An Open Book


The other week a notification popped up on my WordPress account which announced I’d published my 100th blog! I was gobsmacked. I never thought I’d have so much to say. It felt good that I’d reached this milestone but it also poked at some mixed emotions I’d rather ignore.

Since I started writing for children so many people have mentioned that they too have a book inside them that they want to write. Some have been nudged into action; some have done nothing whilst others have built a list of excuses. At some point in my life I’ve done all three and continue to do so on some level but I’m convinced that all the emotions I encounter as I try to realise my ambitions are being felt everywhere in the world in some form or other. You may not have that hankering to be a writer but perhaps you’re setting up a new marshmallow making business or about to host the biggest beauty event you’ve ever attempted or dipping out of the corporate life to become a painter. Whatever it is for you, be prepared to be bombarded with emotions.

My writing journey is a continuous leap into the unknown full of surprises and disappointments, twists and turns. I’m already beginning to see that it’s not a simple question of getting from A to B, the path can branch off into many uncharted locations with little or no signposts to indicate which way is the right direction.

“Explore as many opportunities as you can” I hear the experts say.

“See where they take you” they encourage.

So when My Trending Stories contacted me with a blogging opportunity I decided to take the plunge and join this new community of wordaholics. It’s already exploding with mind-melting articles so I saw it as a chance for me to blog about the raw side of how it feels to try something new and follow your heart, the bits we don’t talk about so much, the feelings which go hand in hand with the bumpy path of turning aspiration into reality.

It’s not just a blog about my writing career, it’s a blog about human emotion, perseverance and anyone dealing with change and looking to try out something new. I’ve posted up a couple of blogs already so head over to An Open Book if you or anyone you know is in a similar position and looking for some ideas on how to magnify the good feelings and get beyond the bad feelings when trying to achieve their dream.

#BFCB #BooksForChildrenBlog


Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – Part 1: Emotions

There are certain aspects of life which we’re never taught about in school. It’s the things we tend to stumble our way through, across, over and under as we rack up the years of our lives. Some may say that’s how we grow and learn and gain wisdom but if only there had been a few more sign posts along the way when we were children, just to give us a hint and point us in the right direction, perhaps the path would have shown us a very different view. Today as the first part of a short series of blogs I’ll be writing, I’m reviewing the picture book called Emotionary: Say What You Feel which helps to explain the confusing, involuntary and intangible subject of emotions.

Understanding Emotions

Emotions are an essential part of what it means to be human. If listened to, emotions can make us aware of what we’re thinking and feeling about any given situation through the corresponding physical and mental reactions which manifest. Being aware of our emotions can give us the power to take control of our own lives rather than being at the mercy of seemingly involuntary reactions. Emotions can often appear irrational and illogical so understanding and accepting them can elude many of us for most of our lives. After all it’s only the reaction to the emotion which can be captured in a lab and put on display. The emotion itself is something far less tangible with its intuitive and instinctive state.

However, understanding how we feel is still only the start of the journey. What about expressing those feelings to others? How are we supposed to translate these illusive feelings into words? Although I’ve always been very aware of my own feelings for people and situations, throughout my life at times I’ve struggled to voice the feelings most important to me in ways in which others can clearly understand. It’s something I’ve had to learn over the years through tears, misunderstandings and heartache and not something which has come naturally. Any words expressed out loud suddenly seemed inadequate for the emotions I was feeling, like hollow voids preparing to be impregnated with misinterpretation but I’ve come to realise that a good writer or speaker is someone who can embody any amount of emotion into each empty sound or mechanically printed word. Perhaps that’s how we capture the magic of writing. I’m never quite sure if my fascination with words and writing was born in part from this desire and need to coherently express my feelings or whether I recognised that my love of words and writing was the tool I could use to express my feelings. I’m pretty sure the former had a strong influence but the lines are blurred.

Book Review on Emotionary: Say What You Feel by authors Cristina Nunez and Rafael R. Valcarcel.


What’s it all about?

As the title suggests Emotionary is a dictionary of emotions and without a doubt it does what it says. A total of forty-two emotions to be exact are explained and illustrated in this beautiful book. The explanations include positive and negative emotions including fear, embarrassment, admiration and compassion for example with each emotion having been assigned a two page spread, mostly taken up with original illustrative interpretations which are complemented by the poignant text.

Emotionary helps children to recognise and understand their feelings by describing each emotion and providing the vocabulary to express those feelings to others. I wish I’d had a book like this as a child. Each emotion can be read randomly but when read from page to page the authors have also cleverly linked the emotions to show a cycle of feelings and how one can lead to another.

Which age group is it aimed at?

The text is by no means simple and the explanations are often profound as the book doesn’t hesitate to deal with some complex emotions. Whilst it captured my six year old’s attention and both boys loved making requests as to which emotions I read out first, my nine year old undoubtedly gained more from it due to his increased vocabulary. I ended up reading the whole book with him in one evening as he didn’t want to stop. As such my recommendation would be eight years upwards (and yes this can include adults) as this is not only when feelings become far more confusing for children as they begin to realise that everything is not as black and white as they may have once thought but they’re also at an age when they’re wanting to make sense of their emotions and are better equipped to comprehend the explanations. However that said, this book prompted many questions from both boys and both were keen to acknowledge which emotions they could relate to and when they had experienced them.


Every child’s shelf should hold this book so they can refer to it whenever they feel lost and need some reassurance that what they’re feeling is perfectly normal and understandable.

My 9 year olds verdict: This book has “very descriptive text and imaginative pictures. This book makes me feel pleasure.”

Author/s: Cristina Nunez and Rafael R. Valcarcel.

Illustrators: Twenty two illustrators have collaborated to illustrate this book, depicting one or two emotions each so listing all of them is sadly not practical (view image for all attributions) but my personal favourites are Love by Maricel Rodriguez Clark, Relief and Embarrassment by Nella Gatica, Compassion by Nancy Brajer, Insecurity by Virginia Pinon, Acceptance by Josefina Wolf, Envy by Cynthia Orensztajn, Satisfaction by Tofi and Pleasure by Luciana Feito.

Publisher: Palalbras Aladas (2016)

Our Rating: 5 out of 5

CLICK TO BUY Emotionary: Say what you feel

Next week in PART 2 I will be reviewing a book to teach the art of visualisation to children.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 2: Visualisation.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 3: Positive Thinking.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 4: Overcoming Fears.


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The Picture Book Melody

Four Ways to Explore Picture Books With Music.

I’ve discovered that when I’m working on my picture books no matter how hard I try, my initial ideas always insist on clinging onto some sort of melody. When I say that, I don’t necessarily mean every sentence rhymes, it is more that the rhythm or patter of each word is in sync or that the internal words within the sentence or letters within a word rhyme. My brain just seems to require the sentence to flow lyrically for it to make sense. This might sound impressive but in fact sometimes it makes it appear awkward or overwritten in places and be incredibly annoying when writing a book in prose! However I’ve come to accept that it’s my way of writing – the first part of my process if you like. Invariably everything I write always gets adjusted, re-written, printed out, scribbled on, re-typed, torn up, re-printed, maybe ten, twenty even thirty times or more. Probably not the most environmentally friendly way of working! These changes usually involve taking out the noise, simplifying it and trying to pin point that all important beautifully crafted sentence that looks like I wrote it in two seconds! Writing is melodic. We can use short, sharp staccato sentences to create drama or long, slow sounding words to pace suspense. There have been various studies and articles regarding the positive effects of music on reading and language ability so I’ve put together four fun and interactive ways of combining the two to help our little ones recognise the music in language.

Farmyard JamboreeSinging: Song picture books combine a story with singing. They are usually accompanied by the CD of the song written and illustrated as a story. The announcement of Pharrell Williams’ picture book called “Happy” has got to be up amongst the most exciting examples of this and soon to be published in September 2015. However one of my first favourites was The Farmyard Jamboree by Margaret Read McDonald (author) & Sophie Fatus (illustrator). Children naturally enjoy making up songs as part of their expression through pretend play. By first hearing the words spoken and then sung the children can learn to repeat them as an enjoyable and memorable sequence. A study in 1997 by Jalongo & Ribblett showed that song picture books encourage better reading, writing and music development (reference: Jeehea Baek’s published dissertation, 2009, p15). Here is a list of the Goodreads song picture book recommendations.

Written music: Combine a simple demonstration of the relationship between sounds and written music, with the sounds of written words in a rhyming picture book. Books with rhyming verse have become an increasingly popular choice with children and parents. It is often their lyrical predictability that makes them seem easier to read and more pleasing to the ear. Poetry and rhyme are the written word’s equivalent to music and have many characteristics in common such as syllables providing the beat and stress patterns. Rhyme focuses the children on how words sound; whether the word is long or short sounding for example, it helps the children to recognise the similarities in groups of words and isolate one word sound from another when spoken. Engaging with rhyme helps children identify with the words phonetically (see The Benefit of Rhymes from Bookstart). Maracas

Percussion Instruments: Getting to grips with emotions is one of the toughest things a child has to learn. In fact very few of us as adults have completely mastered this one! Introducing the use of percussion instruments with picture books is a fantastic way of exploring and understanding the feelings words and stories can evoke. By talking about the emotions expressed in a book, children can be asked to demonstrate these feelings with their instruments by shaking, blowing, tapping, strumming, plucking at different speeds, beats and pitches. This helps them associate the word with the experience. A greater understanding of what words mean can make them easier to remember and use.

Maracas image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at

Girl JumpingActions and Dance: By reading picture books and encouraging children to dramatize the story to music using related actions and dance movements, the children are able to identify the pattern, rhythm and length of sound in words by jumping, clapping, stamping and tapping, flowing or swaying. They are able to act out verbs like looking, stretching and walking, hopping, riding and make silly faces to express emotions. Girl jumping image courtesy of stockimages at Please take a look at these other articles about the benefits of music on reading.

Music Lessons Were the Best thing Your Parents Ever Did for You by Tom Barnes. Science Daily – Music Education Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills. BBC News – Musical Training Can Improve Language and Reading.