Please Help Me Choose a Cover



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George thinks he’s on to something. I think so too–he managed, after due consideration, to choose the same cover his three-year-old picked. Unlike her dad, however, May did not voice any thoughtful insights before diving for the picture of her choice.

This has been a fascinating journey so far–and it’s just started. Here are a few more highlights from my Help-Me-Choose-a-Cover campaign:

The acting children’s librarian chose the one he’d be “most inclined” to pick off the shelf, and three out of four other staff followed his lead–without knowing what he’d chosen.

I was intrigued by the intensity of emotion shown by the arts centre folk as they admired their favorite–they all liked the same one, and it was different from that chosen by most of the library staff.

One of arts centre people cares for a young man who uses a wheelchair. This kind woman has agreed to read Marie before it’s published with an eye to possibly endorsing it. Not always pleased with the way people treat her client, she’s looking forward to a story about a person with a disability where the disability is accommodated for, but not the focus. The animals help Marie, she helps them, and it all works. (“Until one day . . . .”)

I have at least one more library and one more arts centre on my list–we’ll see if there’s any consistency in the results. If so, perhaps there’s a trend to some kind of literary vs. visual arts split in cover preferences.

Next week I’ll be asking the kindergarten to grade twos, as well as the staff, at the after school care where I have a story circle. (Of course I’ll ask the children one at a time without letting them know how their classmates voted.) I THINK I know which one most of the kids will pick!

Cover A shows Marie and all her forest friends around the old oak tree. I’d originally hoped they could be playing tag around the tree–a popular pastime in Marie’s world–but that would have made for a much-too-busy cover.

Cover B shows Marie on a rescue mission. The workers have expelled Mr. Bee from the hive and Marie finds him languishing in the tall grass, hiding from the militant mavens of honey production.

Cover C shows Marie and Mr. Bee enjoying a game devised by my enterprising illustrator. (Don’t you love the game board?)

Which is your favorite? Please let me know in the comments below. And–if you could ask the children in your life for their opinions as well–I’d appreciate it very much.

Stay tuned.



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From Hero to Zero and Back–with a Lesson for “Has-Beens”


I’ve never much liked the saying, “Kill two birds with one stone.” It’s descriptive of course, but it also seems a tad brutal. How about “Pluck two blossoms with one snip?” or “Feed two kittens from one bowl”? Or even “give birth to twins”? (Don’t try that one at home.)

However we phrase it, I think Lucy Rozier’s Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph has done it. On the surface, it’s a highly creative tall tale historical fiction picture book. (Who knew there was such a sub-genre?) But I think it’s also something else.

Jackrabbit McCabe is a hero all right. The joyful, long-legged speedster fetches ol’ Doc Dobbins to patch up the overachievers in the Double Dare Ya Club, and rounds up every child and chick when twisters come barreling through Windy Flats. He’s a sure bet at the horse races, and he leaves locomotives in the dust.

But everything changes one day when the telegraph company shows up and the mayor proposes a race. In front of the good folks of Windy Flats and many more from miles around, in front of the brass band and his cheering family and friends, Jackrabbit loses—to a machine.

Any child who’s gone from hero to zero in short order, perhaps through the birth of an oh-so-cute sibling or the loss of a friend, should be able to empathize with poor Jackrabbit. Dethroned by a newfangled contraption and feeling “lower than snake’s navel,” our has-been hero takes the slow stagecoach home. Is there even a place for him in Windy Flats any more?

Here the story takes a most encouraging turn, as the mayor suggests that the owner of the speediest legs ever might just have speedy fingers as well—and with Jackrabbit’s help, Windy Flats is soon linked to the whole country by telegraph.

This is not only a fresh approach to teaching history to young children, it’s a lesson in bouncing back. Jackrabbit never will outrun electricity, but he uses his gift of speed to operate the telegraph for the benefit of the people of Windy Flats. Perhaps you know a child in a hero-to-zero situation who would take courage from this funny, engaging tale of a young man who bounces back.

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World Building for a Little Girl

An artist–with a delight in beauty and order and a gift for visual storytelling–fashions a world for a little girl and her forest friends.

Coralie and I looked over each other’s book dummies (the book printed out page by page and stapled together to give a rough idea of the finished product) on Friday. I wanted to see how the narrative for Marie and Mr. Bee flowed from page to page (I’d been warned about “plot holes”). Coralie was looking for consistency in her portrayal of the characters before she colors them.

2016-1-19 Page 2


As I looked at her pictures, something I’ve noted all along emerged more clearly than ever–Coralie is unifying the storyline through the art (and this may take care of any plot holes).

Note the stump to the left. As Coralie fashioned Marie’s world, she realized that the child (who uses a wheelchair) would have a hard time picking up sticks for her woodstove. Voilà!–the meeting place where her friends leave the firewood they’ve gathered for her.

On another page you’ll see both squirrels on the stump, preparing mushrooms to dry for the winter. (Interestingly, Coralie’s brother-in-law has a treasure trove in one of his abandoned outbuildings: a spectacular collection of mushrooms of various species and sizes, piled on the shelf and in the corners. Some enterprising animals should have a very good winter.)

See the branch Fox is carrying? She’ll use it to sweep her den. And Little Bear needs to dig roots before he plays with Marie.

Coralie recently added the picnic table where Marie and Mr. Bee will later play “Helper Bee,” a board game invented by our artist.

While assembling the pages, I reflected on Marie’s pretty, floral-patterned dishes, the floral sign with the same pattern over the cabin door, and her tidy cabin.

Beauty and design, functionality and order crown this little girl’s world (until, of course, Mr. Bee’s unseemly, batter-splattering invasion!). Marie really has it together–much like the artist. Our hero reflects Coralie’s love of beauty, design and order, just as she reflects my granddaughter Tina’s compassion for small creatures.

Coralie is careful to make the illustrations not only true to the characters, but to nature itself. The story takes place in the fall, when drones are expelled from the hive.  She suggested that Marie find the ailing Mr. Bee when she was picking cranberries, a fall fruit, rather than the strawberries I’d planned on. And at Coralie’s suggestion, asters, rather than the (springtime) daisies I’d originally planned on, set off fall’s gorgeous foliage.

We have a little girl of industry and compassion portrayed by an artist with a gift for visual storytelling and an interest in real-life accuracy . . . . I believe Marie and all her forest friends are in very good hands.

I’m hoping for a spring launch of Marie and Mr. Bee.

2015-10-26 Cover Working Copy

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Premie Poetry: Ode to a Tiny Granddaughter

To herald the safe arrival of Tommy’s new baby sister, I’m publishing my first ever poem to a premie.


You’re ever so tiny, impossibly cute,

Utterly miniature, very astute.

You know when it’s dinner; you know when it’s snack.

You’d charm the shirt right off a car salesman’s back.

We love you with all of your sweet winning ways,

And we know that we’ll love you for all of our days.

But always remember that God loves you more.

From before you were born until forever more.


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Truth from the Trenches

leave me alone catleave me alone giant

“Leave me alone,” protests our sad little protagonist. “My problem is a giant So big he blocks the sun . . . .

A giant full of nasty words, A giant huge and strong, Who casts a shadow over me As dark as it is long.”

Kes Gray put this small sad rhyme into the mouth of the little boy before the current terrorist attacks cast their black shadow, but his message of despair still rings true. And, as many other fine picture books for children do, this story offers hope. Through the compassion, courage and initiative of the rabbit, the fly, the cow, the frog, the pig and others who inhabit his world, our young hero finds peace and safety.

After sharing hundreds of stories with children over the years, I’m now more fully realizing why I like this genre. Simply and cleanly, these stories affirm truths we learned as children—that we need each other, that meanies can very quickly become cowards, and that even the smallest of us has important work to do.

Are there stories and memories from your childhood that you draw on for courage in uncertain times?




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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 Care 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. Bee, 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 . . . . Sign up for occasional updates to be notified when Marie and Mr. Bee is available.

2016-02-06 Page 2 Color

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.

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

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