Should there be messages/morals in children’s books?

Growing bookworks 2

The idea that children’s picture books should contain a strong moral or message seems to be very popular among authors of books for young people. This notion probably emanates from parents and caregivers who are of the view that books are a tool for instructing their young, especially in our modern world of so many more risks to the welfare our children than ever before.

This idea does, however, always bring to my mind the lyrics of the song, A British Nanny sung by David Tomlinson, from the original movie of Mary Poppins:

“A British nanny must be a general!
The future empire lies within her hands
And so the person that we need to mold the breed
Is a nanny who can give commands!
Mr Banks: Are you getting this Winifred?
Mrs Banks: Oh yes dear, every word
A British bank is run with precision
A British home requires nothing less!
Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools
Without them – disorder!
Catastrophe!
Anarchy – In short you have a ghastly mess!”

This is an amusing song and you can listen to it here:

The idea of a story or picture book containing a message is not a bad one. It is very much about how the message is presented in the story that will decide whether the book appeals to children or not. After all, children’s writers want to write books that children want to read again and again, not books that their parents think they should read.

My own children have taught me that children run a mile when they think that a book contains an overt moral or message. With this in mind, how then can a parent or caregiver select a book that both teaches and entertains?

Firstly, what the reader will takeaway from the story should be considered. It is not necessary to write out a moral at the end of a tale in the manner of Aesop’s Fables, the message can be subtle, for example, a polluted river that poisons a river or lake and results in all the fish and water creatures dying and the resolution of that predicament by cleaning up the river and preventing future contamination of the water. Children will understand the message without it being spelled out for them.

Some other tips for choosing books that will entertain as well as teach children are as follows:

  1. Make sure that the book is character driven with memorable characters that make the reader care about them. For example in Heidi by Johanna Spyri, the author makes the reader really care about Heidi, Clara and even Grandfather as he changes from a grumpy old man into a tender caregiver. I can remember crying when Heidi goes away from Grandfather to live with Clara in the city;
  2. The language and voice of the story should be suitable for a child and should be interesting and fun. The idea of family members all helping each other and their parents is strongly conveyed in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series of books through the expectations of the parents and the behavior of, and awareness of their family dynamics by, the children;
  3. Showing and not telling is another essential ingredient to a good children’s story. I think Roald Dahl is a master and demonstrating exactly where unkind and selfish behavior gets you in life, think of the fate of the two aunts in James and the Giant Peach or the Twits from the book of the same name.

What do you think about children’s books that contain messages? Should they be subtle or overt? Let me know in the comments.

About Robbie Cheadle

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Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.

I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. I also have three short stories in Death Among Us, a collection of short murder mystery stories by 10 different authors and edited by Stephen Bentley. These short stories are all published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books


Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s Growing Bookworms segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


A children’s picture book literary tasting

Growing bookworks 2

This month on Writing to be Read, I thought it would be fun to do a children’s picture book literary tasting to give readers an opportunity to sample short extracts from some wonderful children’s picture books. Interesting toddlers and small children in books and the written word lays the foundation for future readers and there is nothing like a great picture book to entice them into the book world.

Imagine you are at a picnic and the snippets in this post are delicious and varied food items.

Fondant art picnic

The wonderful Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss’ delightful rhyming verse picture books are the perfect reading material for small children and beginner readers. There is a lot of benefit to the sound and word repetitions in these books which is comforting and confident enhancing to children in this age and learning bracket.

Dr Seuss also includes messages about friendship, environmental friendliness and sharing in his books which can’t go amiss.

I see his books as the hamburgers at the picnic.

Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

And then I got mad.

I got terribly mad.

I yelled at the Lorax, “Now listen here, Dad!

All you do is yap-yap and say, Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!

Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you

I intend to go on doing just what I do!

And, for your information, you Lorax, I’m figgering on biggering

      and BIGGERING

                    and BIGGERING

                              and BIGGERING,

turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneeds

which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!

From The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. You can purchase all of Dr Seuss’ books here: Dr Seuss Amazon US

The creative Richard Scarry

Richard Scarry is an amazing artist and children’s book author. He is know for his brilliant artwork personification where pigs, dogs, hippos and other animals wear clothes and take the roles of humans in his fantasy world. His books are aimed at a variety of age groups from toddlers to young children and teach them about a variety of things such as their ABCs for the youngest age group to What do people do all day?, Cars and trucks and things that co and A day at the airport. My boys loved these books and listened to me read them over and over again.

Richard Scarry books are the French fries at the picnic.

Hardcover

“Ho! Ho! Ho! And who are you?” asks a 

great big fellow in red trousers. Mr Frumble

explains that he needs his skipickledoo

repaired so that he can get to the North Pole.

“Ho, ho, but you ARE at the North Pole!

I’m Santa Bear and these are all my helpers.”

Welcome!””

From The Night Before the Night Before Christmas! by Richard Scarry. You can buy all of Richard Scarry’s books here: Richard Scarry Amazon US

The artistic Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter wrote beautiful stories about the trails and tribulations of the small animals she had as pets and also studied during holidays to Scotland and the Lake District. The most famous of Beatrix Potter’s books is The Tale of Peter Rabbit. My personal favourites are The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, which features a hedgehog, and The Tale of Two Bad Mice, which features two naughty mice, Tom Thumb and his wife, Hunca Munca.

The Beatrix Potter books are the delicious cake at the picnic.

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Illustrated)

Hunca Munca tried every tin spoon in

turn; the fish was glued to the dish.

Then Tom Thumb lost his temper. He put

the ham in the middle of the floor, and hit it 

with the tongs and with the shovel – bang, bang,

smash, smash!

The ham flew all into pieces, for underneath the

shiny pain it was made of nothing but plaster!

From The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter. You can purchase all of Beatrix Potter’s books here: Beatrix Potter Amazon US

The fun Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul have teamed up to create the Winnie the Witch series of children’s picture books which feature a sweet and unconventional witch called Winnie and her sardonic cat named Wilbur. Winnie likes black and eats funny foods like batburghers, but Winnie has a heart of gold and is always trying to do nice things to impress and entertain the “little ordinaries” who attend the local primary school. Unfortunately, Winnie’s attempts to do conventional things always ends in disaster and Wilbur has to try to bail her out of her debacles. My son, Michael, and my two nephews loved these books and I read them many times to an attentive and fascinated audience. These books are more modern and include references to technology in the form of computers and mobile phones which appeals to modern children.

I see the Winnie the Witch books as the sweet and tempting cupcakes at the picnic.

Winnie turned around, and there behind her

was a great crowd of people. They were

running along the road towards her house.

***

They crowded into her garden

They took off their coats, their

hats, their boots, their gloves,

and their scarves.

***

They sat in the sunshine

They walked on Winnie’s flowers

They put orange peel on Winnie’s

grass. They paddled in Winnie’s pond.

From Winnie in Winter by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. You can buy all their books here: Valerie Thomas Amazon US

I hope you have enjoyed this literary tasting. See you next month.

About Robbie Cheadle

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Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books


Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s Growing Bookworms segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


The benefits of listening to audio books

Growing bookworks 2

I love listening to audio books. There is no better way, in my experience, to appreciate a good book than listening to it being read aloud by a skilled reader. I listen to approximately four audio books in a six week period, many of which are classic books.

My love of listening to stories started when I was a little girl, although audio books were few and far between then. I remember listening repeatedly to a cassette with four stories about a family’s adventures in the wild west of America which I was given as a birthday present. My father also bought me a couple of LP’s, including Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty, and I listened to these often.

During our music appreciation lessons at school, our teacher played us the audio books of Peter and the Wolf, a symphonic fairy tale for children, which comprises of a narrator telling a story while an orchestra illustrates it. The intention of this composition is to introduce children to the individual instruments of the orchestra and it did its job well for me, as listening to this story is one of my remembered highlights of my childhood and I have never forgotten the names of the various instruments and the sounds they made. If you are interested in listening to this brilliant story, you can find it here:

I also remember listening to the Sparky books at school. This series comprises of Sparky’s magic piano, Sparky’s magic echo, Sparky’s magic baton and Sparky and the talking train.  The magic of these stories is still readily available to me if I sit and conjure up my memories of listening to them as a child. The audio versions of these stories made a huge impact on me as I don’t remember any story that I read myself as vividly.

When my boys were small I searched for, and purchased, all of the Sparky stories and Peter and the wolf as audio books for them. We used to listen to them in the car when we traveled, together with an array of nursery rhyme CD’s. My boys grew to love music and both of them learned to play instruments. Michael still plays the drums and intends to learn the guitar as well.

Audio books are a wonderful way of teaching children to appreciate literature and also grammar. They enable children to learn and understand complex language above their own reading levels and illustrate the benefits in story telling of punctuation, enunciation and emphasis.

Audio books make literature more accessible to children who struggle with reading, giving them an opportunity to enjoy the text without struggle to decipher difficult text. It teaches children new words and phrases, thereby expanding their vocabularies. In addition, in a modern world of shortening concentration spans in children due to television and computer games, audio books teach children to sit and listen.

I used audio books extensively as a tool to help Michael learn to enjoy books and develop a love of reading. When Michael was four years old, I discovered Naxos Audio Books and I bought a significant number of these for Michael. We listened to non-fiction books, including Famous Heroes of the American West, The Vikings and Great Scientists and Their Discoveries, fairy tales, including Grimms’ Fairy Tales and fiction, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, New Treasure Seekers, The Phoenix and the Carpet, Five Children and It, The Children of the New Forest and The Coral Island. Amazingly, Michael loved The Children of the New Forest and The Coral Island and listened to them repeatedly during his bouts of illness.

I received Michael’s school report for the first half of the year recently and the teacher remarked on his excellent vocabulary and above average comprehension skills. I attribute his strength in these areas to all the audio books we listened to and all the reading aloud I did to him and his brother.

Did your children listen to audio books? If yes, did you experience these benefits? Let me know in the comments.

About Robbie Cheadle

IMG_9902

Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre and three short stories included in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories edited by award winning author, Stephen Bentley. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books


Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s Growing Bookworms segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Alternating reading with your child

Growing bookworks 2

When my son, Michael, was in Grade 2 at school we discovered that he had an audio processing problem and this was inhibiting his ability to read fluently. It took Michael longer to read a book or perform an activity in class than his peers and his teacher was concerned about his ability to cope in Grade 3. The work load increased significantly when the children moved from the pre-prep (ages 5 to 8 years) to the prep school (ages 9 to 13 years) and they needed to work faster in order to keep up.

I was more concerned about my son’s mental well-being and confidence. I had noticed that my little boy was becoming withdrawn and reserved. I took him for a series of test by a child psychologist and together we decided that Michael would benefit from a remedial school. We enrolled Michael at a good remedial school in Johannesburg the year he turned 9 years old. This was an excellent decision for all of us as the remedial teachers at the school also gave me a lot of advice about helping Michael to develop a love of reading despite his learning barrier. I desperately wanted Michael to love books and reading as much as I did so I was delighted to embrace their advice which was very successful for us.

One of the methods of assisting Michael with learning how to read faster and more fluently was for me to alternate reading paragraphs and pages with him. Michael would select a book of his choice. In the beginning it was always Winnie the Witch or Horrid Henry books. He would read one page and I would read three. I would help him when he got stuck with a word and sometimes read with him if a sentence was particularly complex. This method enabled Michael to enjoy the story and it moved along at a pace that was fast enough for him (and me) not to become frustrated and forget the beginning of the story before we reached the end. If the book Michael selected was a bit more difficult than usual, we would alternate reading paragraphs instead of whole pages to ensure that frustration didn’t set in with Michael. In this way he was able to read the occasional book that was above his reading level at the time.

I encouraged Michael during these early years of learning to read fluently, to choose books comprised of a few short stories rather than full length chapter books. Despite the alternating reading, chapter books took longer for us to read together and Michael would sometimes lose the thread of the story before we reached the end of the book.

We continued with alternating reading for two years until Michael’s reading was sufficiently fluent and well-paced for him to start reading entirely on his own.

During this two-year period, I also read to Michael every evening after we had finished the alternating reading. The books I read to Michael were more challenging books than the ones we read together, and they appealed to his sense of humour and adventurous spirit. Michael loved being read to and it taught him good concentration and listening skills which I believe will benefit him for the rest of his life.

Alternative reading is beneficial for all learning readers and can also help a strong reader with their word pronunciation and vocabulary enabling them to move on to more challenging books more quickly.

About Robbie Cheadle

IMG_9902

Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books


Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s Growing Bookworms segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Merry Christmas!: Welcoming Children’s Author Robbie Cheadle to the WtbR Team

Robbie Chaedle

Robbie Cheadle is a very creative mother, author and fondant artist, who thinks outside the box to find inventive solutions for life’s difficulties. I first met Robbie through Sonoran Dawn’s Dead Man’s Party Halloween book event, where I did a reading of her short horror story, The Willow Tree, via audio recording for the event. During her takeover, Robbie posted images of her delectable creations to promote her Sir Chocolate book series for children, which she wrote with her son, Michael. She uses these image of her baked creations as cover art and to illustrate the book series. I thought this was incredibly innovative, and I immediately wanted to know more about this woman, and it didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to add her to the WtbR team.

Robbie is my Christmas gift this year, as I’ve been searching for a children’s author to join the Writing to be Read team. So, starting in January, Robbie will be popping in the second Wednesday of each month with her new blog series on writing for children, Growing Bookworms. I can’t wait to see what she has to share with us, so let’s learn more about her.

Kaye: Your Sir Chocolate covers are photos of your own delectable desert creations, which is very creative. Which came first – the baking or the writing?

Robbie: I started with baking and fondant art quite a long time before we wrote the books, but pairing the two was an idea that only came later. I used to write poetry and descriptive passages as a tween and teenager. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery was my favourite book when I was a tween. Emily is a poetess in the book and her father is a writer. The book inspired me to write down my thoughts and feelings.

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Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey? How did the published works of Robbie Cheadle come to be?

Robbie: I never planned to become a published author when I first started writing the Sir Chocolate stories. My son, Michael, aged 6 years old at the time was having difficulties with learning to read and write. He was diagnosed with an auditory processing problem which made these activities difficult for him. He had the loveliest story ideas about a little man made of chocolate who lived in a land where you could eat anything, even the sand, trees and houses. In order to encourage him to write, I made up rhyming verse stories using his ideas. Together we wrote them down in handmade books.

I have always enjoyed fondant art and sometimes Michael would come and sit with me and make his own version of what I was making. We started making illustrations for the books by taking photographs of our creations. My nieces and nephews enjoyed the Sir Chocolate stories, so I tried them out with my Sunday school class of children. One of my friends at the Church suggested I send the stories and pictures to a friend of hers who is a publisher in the UK. Anne liked the stories and gave us a contract for the Sir Chocolate series of books.

Kaye: You talk about fondant art. I, for one had never heard of this. Could you explain briefly what fondant art is?

Robbie: Fondant is also called sugar dough and is an elastic type of icing, almost like modelling clay. This is the substance that cake bakers use to make figurines, flowers and other edible artworks for cakes. The items in the picture I emailed you are all made of fondant.

Silly Willy

Kaye: You’re the co-author, along with your son Michael of the Sir Chocolate book series for young readers. How did that partnership come about?

Robbie: Between the ages of 6 and about 9 years old, Michael and I continued to make up Sir Chocolate rhyming verse stories from time to time. We would be doing something like visiting an ice cream shop and an idea would come to us. We would then chat about the idea and develop it into a story. Michael has delightful ideas like the chocolate snow and the ice-cream rainbow fairies who feature in Sir Chocolate and the Ice-cream Rainbow Fairies’ story and cookbook which will come out in 2020.

Kaye: What’s the one thing you hope your son takes away from this venture?

Robbie: I always hoped that Michael would become a proficient reader and learn to enjoy books and reading. It is not easy for a child who struggles to learn to read to develop a love of reading. I am very happy to say that this has happened. Michael now reads on his own for about 30 minutes a day. We often read together with me reading my book of the day and him reading his current story. Lately, these are all Rick Riordan books.

Kaye: What ages are the Sir Chocolate series aimed at?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate books are aimed at young children, aged 3 to 9 years old. They are lovely for beginner readers as they are comprised of rhyming verse.

Kaye: Each book in the Sir Chocolate series features a story and a cookbook. That’s an interesting combination. Would you like to tell us a little more about why you chose to pair the two?

Robbie: Sir Chocolate is a little man made of sweets and sugar. All the characters in the books are made of edible products as well as all the houses, trees, flowers and even the rivers and the rocks. As all the illustrations are made of cake, biscuits and sweets, it seemed natural to provide the recipes to make some of the goodies in the book and make the books into a series of first cookbooks as well as a story.

Kaye: You also write supernatural and horror for adult audiences, and you had two stories published in the recently released horror anthology, Dark Visions. (See my review of Dark Visions here.) Another interesting combination: horror and children’s stories. Is there a story behind how you ended up writing in those two genres?

Robbie and DVRobbie: I entered a short story for children in one of Dan Alatorre’s writing competitions and it won an Honourable Mention. I really liked the critique on my story that I received from Dan so when another competition cropped up a few months later I decided to enter. The topic for that one was horror so I thought I would give it a go. That was when I wrote The Willow Tree. Dan again provided an excellent critique in respect of the story. I entered The Haunting of William into his most recent horror competition in June 2018. That was how I came to write darker stories. I discovered that I enjoyed writing this genre and now I am writing a supernatural/horror YA book. I have just exceeded 50,000 words.

Kaye: I can think of many differences in writing horror and in writing for children, but are there also ways in which they are alike?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate stories all have a villain ranging from the trolls in Book 1 to the candy stripped Roc in book 5. All stories generally have a heroic character and a bad character so there is a common thread between the two genres. The difference is that in the Sir Chocolate books the “baddie” is generally redeemed and becomes a contributing member of Chocolate Land. In my current book, the evil characters are not redeemed.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a horror story you’ve ever had?

Robbie: I have just written a horror story about cockroaches which infest a working microwave oven and gain unnatural powers as a result of the microwaves they are subjected to. I think that is about the most unusual story I have written to date but I have only been writing for just over two years and I only started writing horror this year.

Open a New DoorKaye: In addition to writing children’s stories and cookbooks, and adult horror, you write poetry. And you have a poetry collection out with Kim Blades, Open a New Door. What type of poetry can we expect to find in this collection? How did that collaboration come about?

Robbie: Kim Blades and I are both South African poets. Our collection is about life in South Africa and is divided into four sections entitled God bless Africa, God bless my family and friends, God bless me and God bless corporates and work. Each section is divided into poems about the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences in each of these areas of our lives.

Kaye: What is the most important quality in a poem for you?

Robbie: I like poems that are simply written and have a strong message. I try to write my poems along those lines. I don’t believe a lot of “highbrow” language is necessary in a poem for it to be an emotional and evocative piece of writing.

While the Bombs FellKaye: You have another collaboration with Elsie Haney Eaton, While the Bombs Fell. It’s about life during World War II, which is quite different from the Sir Chocolate stories. What age audience is this book aimed at? Would you like to talk a little about it?

Robbie: Elsie Hancy Eaton is my mother and While the Bombs Fell is a fictionalized account of her early years growing up during WWII in a rural town in England. It features the deprivation caused by bombing and rationing and the other hardships experienced, but it also provides a lot of insight into the small pleasures people enjoyed during the war in the way of a Christmas pudding, the ingredients for which were literally saved up for most of the year, swimming in favourite spots along the river Waverney and learning to knit. The reason this account is fictionalized and not an autobiography is my mother was aged 4 to 7 years during the war and so she can’t remember all the fine details. I supplemented her memories with a lot of my own research.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?

Robbie: Marketing the books. Indie authors and writers with small publishers find it more difficult to get their books into stores and in front of the eyes of children. Children generally don’t use social Medias and, therefore, we are marketing to the parents and not to the actual child. Impulse buys are fewer as a result. I try to visit schools and Sunday Schools, but my time for these events are limited due to my work requirements.

Kaye: What other activities do you find time for when you’re not baking or writing?

Robbie: I am a qualified chartered accountant with a full time job and two sons. Any recreational time I have that isn’t spent with my family is used for writing, baking and blogging. I have two blogs, one for my children’s books, light poetry, baking and fondant art called robbiespiration.wordpress.com and one for my adult writing and darker poems called robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com.

Thank you so much Robbie for chatting with me here today. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m thrilled to have you on board. I look forward to your Growing Bookworms blog series. I have no doubt that you have some interesting things to share with us.

Welcoming Robbie to the Writing to be Read team is my Christmas present this year, and adding her blog series will be a great way to start out the New Year, too. You can learn more about Robbie and her writing and art one her blogs or click on the links below:

Sir Chocolate book series: https://www.facebook.com/SirChocolateBooks/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Robbie-Cheadle/e/B01N9J62GQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1542170868&sr=1-1

Bake & Write: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/author/robbie-cheadle/

Or look her up on social media:

Twitter: @bakeandwrite

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robbie.cheadle.7

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cheadlerobbie/

I hope all my readers will help me welcome this creative children’s author to the Writing to be Read team and be sure to catch the first segment of her Growing Bookworms series on January 9th.

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Interview with author Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing an old hand in the writing and publishing business, author Tom Johnson. Tom has written stories from a young age. He has been publishing his writing for more than twenty-two years and has over eighty books in publication. He grew up reading comic books and pulp fiction, becoming a collector in adulthood and his stories reflect the fascination that those books held for him. He has also written numerous nonfiction books and is currently involved in writing children’s stories. Please help me welcome Tom Johnson.

Kaye: Hi Tom. Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.

Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.

Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?

Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume  #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog Storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.

Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?

Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.

To get a better idea of what Tom’s children’s stories are like, you can get a free copy of one here. They are short and can be read in only a few minutes.: Wire Dog Has An Ugly Mood Day Or The House of 1000 Mirrors https://wiredogstories.com/2016/01/19/story-40-wire-dog-has-an-ugly-mood-day/

Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?

Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.

Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?

Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.

You can get the Wire Dog books here:

Wire Dog Storybook #3 http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-clyde-walters/wire-dog-storybook-3-in-full-color/paperback/product-22554849.html

Wire Dog Storybook #4 http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-clyde-walters/wire-dog-storybook-4-in-color/paperback/product-23424745.html

Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.

Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”

Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?

Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.

Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?

Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.

Kaye: You have written since you were a young man, for fifty some years, and you had your own small press for many years. Always, your life seems to have writing at the center of it. Looking back on your life, what does writing mean to you?

Tom: I think writing was always an escape to other worlds, other realms, and other dimensions. We could be anyone we wanted, go anywhere we wished, and experience great adventures. We create those worlds and people we want in them, and our heroes and heroines are who we want to be, or the friends we want beside us. We choose those things that mean the most to us. Whether we’re a cowboy or cowgirl, Conan or Xena, we bring the characters to life. That’s what writing means to me, to give life to my characters.

Kaye: How do you see the rise of digital publishing affecting authors of today?

Tom: Publishing has never been easier. When we were publishing the small press magazines, it was hands on. We did every aspect of the business, from reading, approving or rejecting, editing, set up and printing, then mailing to subscribers and bookstores that carried our magazines. Today we have Lulu and Amazon for all that. We just write, they publish. Anyone can be a writer or publisher now.

These Alien SkiesKaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Tom: I had a dream one night. A young boy was in the woods dying when a strange being found him and comforted him as he passed. The strange being was an alien and I saw the saucer-shaped craft behind him. When I woke the dream stayed with me. Did the alien kill the boy? Why was the alien there? What was the boy doing in the woods? It wouldn’t let go of me. I wrote What Goes There from that dream. The boy was dying from snakebite and the alien took his pain from him so he could pass more easily. Then I made a mystery with the plot. The story is part of my book, These Alien Skies.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

Tom: When I write, I don’t want to be disturbed. No music, no background noise at all. My work computer is in my bedroom. I close my door from all outside communication, telephone, wife, neighbors, etc. I have to be alone when I write.

Kaye: You’ve written over eighty books in many different genres over the course of your career. Which of your books would you say are your favorites? Why?

Guns of the Black GhostTom: If we’re speaking of my fiction stories I would probably say my favorite is Guns of The Black Ghost, as it is my homage to Walter Gibson and his character The Shadow (remember him). The Shadow was one of my favorite radio dramas as a kid, and I met the creator of the character, Walter Gibson, in the mid-1970s and we were friends until his passing. I always wanted to write a Shadow novel, but copyright protection kept me from it, thus my own character, The Black Ghost came into being.

However, my non-fiction research books are probably my best sellers. I’ve written over half a dozen of them. A lot of work went into them. A lot of reading and studying, and I think it paid off, as fans have all bought the huge books for the data. These are books that don’t get thrown away, but have a special place on their bookshelves.

Kaye: So, tell us a little about your nofiction books. What is the subject matter and how did you come to write them?

Tom: As a pulp collector it was natural for me to become a historian. I had completed runs in many of the lead characters, thus had the opportunity to study the novels for research, identifying authors, plots, etc. At the time I was writing fiction and Introductions for ALTUS PRESS books, and the publisher wanted my research put into books. Some of those series were Secret Agent X Companion, Operator #5 Companion (History of The Purple Wars), The Phantom Detective Companion, The Black Bat Companion, Dan Fowler’s G-Men Companion, and Echoes 30. Several ran for twenty years, and 171 issues. Some not so long, but just as popular to the fan and collectors today. There may be others, my mind is slipping, but these were the big volumes. They covered the complete pulp series of each title. Echoes 30 covered conventions, pulp books, authors, artists, and publishers. All are in demand and have been good sellers.

 

Kaye: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?

Tom: I’m a pantser. I never could understand why you needed to write a fifty-page plot outline, just write the darn book. Once the words start flowing you don’t want them to stop. And they will, if you’re outlining.

Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?

Tom: Characterization. Make your characters come alive. You want readers to connect to them, feel for them, and be drawn to them. The plot will work itself out, but if your characters aren’t real I don’t care how much of a plot you have, it will bomb.

Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Tom: I don’t know that I would want to be rich and famous. What would be next? I want to always be reaching, always trying to entertain. If I set my goal for rich and famous I might forget about the entertainment and pleasure we get from writing. If I entertain one person, then I am already rich. Besides, we already have money, and fame is fleeting at best.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Tom: Write what you know. I’ve read a lot of books where the author is writing about something s/he knows nothing about, and it shows. I know information is at the tip of one’s fingers today, but if you haven’t truly experienced something you will come off as unbelievable if you try to write about the subject.

I want to thank Tom for joining us today on Writing to be Read and offering up some really great answers to my questions. I have really enjoyed having him. If you’d like to learn more about Tom Johnson or his books you can check out his website or his Amazon Author Page.

 

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