Writing with Purpose: Thank You Box

It is often said that to be an author you should write something every day. However I find it very difficult to produce a comprehensive piece of writing when there’s no purpose. Writing needs direction from the start, a path to follow, a place to arrive at and a means to an end. This could be to write a story, fill out a form, to convey an important message, to provide others with useful information, write a cheque or to record a memory.

For children on the other hand, writing can be like drawing. Their newly found fascination of putting pen to paper is sometimes what drives them to pick up a pen and write as they experiment with forming various shapes and marks to create meaning out of an otherwise blank page.  Others instinctively love to record their thoughts or label their pictures but like adults, many children too have no inclination to write unless it is for a purpose.

So if you’re looking to encourage your child to write remember that first they may need a purpose to write. I put together this writing prompt in the aftermath of the Christmas mayhem, the time when my boys have a long list of thank you letters to compose. I’m not going to lie, I always find this a painful business of constant reminders and impatient hovering but I persist in putting us through the ordeal because I believe appreciation and thankfulness is a lesson worth learning. So this year I’ve attempted to make the whole process somewhat more light-hearted!

First I bought two plain craft boxes in the shape of books and filled them with brightly coloured blank cards and envelopes.

Writing Box 1

I then gave both my children a pack of mixed postage stamps, character and thank you stickers, self-inking stamps, printed paper, a small glue brush and a novelty pen each to make up their own thank you box.

Writing Box Stamps

Writing Box Tools

I then suggested some ideas of how to decorate the boxes and left them to it…

…and perhaps that’s where I made my fatal error!

I’d had an image in my mind of a perfectly covered book box, a kind of decoupage with postage stamps!

Oh silly me! Of course that’s not what we ended up with!

So here are some close ups of the decorating results, no frills, very little sticking and certainly no decoupage in sight! Some might say the quickest route to completion was sought!

Writing Box Decorated

I thought about scrapping this blog but only very fleetingly because I realised that despite my disappointment I’d actually achieved what I’d set out to do and that was to provide my children with a writing box that is personal to them and one they wanted to use. Oblivious to my hidden grimaces they had enjoyed themselves and were very enthusiastic about the results. They were even swapping ideas of what to do on their thank you cards. I couldn’t help but chuckle at my desperation for perfection. All too often I see blogs on children’s craft activities which are enviously beautiful but almost to the point of being too immaculate and in practice are often far too intricate for little fingers to learn. It soon becomes obvious they’ve been designed by an adult and completed by an adult as the realistic results start to emerge once the little ones get their hands on them!

So I guess the lesson I stumbled across today was that encouraging a love of something isn’t about the ideals we strive for, it’s about providing the tools to let our children do it their way!




Child Authors: Learning from Children

Express Yourself Through Writing

Lately, my eldest has been devouring books like a caterpillar expecting an immanent leaf shortage. So much so that despite his shelves being laden with books his hunger for new, uncharted territory is proving hard to keep up with. With our library being a decent drive away and not wanting to rush out and buy new ones each time, I had a brain wave (they may be scarce but they do happen!). I remembered that my husband had read a fantasy fiction book called Eragon a few years back by the author Christopher Paolini who was fifteen years old when he wrote it. I thought perhaps it would be a good contender to satisfy this insatiable hunger. So we sifted through some old boxes in the garage and managed to find Eragon and Eldest, the first two from a series of four books. Both are fairly hefty books so I gave myself a pat on the back for successfully slowing him down until Christmas!

My eldest and I share his bedtime reading of Eragon and it keeps us both suitably engrossed. Some sentences sound a little over written in places to me but the story line is original and the vocabulary is impressive. It is hard to imagine a fifteen year old wrote such a book. As an older writer I like to think that life experience is my advantage in that it has given me greater empathy and expanded my mind since I was fifteen years old. However being a parent, I can also see many advantages for a child to read a book which is written by a child. So my curiosity has been tweaked.

The age of an author is not something a reader would readily know. It’s not emblazoned across their book cover (thank goodness!). Nor is it normally of particular importance to the reader – if the book is good, the book is good regardless of the author’s age. However, who is it that truly knows what makes a child tick? Who knows what is cool, awesome or totally pants? Who knows the latest hot topic in the playground? It can only be a child of course. They don’t have to rely on memory; they are the ones in the thick of it. They are experiencing childhood right now and by recording such moments their points of view can become an invaluable source of understanding for other children.

An excellent example is Help, Hope and Happiness which was written by Libby Rees when she was nine years old. Having gone through the pain of her parents getting divorced she wrote the book to try and help other children cope with divorce. Similarly nine year old Alec Greven’s idea to write How to Talk to Girls came from his playground observations and desires to help his classmates get credit for their chat up efforts. Jason Gaes wrote My Book for Kids with Cancer when he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at age seven. It’s a book which continues to help many children of all ages.

Another one I’m particularly interested to get my hands on is The Strand Prophecy written by Brianna and Brittany Winner (otherwise known as the Winner twins). The book tells the tale of Strand the superhero with a troubled past battling to save the world. Though not a self help book the twins wrote this book when they were twelve years old despite both having been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. In a past blog on dyslexia (The Dancing Book) I once wrote “if you think differently to the average person, you have the power to achieve more than the average person so how can we teach children with dyslexia to draw out their unique abilities?” What an incredible example these twins are of what can be achieved and overcome. Since publication they have also became co-founders of the non-profit organisation Motivate 2 Learn which aims to promote literacy and inspire children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Child authors have been getting recognition since way back. One of the most well known being Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl written by Anne as a Jewish teenager in hiding during the war. It was later published in 1947 and gives a true view of what it was like to live in constant fear of being caught whilst simultaneously attempting to maintain a small sense of normality in her childhood.

One of the youngest, if not the youngest writer was American born Dorothy Straight who was just four years old when she wrote How the World Began which was published in 1964. Obviously this and many others are exceptional examples of young writers. After all most four year olds haven’t even mastered writing single letters let alone a whole book! So don’t expect miracles from your tiny tot but if they do love writing let them write and express themselves in their own way. They may surprise you and have something outstanding to say. Something which could one day help many children navigate their way through the confusing path of childhood.

10 Quick Reading Activities for Children.

Back by popular demand, this time I’ve put together some quick and simple activities to encourage reading and aid spelling. There are so many opportunities throughout the day to help our children to read and so many little ways to make it fun. Whether it’s adapting a familiar game, going on a treasure hunt or baking some edible letters, these activities don’t have to be time consuming and can easily be incorporated into any little person’s life.

1. Eat Your Words

Follow a simple biscuit recipe and use letter cutters to make words. We were making some cheesy biscuits for a party, so instead of making them round as we usually would, we cut out letter shapes so the boys could make words with them once they were baked. They asked how to spell words, they read each others and it became a game of who can come up with the silliest words.

Quick Reading Eat Your Words

2. Secret Messages.

Finding a secret message always brings a smile to my boys faces. It’s a way for me to say I’m thinking of them even when they’re not with me. I don’t do it every day because I tend to leave it for special purposes, like a birthday, a treat or letting them know about a special day out or a fun activity together. I find if it’s something they are going to look forward to doing or having they are more likely to read the note (which is the main purpose of the notes after all). They would be less inclined to read a note telling them to clean their room!

Quick Reading Secret Messages

3. What Am I?

A quick printable activity. The children must read five clue words to come up with the answer to “what am I?”.

Quick Reading What Am I

4. Street Names.

This one is easy to play when you’re out and about walking to the shops or on a long car journey. Get your children used to reading new words and names by spotting the different street names. Who can be the first to spot a lane? What are we walking along? Is it a street or a close?

Quick Reading Street Names

5. Read a Recipe.

Children love to help with stirring and sieving and licking the bowl! Ask them to read out the recipe to you as you follow the steps together.

Quick Reading Recipe

6. Playdoh Printing.

Use plastic cutters to make letter imprints in playdoh. Build letters into words and words into short sentences to aid reading and spelling.

Quick Reading Playdoh Letters

7. Rhyming Dominoes.

Another quick printable for a twist on the traditional dominoes game. Cut out the domino tiles and split between all players. Try and match each word with a rhyming word.

Quick Reading Rhyming Dominoes 1

Quick Reading Rhyming Dominoes 2

8. Lego Letter Race.

Choose a simple word. It’s a race to see who can make the word with Lego the fastest. Each player uses a large flat Lego tile to display their word.

Quick Reading Lego Letters

9. Scrabble Swap.

For this activity we used junior scrabble tiles but if you don’t have any to hand it’s just as easy to type and print out some letters onto card but make sure there are plenty of vowels in the mix.

Quick Reading Scrabble Swap

10. Follow the Clues.

The promise of treasure at the end of the clues is enough to get any reluctant reader to at least try and work them out! Hand them the first clue and make sure the second clue is where the first clue tells them to go and so on until they discover the last clue and need to find the promised treasure. You can copy and print the clues below or use your own to send them on an adventure round the house.

Quick Reading Follow the Clues 1

Quick Reading Follow the Clues 2

Words are everywhere, look around and point them out as children will naturally be curious to read something if it looks interesting to them.

What are your favourite reading activities?

10 Quick Writing Activities for Children

Homework time in our house with two boys is never a breeze but it can be especially tiresome when it requires them to put pen to paper for anything other than a picture! They are both more than capable but neither see the need for it and treat it like it’s the biggest effort in the whole wide world! Hence I’ve had to get a bit creative to try and help my five year old learn to write and have come up with ten quick, easy printable activities or crafts which appeal to a young person’s short attention span and are ideal for a busy parent to organise.

1. Rainbow Words

Using colour always brightens up a task so have different pencils ready to learn the colours of the rainbow and make writing more fun.

Rainbow Writing

2. Rice Writing

For this I used a small tray and placed orange coloured card at the bottom to help the letters stand out. I then covered the tray in rice and let the children write whatever they liked using their fingers.

Quick Rice Writing

3. Rhyming Words

Thinking up new words to rhyme always makes children giggle so an activity combining bright pictures with rhyme can encourage them to write. Don’t worry if they come up with some nonsense rhyming words as this activity is just as much about learning to write letters as it is words.

Quick Rhyming Words 1

Rhyming Words 2

4. Glitter Words

This one is a bit messy but it’s very simple and if you have a selection of glitter colours it can keep the children occupied for sometime.

Quick Glitter Words

5. Numbers in words.

Another simple printable activity this time to help with linking numbers with the written word.

Quick Numbers in Words

6. Word Wall Chart

This takes about 20 minutes to prepare but as there are 90 possible places to write a word it can last for 3 months! The idea is to write one word which describes their day. They can pick any triangle to write on and the words can be how they feel about their day, the name of a place they visited, the name of a person they saw, a sport or an activity for example. Our first words were swimming and computer. This activity encourages smaller writing in order to keep their words within the allotted triangle. To make this I needed five different coloured sheets of card, some string and patience to cut out the thirty squares! A square craft punch would be much quicker!

Quick Word Wall Chart

7. Missing letters.

A simple printable activity sheet for a spare five minutes which helps with the sounds of letters and spelling.

Missing Letters

8. String a Letter

This involves some cutting and sticking to prepare but is a fantastic way for children to practice letter formation.

Quick String a Letter

9. Code Breaking

There’s always something satisfying about breaking a code. Copy and print out the following two sheets, then have fun hunting and writing the corresponding letters.

Quick Code Breaking 1

Quick Code Breaking 2

10. Chalk Labels

For this I needed some craft labels, chalk and chalkboard paint. I painted one side of the craft labels then left to dry. Once dry the children wrote with the chalk to label jars of pens, boxes of toys and drawers of paper. Even some of the soft toys got labelled!

Quick Chalk Labels

What writing activities have you found work best?

Back to School with Children’s Books

Books about School

After weeks of no homework (for some), no deadlines (except for those of our own making perhaps) and the occasional pyjama days, the new school term is now in full swing and I, like millions of other parents, am just beginning to once again get my head around the daily routine of taxi-ing to and from school and a whole host of other favoured activities of the moment.

School dominates children’s lives; it’s somewhere they have to go, even when they don’t want to and a place where they are pushed to achieve every day. So why then are schools such a popular topic in children’s books? Surely the last thing they want to read is a story about being at school again? Wouldn’t they rather escape to a fantasy world on planet Bish Bosh than somewhere they already go to everyday?

I couldn’t resist last week re-tweeting (@lonerganbooks) the picture of the timetable board at Kings Cross, listing Hogwarts train as being “on time.” J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has made Hogwarts the most famous fictional school in the world now. So much so it has become a part of our lives. So what makes Hogwarts such an appealing setting? Is it because the extraordinary occurs amidst a familiar setting or is it because our imaginations could almost believe that a school like this could really exist?

Using familiar settings in stories is about sticking to a situation a child can identify with but twisting it and making the mundane interesting and the opposite of what might be expected. One of the first British writers to start the trend was Angela Brazil with The Fortunes of Philippa in 1906. Due the books success she went on to write a total of 49 novels based on life at boarding school. Since then many authors have followed suit with their own twist on school life.

There are schools for everyone in the book world. Schools for unlikely spies (Spy School by Stuart Gibbs), space travelling dinosaurs (Astrosaurs Academy by Steve Cole), L’Etoile for those who want to become famous (School for Stars by Holly & Kelly Willoughby), a school for ghosts (Mountwood School for Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson), budding ballerinas (Ballet School Secrets by Janey Louise Jones) and even the differently gifted at the Alice B. Smith School (Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell). The graphic novel, Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown cleverly combines a familiar school setting for trainee Padawans with the Star Wars planet Coruscant. If we have schools on earth, why shouldn’t there be schools on other planets?

However, it’s not just about who the school is for; there are many other ways to put a twist on school life as we know it. Flour Babies by Anne Fine is set in an average comprehensive school but she develops a humorous situation by observing how the characters interact and the relationship between pupil and teacher. It’s feels good to laugh at all the things that can go wrong when looking after a flour baby and to make fun of the teacher’s attempts to make lessons more interesting. Its’ a book about school life and how the children and teachers learn to deal with each other.

Other books focus on delighting in mishaps and chaos. Children find it amusing to read about things they know shouldn’t happen at school. Darrell Rivers and her friends provide the reader with endless entertainment doing what they’re not supposed to do in Malory Towers by Enid Blyton and Rafe Khatchadorian racks up thousands of points breaking every school rule in Middle School by James Patterson.

Another way to make school life more exciting is to create unusual characters who can do things a child might wish would happen in school. The magical teacher known as Mr Majeika by Humphrey Carpenter who turns St Barty’s school bully into a frog and then forgets the spell which changes him back again is a good example of this. Other authors switch the writing style to a day to day diary format such as Tom Gates by Liz Pichon and Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Often these books are written from the pupil’s point of view and concentrate on common issues that occur in schools as in Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson which broaches bullying but with a very humorous angle to it.

So next time your children are struggling to come up with ideas for their creative writing homework, try and get them to think about mixing the absurd, unexpected and surprising with everyday occurrences to help put an interesting spin on their writing.

CLICK TO BUY Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: 1/7 (Harry Potter 1)



CLICK TO BUY The Fortunes of Philippa






CLICK TO BUY Astrosaurs 1: Riddle Of The Raptors



CLICK TO BUY First Term at L’Etoile (School for Stars)



CLICK TO BUY Mountwood School for Ghosts (Great Hagges)



CLICK TO BUY Ballet School Secrets (Kelpies: Cloudberry Castle)



CLICK TO BUY Ottoline Goes to School



CLICK TO BUY Jedi Academy



CLICK TO BUY Flour Babies



CLICK TO BUY 01: First Term (Malory Towers)



CLICK TO BUY Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life: (Middle School 1)






CLICK TO BUY The Brilliant World of Tom Gates



CLICK TO BUY Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book 1)



CLICK TO BUY Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja



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Creating Stories Using Art and Play: Part 3 – Paintbrush Plays

Paintbrush Plays

It’s been getting crowded in our house this last week due to the population of paintbrush people and creatures growing rapidly. This story making activity took a tiny bit more preparation in terms of gathering together a selection of craft items to pick and choose from but it has probably been the best one of this series in terms of getting them to think about story structure in more depth. Although I did get involved by making suggestions along the way and assisting with a couple of the paintbrush characters, I mostly left the design and character names to the boys. So it’s by no means polished or perfect but that’s the whole idea. This is something the kids can do themselves, the characters can be crazy and the story doesn’t even have to make sense. The sole intention is to get them laughing and enjoying creating stories.

So we started with an assortment of paintbrushes. Some were children’s brushes and others a cheap packet of wall painting brushes from a local DIY store.

I then put out an array of craft items such as buttons, wiggly and sticky eyes, pipe cleaners, feathers, felt, foam, tissue paper, glitter, paint and mini pom poms etc.

Next we got decorating……….

And soon we had a wacky cast of paintbrush characters. Each have been ranked out of 100 for evilness, skill level, humour and speed.

Paintbrush Plays Pencil Armour GuyPencil Armour Guy: He’s the ruler of the kingdom. He looks mean but is really a big softy. He loves his sweeping capes and dancing to “Happy.”

Evilness: 10

Skill: 88

Humour: 92

Speed: 53

Paintbrush Plays BristleBristle: A young donkey, always over-excitable, keeps crashing into things and says what he thinks!

Evilness: 2

Skill: 8

Humour: 100

Speed: 98

Paintbrush Plays Super DogSuper Dog: Who looks nothing like a dog because………. he’s in disguise!

Evilness: 39

Skill: 87

Humour: 51

Speed: 78

Paintbrush Plays Evil CatEvil Cat: The supreme fur ball of ultimate nastiness! She is constantly plotting and scheming ways to capture Pencil Armour Guy and rule the kingdom.

Evilness: 100

Skill: 67

Humour: 5

Speed: 44

Paintbrush Plays Evil EdnaEyeballs Edna: Evil Cat’s evil sidekick who has her eyes on you! She enjoys people watching and chocolate. Suffers from an identity crisis!

Evilness: 86

Skill: 51

Humour: 43

Speed: 88

Paintbrush Plays MorrisMorris: These minions get everywhere. Although Morris is lesser known in the minion world, he’s totally brilliant at scaring baddies away with his craziness.

Evilness: 2

Skill Level: 45

Humour: 100

Speed: 68

Paintbrush Plays TwisterTwister: Fast, untouchable, out to save the universe in a whirlwind.

Evilness: 36

Skill Level: 89

Humour: 51

Speed: 92

We then needed to create a backdrop for our play. I was ready to keep it simple by draping a throw across a chair and hiding beneath the kitchen table but it seems my boys had other plans. They wanted to make a whole theatre! We settled for a cardboard box they could decorate with foam and felt instead!

Paintbrush Play 7

Making stories should be fun not a chore and most children naturally do it as part of their play, just sometimes they need some new ideas and a different approach to tap into their enthusiasm. Have fun!

Creating Stories Using Art and Play: PART 1 – Sand Stories

Creating Stories Using Art and Play: PART 2 – Stories in Shadow

Is Doodling Snoozing?

I was supposed to be writing my blog…………I blame it on the trolls. It all started with Cousin Troll and then a couple of his friends joined in. The Guardian recently featured a hilarious step by step guide to drawing a troll by Adam Stower children’s author of Grumbug (published 1 Jun 2015 by Templar Publishing). It had me hooked. It was meant for the kids but I couldn’t resist. So I grabbed the boy’s felt tip pens (hence the sketchy colouring) and brought these little creatures to life. It was a huge amount of fun. Give it a try!

The Trolls

A mere glance at my friendly trolls and the trained (even untrained) eye can see that I’m not an illustrator…….but I do love to doodle. Flowers, trees and cubes are my preferred doodles. I doodle on notepads, calendars, school letters, receipts, printer paper and even bills….especially bills! Furniture and books not so much of course.

For the most part doodling has been seen as a form of day dreaming. I certainly remember it as something to be reprimanded for in school. Yet is it truly a sign of a lack of concentration? Or is it a way for the brain to relax and let thoughts develop and creativity to take hold? I doodle mostly when I’m toying with new ideas for my books but am not sure which way to take them. It serves as a pause in the typing and a rest for the frown lines. I’m not even sure if I’m thinking about anything at all as I doodle my way through the fog but it feels good and leaves me with a sense of calm.

Psychologists have studied the doodling phenomena and have come up with some surprising results. Apparently instead of distracting the mind it helps to focus it (see Doodling Your Way to a More Mindful Life by Cathy Malchiodi). It’s an outlet for generating creative ideas (5 Big Benefits of Being a Doodler, The Huffington Post), it’s a stress reliever. I can certainly appreciate the healing benefits of stepping away from the manic rush of every day life from time to time in favour of some subconscious scribbling but I’m even more intrigued as to how doodling can help our children’s literacy.

Have you ever been presented with a scrappy piece of paper by your child and found yourself looking at random squiggles and tried to tactfully ask what the picture’s called in the vague hope it would shed some light on the ideas behind such a masterpiece? Literacy Development: The Importance of Doodling by Anna Ranson and guest blogger Kate describes several benefits of mark making for preschoolers as an early sign of communication which helps them to understand the connection between the people and objects around them and these lines and symbols written on paper. When children learn to write they enjoy colouring in letters, making patterns on them and embellishing them. It helps to imprint the letter formation in the child’s mind. Is this not their version of doodling? The physical and mental benefits of doodling suggest it is a valuable creative learning tool and a calming memory aid (The Cognitive Benefits of Doodling by Steven Heller). These are skills required to learn how to read so I can’t help wondering whether doodling is an undervalued subject in the school curriculum (Learning science through reading, writing…..and doodling by Laura Guertin) – although I’d probably need to do some doodling first to fathom out how exactly it could aid the teaching of reading!

Well doodling some trolls has certainly inspired me to write this blog, even if it wasn’t what I’d originally set out to write……but isn’t that the marvel of creativity where you can start down one route and often end up on another?

Please give my trolls some names and maybe use them as a story starter this summer – but make sure you squeeze in a spot of doodling to get those creative ideas flowing!


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Make Your Own Holiday Journal

Make Your Own Holiday Journal

Encouraging writing over the summer holidays is no easy task but there are subtle ways to try and slip in a little extra practise without it being boring or too obvious. The children are on holiday so we don’t want to be devising a full lesson plan! Like us they need a break so just gather a few ideas suitable for a quiet day at home or holiday travel. The trick is a little at a time and keeping it as varied as possible.

A holiday journal is a good way to help children focus on what is happening around them and learn how to put their observations into writing. This journal isn’t just about filling the pages with endless sentences though; it’s about the children collecting together their thoughts, memorabilia, opinions, photos, drawings, likes and dislikes. It’s a memory keeper of a moment in your child’s life, through their own eyes.  They could use it to record highlights from their school holidays or as a day to day update on a special holiday away. Gently encourage them to add to it most days but give them free reign to complete it with as much or as little as they wish to avoid it becoming a chore.

You could buy a small journal for this purpose but they are far more likely to want to put something in it if you let them make one themselves. A homemade journal somehow feels more precious so making the inside look as good as the outside becomes just as important. For ideas on what to include I’ve designed some simple writing prompts to insert in the journal too.

For ours we used cut outs from old comics, cereal box card for the covers, 20 sheets of white A4 paper for the pages inside and coloured elastic to bind.

Step 1: Fold the 20 sheets of white A4 paper individually in half and pile one on top of the other.

Summer Journal 1

Step 2: Cut out two oblong shapes from the cereal boxes approx. 22×15.5cm each.

Summer Journal 10

Step 3: Stick the paper and decorations on with glue and wait to dry.

Step 4: Print this writing prompts page out and stick it inside the front cover of your holiday journal.

My Holiday Journal

Step 5: Place the front cover decorated side up and the back cover decorated side down.

Summer Journal 3

Step 6: Punch equally spaced holes down the left side of the front and back covers.

Step 7: Punch the same sequence of holes down the fold side of each A4 sheet.

My Summer Journal 6

Step 8: Collate your journal covers and pages by lining up the holes on each side.

Step 9: Thread short pieces of coloured elastic through the corresponding holes and tie in a double knot or bow.

My Summer Journal 7

Summer Journal 4

Step 10: Repeat until all holes are securely tied and cut any loose threads.

My Summer Journal 2

For our penguin journal we stuck on scraps of tissue paper in a decoupage style with free penguin picture downloads. Lovingly made by my youngest who wouldn’t let me trim the edges as it’s all part of the look apparently!

My Summer Journal 3

To make the animal themed journal we simply covered it with zebra striped paper.

My Summer Journal 1

So simple but effective and relatively quick.

Other ways to encourage writing over the summer holidays are sending postcards to friends, cousins or grandparents. One sentence is enough for each card to describe their exciting holiday adventures.

Last week I reviewed some activity books which are also a fantastic way of getting children to write a little and have fun at the same time. It can be anything from filling in a crossword, adding a speech bubble to completing missing information or describing a superhero. If they are enjoying the challenges illustrated in the activity book they won’t even notice they are writing!

We might want to limit the use of the many electronic devices over the holidays, but don’t forget that keeping in touch with friends by email can also contribute to maintaining their writing skills. It may not physically involve writing but sending an email still helps comprehension and sentence structure to a certain degree.

If you like this, you may want to try some of my other fun writing prompts too.

Children’s Activity Books for Holiday Travel

Once again the summer holidays are rushing towards us and some of you may even have already broken up. Where did that year go? If you’re like me this is when I start to frantically search for things to keep my boys out of summer time mischief in the hope that the holidays will be a pleasure for all of us and not a seemingly endless nightmare. So this week I’ve reviewed some fantastic children’s activity books currently on the market which are ideal to explore at home on a rainy day or tuck into the holiday suitcase to take the boredom out of travelling.

Eye BendersClive Gifford (author) & Professor Anil Seth (author). Publisher: Ivy Press (28 Oct. 2013).

This is an intriguing book for any curious child (or adult!) which illustrates clever examples of the power of illusion for the reader to test out themselves. This book generated repeated “WOW’s” and “EPIC” from my boys and kept them occupied for hours! They were totally absorbed in it.

CLICK TO BUY Eye Benders: The Science of Seeing & Believing

Infographics for Kids Activity Book – Susan Martineau (author) & Vicky Barker (illustrator). Publisher: b small publishing (1 Apr. 2015).

Infographics are fast becoming a popular informative design technique. This is a fantastic book for the visual thinker. Designed as an introduction for children on how simple, colourful pictorial images can be used as a useful memory aid for instructions and information. It is original, informative and fun with activities about people and the world around us as well as explaining how to read an infographic and how to make your own.

CLICK TO BUY Infographics for Kids

The Super Book for Superheroes – Jason Ford (author). Publisher: Laurence King (23 Sept. 2013).

Enter this book and “all you need are some pencils and pens and your very own super power……. ………your IMAGINATION! “

You can’t get a better quote than that! (Taken from the above book by Jason Ford).

This is an ideal book to help your child come up with the next best Superhero. It encourages character development; from designing their super powers and outfits to their sidekicks, secret hideouts and impressive gadgets with step by step drawing instructions, drawing prompts, pop-out masks and stickers too.

CLICK TO BUY The Super Book for Super-Heroes

How to be the Best Bubble Writer in the World Ever!  – Linda Scott (author). Publisher: Laurence King; Act Csm ed. (31 May 2011).

This is an earlier version of Linda Scott’s latest activity books “My Monster Bubble Writer Book” (published May 2013) and “My Amazing Bubble Writer Stationery Kit” (published Oct 2013) but in my opinion it’s still worth a mention in this line up. It teaches the children to experiment with typefaces taking inspiration from animals, monsters and even facial features giving a whole new meaning to creative writing! It shows how to take something seemingly mundane and simple and transform it into something new and more exciting. Creativity at its best!

CLICK TO BUY How to Be the Best Bubblewriter in the World, Ever!

Amazing Minecraft Activity Book – Gameplay Publishing; Minecraft Library (authors). Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform; Act Csm ed. (13 Jan. 2015).

This is what you would expect from an activity book with the much loved dot-to-dots, word searches, spot the difference, crosswords and mazes and plenty of pictures to colour too – of course all with that all important Minecraft theme. Hard to resist for those mad about Minecraft!

CLICK TO BUY Amazing Minecraft Activity Book: Volume 1

Scratch and Sketch Solar System – Heather Zschock (author). Publisher: Peter Pauper Press; Spi ed. (1 Feb. 2006).

This book is packed with written information about the planets, space shuttles, asteroids, comets and constellations within our solar system. Each page has a scratch out picture to reveal and a space to draw your own ideas at the end. A super book for budding astronauts or astronomers.

CLICK TO BUY Solar System Scratch and Sketch: An Art Activity Book for Inquisitive Artists and Astronauts of All Ages (Scratch & Sketch)

Holiday Pocket Puzzle Book – Alex Frith (author) & Peter Allen (illustrator). Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd (1 Jun. 2013).

Pocket sized is always a help when packing space is limited! The blurb on the back of this little book says “mazes, picture puzzles, wordsearches, number problems and much, much, more.” The key here is the “much, much, more” part! It gets the children to follow clues, break codes, to consider perspective and consequences. It is very well thought out with something suitable for all ages.

CLICK TO BUY Holiday Pocket Puzzle Book (Pocket Puzzle Books)

Write and Draw Your Own Comics – Louie Stowell (author), Jess Bradley (illustrator), Neill Cameron (illustrator), Freya Harrison (illustrator), Laura Howell (illustrator), Adam Larkum (illustrator) & Igor Sinkovek (illustrator). Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd (1 Oct. 2014).

Graphic art and comic design is a specialised skill as it combines so many aspects of story creation. From making up characters, drawing them in action mode, showing how to incorporate speech bubbles and sound effects, pulling together the plot, highlighting good vs. bad and exciting adventure, this book has it all. Follow this book’s creative and clear instructions and you will be well on your way to becoming a comic artist. This could be the ideal book to encourage reluctant creative writers.

CLICK TO BUY Write and Draw Your Own Comics

Paper Play – Lydia Crook (author). Publisher: Ivy Press (7 May 2013).

My two boys love origami and cutting and sticking paper shapes onto their masterpieces so armed with scissors, pens and glue sticks this book made the perfect addition to their craft box. It got them ripping, tearing, folding, scrunching, spinning, layering, snipping. They made paper dolls, tricks, planes, bookmarks and towns. A piece of paper can be so much more if you want it to be.

CLICK TO BUY Paper Play: Roll it. Rip it. Fold it. Snip it!

Maps Activity Book – Aleksandra Mizielinska (author) & Daniel Mizielinski (author). Publisher: Big Picture Press (1 Jul. 2014).

This is not like the school geography lessons I remember! This is far more engaging with interesting facts and inventive ideas to draw and colour, from the animals, population, places, food and landscape of different countries to designing your own flag or creating a map of an imaginary country. By making learning interactive the facts become so much easier to remember.

CLICK TO BUY Maps Activity Book

I’d be hard pushed to name my favourite from this varied selection so hopefully there’s something here for everyone.

Source: Own collection.


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Writing Rituals

Could you write a children's book in two

I always think that writing is a very individual task and I’m not just talking about the solitary side to being a writer, I’m talking about the chosen writing place, the method and the time taken to perfect! Everyone has their own way of constructing their thoughts and putting them on paper. I like to call it the writing rituals. For me, I prefer to just start writing and see where it takes me but I can never be done with it and leave it there. I can’t help myself! I have to go back and rewrite, make cuts, change words, the order of sentences; in fact this is undoubtedly the lengthiest part for me.

Up until the other week, I assumed that I was not unlike most writers in this respect as surely we have to accept that there will always be improvements to be made on the initial draft. However, having read a short article in the July edition of Writing Magazine – I am beginning to doubt this is the case! The article I refer to is about Emma Cox the winner of the New Children’s Author Prize launched by Bloomsbury and the National Literacy Trust in 2014.

So firstly, I’d genuinely like to congratulate Emma Cox as I always love hearing about new authors to the industry as it not only gives me hope and determination to get there myself but also the opportunity to read something new and original and keep up to date with what’s emerging.

However, the article was about how Emma wrote the winning entry in a mere two weeks!


I’m sitting here shaking my head in utter despair, still feeling my pain from the days of pulled out hair! How could this be? Maybe she is a speed typist or perhaps she never sleeps! No, I’m convinced she must be psychic so she knew exactly what the judges were looking for even before the competition was announced! The seeming impossibility of it is becoming overwhelming! Is this the kind of super human talent I have to compete with? For all those people out there that think writing a children’s book is easy, this particular article in Writing Magazine is not helping!

So yes I had my rant about how belittling this is to the rest of the children’s writing industry………and then I got over it and moved on!

After all, it may have simply been a passing comment to a standard question on Emma’s part so sadly she might end up regretting ever mentioning it. How many reviewers are now going to be that little bit more critical from assuming it was written in a hurry? It’s a bit like selling a priceless painting for fifty pence!

I do believe there is a certain skill to entering writing competitions. Writing to a deadline can feel pretty restricting at times. Due to my meticulous approach to writing I’ve only entered one competition so far and even then I instantly regretted it. No sooner had I submitted I spotted a spelling error and my heart sank on realising it was a million miles from my usual style of writing. I felt I’d kept it too conservative and let myself down in the rush to submit. I’ll have to put that one down to experience and good practice!

It turns out Emma is Head of English at Exeter Cathedral School so it’s likely she had many ideas dancing around in her head long before she sat down to write it and obviously has a good grasp of grammar not to mention a life-long love of reading and writing. It proves that if you want to be a good writer, keep reading!

I for one am intrigued to read Malkin Moonlight to find out for myself which aspects of her writing enchanted the judges so much.