Early Literacy Step #1

Step One: Start Reading Early.

Read to kids even when they are babies.

It’s never too early to start reading to kids. (Illustration by John Bianchi.)

It’s never too early to start reading to kids, although you might want to wait until they’ve been born…

Even though they can’t talk yet, babies like the sound of voices, and at some point they’ll start to make sense of the words.

And don’t stop when they learn to read by themselves. Share the books they like to read and read the ones that are still out of their grasp.

I read to my kids right up until they reached the senior elementary grades, and after a long teenage pause, they began reading voraciously again.

See all 10 kid-literacy steps on YouTube.

This post brought to you by The Troubles with Bubbles, a free multi-touch ebook for the iPad. Check it out here.

World Read Aloud Day

Tomorrow (Wednesday March 5) is World Read Aloud Day, a celebration of the joy of reading books to… well, anyone I suppose. Kids. Spouses. Siblings. Pets (although it might be wasted on fish).

Bungalo Books started its read-aloud celebration by launching its own YouTube channel. It features our two StoryTalk videos that offer hope and inspiration to parents of pre-schoolers who want to inspire their children to read.

The Edwards family circa 1954.When a busy parent is reading to a fidgety two-year old, the payoff may seem far away in the future but actually they are building a bond that will last a lifetime. My mom read to me every night after the supper dishes were done and I still remember those evenings curled up beside her on the couch. In turn, I read to all three of my kids until they reached high school (and I remember my grade nine son eavesdropping at his younger sister’s door as we read Harry Potter).

That early exposure to books helped turn me into a lifelong reader — and a writer/editor. So please, check out those videos (one featuring my granddaughter Paige) and spread the word.

Story Talk Videos

This week, Bungalo Books happily unveiled two videos it produced to help parents build their pre-schoolers’ language skills. The two short videos were created for Kingston Literacy and Skills with funding from the Kingston-Cataraqui branch of Rotary International.

Ten Steps to Early LiteracyThe Story Talk project proves that teachers and writers can find an entertaining middle ground when it comes to teaching kids and parents about books.

When literacy experts Deb Nesbitt-Munroe and Susan Riley approached me last summer, they were keen to promote the process of “dialogic reading” to their organization’s clientele of young parents. By the end of our first meeting, I had Continue reading

Back at the computer

kayak on beach on Halong Bay, VietnamLast fall was a busy one. My travels took me away from my computer and off to writers’ festivals in Whistler and Vancouver, and then to Vietnam to work on an illustrated ebook (for the iPad).

While in Hoi An (near Danang), I avoided Typhoon Haiyan by 12 hours, retreating just in time to the mountains of Sapa near the Chinese border.

In all, I brought home 2,500 photos and a bit of hi-def video. The project has kept me busy since I returned home but I hope to have the book finished by late spring.

cabins in hills of Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Working with friends

I met Paul Toffanello in Timmins about 10 years ago. Timmins is a bustling mining town in northeastern Ontario and I was there partly at his behest. He was director of education of the large regional Catholic school board and one of his literacy specialists had invited me to be the guest of honour at her annual young writers workshops. the cover of Popchuck's GhostI spent a day giving workshops to groups of teachers and novice authors, as well as an illustrated talk to all the attendees. It was all similar to the talks I give across Canada (and occasionally beyond), except for one detail. The education director sat in on nearly every session and then Continue reading

New Book, Old Friends

I met adventure photographer Pat Morrow a few months after starting my first job as an assistant editor at Ottawa’s Canadian Geographic (then known as the Canadian Geographical Journal) in the mid-1970s. The Kimberley, B.C. native had bought a Greyhound bus pass in order to roam around for a month to show eastern photo editors his portfolio.

That day, I bought two photo essays to liven up the magazine’s (then) dreary pages — hang gliding in the mountains and frozen waterfall climbing in the Rockies — and took him home to crash on my couch for a few days.

Five years later, Pat was preparing to climb Mount Everest and I was the executive editor of Equinox, Canada’s hot new magazine of discovery (headquartered Continue reading

Everest’s Annual Conga Line Begins Again

Adventure photographer Pat Morrow, a B.C. native, doesn’t like what he sees happening on Mount Everest lately — referring to the crowds snaking their way to the top as “a conga line.”

Morrow, who has spent his life in the mountains, was the second Canadian to summit Mount Everest in 1982 and later became the first person to climb the highest mountain on each continent.

Photo by Da Kusang Sherpa

Writing in his latest book, Everest: High Expectations, he says, “Nobody can honestly claim to “climb” Everest these days — at least not those who follow the wildly popular South Col route. At best, one can say they survived the hazards of the ‘conga line’ that forms at the beginning of every spring season.”

Recalling a time when solitude and technical challenges drew climbers to the mountain, he is now concerned that adventure-tourists Continue reading

“Argo” is nothing. There’s a crazier, truer Iranian hostage movie to make.

As a Canadian editor/writer with a background in journalism, I’m a bit flummoxed by all the criticism of the Oscar-winning Argo. As CTV points out, it was wildly exaggerated for the sake of drama but then so too was The Sound of Music in which Julie Andrews played a kind of hot, singing nun with her eyes on a single dad.

Poster for Argo movieWhat seems to be missing in the Argo fact-and-fantasy discussion is the much more exciting story about a failed Delta Force mission sent to free the 52 hostages held in the American Embassy. While Jimmy Carter’s Whitehouse was busy negotiating a diplomatic solution, American special forces had more than 100 troops in the Iran’s desert ready to storm the embassy, shoot their way through Tehran and exit in a half dozen attack helicopters.

Within minutes of landing, the commandos blew up a passing Iranian pick up truck (loaded with fuel) and captured dozens of terrified Iranian bus passengers who had happened to see the four large C-130 cargo planes land. Within hours, the mission turned into a worse debacle when a Delta Force helicopter crashed into a fuel plane. Losses included 8 dead Americans, 7 (out of 8 helicopters), a C-130 and the unfortunate Iranian truck driver. The covert American raid on a foreign capital was over before it got started.

I first read about this audacious mission in Atlantic Monthly, April 2006. The Desert One Debacle was written by journalist Mark Bowden (author of “Black Hawk Down”) after information about the mission was declassified. At the time I read the story, I assumed it would be made into a movie — instead we got Argo.

It’s worth a read just to put those crazy times in perspective. Probably won’t ever be a movie because it ends badly. I guess some things are best left as magazine stories that quietly disappear.


Presenting “Pretty Good” Photographs Badly

A friend gave me the latest issue of The Walrus, Canada’s answer to the deceased Saturday Night — Canada’s long-lived kick at the arts and letters canon. (It was euthanized in 2005.)

The Walrus has never been a favourite magazine of mine — I dropped my subscription years ago because it was tediously uneven and the good seldom outweighed the bad. Anyway, my recent free copy arrived in the middle of this weekend’s latest storm of the century and I accepted it gladly.

A “visual essay” by Scott Conarroe entitled “On the Edge of North America” caught my attention only because it seemed so bland. The introductory text explained that he had travelled around the North American coast in an old Toyota to document the coastline. My first glance at the pictures suggested he had found it a depressing quest.

Ketchikan, AlaskaBefore I moved into illustrated books, I got my start at magazines that put text and photographs together so I’m always interested to watch magazine photo editors at work.

Why, I wondered, had The Walrus editors chosen Continue reading

EIGHT ways to do justice to a lifetime of photography

 Canadian photographer Pat Morrow has travelled the globe in pursuit of adventure over the past 40 years. Along the way, he:

  • became the 132nd person to summit Mount Everest,
  • set the standard for climbing the highest mountain on each continent (AKA The Seven Summits) and,
  • won more than a dozen national awards for his photos and videography.

Frank and Pat taking a break from photo editing. 2012.

Recently, Pat launched a new adventure by collaborating on a stunning iBook about Mount Everest with fellow mountaineer Sharon Wood and me. (I’ve been a friend of Pat’s since our earliest magazine days when I was at Canadian Geographic and he was a rookie freelance photographer.)

The result — Everest: High Expectations — is a beautiful iBook especially produced for Apple’s iPad. It’s loaded with 145 photographs as well as a half dozen video and audio clips. And also 50,000 words.

Here are 8 reasons why we embraced the concept of the new “coffee tablet” book.

  1. The iPad’s Hi-Def retina display gives photographs an almost Continue reading