Gabby valentines — download, print and send!

Valentines are great for getting kids interacting with words–even simple ones like “Be my valentine.”

Illustrator Jan Dolby has created these lovely valentines featuring the characters from our Gabby picture book series.

Just click on the image to download and then print them on your colour printer. Enjoy–and Happy Valentine’s Day!

2016 Gabby Valentine's day cards (FINAL)Click on the image or click here to download:

Gabby Valentine’s Day cards 2016

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Guest Post: Write a book with your child

Jack By Nicole Plyler Fisk

If you want to get a kid reading, get him writing. A great way to do that? Create a story with your child. Even better? Self-publish it. It sounds hard, but if you’re at all book-y, it can be a simple and fun process. Here’s how:

1) Brainstorm

Talk with your child about their interests — those things that make them unique — and make a list of fun combinations. See the photo above? That’s my son Jack, circa 2013, resplendent in his pirate hat and Thomas the Train tattoos. What if, I asked him, a pirate family had a train instead of a ship? Coolest book idea ever, Jack said.

2) Research

Once you have your book idea, you need to research it to find some cool facts that can be peppered through your story. Google is your friend. We typed in “gem hunting, usa” and voila! Thank you, Jamie Pearson, for “Top Seven Places To Go Gem Hunting On Your Next Family Vacation.” With one click, we had something my son was interested in reading; the setting for seven pirate train books—and a list of future Fisk family vacation destinations!

3) Write

4) Illustrate

Maybe your kid wants to illustrate his own book. If not, consider hiring an illustrator. This requires research (see: your friend, Google). Commission some samples, and let your kid help with both choosing the illustrator and writing instructions for the illustrations.

5) PublishThe Pirate Train cover

Thank you twenty-first century and self-publishing sites like for making this as easy as uploading a document file.

6) Read it (over and over and over again) with your child

Introducing our book: The Pirate Train. A book that your child wrote himself will be read so many times you won’t even believe it.

Your biggest problem?  Selling enough copies/making enough money to do it again… times seven.

Nicole PlNicole Fisk headshotyler Fisk has a PhD in English (“Dissertation on the Brontë sisters, anyone?”) and homeschools her two children, Jack and Arina. She and Jack created The Pirate Train last year and are working on more books in the series. Visit her website at Here’s a link to an online reading of the book.

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Get your kid reading, they will! The Star Wars Jedi Academy series

Jedi Academy coversWith the new movie just out, Star Wars fever has probably gripped your kid. Use that force — for good — and hook your kid on reading with Star Wars, Jedi Academy, written and illustrated by Jeffrey Brown.

There are lots of truly awful Star Wars fan-fictiony books out there. This series is not one of those–it’s very, very good. In fact, I recommend that you read it, as well.

The stories revolve around a boy named Roan Novachez, “who is destined to attend Pilot Academy Middle School and become the GREATEST star pilot in the GALAXY. Until everything went TOTALLY and COMPLETELY WRONG…” That’s a direct quote from the Star Wars-esque opening credits of the book. Very fun.

What goes wrong? Well, the pilot academy turns Roan down for the career he’s been planning for his entire life. However, somehow an instructor named Master Yoda gets hold of Roan’s application and invites him to attend the Jedi Academy because:

“Strong in you, the Force is–Jedi you may be. Much potential, you have. Good to teach you, it will be!”Jedi Academy illos

The books are illustrated and written as though in a kid’s journal, much like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which means that they’ll also appeal to kids who love that series as well.

There are at least a couple of other books (I’m not sure how many–possibly three), which you can purchase on here; they retail for $13.99. I read the second book, Return of the Padawan, and it was just as wonderfully quirky and funny as the first one.  The author’s websites are here and here and his Goodreads author page is here.

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Elmo will get your kid reading

20c87071-8197-42cc-b5c6-e5f0cc492a8d._V313956058_I’ve been testing out Elmo’s on-the-go Letters, a new addition to Hasbro’s holiday line-up.

This is a very simple toy, very old school. No electronics to be found here, but I also believe that It is one of the better literacy toys that I have seen lately.

It is just a plastic briefcase with the letters of the alphabet in it. The letters snap in. There is also a space at the bottom-right for children to make words with the letters.

The letters are quite difficult to snap out, even for me. A toddler would most likely not be able to get them out on their own, an adult would do it for him/her. But there’s an upside — it means that there won’t be letters strewn over the house, or lost pieces (kind of critical for an alphabet).

Kinesthetic learning (learning by touching) is a great way for kids to learn words.

The letters come in a bright red, plastic “briefcase” with Elmo on it. It is a very durable case too–I put about half my weight on it without it really making any sound, or breaking. The briefcase is hard to open, and it would be an impossible feat for a young child to open it, which means that they might be begging mommy or daddy to open it for them, which might be a problem.

All-in-all, this toy is excellent for any child who is starting to learn basic words and is starting to be taught how to form them.

Going to give this one four and a half out of five stars.

(Note: Hasbro sent me this toy to review but I haven’t been paid for this review and wouldn’t have reviewed it if I didn’t like the toy or didn’t think that it had a good literacy application.)

Price: Approx. $35.

Recommended age: 2-4

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New HP illustrated edition

Illustrator Jim Kay has given the Harry Potter series yet another boost, with his gorgeous illustrations. What do you think of the new Harry?

This CBC article includes a flip-through sample of some of the pages.

HP illustrated editions

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Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt

Bug in a VacuumThe author of the hugely popular Scaredy Squirrel has written and illustrated a beautiful new book that kids will love—and better yet, parents will enjoy reading over and over again to their children.

One of the things about reading kids picture books is that it can get tiring. And boring. And repetitive. And that often makes parents say, “Let’s look at a different book!”

But kids get a lot out of reading the same book over and over again. (I won’t bore you with the science, but trust me, reading and re-reading the same book over and over boosts literacy. If you don’t believe me, here’s an article about it.)

With Bug in a Vacuum, Mélanie Watt manages to appeal not just to the children, but to adults as well. Ostensibly, it’s a book about a bug who gets sucked up by a vacuum. The bug goes through a bunch of emotional stages (despair, acceptance, etc.) before finally getting out.

And therein lies the interest for adults. Kids will enjoy the poor bug, stuck in the dusty, dirty vacuum. Parents will enjoy the scientifically-based “five emotional stages.” Here’s another scholarly article for ya. There are lots of inside jokes that will go right over kids’ heads, but there’s also tons of stuff that kids will find interesting and fun as well, including puns that you can explain to them (like the two meanings of “vacuum,” for instance.)

bug in a vacuum denial


The pictures are glorious. Lush, rich and packed with inside jokes and little things to find. The text is minimal. And boy, are there a lot of pages! You’re certainly getting value for your money with this one! At 96 pages, it’s three times as long as the average picture book, which is 32 pages. (I did the math for you—you’re welcome.)

Bug in a Vacuum, written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt, Published by Tundra, 5-9 years old (and, I would add, adults), $24.99—a bit pricey but remember, three times as long.

Here’s the cute book trailer for Bug in a Vacuum.



And, just in case you’re interested, visit this page on the Scientific American website to get some instructions (completely unrelated to this book or, in fact, this post) to create a “bug vacuum.” Fun.

Bug vacuum experiment

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Great online word game: Words Warrior

Words Warrior captureThis is a wonderful game that hits all the right notes: reading, strategic thinking and fun. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning–plus, it’s not lame (if you’ve ever played an online game that’s “good for you,” you’ll see how important that is, and how rare).

You use your computer’s arrow keys to move your knight across the sentences, reading as you go.

Each sentence contains clues as to what’s up ahead–for instance, a vampire–as well as tools to help you overcome the monsters and problems. For instance, pick up the bridge to span the gap before you fall into it.

Even better, your character can’t win right off the bat. He’ll have to discover and be defeated a few times, before you can figure out which words will help you succeed. So good.

Play Words Warrior here (via Bonte Games).


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Great summer kids’ book series

In the sSummer Seriesummer, kids often read less. Get them interested in a great book series, though, and they’ll be hooked because the characters and setting will be familiar to them. They’ll look forward to seeing what their favourite characters are getting up to next!

Here are some wonderful Canadian kidlit summer series recommended by YA author Angela Misri on CBC Radio’s Fresh Air.


For more information about these great books:
Giraffe and Bird
Discovering Words
Scaredy Squirrel

Scott Pilgrim
Neil Flambe
Jewel of the Thames (A Portia Adams Adventure)
Between Heaven and Earth
The Starling Series
The Night Has Teeth
The Agency
I Am Canada
What Kills Me
Strange Times at Western High



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Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom

Super Hair-o and the Barber of DoomIf you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I love superhero books.

They’re a great substitute for comics, which kids love but which can be a bit too mature for some really young kids.

Here’s a wonderful book. It’s about a kid whose superpowers are in jeopardy when his parents make him get a haircut.

It’s quirky and fun and wonderfully illustrated. Great story, great pictures–your superhero will love it.

By John Rocco, illustrated by… oh geez, this guy’s talented… John Rocco. Oh crap, I just found his website and he’s apparently also the guy who illustrates Rick Riordan’s books. So yeah, he’s talented. (Can I pick ’em? Maybe that’s my superpower. Yay!)


Here are some other great superhero books.

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Three things to get your kid reading

49th shelf logoICYMI, here’s a post I wrote awhile back for the wonderful reading website, 49th Shelf.

I talk about the three “must-dos” to create a life-long reader. They still hold true.

Raising a Reader: my guest post on 49th Shelf.


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