Make 'em Read: more ways to encourage reading in kids

Saturday, 22 April 2017

{first published in Maeve magazine, summer 2011}

Opening scene: Six-year-old curls up in sunny corner like a cat, book clutched in hand. Cue music. Small hand reaches out and strokes cover illustration dreamily. Hand moves to edge of cover. Music swells. Hand opens book. Title page appears. Child tumbles inside and is forever lost.

Alice falls through the darkness and lands on a pirate ship with a long silver swagger. A snake slithers down the mast, deep into the jungle where a baby deer scampers past a giant rolling peach. On a snow-capped mountain, a yodelling princess calls to her nanny as she floats away, clutching an umbrella. A lion roars. A treetop spins – a new world appears… and life will never be the same again.

Life-changing, breathtaking, transforming, enlightening – books open the brains of our children like a can of beans and cram wonderful stuff in there. Books stretch the synapses in the brain. They shuffle perception, expand the imagination, drag emotion through the wringer and provide a place of solace, comfort, hilarity and fantastical adventure.

But books aren’t flash dandies. They are patient and humble. Undemanding. In a world crammed to bursting with flashing with electronic gizmos that drain the creative life force from our offspring, getting kids to engage in the written word (and its inherent lack of flashing lights and sound bytes) and kick starting the LCD screens of their own imagination can be quite a Mt Everest feat.

Whether your children are book-shunners or book-devourers, these ideas are sure to unlock an unparalleled appreciation and hunger for stories. Open wide – come inside. It’s magic.

Poppets (age 0 – 2)

Babies in-utero-young are the perfect age to start with a book. The tone, cadence and language rhythm permeating the watery environment of an unborn child will prepare them for many years of bedtime storytelling. Comforting, familiarising and entertaining, read books with rhythm (think Dr Seuss and Lynley Dodd) and use plenty of tonal variation and expression.

For newborn babies, give books as a welcome gift or have a baby shower of books, proffering your own vintage faves or modern loves. Don’t stop at baby board books – treasured classics baby can grow into are just as important.

Older infants from three to nine months thrive on visual and audio cues, so books that stimulate and offer bright contrast are perfect. Child’s Play have a series of baby books that feature interactive titles. Pop-up books are also totally engaging, though keep them away from little fingers!

Toddlers rough and tumble their books, making board books essential. It’s vital children are allowed to immerse themselves in books without parents fussing over bent pages. While I personally kybosh drawing in books, giving them a well-loved, dog-eared appearance is what it’s all about. Go ahead and let them devour their books – both literally and figuratively. If you’re feeling precious about a particular book, save it for later.

When reading to toddlers, pick your time and place. Bedtime is perfect but also choose quiet times during the day, after lunch or before naps. Don’t force a toddler to sit and listen to a book. If they can’t focus, try again later. Half a book read is better than no book read.

Keep piles of books in play spaces for children to browse through at their bidding.

Select books yourself but also ask your child to choose. And be prepared for repeat-reading demands. It’s normal, it’s nice (okay, perhaps a little mind-bending) but repetition is critical for comprehension, word retention, reading skills and pure enjoyment. Sorry, but you’ll be reciting Little Miss Spider verbatim in no time.

Keep reluctant readers engaged by using major (and often embarrassing) vocal expression and lots of loud noises. Gasps, laughter, yelling, clapping and voice changes are hugely effective.

Use props – musical instruments, toys, food, hand signals and physical movement. Get up from your chair and encourage your little one to stomp along on that bear hunt or munch through that watermelon like a caterpillar.

When you’ve finished reading, hand the book to your toddler to ‘read’ themselves. Do this every single time you read a book.

Chatterboxes (age 3 – 5)

This age group are often voraciously addicted to books, particularly picture books, interactive books and rhythmic readers. Expose them to junior fiction at this age, even if you are the one doing the reading. Be sure text is relatively minimal and drawings are included on every page.

Continue reading to this age group but encourage child interaction by pointing to words and commenting with more detail on pictures. Ask your child to read the odd word themselves.

At the end of a book, ask simple questions about the story. This helps kids become even more involved.

Using vocal inflection and voices for characters is still highly effective. Encourage kids to create their own onomatopoeia – splash! woosh! crunch!

Saturate them with non-fiction books – this age loves facts and figures, especially atlases, cooking, craft, travel and books that show how things work, like the inner workings of the body, machines, buildings. Books showing people are particularly entrancing – this is an ideal time to introduce the mind-expanding diversity of other cultures.

Creative Masterminds (age 6 10)

A huge shift occurs in this age group, when children morph from picture books to chapter books, junior fiction and beyond. Take advantage of the large variety of ‘in-between’ books by matching the tone, style and reading competency with your child. Many of these books come in series – try the first of the series, then invest in the rest if they hold interest.

Books like the Battle Boy and Zac Power series are ideal for boys in this age group who struggle with reading; these books offer storylines with large font and short chapters, studded with cool graphics and older-boy speak.

Allow your child to choose books. Don’t have delusions of grandeur about your daughter falling in love with Anne of Green Gables just like you did – it probably won’t happen (try again later!). Show your child a variety of options and allow them to be drawn to the books that hold their interest (yes, yes, even if it’s always soccer or ponies).

Children of this age continue to enjoy having books read to them, although the continued use of physical and vocal antics can be distracting; children are now able to imagine for themselves how books should look and sound. Tone it down.

Graphic novels are fantastic for both boys and girls who become overwhelmed with pictureless fiction. Storylines can be sophisticated yet the text is broken by brilliant illustrative work that adds another dimension to the reading experience. Even comics are perfectly acceptable so long as they’re complemented by a relentless offering of other more substantial books.

Humour is an enormous advantage and is sure to attract even the most reluctant reader. All things gross, freaky, silly, marvellous and whacky is perfect for both boys and girls. Try Roald Dahl, Dave Hackett and Jeff Kinney.

Wordless picture books are fantastic at this age, as they enhance an understanding of story through visual literacy. This is priceless for a child's imagination and their ability to absorb nuance.

Know-It-Alls (age 11+)

By this age, you want to give jaded, seen-it-all-before tweens and teens something a little more out-there. Many kids are more than ready to read young adult and even adult books by the age of 14 and 15, so you’ll have to just get over it and go with the flow. You can’t make them cling to the Wombles forever.

The middle fiction and young adult book markets are absolutely brilliant in their quality and variety. Kids will want to read what their friends are reading, but also encourage them to look further afield and read independent, unsensationalised talent (which is considerable). Movie tie-ins are popular at this age, so pounce on the correlation quickly.

It’s a mistake to think children are past picture books at this age. There are many brilliant books (think Shaun Tan, John Marsden, Mark Wilson and Nathan Jurevicius) that take on older themes and do them beautifully for older readers. Graphic novels are ideal now, too.

Tips to Open your Child’s Brain and Pour Stories In
  • Visit the library monthly. Book it into your schedule. Don’t forget to take the kids.
  • Ask your child to name the author and illustrator of their books. Show them where the title and subtitle are. Talk to them about the verso page (publication page) and endpapers. Take them to author/illustrator websites. Show your children books are not just flat, inert objects, but living, breathing creations made by real people and often with years and years of hard work.
  • Browse publisher websites for new releases that might entrance your child. Bricks and mortar bookstores can’t possibly carry everything and so many brilliant books are missed, especially those released by indie publishers. They say books have a shelf-life of yoghurt, too, so they'll quickly disappear unless they're classics.
  • Frequent children’s literature blogs for the latest on new books and priceless advice. My website Kids' Book Review is a perfect starting point.
  • Host a book swap if your child’s library is seriously depleting.
  • Let children of all ages catch you reading. Often.

An Evening with May Gibbs--not to be missed

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

I am beyond excited to reveal this glorious one-off event--an absolute must-attend for anyone who loves children's books and the work of May Gibbs. Jane Brummitt, co-author of May Gibbs: More than a Fairytale (Hardie Grant), who is related to May by marriage and was instrumental in saving Nutcote in Sydney many moons ago, will be in Canberra to donate an ORIGINAL piece of May Gibbs artwork to the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature. Yes--original!!

Jane will also be speaking at the event, and I am honoured to be speaking alongside her. It's going to be such a memorable evening and I so hope you can make it. Details below.

May's legacy lives on, thanks to amazing people like Jane.

Still Touching Hearts: An Evening with May Gibbs 
5.30pm - 7pm
Thursday 11 May 2017
ALIA House, Deakin, Canberra
Cost: $15, $12 CBCA members

Join the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc for Jane Brummitt's presentation of May Gibbs’ original preliminary artwork from Gum Blossom Babies (1915) to the Centre and talks by Jane Brummit: Gifts from May Gibbs and Tania McCartney: Mamie: a celebration of May's life for modern children.

Harry Hartog Booksellers will be selling books on the evening, including the CBCA shortlisted titles, books by May Gibbs, Tania McCartney and Jane Brummitt.

Places limited. RSVP by 9 May 2017 to

autumn creeps into Canberra

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Autumn in Canberra is finally creeping in--a month late, but nonetheless beautiful. Autumn and Spring in Canberra are so utterly breathtaking. I feel so lucky to live here and be so close to nature--both in the surrounding countryside but also in town.

Tomorrow, husband and I are heading to the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery to douse ourselves in art, then enjoy a brilliant coffee at the many and sensational cafes we have here (seriously--the cafes here at that good, only rivalled by Melbourne in my humble opinion).

I hope you've had a lovely Easter and have enjoyed the breaking of chocolate and spiced buns with loved ones. It's a magical time of year.

Introducing A Canadian Year and A Kiwi Year

Friday, 31 March 2017

I'm delighted to reveal the next two books in the A Kids' Year series with EK Books! Tina and I always feel our latest in the series are our favourite--and we truly love these!

Both books are out this June 2017, and will be released in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the US. 

Click the covers for more info, and to meet the kids who will take readers on a journey through the life of kids in Canada and New Zealand!

The A Kids' Year series look so purdy, all together ...

serving your industry - thank you, Laurie Copping

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

I'm a big believer in sharing, supporting and giving back. It's an essential thread in human nature, stemming from our need to survive, but evolving into so much more as WE evolve. Benefits include a sense of belonging, safety, community and of course, warmth that begins in the toes and courses upwards to the eyebrows.

Supporting and promoting the children's book industry has always been a no-brainer for me. Supporting publishers and creators, promoting juvenile literacy, speaking to kids, sharing books, being involved in bookish events and initiatives is not only a joy, it's vital to the expansion and presence of our industry. Operating from the concept of lack and scarcity, hiding and squirrelling away information and aid, is counter intuitive to the creative soul. Sharing, supporting and harnessing talent is part of our core--and its sum rewards are incalculable.

Also, it's a lot of fun. It's a hoot meeting new people, learning about their work and helping, in even the smallest of ways, tout it to the world. Our Australian children's book industry (most especially per capita) is one of the strongest in the world. We produce an eye-popping book contribution to the world's bookshelves, and are a close-knit and supportive community--which absolutely forms the backbone of our success.

It's been so rewarding to be a mere fragment of a vertebrae on that backbone. Kids' Book Review, the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, mentoring emerging creators, visiting schools and participating in juvenile literacy programs have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

So, I was humbled and honoured to receive the Laurie Copping Award for Distinguished Service to Children's Literature (CBCA ACT) last night. This means so much to me because it highlights the need to be there for each other and to operate in an inclusive and openhearted way. That is, after all, the core of creativity.

I've heard endless glowing reports and stories about Laurie Copping and what a huge supporter he was of the industry. I feel so honoured to receive this award in this name. If you don't know much about this amazing man, principal of Hall Primary School, CBCA mover and shaker, and champion of children's literature, earn more about him here (PDF).

Ask Tania: How do I make the most out of writing festivals and conferences?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Dear Tania
I'm so excited to be going to the KidLit Conference in Melbourne this May, but I'm also nervous. I'm having a manuscript assessment with a publisher, too. How can I make the most out of the conference, and do you have any tips when dealing with the publisher?

Hi, Stace,

So exciting you're off to KidLit this year; I'll be there, too! It's going to be wonderful, and can I just say what a brilliant decision it was for you to book in for this. Attending conferences and festivals will really fast-track any creator's career, so this is great news.

Festivals and conferences can be overwhelming. Combine stacks of passionate people with creative ideas and passion on tap, bundle it up with a barrel full of nerves, especially when it comes to meeting publishers, and it can all become a little fraught.

Thankfully, kids' book industry folk are warm, inclusive, fabulous people (and if you meet the rare braggart who is not, smile politely and find someone else to talk to!) and you'll have the most gorgeous time chatting with people you've either met online, know of or meet for the first time.

Here are my tips for a really productive and successful time as a festival or conference delegate. I'll follow this up with tips on meeting publishers.

Have a great time, and see you there!


1. TALK TO PEOPLE. Don’t stick with who you know—stretch yourself and meet new people. You never know where it will lead professionally—and you might just make a new friend or begin an exciting collaboration.

2. CARRY COLLATERAL. Festivals are a priceless opportunity to make contacts. Take everyone’s business card and offer your own (I keep mine in the back of the festival pass which hangs around your neck). Take your books or works with you but only haul them out if appropriate. Show and tell is fun, is it not?

Interview, HerCanberra magazine

Friday, 3 March 2017

HerCanberra is a local website founded by the inimitable Amanda Whitley--and is one of the most stylish, informative and dedicated sites you'll come across. The HerCanberra brand expanded to a quarterly magazine and issue 8--Back to Basics--has just been released.

It's the most beautiful creation--matte pages and exquisite photography--with rich, stylish and fascinating content, testament to the brand Amanda has built.

I met with editor and all-round gorgeous soul Emma Macdonald end of last year for this piece on local writers, and the importance of books as a life basic for children. It was a true joy. And Martin Ollman's photography--wow. Stunning.

Also featured are local creators Ingrid Jonach and Carlie Gibson. 

Do look up the magazine. It's so beautiful. You can find stockists (it's free) on the HerCanberra website here. You can also view online here.

Thank you, Emma and Martin!

SBCWI ACT event: Excellence in Children's Books

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Canberra and region peeps, you simply cannot miss this amazing event, featuring National Library creators and visiting talent Susanne Gervay and Deborah Abela. This is your chance to meet National Library publisher Susan Hall and come away with some phenomenal insights and resources.

Here are the deets; hope to see you there!

Register, greet and meet. Tea, coffee and light refreshments.

Opening welcome with Susanne Gervay, Regional Advisor, Australia East/NZ and Deborah Abela ARA.

5.40pm – 6.30pm
Susan Hall, Publisher, National Library Publishing, talks about NLP’s publishing criteria and process, submissions, and what they are publishing. Followed by Q & A.
MC: Tania McCartney

6.30pm – 7.00pm
Gina Newton presents on how to create successful non-fiction children’s books.
MC: Tracey Hawkins

7.00pm – 7.30pm
Tania McCartney talks illustration – working with text, creating your own style, mediums and more.
MC: Nicole Godwin

7.30pm – 8.00pm
Inside publication and creating a successful writing community with Susanne Gervay and Deborah Abela.

$20 SCBWI members; $30 non-members.
Bookings essential and places are limited:

Thank you for the generous support of our official bookseller, Harry Hartog

Uncontracted Works in Progress

Sunday, 26 February 2017

There are two things about being a children's author that sit at polar opposite ends of the Happiness Spectrum.

At the unhappy end is the waiting to have work accepted for publication. The uncertainty. The not-knowing. The agony. The at-times-sheer-desperation. The working your guts out only to have someone else (or several someone elses) hold your creative future in their hands.

It can be intense and it can be utterly happy-sapping. When you're passionate about something and dedicate such gargantuan blocks of time and energy to your work, deflation and even derailment become sad companions.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, is the When You Finally Get Published roll. Things DO shift once your work hits the shelves. Your publisher will always be happy to view more of your work, and the chances of being taken on by a different publisher are also higher, because they can see what you've already produced, and your name in the market is starting to catch hold.

February update . . . creative things a-happening

Monday, 13 February 2017

I love February. It's sunshiny and warm (though a four-week+ heatwave here in Canberra is getting kind of ridiculous) and there's always extra chocolate involved, even if it means melted chocolate--a February phenomenon exclusive to the Southern Hemisphere.

Some very special friends and colleagues have birthdays this month. Then the 14th is International Book Giving Day (#IBGD), Library Lovers Day and Valentine's Day all in one--could it possibly be a more heart-thumping date??


On the 17th, I have my beautiful son's birthday and mine is two days later, meaning a weekend of cake and quite possibly champagne, if I have my way.

February doesn't muck around. It gets down to business after the long hot summer holidays. The inbox starts flooding again, and all the publishers get back to work. It feels like I've done a year's work already and we're only at the month's midpoint!

It seems to have a creative energy about it, February. I'm always refreshed, renewed and ready for brand new projects and shiny new directions. Here's what's going down for Feb.

This month, Tina and Snerling and I have just sent off the next two books in the A Kids' Year series off to print (EK Books). We always 'appear' on the dedication page, and here we are, below. Any guesses where these books might be set? Wherever that first one is, I want to be there right now!

This is Banjo Paterson was just launched yesterday (illustrated by my February Friend Christina Booth). We had the sweetest event at the National Library (a wrap-up here).

I'm now working through the text for a new book book with the National Library, discussing illustration format. It's going to be a whopper of a book--stacks of pages and some incredible content compiled by a prominent Australian; very exciting. This is my first official illustration commission and I'm both nervous and breathtaken. I have lots of wonderful ideas for the illos which will be digitally rendered, and I'm going to feature a range of textures that I hope to achieve with some mono-printing. Will post some pics of my mono-printing setup.

On the National Library, my 2012 book Australian Story was reissued this month--and BigW are stocking it--my very first experience with the BigW phenomenon. So happy for this quiet little book that tends to slide under the radar and pop up all over schools and libraries, who rely heavily on its content. Fantastic to see it achieve some more commercial attention.

Jess Racklyeft and I worked on a Christmas book idea over the summer and we're thrilled to have signed with divine Indie publisher Windy Hollow Books. The book is out this October, so Jess will be a busy bee these coming months! On top of that, we're busy working on a sequel to Smile Cry, featuring Piglet, Bunny and Cat (EK Books). It's going to be adorable--the roughs are too cute for words. Hope to have some sneak peeks for you later in the year.

Smile Cry is actually coming out in paperback this March, too. Two copies arrived this week (below). Can you even believe this succulent plant I found at IKEA? If anyone knows what it is, please tell me. It's like peas on stalks. Obsessed.

You can see the paperbacks again at the top of this post, with my newest flamingo family member--a surprise from my gorgeous friend Coral Vass. More too cute for words.

Another recent arrival--my very first illustrator postcards. I'm showing my very first portfolio at KidLitVic in Melbourne this coming May, and these will sit alongside, along with my business cards. Scary! but beside myself for this conference ... will get to catch up with treasured friends and fabulous industry folk; some I'll be meeting for the very first time.

2017 is certainly shaping up to be a year of very firsts.

It was pretty special to be accepted for the Australian Society of Author's The Style File this month, too--alongside some wonderful established talent. Quite surreal. Just goes to show how things unfold when you dedicate yourself and practice fiercely!

An interesting thing has occurred since the start of the year. I've been working on some secret squirrel business--a picture book I've long dreamed of creating, about a well-known Australian. The format for this book is unusual in terms of its narrative structure (not typically biographical), and I've been having the time of my life creating it without deadlines--just full creative expression with no limits or constraints. I've never been so focused and happy.

I don't even know if I'll have this book contracted, but it doesn't even matter, I'm loving it that much!

What else?

Oh--it's often the little things that mean a lot, yes? When I lived in Melbourne, I developed quite the obsession with Readings in Carlton (est. 1969). Over time, the store has expanded, and--if you didn't already know--they recently opened a children's store. Gasp.

I could only dream of having one of my books on face-out display in this beautiful store ... and look! Australia Illustrated in the publicity shots! I not only did a double-take, I did a quadruple-take, AND it's sitting right next to Iggy Peck Architect which is one of my favourite books of all time. Too too much. It was a sit-down-before-I-fall-down kind of reaction, that one.

Yes, it's the little things.

This coming Friday, 17 Feb (which is Banjo Paterson's birthday), I'll be chatting with Genevieve Jacobs on 666ABC Radio Canberra, all about Banjo. You can listen live here (just after 9.30am). Then at 1pm, I'll be chatting with NLA publicist Candice Cappe in a live Periscope video (another very-first). We'll be showcasing the actual original manuscript of Waltzing Matilda, which I've never seen, can you believe it? View the Library's Periscope channel right here.

Right--I think that's it for Feb! I'll be head-down, paintbrush up these coming weeks, trying to resist the temptation to check in on the train-wreck that is US politics right now (horrifying but unable to look away). I know 2017 will be a hugely productive year for me, and I'll be online a lot less as a result. Since commencing my illustration journey, it's more important than ever to trade off sitting time with movement time--so this year will be all about physical and mental balance.

I hope your February is full of very-firsts, and creative pursuits that make you focused and happy.


This is Banjo Paterson launch wrap-up

Sunday, 12 February 2017

What a gorgeous event today at the National Library, launching This is Banjo Paterson into the stratosphere!

On a mega high-temps morning, we had a lovely turnout of adults and kids. After an intro by publisher Susan Hall, we enjoyed a rendition of Waltzing Matilda, sung by the amazing Sarah Wallace, accompanied on guitar by Candice from the National Library. They trilled like angels! And of course, everyone sang along.

Next was a book reading followed by a book signing and some Banjo-inspired activities. Kids made their own hobby horses and sheep masks, and hunted around for Banjo-inspired words.

I was astonished to see how much some kids knew about Banjo, and it was so much fun revealing more about his incredible life. The only thing missing was illustrator Christina Booth who is currently stranded on a beautiful island just south of Victoria (known for its apples; you may know it).

And the winner is ...

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Thank you to everyone who entered the comp to win a copy of This is Banjo Paterson! Biggest congrats to:

Nella Pickup
The Gee Family

You have won a copy of the book! Please *email me booksATtaniamccartneyDOTcom with your postal address. I am popping into the National Library tomorrow (Thursday) and I can sign each book. If you can be in touch before tomorrow, I can personalise it to someone for you! Just let me know who you'd like it dedicated to.

*Please note, if you are not in touch within 10 days, I will announce another winner.

And if you are in Canberra this weekend, I'd love to see you at the book launch at the National Library Bookshop, details below.
Book Launch - This is Banjo Paterson
Sunday 12 February 2017
National Library of Australia
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...