Courage and Compassion: Heroes to Inspire Young Children

Remembrance Day stirs our hearts to themes of courage and compassion. In honor of our fallen heroes and the openness of children to inspiring role models, I’ve chosen three picture books with human and animal heroes.

Gracie the Lighthouse Cat by Ruth Brown


On September 7, 1838, a raging storm sends the SS Forfarshire crashing into Big Harcar rock in Northumberland, North East England. Grace Darling and her father, the lighthouse keeper, brave the howling wind, freezing spray and towering waves to rescue the survivors.

But how many young children can empathize with a 22-year-old heroine? Then again, what little child can not be taken up with the story of a kitten hurled into the storm, and his mother’s climb down the slippery rocks to save him?

I don’t remember ever seeing a book quite like this one. The kitten rescue tale is told in words and pictures, while the true story of Grace Darling’s heroism is told as backdrop—pictures only. This book will be an inspiration to children from four to nine years old, and their grown-ups.

A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg. Illustrated by Colin Bootman.


Uhlberg also uses an animal to highlight human compassion. A playful little black and white dog with a red ball never loses hope as Katrina’s other victims pass him by. Fear and courage, selfishness and compassion, and 10-year-old Daniel’s ingenuity all have their role in this realistic tale of triumph. Colin Bootman’s dark, watery paintings draw us into the family’s struggles until the end. There the sun shines brightly on the receding water and Daniel’s face lights up at the sight of the ever hopeful pup. “Come on, boy,” he says. “We’re going home.”

Balto’s Story by Kevin Blake


This true story opens with a blinding blizzard, -50oF (-46 oC) temperatures, winds roaring at 70 mph (113 kph)—and children in grave danger.

In response to an urgent telegram pleading for diphtheria antitoxin to save dozens of sick children in Nome, Alaska, the governor decides to opt for sled dogs rather than risk a plane flight from Anchorage to Nome. Musher Gunnar Kaasen and his team, led by Balto, race the last 50 miles.

For me, the most compelling moment is when Balto says “No” to crossing a frozen river and the wise musher heeds the warning—the ice is too weak to cross.

The book features actual photographs from 1925, including one of the telegram from Dr. Welch, and one of Balto, head drooping with exhaustion, in Nome. There are also modern-day photos of sled dog teams in Alaska, the statue of Balto in New York City’s Central Park, and Mrs. Jirdes Winther Baxter, whose life was saved by the medicine delivered by Balto’s team. Factoids (“A Siberian husky’s sense of smell is 600 to 700 times better than a human’s”), maps, a glossary and sources of further information make this inspiring book invaluable as an elementary school teacher’s resource as well as for home reading.

For more children’s book reviews, please check out my Top Picks. There you’ll also meet Tommy, Tina and Katie Kat, heroes of Scissortown and stars of Margaret Welwood’s  picture book for children. While you’re there, please sign up for occasional e-mails about future books with child and animal heroes.

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From Venomous Viper to Euphoric Entrepreneur: the Pop-up Chronicles

Venomous and viper-like, I’ve stalked the Internet, inflicting violent Xs on those most despicable of degradations—pop-ups!


But now—no more malignant malevolence, an end to morose mumblings, and an absence of alliteration—for I have my very own pop-up . . .

and I like it!

Green Eggs and Ham, anyone? Yummy crow?

change 2

Stand aside, Mona Lisa.

Make way for my objet d’art, on display for all discerning web surfers who click here:

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A Multitude of Counsellors and a Warm-Blooded Hero

“Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.” Proverbs 15:22
What a blessing to get feedback! I sent the cover of Marie and Mr. Drone to someone I’d met at a writers’ conference.

2015-09-12 Cover

While acknowledging that it was pretty, he was concerned about the title, saying that “drone” (not the male bee, but the machine) had a “negative vibe” with Americans. I asked several friends online, and all but one agreed that “Mr. Bee” was much better than “Mr. Drone.” Only our beekeeper friend liked “Mr. Drone,” and even HER KIDS thought the story was about a girl and a machine!

Here’s the new working cover, with Marie’s little friend clearly defined:

2015-10-26 Cover Working Copy

But my kind online friend also said, “. . . we do not get a sense of the story arc or plot from the cover.”

I did a quick check of some of the fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children we had at home. Some, indeed, give us a piece of the action, while others just show the character(s).

As I skim through the story, I note that the most dramatic scene is that of Marie wheeling back to her cabin while Mr. Bee huddles under some leaves(?) on her lap, with the worker bees buzzing around angrily. However, the sight of bees swarming around a little girl in a wheelchair–without the benefit of the context and our understanding that none of the creatures would ever harm Marie–won’t do for a cover!

Our plan is to consider the artwork as Coralie progresses through the story, keeping an eye out for some action that might work well for the cover. Then social media friends will be invited to weigh in again, this time on an action vs. a characters-only cover.

What a blessing to work with an artist, a web designer and a layout person who are all ready to make changes and try different things!


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“I Know Something You Don’t Know!”

A cruel taunt among children and a nasty tool of workplace politics, being the one in the know is delicious fun in children’s books. In Wolf’s Coming we’re the only ones who DON’T know what’s going on.

wolf's coming big

Harry the Dirty Dog features a dog in the know. Rebellious but beloved, white-furred, black-spotted Harry escapes for a happy day of grime time. Alas! He reappears as a black dog with white spots. Even artful renditions of old tricks cannot persuade the family that this “new dog” is their beloved Harry.

Perhaps he’s related to the clever but ignored canine in the award-winning Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.

Harry           FB Sam & Dave

where cat Like the cat with the umbrella handle tail, these animals share their secrets with the reader.

On a more serious note, Black Beauty is not only a literary classic, it is credited with changing the way people treat animals. “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. … [It showed] readers that the world is full of beings who should not be treated like objects.”

Bestselling author James Scott Bell stresses the importance of choosing the right point of view for your novel. The first person is the most intimate, he tells us, while the omniscient narrator has “great perspective.” Smiley teaches us that POV can have a profound effect on readers’ behavior.

“I know something you don’t know” . . .

Do you use POV as a feature of effective storytelling, a means of encouraging empathy and compassion, or both?

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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 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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