Creativity and parenting

Creativity and parenting

You might remember I recently interviewed Andrew Daddo about Creativity and Change for Words and Nerds podcast.

Perhaps I’m subconsciously creating an ad hoc series, as I was lucky enough to takeover another episode to chat to the very funny Kerri Sackville about Creativity and Parenting (which we could probably sub-title Creativity and Chaos).

We talk a lot about writing in the midst of chaos, squeezing the words in even as family life roils around us.

You can hear it here.

creativity and parenting Allison Tait


I documented a lot of the early days of my career as a children’s author right here on this blog, when I was juggling fulltime freelance writing with family and stealing away to write my books.

I think my experience is summed up in this post. 


From little kids, big kids grow


Things have changed for me as my kids have grown and my fiction writing has been able to move more into the centre of my working days. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is how much space children take up in your brain.

When they’re little, you spend a lot of time worrying about the eating, sleeping, breathing, whinging end of things. They’re constantly underfoot, demanding attention.

Then they get bigger.

Now they’re not underfoot all the time but that space in the brain that worries about eating and sleeping and breathing, well, it doesn’t switch off. And because they’re more absent there’s a whole lot more ‘what if?’ taking up residence.

And still I write.

One might think that having larger swathes of time would mean hours and hours spent at my computer, but, in truth, my days are not that different.

I still have a million non-writing-related things to do.

I still write fiction, on average, for about an hour a day. It seems to be my natural limit, or perhaps it’s simply been honed into a habit from years and years of fitting my writing in around other people’s lives.


One thing I know about creativity and parenting


The one thing I know for sure is that I’m glad I started when I did. When it was really tough to make it work and it seemed impossible.

If you’ve got little kids and a big dream to write a novel, I see you.

If you’ve only got time to write a paragraph a day, I see you.

If you’ve got one eye on soccer practice, and your mind is far way in a completely different world, I see you.

If it feels like you will never get to The End, I see you.

You can do it.

Keep going.


A L Tait The Fire StarAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

For full details about Write With Allison Tait, my new online writing community offering Inspiration, Motivation, Information and Connection, go here


Encouraging kids to love writing: 5 mistakes (and how to fix them)

Encouraging kids to love writing: 5 mistakes (and how to fix them)

“My child hates writing – what can I do?”

“How do I get my kid to love writing?”

Getting kids to write – and to love writing – can be a battle for parents. We know this because these questions (and many more just like them) are posed to authors over and over again.

So much so, that Lucinda Gifford, Australian author and illustrator of picture books and junior fiction books, including the recently published (and very charming) novel The Wolves Of Greycoat Hall has created this post about her experiences in encouraging a love of writing in her own children.

Including the mistakes she’s made – and how she fixed them.

Take it away Lucinda!


Author Lucinda Gifford on encouraging kids to love writing

It’s a joyful moment when you see your child put pen to paper of their own accord. They’re being creative; they’re building worlds; they’re going to soar academically!

So what can you do to inspire and encourage your budding author, without overwhelming them? It’s a tricky balance, especially if you love books and writing yourself.

Here are some of the mistakes I’ve made (and I know I’m not the only one) – and what I’ve learned through them.


5 mistakes I made with my kids and writing – and how I made up for them

Mistake 1 – Correcting small errors

“I look over my child’s shoulder to peek at their work. Oh no! The first sentence goes on for two paragraphs. The spelling is all over the place. They’ve written the letter ‘a’ backwards.”

How I fixed it


I’ve learned not to point out small errors, especially at the beginning. It takes away the fun. And writing should be fun for as long as possible, so that kids keep writing.Now I focus on complementing what does work – illustrations, fun details, interesting words, character names… and ideas.

If a child feels confident in their ideas, then they’ll happily come up with more ideas. This means more creativity, more writing, more skill-building, more fun!


Mistake 2 – Forcing the narrative

“So what’s it actually about, darling? Did you know that proper stories have a beginning, a middle and an end?”

How I fixed it

I realised quickly that rules like these are stifling early on – and that our kids will probably be told about story structure hundreds of times at school.

These days, I’m happy to sit back and enjoy my children’s originality. I let their writing take me back to my own childhood thinking, before I became a grown-up immersed in Western narrative structures.

Maybe a child has written a tale which starts off with a dragon called Alannah in a volcano and ends up with Pete the ice-cream being eaten by a llama. Great! I’m happy to enjoy the journey (and any ice-cream that might be available).


Mistake 3 – ‘Being the teacher’

“Maybe this is a good time to point out the difference between a verb and a noun. So they’ll be ahead in class later.”

How I fixed it
It is not a good time. Children meet lots of teachers in their life. School curricula cover adverbs, verbs, nouns, synonyms, homonyms, similes, metaphors…

Instead, I think about things I can do to bring their ideas to life – things that a teacher can’t do in a busy classroom.

For example: acting out a child’s story with favourite toys chatting about characters and ideas in relaxed down-time, reading younger children’s stories aloud in funny voices if permitted, and (our household favourite) discussing who would play the characters in a movie.


Mistake 4 – Oversharing

“Oooh! You’re writing about a dragon! Has you read Dragon Rider? Here it is! Oh look – here’s a picture of a dragon on Pinterest! We could get ‘Dragonology’ from the Op Shop? Oh there used to be a show about dragons when I was a kid. Let me look it up… Hello? Hello!”

How I fixed it
This is the mistake I make the most often. I get overexcited and can’t wait to share my knowledge, swamping my children with references. Much better to imply one has fascinating information, and then wait to be asked.

Step back and be subtle. (ps. If anyone has tips on subtlety, please get in touch.)


Mistake 5 – Expecting a finished piece of work

“But you started off so well – aren’t you going to finish it?”

How I fixed it
My child had a grand vision. They designed a fabulous, multicoloured dragon cover for their story and wrote a short but promising blurb for the back. Now, half a page in, they’re staring out the window.

I’ve learned to accept this might be it. In time they’ll need to develop their perseverance and learn organisational skills. But for now, writing is fun!

Pushing a child to keep working on an idea they’ve moved on from is not the same as encouragement. I mutter a favourite phase of my school art teacher “Process not product”, and leave it for a while.

And if my child doesn’t go back to this particular story idea, I put the fabulous dragon cover on the wall. Maybe I’ll write my own story about a dragon.

After all – writing is fun!


Lucinda Gifford is the author/illustrator of The Wolves Of Greycoat Hall (Walker Books) and the Whitney and Britney picture books (Scholastic), along with a host of others, as well as being the illustrator of a slew of titles ranging from picture books to middle-grade novels.

Find out more about Lucinda and her work here






Would you love more writing advice for kids? Check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.

25 books to extend young readers 9+

25 books to extend young readers 9+

“I’m looking for books for an advanced reader aged 9 – please help!”

“I’m trying to help my 10 year old move on from books with pictures – please help!”

When it comes to regular queries in the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group, these two (or variations of them), are in the top five.

Finding suitable books for a child who is reading at a level well above their age can be a minefield. Your child may be demanding more, more, more, but books for older kids or adults can contain subject matter that young readers are just not ready for.

On the other hand, some kids get stuck in a rut, re-reading Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, or similar, over and over again because they haven’t really found a longer book that ‘grabs’ them. Well-meaning adults will throw all the ‘usual suspects’ at them (think Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, et al), but nothing really sticks.

Extending a reader might mean moving ‘up’ or it might mean moving sideways. Either way, it’s about trying something different. So the Your Kid’s Next Read team (Allison Rushby, Megan Daley, Allison Tait/me) put our minds to the problem and came up with this list.

Whether you have an advanced reader of nine*, or you’re looking to extend your middle-grade reader into books that make them think, feel and wonder, this list has something for you.


25 books to extend young readers 9+

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Ally is smart. So smart she has been able to fool a lot of other smart people, covering up the fact that she can’t read. And then she meets her match – her new teacher, Mr Daniels.



We are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad

The Russian Army marches into East Prussia and the Wolf family has to flee. Liesl promises Mama she will keep brother Otto and baby sister Mia safe. To do so, they will have to turn wild.


The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ada’s fight for self-worth and a life to call her own is absolutely heartbreaking, as is her carer’s backstory of love and the loss of her partner. Together, these strong-willed characters manage to help each other strive for a happy ever after in troubled times.


Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the end of the worldThe Mapmaker Chronicles (series) by A.L. Tait

Quinn is content with life on the farm, but he is selected to become a mapmaker. He soon finds himself racing across the world against other ships, battling sea monsters and searching for treasure. What lies off the edge of the map is more than he could have ever bargained for.



A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

With the rise of the Berlin Wall, Gerta finds her family suddenly and devastatingly divided.


Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Hà’s whole world is Saigon until the Vietnam War reaches her home and she and her family are forced to flee to America.


When This Bell Rings by Allison Rushby

This story within a story told by an unreliable narrator and a famous children’s author will leave the reader guessing until the very end and re-reading to see which clues they missed along the way.




George by Alex Gino

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s a girl. When her teacher won’t let her try out for the female lead role in the school play, George and best friend Kelly come up with a plan to show everyone who she really is.


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This childhood memoir verse novel sees Jacqueline Woodson growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. It covers an incredible amount of topics, from race to religion, to the divide between the North and the South and the Civil Rights movement, using imagery that will stay with you forever.



The Ranger’s Apprentice (series) by John Flanagan

When 15-year-old Will is rejected by battleschool and his ambition to become a knight is thwarted, he becomes the reluctant apprentice to the mysterious Ranger Halt. Some fantasy, mostly adventure.


Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia’s immigrant parents are doing it tough and so is Mia, who tends the desk at the Calivista motel while they clean rooms.


Aster’s Good, Right Things by Kate Gordon

Each day Aster must do a good, right thing – a challenge she sets herself, to make someone else’s life better. Nobody can know about her ‘things’, because then they won’t count. And if she doesn’t do them, she knows everything will go wrong. Then she meets Xavier.



Bindi by Kirli Saunders (illustrated by Dub Lefller)

Written from the point of view of 11-year-old Bindi and her friends on Gundungurra Country, this beautiful verse novel explores climate, bushfires and healing.


Refugee by Alan Gratz

Three different children with one common mission: escape from the horrors of their war-torn homelands.


Call Of The Wild by Jack London

A classic tale of survival, adventure and finding your true self, told through the eyes of Buck, a farm dog who is kidnapped and ends up pulling sleds in the Klondike region of Canada during the goldrush.



Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents and when they are tragically taken from her and Willow must find a way through her grief.


Sick Bay by Nova Weetman

Meg is struggling and hides out in sick bay to avoid other kids. Riley doesn’t want to go to sick bay, but has type 1 diabetes and an over-protective mother. Together, the unlikely pair find the space and courage in sick bay to be themselves.


Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Jude and her mother must leave volatile Syria for America and a strange new life full of unexpected surprises.



Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay

On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town. Twelve years later, she and her classmate Liam are drawn to the man-made lake and the mysteries it hides. As summer heats up and the lake waters become lower and lower, secrets are slowly uncovered. Can Cassie bring the shocking truth to light before it’s too late?


Across The Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble

Neoma and Jag and their small community are ‘living gentle lives’ on high ground surrounded by the risen sea that has caused widespread devastation. When strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive unannounced, the friends find themselves drawn into a web of secrecy and lies that endangers the way of life of their entire community.


Everything I’ve Never Said by Samantha Wheeler

Ava is desperate to communicate with her family, but Rett Syndrome makes this impossible. That is, until some new people in her life allow this strong, driven character to finally show the world her true personality.



El Deafo by Cece Bell

Cece is starting at a new school, one where she is the only kid with a giant hearing aid strapped to her chest. And then she discovers her superpower – she can hear her teacher in the teacher’s lounge and the bathroom. If only she could channel her superpowers into making a true friend …


Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Told from the alternating views of Peter and Pax (a fox), this is an emotional tale of love, loss, loyalty and the horrors of war.


The Fall by Tristan Bancks

An exciting, action-packed story. When Sam hears a struggle in the apartment above and sees someone fall (pushed?) from the sixth floor, he goes to wake his father, Harry – but Harry, a crime reporter, is gone, and when Sam goes downstairs, so is the body. The next 24 hours are a heart-stopping ride.


A L Tait The Fire StarAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.


*As always, particularly with advanced readers, suitability comes down to knowing your individual reader. Please check the full description of each book for an insight into themes, level of tension, and more. Clicking the book title will take you to Booktopia. See contact page for details.

12 often-overlooked children’s classics

12 often-overlooked children’s classics

classic books for modern childrenFor many years, my friend Allison Rushby has been a ‘go-to’ source for me for ‘classic’ children’s stories. The woman has read everything, particularly if there’s a green and pleasant English setting involved, and is the team member we turn to when a question about ‘classics for kids’ comes up in the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group.

Classics are an interesting area. Some of them withstand the test of time beautifully, but others just seem tired and old-fashioned.

I will never forget reading Around The World In Eighty Days by Jules Verne to my oldest son, then about eight. We spent an awfully long time wading through travel description waiting for the balloon to show up and then were disappointed when it did.

It gave me the opportunity to discuss writing in different eras with him – a time when nobody much had seen the world versus a time when it’s at your fingertips thanks to Google – and may, in fact, have indirectly and subconsciously fed into the reservoir of inspiration that became The Mapmaker Chronicles series, but oh my word it was a hard slog at the time…

But I digress.

Allison has kindly put together a list of classic reads for children that she feels are as exciting and engaging today as they were when first written. As she candidly admits, this list is heavy on English novels, so we’re also working on an Aussie classics list (my all-time favourite Callie’s Castle by Ruth Park is sadly no longer available, but my love of turrets remains).

In the meantime, take it away Al!

Beyond the usual suspects

There are certain “classic” children’s books that seem to be suggested time and time again. And for good reason! Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking and The Secret Garden have become classics due to their marvellous storytelling.

But there are so many, many other classic children’s books that I know hold a special place in my heart right alongside these popular titles and I find when they come up in conversation, I long to reach for them and delve back into their familiar pages immediately.

I’ve been keeping a little list of these many, many books in one of my (many, many) notebooks. When I came across the notebook a few weeks back, I thought it was time to write a post listing some of these beautiful classics that don’t get suggested quite so often (feel free to blame my Nana for the list being solidly English in nature).

12 often-overlooked children’s classics

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild

I find Ballet Shoes still gets recommended a lot (don’t hate me, but I personally find the Fossils and GUM/Great Uncle Matthew a bit much). I prefer White Boots, hanging out at the chilly ice rink in a cardi and being a part of the burgeoning friendship of Harriet and Lalla.

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston (a six-book series)

A magical old house, lots of spirits (including a demonic tree spirit!) and a crazy boat ride to get there. Fun times. I am still kicking myself that I lived down the road from Lucy M. Boston’s house (the inspiration for the novels) for a full year and had no idea it was open to the public.

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge (also What Katy Did at School, What Katy Did Next, Clover and In the High Valley)

I’m pretty sure I could have kept reading about Katy Carr, her endless “scrapes” and all the members of her 1860s family forever. Thankfully, there are quite a few books to keep you going here.

The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden

When you break it down, this is a mighty strange book, but it just works. Tottie Plantaganet (what a name!) is a doll and lives in Emily and Charlotte’s doll house. And all is good. Until evil Marchpane moves in… I have only listed one Rumer Godden book, but I adore all of her writing, especially The Story of Holly and Ivy and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Her books are always unusual and unexpected, but in a way that feels as if you’ve found the exact story you were looking for.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

The year is 1290, Catherine is fourteen, an avid diarist and very concerned that she will be married off to someone horrid (and she most definitely should be concerned). More for the YA crowd, as there is violence, sex, death in childbirth and death in general (it is the Middle Ages, after all).

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

I love this funny little book about Emil, a German boy who is sent on an errand in Berlin in 1929 that (of course), goes horribly wrong.

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

There’s just something about Frog and Toad. These are very easy to read stories for early readers, but I’m quite sure I read them again and again right up into my teens, because Frog and Toad are just plain funny and everything friends should be.

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

Carrie and her brother Nick have been evacuated from London and find themselves in a Welsh village and a hotbed of family drama.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I feel like this book is often overlooked as Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is invariably recommended first and foremost, but it really is top notch (have just taken one for the team and had a little re-read to make sure). When Sara Crewe’s fortunes change suddenly, her kind and generous personality does not. Of course you know she’ll win out in the end, but it’s a lot of fun waiting for the payoff.

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

A good option for readers who love Anne of Green Gables and What Katy Did, Pollyanna’s optimistic “glad game” errs on the side of cloying, but you’d have to have a mean, withered little black heart not to enjoy this read.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The train! The menacing wolves! The evil Miss Slighcarp! The horrid orphanage! Starving Aunt Jane! There is a lot of wide-eyed, white-knuckled reading to be had here.

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankaster Brisley

I still want to be Milly-Molly-Mandy when I grow up and I am 45! Millicent Margaret Amanda lives in a darling little village in a nice white cottage with a thatched roof and wears a fetching pink and white striped dress. Her friends include Little Friend Susan and Billy Blunt. So, so twee, but incredibly comforting, like a tummy-full of your favourite childhood pudding. Really, does it get any better than this? I think not.

Allison Rushby is the author of more than 20 books. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Seven Keys, is the sequel to the award-winning The Turnkey. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.








Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher.

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you’d like more book suggestions for your young reader, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community.

*This post contains affiliate links. Click the title of each book to find out more about it or to purchase from Booktopia.

Writing outside my comfort zone

Writing outside my comfort zone

Action. Adventure. History. Mystery.

When you think of an A.L. Tait story, are these the kinds of words that come to mind? They are for me.

Hilarious? Rib-cracking? Not so much. (Though Book Boy’s review of the first draft of the first Mapmaker Chronicles manuscript as ‘a little bit funny’ remains one of my favourite reviews ever.)

The truth is that I love a ‘voice’ with humour. My characters are fond of a quip, a wisecrack, a pithy observation. I confess I find myself laughing on the inside as I write some of their dialogue.

But I had never, ever set out to write a ‘funny’ story until Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin sent me an email earlier this year, the gist of which was this:

“Will you write a 2000-word funny story for kids for Total Quack Up Again?”

“Um…” I responded. “Let me just see if I can.”

So, feeling like a complete and utter beginner (which, let’s face it, I am when it comes to this particular type of story), I sat down and blasted out the first draft of ‘How (Not) To Be Funny’, just before the boys (15 and 12) got home from school.

Nervously, I handed it to them, enduring their howls of laughter (at me) when I told them that I needed them to tell me if it was funny.

Then I waited, pacing, listening to the clock tick and the pages turn, as they each read it.

“Well?” I asked, hands on hips.

“It’s funny,” was the verdict, and I was so relieved I even forgave them the hint of surprise in their voices that Mum had it in her.

“I’m in,” I emailed to Adrian and Sally.

And then I wrote three other little stories in the same world. Just for fun.

Just because you haven’t…

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I became a children’s author almost by accident. Because I had an idea that simply could not be ignored. That idea went on to become The Mapmaker Chronicles, a four-book series.

At the time, I wrote and spoke a lot about the fact that I was writing commercial women’s fiction because ‘it made sense’ – it was what I knew. I knew nothing about writing novels for children, and most certainly not one thing about writing a series of novels for children.

But, in the end, I simply had to give it a go – mostly because the idea wouldn’t leave me alone.

And I discovered, way out there beyond my comfort zone, something really special.

Is my story in Total Quack Up Again really special? Maybe, maybe not. But pushing myself back out there, into writing something I hadn’t tried before, was a revelation. To me.

Just because you haven’t written it before is no reason not to try writing it now.

So if you’ve got an idea for something different, something well outside your comfort zone, give it a try.

If nothing else, it might just be a lot of fun.

Total Quack Up Again is on sale now!

Edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck, it’s an anthology of funny stories by 12 Australian authors – Nat Amoore, Belinda Murrell, Felice Arena, Belinda Murrell, Michael Wagner, Adrian Beck, Adam Cece, Shelley Ware, Tim Harris, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane – as well as one by nine-year-old Coby Sanchez (that’s him in the main image) who won a national competition in order to have his story included.

Each story is illustrated by Jules Faber, and all royalties go to Dymocks Children’s Charities

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