14 Tips–Choosing and Sharing Books with Young Children

When she was little, one of our girls had a foolproof way for postponing bedtime—she’d plunk herself on my knee with a book. In her honor,  I present Mom/Grandma’s top tips for raising eager readers. (Here I’m using your child to mean your child, grandchild, niece, neighbor. . . .).

grandma reading

  1. Black and White for Tiny Babies

Is that new to you, too? Two-year-old May, recently adopted by our daughter and son-in-law, has enjoyed books for much of her long life. (Credit goes to the foster mom here.) May really liked Baby Animals Black and White, and her profound comments on that wordless little volume ushered in an illustrious career as my most junior book review assistant.

Perhaps May had done her research and was hearkening back to her early infancy. According to Gary Heiting, OD, she could only see in black, white and shades of gray for the first week.

B + w kitten

I suspect, however, it had a lot to do with the endearing faces of the animals.

  1. Growl, Meow and Roar

Read with lots of expression. This may seem obvious, but I just learned it—again—the other day when reading Franklin in the Dark at the after school care centre. Franklin’s would-be counsellors growled, roared, quacked and chirped their sage counsel, and the children loved it. Little ones love to participate, too—encourage your child to meow and growl!

  1. Drama Kings and Queens

Acting out the stories can be a lot of fun. Our grandson enjoyed Be Patient, Little Chick again and again because of the opportunities for role play. He kept quite close to the script on the little chick book, but used others as springboards to explore different roles.

He and I acted out  Leo Tolstoy’s famous Christmas story, Martin the Cobbler, for lower elementary children. (Please note in my blog post the key part the staff played in making it a success.) The link above will take you to the entire story. This classic take on Matthew 25: 34-40 can be retold very simply for younger children, and it gives older ones an understanding of another era, and of hardships that few of us have experienced.


Drama can play a critical role in teaching children to be kind. According to Marie E. Cecchini MS, “Children who participate in dramatic play experiences are better able to show empathy for others because they have ‘tried out’ being that someone else for a while” (Early Childhood News).

  1. What are we really teaching?

What I learn from a story about a famous cookie that was eaten by a fox is that lying gets you dinner. If you like reading such classics to your child, are there ways to offset some of these “lessons”? Could you, for example, talk about misplaced trust?

g bread man

Are there values you want to promote? Our children enjoyed Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories for years, with their highly transparent lessons on courtesy, honesty, kindness and faith. I can still remember my friend reading “Jesus Understood” to the class when I was in grade two, and I read it to our children. However, for this and other older books that were written at a time when political correctness was not an issue, I recommend reading the story over first. You may want to make some small changes, or be prepared to explain the context.

My Bible Friends presents Bible accounts in a clear, gentle manner. When scheming Queen Jezebel meets her doom, for example, children are told that she was taken away. Beautiful paintings and sensitive text make this series highly appropriate for young listeners.


Wilderness Cat portrays respect for parents and God’s provision, and the Berenstain Bears Living Lights series is rich in humor and in faith lessons.

If you prefer a more secular approach to values, Little Croc’s Purse presents honesty and courage with a great deal of humor and cuteness, and Tanglebird shows the compassion of a human family for a klutzy bird. Ingenuity and compassion play pivotal roles in A Storm Called Katrina, a realistic tale of one family’s struggles after the hurricane, and their kindness to a little dog seeking a playmate.

dog in water

I like a couple of indie books for beginning chapter book readers. In Cool Kids Wear Glasses, an eyewear prescription and two girls who think for themselves propel Mandy on a journey from Queen of Mean to truly cool. Human and rodent youngsters learn valuable lessons in You Can Go Home Again, a suspenseful, family friendly story of an irresponsible little girl and her pet mice.

  1. How would you feel?

Promote empathy by talking about how the lost baby bird (Are You My Mother?) and other characters in the stories feel.

Black Beauty helped people see animals in a new way,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley. “As soon as you say that an animal has a point of view, then it’s very difficult to just go and be cruel to that animal. . . .”

b beauty

A Home for Dakota is a well-deserved rant against puppy mills. However, it can be presented to the younger set as a simple story of a sick and angry girl and a frightened dog finding friendship and healing. There are interesting possibilities for promoting empathy here. Why did the girl dislike Dakota when she saw that the dog’s fur was falling out? And why was Dakota hurt by words that she couldn’t understand?

  1. In the forecast . . .

Children love to predict, and what a great way to build suspense before you turn the page! In fact, I’ve read that children’s books should be laid out so that the suspenseful parts are on the righthand page.

Use the plot and pictures to make predictions

 Franklin Wants a Pet is great for that. After all, what could Franklin possibly want other than a kitten or puppy?


Where Is That Cat? is a perfectly predictable story—and perfectly delightful because of it. We all know that the cat will hide from those who would take him away from Miss Perkins. The only things we don’t know are where he’ll hide next, and when Miss Perkins will realize that he’s right where he belongs.

The Monkey Goes Bananas is an unusual story with very few words and a wealth of opportunities for predicting.

Wolf’s Coming! had us all fooled.

Use the facts to make predictions

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? is the ultimate guessing book, and provides opportunities for questions like, “Does your mom ever tell you to roll up your pant legs so you can hear better?”

cricket ears

In the same vein, Whose HOUSE is This? has us guess what (besides termites) live in a termite hill, and what lives in a burrow, flaps its flippers, and screams like a donkey.

Use the language itself to make predictions

Many of the Dr. Seuss books (Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?) provide opportunities to predict based on rhyme and pictures. I found Pierre the Penguin a little advanced for the kindergarten/grade one set. However, the rhyming that I’d found distracting when sharing the book with a nine-year-old helped to keep the younger ones in the story.

penguin wetsuit

  1. We have a secret

Your child will also enjoy stories where the two of you can share the delicious feeling of being in the know. In Where is That Cat? only you and the cat know where he’s hiding. And when Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, the dog and the reader know what’s going on—the two diggers, not so much.

  1. Chamomile tea

Read a sweet, comforting story at bedtime—and try not to get tired of reading it night after night! Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon is a classic, and so is The Runaway Bunny. I Love You, Daddy is an oversize board book with wonderful, comforting pictures.

You might like to listen outside the bedroom door after storytime. The first story our daughter heard her little girl “read” was “Horse. Horse fall down.” You may hear some literary gems as well.

reading in bed

  1. Take turns

If your older child finds reading tiring, take turns reading aloud. I found that when sharing You Can Go Home Again with my granddaughter, some of the language was a little heavy. Taking turns (with me taking much longer turns) worked very well.

  1. Child author

One really interesting way to get a very imaginative child to settle down and read is to have him dictate a story to you, then read it back.

  1. Follow the leader

Does your child want to paint a picture from the story, or act it out? Would costumes or props help? How about changing the ending, or writing a sequel? Follow her lead, and when interest wanes, be ready to allow her to go on to something else. Then it will be fun to come back to stories later.

acting out story

  1. Have fun

Be astonished when your child predicts that the monkey will get the bananas, or that Sam-I-Am will eat green eggs and ham in a house AND with a mouse. Who knew?

  1. Don’t break the bank

Sharing a variety of books with your child needn’t cost much. New books can be very expensive, but a library card is not. And some of my best treasures, like Be Patient, Little Chick, were picked up for next to nothing at a secondhand store. The 1990 publication date didn’t bother my grandson one bit.

  1. Time for two

This is your time with your child. Remember the Quaker saying, “I shall not pass this way again.” Trust me—today he’s in kindergarten, tomorrow he’ll be in junior high.


Savor the moments!

Margaret Welwood savored storytime with each of the five children she and her husband raised. She now delights in writing books for children, reading and playing with her grandchildren, and sharing stories with a group of youngsters at an after school care centre.

How do Tommy, Tina and Katie Kat save their town from the pink-slippered, scissors-crazy Slicers and Dicers? Described by a Pastor of Community Life as “a delightful story with many layers of meaning,” Scissortown is Margaret’s first picture book for children. It’s available from her website as a paperback, e-book, and enhanced e-book with text narration and word-by-word highlighting.


Margaret’s next book, Marie and Mr. Drone, is a sweet story that she believes has that “chamomile tea” quality. A little girl rescues a drone from the angry worker bees and then . . . . leave a comment on Margaret’s website or e-mail margaretwelwood@gmail.com to be notified when Marie and Mr. Drone is available. (Hint: Marie uses a wheelchair. A colleague whose daughter uses a wheelchair was pleased with this story about a person with a disability where the disability is not the focus. An administrator who works with children who have learning challenges was pleased with the emphasis on what Marie CAN do. Perhaps you will also appreciate these perspectives.)

2015-08-06 Marie 1

Follow Margaret on this blog and Goodreads for more about the stories she writes and shares with children.

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Drum Roll, Please!

Madam Justice Tina presiding . . . .

The verdict is in!

Tina has chosen #1 hairstyle and #1 shirt for the hero of Marie and Mr. Drone.

I’m well pleased. I’d already decided I liked the turquoise better than the deep purple before I asked Tina.

2015-08-06 Marie 1

The Facebook braids boosters had influenced me mightily, but I do like long flowing hair (an entity which shall forever elude me). I’m looking forward to seeing what Coralie does next with this young girl and her forest friends.

Watch this space!

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Using Questions to Create Buzz about Your Book–Want to Weigh In?

What happens when a not-so-busy bee flies through an open door and convinces a young girl to neglect her work? Written for children from four to eight years old, Marie and Mr. Drone is a tender story of compassion, forgiveness and true friendship.

Marie loves her little cabin in the woods. Every day she works and plays with her forest friends until . . . .

photo 3 site

These are exciting times! My granddaughter Tina is to choose an outfit and a hairstyle for the hero of our next book, Marie and Mr. Drone. The artist, Coralie Rycroft,  has come up with three outfits and three hairstyles (Tina can mix and match as she wishes). Which shirt do you prefer? Which hairstyle?

2015-08-06 Marie 1    2015-08-06 Marie 2    2015-08-06 Marie 3

I’m getting a good response to these questions on social media. This is particularly interesting given that, unlike the choice I invited people to make re the cover of Scissortown (you can see the winner here), Tina is making the decision.

It seems people just like to give their opinions, and I’m getting some interesting insights. Those with more hair than I have :), for example, caution against a little forest dweller with free flowing long hair (Ouch!). The braids are getting the most thumbs-up. Some see the turquoise shirt as being the most “country,” and a scant few prefer the deep purple.

So why am I letting Tina make the decision?

First of all, the book is really about her. Marie is modeled on Tina.

Second, Tina and her cousin Tommy helped launch my book writing career with their requests that I make up a story.

Third, I suspect that Tina’s tastes may be similar to those of other girls her age.

Fourth, the choices she makes will be the right ones. Coralie has chosen all the colors of Tina’s shirts (as well as the wheel guard) with an eye to the fall season when the story takes place. Fall is Coralie’s favorite season, and she’ll enjoy using its vibrant colors as a backdrop to the action. As for the hairstyles, they’re all cute.

Two questions for you:

If this were your book, which shirt and hairstyle would you choose?

Are there ways you can solicit opinions to create buzz about your next book?

And, please let me know in a comment below if you’d like to be notified when Marie and Mr. Drone is available.

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Tale Endings

Like dessert, the ending of a story stays with us. Here are some endings (without spoilers!) to picture books for children: the simple (but total!) surprise; the minor twist; the totally predictable (and utterly charming); and the sweet and satisfying.

Wolf’s Coming! by Joe Kulka

wolf's coming big

There’s a delicious kind of fear when we’re reading a scary story—not too scary, but scary enough to make us quiver with excitement.

Just ask the kindergartners.

“Are you sure you want me to turn the page?” I ask them. “You’re not too scared?” No, they aren’t, but I certainly have their attention right up to the denouement on the last page.

Rated for kindergarten to grade two, this story even has nine-year-old Tina mystified at first. I think it’s the marriage of text and illustrations that does us all in. Kulka’s bright, almost garish portrayals of the night sky, drooling wolf, and alarmed prey animals set everyone from kindergartners to sophisticated grade threes to the story lady herself up for the ending.

And it’s a good one.

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton.

Three would-be mighty hunters have a plan, the mini-might has bread, and Albert Einstein has a quote.

The text is sparse and effective, and the illustrations are most dramatic—humans and scenery in shades of black and blue, prey in bright colors. The ending is cute—and leaves us without a speck of worry about the fate of the hunted. Although I like the story, I’d have liked it even better if the hunters had learned something. However, your color-loving correspondent would also recommend Haughton’s book for the artwork alone.

Where Is That Cat? by Carol Greene

where cat larger

Who doesn’t know that none of the would-be pet owners is going to find the elusive feline? The only mystery is where he’s going to hide next. But, like those who watch “The Sound of Music” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every year, children take great pleasure in knowing what’s going to happen next–and perhaps they will also enjoy your “surprise” at their confidence.

Chaucer’s First Winter by Stephen Krensky

Chaucer winter

This happy little bear proved very popular with the kindergartners. When Chaucer’s older friends, Nugget the Fox and Kit the Squirrel, tell the cub he’ll be sleeping the winter away, he’s understandably disappointed—and curious.

So, certain that his parents are asleep in the den, Chaucer sneaks outside for a fun-filled winter. His friends are apt teachers, and Chaucer loves sliding, snowball fights, icicles . . . and he even builds a snug snow house for them all before a storm hits.

But where are his parents? Snoozing peacefully? Look around the corner, behind the tree, and even in the snowstorm, and you’ll see that Chaucer’s watchful parents are never far away.

When his beloved snow melts into puddles, Chaucer heads back to the cave to tell his parents all about his adventures. And then . . . the sweet ending.

So there you have it–the mystery dessert, the apple pie with a new spice, Grandma’s traditional Christmas cake, and a piece of fudge. Enjoy the stories with your little ones, and savor the flavor long after the children have gone to sleep.

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An Intensely Valuable–and Ongoing–Experience

Margaret chooses and shares children’s literature which always engages our young listeners. We believe Margaret’s reading sessions have enhanced literary appreciation of our children and increased their desire to read and understanding of the process. (Karen, Director, Glory Garden Out of School Care)

Martin the Cobbler

Why did I start?

* I love reading stories to children.
* I felt a need to develop an ear for children’s stories, and reading aloud is more “real” to me when I have an audience.
* I wanted to see where the children’s attention peaked and flagged.
* I wanted to see where I found the text boring or tedious.
* I wanted to try out my own stories on a group of children.

Reading to the kindergarten children has provided feedback in all the above ways, and there was another one as well. I have different children pick three stories from the four I bring each week–and it’s illuminating to watch them judge the books by their covers. Here are some of my findings:

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover? Seriously?
Cover Stories–and What’s Inside

However, judging from Karen’s kind comment, it isn’t just a one way street.

There was an unexpected benefit at Christmas. Tommy and I acted out a much abridged and highly edited version of Leo Tolstoy’s Martin the Cobbler for the older children. I played Martin, and Tommy played the other roles: a little boy without shoes, a big brother who wrapped his baby sister in his own coat because she had no blanket, and an old man hungry for a crust of bread.

Props like Tina’s doll, a blanket, and a loaf of whole grain bread added to the drama.

The children clearly got the message, as demonstrated by the discussion that followed. The young child care worker drew out not only the meaning of the story, but how the children could apply it to their lives.

To learn about other stories that have been a hit with the children, please check out Margaret’s Top Picks on my website, where my nine-year-old granddaughter also weighs in on what makes a really good story.

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How to Lose $550,000 before Lunchtime

As the happy owner of a Facebook Book Page, I had a fascinating adventure this morning–and it may prove helpful to you if you are both new to social media and a naturally optimistic person . . . .

Danyille Marie had been chatting me up in a general way over the last several days, but today she had some big news–I’d won $550,000.00 from FB!

Who doesn’t like to hear that kind of news? And what are the odds—especially when you don’t buy lottery tickets and don’t gamble?

adv surprised

Danyille assured me that I had been chosen at random by the computer, and sent me pix of previous lucky winners as well as jpgs of my cheque and other “documentation.”

adv happy group

I even got texts from “FedEx” assuring delivery of my cheque.

I decided to play along until she asked for money or bank info, thinking that it would be bank info. She surprised me, instead asking for $240.

Too cute—almost right after I got the texts from “FedEx,” a friend and his nephew came to the door. I told Danyille two men had come to the door and asked if I should pay them, but she said to send the cheque for $240 to the address she had provided.

The guys missed out!

adv sad men

I asked Danyille to take the $240 off my winnings and send me a cheque for the rest, but I guess that’s not how it’s done. (I’m new to the world of high finance.)

Isn’t there a saying to the effect that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is?

YouTube has several helpful videos about this scam.

By the way, when I recounted this adventure to my son he warned me against opening jpgs, as malicious code can be embedded. He suggested scanning the picture by right-clicking and “Scan with [your antivirus software]”, then delete it by selecting it, then pressing Shift+Delete (“Shift” makes it bypass the recycle bin).


Guess it’s time to do some real work . . . .

woman working

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Cooked Carrots and Hair in a Shopping Cart: Should the Good Guys Always Win?

I didn’t like cooked carrots when I was a child. REALLY didn’t like them. But Phyllis, my mother’s friend, told me carrots would make my hair curly, and I ate them because it would be worth it.

I’m still waiting, Phyllis.

straight hair

Now Jeanette reports that her 3 1/2-year-old niece wants to grow her hair long like Tina’s in Scissortown so she can carry it in a basket.

When I read or tell the story to very young children and ask them if their daddies pull up trees like this, the answer is always yes.

31 Pull Up Trees

Ditto when I ask very little boys if they take a ruler to the barbershop.

In light of the fact that, in the minds of little ones, Goldilocks really did eat Baby Bear’s porridge AND break his chair . . .

as writers of children’s books, should we always make sure that the winner comes out on top by making good choices?

kindness rabbit

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On-Color Stories

My mother and I were very close when I was a child, but there was one thing that always baffled me.


Yellow was her favorite color. I puzzled over this mystery–why couldn’t she see that red was prettier?

Now, as an adult, I also prefer yellow, but I think we can learn something here about children’s book covers.

There was the award-winning book I took to the day care but did not read because the children didn’t choose it. Why? I think because the cover, although attractive to an adult, was a little on the dark side.

This cover has some dark blue, but I think its intensity, along with the judicious use of light and the mood the contrast evokes (not to mention the subject matter), are what put it at the top.

wolf's coming big

Then there was the book with the pretty pastel cover–it didn’t get chosen till I put it between two stories the children had already heard.

However, this one was picked the first time:

Best Sheepdog

On the basis of this and other storytimes, I conclude that color is highly significant,

Doctor Hippo

but that cute trumps color. Size matters, too–large books seem more attractive, and the artists may be able to get away with lighter colors.

This book, large in real life, was a popular choice.

Edge Forest

Coralie and I went back and forth about the color of Tina’s dress. I’m no longer into fire engine red and thought pink might be cliché, but I do like the pink/red family. We finally settled on this shade, with my granddaughter Tina choosing Katie Kat’s colors.

29 Tina Hugs KK 300 ppi

On the sage advice of a toddler, we went with purple for the dress under construction. Coralie came up with the gold for Tommy’s shirt.

My next book, Marie and Mr. Drone, stars a little girl who lives in a cabin in the woods and plays with her forest friends. The story takes place in the fall–the artist’s favorite season for obvious reasons. Coralie plans to create a couple of outfits for Marie, and my granddaughter Tina will choose the one she likes the best. Whatever she chooses, I’m sure Coralie will have colored it to complement fall’s beauty.

We trust it will also appeal to the eyes of a child.

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Cliffhangers, Adrenaline and Empathy


Baby Bird’s First Nest–does the title run shivers up your spine? Is the author/illustrator the next Tom Clancy or James Patterson perhaps?

And therein lies the beauty of reading to a live audience. I chose Baby Bird’s First Nest because it was a sweet story with bright pictures, little realizing that it was so suspenseful.

After Baby Bird’s fall from the nest, “Darkness loomed all around her. Even the moon looked cold and scary.” Frank Asch’s text is just right for little listeners.

Baby Bird’s new friend, Frog, helps her build her very first nest. All is well until he hears . . . paws!

Many writers have their characters hear footsteps, but “paws” is particularly effective here, as is the close-up of the hungry predator’s face. And– Baby Bird can’t fly yet!

So why do we like to be scared, but not too scared? Psychologists say we like the adrenaline rush.

wolf's coming big

But there’s more than suspense in this tale of Baby Bird–there’s a powerful story of friendship as Frog lends a hand.

Baby Bird book

There’s a lesson here: see a need, give help.

In her excellent article, Teaching empathy: Evidence-based tips for fostering empathy in children, Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. notes:

Stories—from books or television—are opportunities for kids to practice perspective-taking skills. What do the characters think, believe, want, or feel? And how do we know it?

When families discuss these questions, kids may learn a lot about the way other people’s minds work (Dunn et al 2001). In one experimental study, 110 school kids (aged 7 years) were enrolled in a program of reading. Some students were randomly assigned to engage in conversations about the emotional content of the stories they read. Others were asked only to produce drawings about the stories. After two months, the kids in the conversation group showed greater advances in emotion comprehension, theory of mind, and empathy, and the positive outcomes “remained stable for 6 months” (Ornaghi et al 2014).

According to Dr. Dewar, experiments suggest that kids are more likely to feel empathy for individuals who are familiar and/or similar to them. Baby Bird and Frog are clearly very different, but that does not seem to matter. They are drawn together by the one’s need and the other’s kindness. Is there another lesson for us here?

Enjoy the adrenaline rush, take advantage of the mounting excitement to help children predict outcomes, immerse yourself and your young listeners in Baby Bird’s predicaments, admire Frog’s kindness and initiative–and enjoy the story!

And perhaps join me in a challenge. Can we, too, write stories that are so full of life lessons and so engaging to our listeners?

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I’d Have Loved This! (Second Edition)

snowman drawing

When I was in grade two, our teacher used to post our best pictures on the wall. My pink and blue snowman made the cut, and, if memory serves, that was the last of my art posted that year.

Thinking I had the formula, I made pink and blue snowmen summer and winter, but to no avail. Perhaps that was the year I discovered I couldn’t do art.

And perhaps a similar discovery (which can be made despite the best efforts of teachers) explains nine-year-old Marie.

While creating our very first entry for the Stories by Children website page, Marie was right into the storytelling–composing, pondering and editing, as all good storytellers do.

However, when she was faced with the prospect of creating a picture for her Zero to Hero dino story, the project almost collapsed. Almost, that is, until Marie and her scribe Googled “draw T-Rex step by step.”


So here we have the amended version of the call, now extended to writers and illustrators.

No doubt there are many who, like Marie and me, find that working with a differently talented partner is the way to go. Page--stories_by_children3_blog (1)

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