99 cents in one of my children's book orders.

No matter how the books got here, I have always been proud of the fact that my kids have grown up surrounded by books. And, may I add, all three of them now have their own issues with shelf space.

It doesn't matter what your book budget is or isn't. And it doesn't matter if you have a house full of readers who will devour every book within their grasp. Every child deserves a home in which reading is encouraged and books are available. So here are some easy ways for you to make books a bigger part of your family life.

1. Invest in books that relate to your child's other interests. Your son or daughter may not be a big reader, but chances are they have other interests. You can find craft books, art books, books about video games or Legos or pets at your local library.

2. Always include books on your gift lists. Every time. Holidays. Birthdays. If there is an occasion to give your child a gift, get him or her a book!

3. Enter online book giveaways as often as you see them. Book bloggers, authors, and publishers conduct giveaways all the time. I have quite a selection of books acquired through giveaways. Enter often enough and you're bound to win now and then. And lots of times you'll be winning a signed copy. How cool is that?

4. Make reading a part of your child's regular routine, whether it be at bedtime or some other time during the day. Even if you're short on time, read a short picture book or a poem with them (or recite one from memory). It can take less than five minutes, but make a world of difference.

5. Let your kids catch you reading. When they're very young, kids love to emulate their parents. This is why they try on our shoes, pretend to nurse their baby dolls, and yell into the toy phone! Let them see you reading regularly. They'll want to read too!

6. Give your children book money and let them spend it on a book of their choosing. This could be at the book store, the thrift store, even a yard sale. You don't have to spend a lot, and you certainly don't have to buy books new!

7. Keep novelty books around the house in a prominent, easily-accessible spot. Some ideas for novelty books are pop-ups, like Dr. Optic's Amazing Pop-up Illusions by Andrew Bennet; seek-and-find books like I Spy and Look Alikes; and fact books like 5000 Awesome Facts and Guinness World Records. These books are fun for kids to flip through casually without feeling pressured to read the whole thing.

8. Listen to audio books during road trips. It's a great way to keep the peace during those long stretches of driving, and it may give you something interesting to talk about when you stop for meals.

9. Bring your children to story time at your local library or book store. They will have fun singing songs, doing activities, and interacting with other kids. Have your kids outgrown story time? Keep up to date with library and book store events, and bring them along when a favorite author comes to town. My kids and I have gone to see Sara Dessen, Brandon Sanderson, and Rainbow Rowell!

10. Get your children their own library cards. It's easy to check out books for your toddler or preschooler on your own card, but getting them their own card as soon as they are able to understand what that means will get them more involved in the process. And they will love being able to "pay" with their own cards for their own stack of books!

11. Let them pick a book from the book order. Most book orders that come home with your kids will have a couple of options for even the tightest budget. If you can manage it, do it! If this is hard for you, consider having a coin jar marked "book order fund" so you can save up for just this purpose.

12. Provide a place for your child to store his or her very own books. If your kids are anything like my son, they'll be more likely to pick up a book and read on their own if they have their own stash. Plus, it helps ensure that books are always in sight, and never quite out of mind!

Chances are, if your kids are book nerds like mine, they're already dragging you off to the library and bookstore on a regular basis! But your kids don't have to be book nerds to benefit from having more access to books. Also, many of these ideas are free or very low cost, so it doesn't have to cost a lot of money to give books a more prominent place in you and your kids' lives.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Review: SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (did not ask to be in this book)

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book), written by debut author Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller, is about Snappsy the alligator, who is walking along, minding his own business, when an annoyingly persistent narrator shows up and begins telling a story.

Snappsy didn't ask to be in a story, nor does he want to be in a story. Not only that, but the narrator is making a lot of assumptions about him. This makes for a clever and funny book that made me chuckle aloud both times I read it.

I love the colorful, comic-like illustrations. I love the way the narrator and Snappsy interact. I love the humor. My only criticism of this book has to do with the ending--it seemed to come too abruptly for my taste. However, this is a book that I would be happy to add to my own picture book shelf.

Check it out for yourself. You won't be sorry!

Also, the trailer for this book is almost as great as the book itself. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How to Write When You Don't Have Time

Writing a book takes time. A lot of time. And for many busy, working parents, it feels like the time it takes to write a book is time we simply don't have. And yet, we are determined to do it. So we try to juggle. But it's a huge struggle to juggle writing and family and work, especially when we work full time.

So how in the world do any of us manage?

It isn't easy. It sure as heck wasn't easy for me to pursue my writing when I was working five days a week while maintaining my role as caregiver, cook, and cleaning lady for three kids and a husband! But I did it.

How did I do it? I'm glad you asked!

The first rule to remember is this: Your family needs to know that your writing is more than a hobby. It's a job. It doesn't matter if you haven't earned a penny in your writing career yet. If your goal is to publish a book some day, then having time to write is just as important as studying would be if you were trying to get a medical degree. So make sure your family takes you seriously.

Beyond that, here are some tips that will help you make the time to write.

Make your writing portable. 

You should be able to take your writing with you anywhere. Maybe this means you have a nice little laptop, or a tablet, or a handy little journal (or one of each). You need the flexibility to be able to write anywhere, whether it be in the corner of your family room or your bed or your car.

Write down every idea that comes to you, as soon as possible.

Ideas often strike when least expected, so be prepared. You may not have hours each day to devote to your writing, but if you write down all your ideas (even the "bad" ones), you'll have plenty of material to use when you do have real writing time.

Give up something you enjoy doing. 

Making time to write means something's got to give. We all have little things that we do that suck up time that we could be spending elsewhere. What activity could you spend less time doing without causing undue stress on yourself or your family? It could be something as basic as cooking simpler meals, giving up your favorite TV show, or spending less time shopping. Social media can be a huge time sucker for a lot of people. Is it that way for you?

Strictly enforce your children's bed times.

When kids are very little, it's not realistic to expect them to respect your writing time. And it may not be ideal to expect your husband or wife to take on all the parental responsibilities for a few hours each evening. Or you may be a single parent! So, enforcing bedtimes can be key to ensuring that you have the time to write for an hour or two in the evenings.

Get up early or stay up late.

Are you more productive in the morning or the evening? I'm more of a night owl, so there have been plenty of nights when I've stayed up late working on a manuscript. If you're a morning person, get up an hour earlier and spend that time writing. If you're a night owl, try going through your bedtime routine earlier in the evening so that you can add thirty minutes of writing time to the very end of your day (then crawl happily into bed).

Use weekends to your advantage.

Lazy Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons are the perfect time for working parents to find time to write. My kids would sleep in on Saturdays and then get up and watch cartoons. They knew that I would be working until noon, at which time they were free to pester me. Work out a similar arrangement with your family and stick to it!

Start small and work your way up.

It's important for you to commit to writing every day, but don't set yourself up for disappointment by pledging to write for an hour every day no matter what. Start by committing to fifteen minutes each day. As that gets easier for you, add to it. Even if you are only able to write for fifteen minutes at a time during the week, you might be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Learn to write in random places.

This is why making your writing portable is important. We all have those times in our lives when we have to wait. Wait at the DMV. Wait at the dentist's office. Wait during our daughter's piano lessons. These are all times that you could be using for your writerly advantage.

Train your children to entertain themselves.

I'm not saying to be a neglectful parent. But it's not the worst thing in the world to let your kids work themselves out of their own boredom. Spend quality time with your kids, but don't let them use you as their personal boredom-buster. There are few things that kill inspiration like a kid whining about being bored. And if they're trained to entertain themselves, you're more likely to be able to stick to a writing schedule.

Don't obsess about cleaning house.

Writing is something you do on your own. Cleaning doesn't have to be. When I was working, the kids and I took our cleaning inspiration from the show The Big Comfy Couch, in which Loonette would do her "ten second tidy." Doing a "ten minute tidy" with the kids on a regular basis helped keep the house in order and saved me lots of time.

Learn to say no.

Life can be busy busy busy. Working full time and caring for the needs of our families can be challenging on their own. On top of that, many of us like to volunteer in our communities, churches, and our kids' schools. These are all good things that can ultimately help us to be better writers (and people). But it's important not to let yourself get overwhelmed. You can only stretch so far before you snap!

Distractions are not your friends.

Your writing time is precious, so use it wisely. Don't let yourself be distracted by social media notifications, text messages, and phone calls. While you're writing, unplug! Stay focused. Make the most of every moment spent pursuing your dream. Do that, and your dream of being published will be that much closer to being a dream come true!

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Don't Do These 11 Things When Reading With Your Kids

Studies show, and parents and educators know, that reading with your child from the earliest age is an important part of a foundation for lifelong learning. Not only does it help you bond with your child, but it also helps your child become a good listener, develop language skills, and exercise their imagination. But there are mistakes that parents sometimes make when reading with their children that might hurt more than help. So, to help you avoid making some of the same mistakes I made when my kids were little, here is a list of 11 things NOT to do when reading with your kids.

1. Don't paraphrase just to get through the book sooner. At least, don't get into the habit of doing this. Eventually, kids grow wise to this little time-saving trick. Plus, you'll be focused on rushing through the story rather than on a little quality time reading with your child. And kids will notice this too, even if they don't realize they are noticing it. If your time is limited, pick a shorter book, but put your all into reading it. Most picture books can be read in five minutes or less.

2. Don't shush your kids when they ask questions or make observations. It isn't just story time to them. It's special time spent with you. Your interactions with your child during reading time will not only make those few minutes more fun, but they'll also help you build your relationship with your quickly growing and changing kiddo. Not only that, but those moments magnify the potential for learning.

3. Don't complain when they ask for the same book every night. Some day, you'll look back at those nights, and those books, and wish you could have them back again. Plus, if a kid truly loves a book, that should be celebrated and encouraged! My son used to request the book Used Up Bear by Clay Carmichael a few times a week, and it is still special to him. Even though he's 14 years old, he still has it on his shelf!

4. Don't say "no" to books based on movies or TV shows. My son went through a phase during which all he wanted me to read to him were his Spongebob and Scooby Doo books. Inwardly (okay, sometimes outwardly...) I would groan. I would also occasionally suggest other books. But, hey,  there's no rule that says, "Books based on TV shows don't count." Reading is reading!

5. Don't take over the reading when your emerging reader is struggling to read aloud. It can be slow. It can be aggravating. It can be tempting to tell them every word before they have a chance to sound it out for themselves. But it is important to let them read. Just be sure to choose books that are at their level. It's also a good idea to alternate pages--you read a page, they read the next page--in order to make it more enjoyable for both of you.

6. Don't get upset when your toddler gets bored and wants to climb out of your lap before the end of the book. Story time should be fun. But toddlers have very short attention spans, so if they lose interest in a book--even a very short book--before the last page, don't freak out. Pick it up again later, like at bed time. The point is to make story time something they look forward to, so don't force it.

7. Don't tell your child that a book is too hard for them. When my daughter was seven, we found a book at a yard sale titled The Lost Years of Merlin, by T.A. Barron. My daughter had never read a chapter book on her own, much less an entire novel. But she thought the book looked interesting, and so she set to reading it. It took her two days, and she read it entirely on her own. I'm not suggesting that most seven-year-olds will be able to read a middle-grade fantasy in two days on their own. My point is that you should not diminish their enthusiasm. If you think a book is too hard for your child, but they REALLY want to read it, then read it together.

8. Don't be afraid to quit reading a book before you finish it. Not all readers are going to enjoy the same books, and life is too short to waste time reading a chapter book or novel that you have to force yourself to finish (except when reading for school, of course). If you are reading a book with your child, and they hate it and are bored out of their minds and would rather go outside and scoop dog poop than read another chapter...then feel free to abandon that book! Let your child choose another and move on.

9. Don't get frustrated with your child's progress. Kids learn at different rates, and learning to read is no different. Getting frustrated with them when you are reading together will only make the process harder for them (and for you). So relax, take it slow, and choose books that are fun and reading-level-appropriate so that reading time doesn't become a daily torture session. Also, take some of the pressure off your child by letting them sit back, relax and listen to you read a story.

10. Don't tell them you don't have time. With very few exceptions, parents can make time to read with their children. If you don't have time right when they ask, tell them you'll read after dinner, or at bedtime. And then follow through! Taking the time to do this, even for five minutes a day, will not only foster your child's love of books and reading, but will send a message that those moments are special to you too!

11. Don't make reading together an event for special occasions. Reading together is special, but not in the same way that pumpkin pie is special and is therefore reserved for Thanksgiving dessert. You and your child will get the most out of reading together if you do it as often as possible, preferably every day.

For more of my advice on reading with your kiddos, see my post How to Read to Toddlers (and get them to listen).

How about you? Do you have any advice about what NOT to do when reading with kids?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

101 Fun Words for Picture Book Authors

Ask almost any fan of picture books and they'll tell you: fun and interesting language is a key ingredient in the best picture book stories.

Picture books, though often targeted at young children who are just learning how to read, don't have to be full of simple, common, everyday words. They don't have to be easy for a five or six year old to read, and their language doesn't have to be limited only to words that a first or second grader will understand. After all, one of the benefits of reading and being read to for a child is that it helps develop his or her language skills.

Of course, context is important. And unfamiliar, exotic vocabulary should be used within reasonable limits so as not to overwhelm your audience with new verbiage. So, with that in mind, here is a list of 101 words that are fun to say AND hear, and that you should not be afraid to use in your picture book manuscripts!

1. Serendipity
2. Monstrous
3. Monstrosity
4. Galactic
5. Reptillian
6. Gargantuan
7. Amphibious
8. Rickety
9. Trickery
10. Misdeed
11. Dastardly
12. Hankerin'
13. Delectable
14. Stupendous
15. Bamboozle
16. Tirade
17. Goose pimple
18. Pucker
19. Salivate
20. Divy
21. Clamber
22. Rambunctious
23. Stealthy
24. Serenade
25. Despicable
26. Kerfuffle
27. Brouhaha
28. Atrocious
29. Beastly
30. Immense
31. Colossal
32. Minuscule
33. Paltry
34. Shrill
35. Petite
36. Precipitation
37. Anticipation
38. Tempest
39. Whimsical
40. Humdinger
41. Whopper
42. Stegosaurus
43. Gale
44. Arachnid
45. Vermin
46. Ruffian
47. Rapscallion
48. Skirmish
49. Lugubrious
50. Stalemate
51. Exotic
52. Excelsior
53. Epic
54. Morose
55. Wretched
56. Infectious
57. Exhilarating
58. Blustery
59. Indeed
60. Resolute
61. Valiant
62. Vigorous
63. Robust
64. Accelerate
65. Quagmire
66. Jurassic
67. Jaunt
68. Barricade
69. Revamp
70. Quirky
71. Swoop
72. Bodacious
73. Ramble
74. Throttle
75. Illustrious
76. Crustaceous
77. Rhythmic
78. Timber
79. Briny
80. Thicket
81. Bounteous
82. Exquisite
83. Cuisine
84. Mongrel
85. Bloodcurdling
86. Persnickety
87. Bovine
88. Aloof
89. Encompass
90. Bombard
91. Ferocious
92. Imperial
93. Wrath
94. Scallywag
95. Perplex
96. Disintegrate
97. Methodical
98. Languish
99. Harrumph
100. Conundrum
101. Incinerate

This list is by no means complete. The English language is a wealth of wordy wonders, and life is more interesting when we make regular use of the treasure trove of vocabulary at our disposal, especially in places where they may be least expected--like in picture books!

What are some of your favorite words?