Gabby’s off to the Caribbean!

Rainforest of Reading Festival improves literacy in the Caribbean

Something amazing will be happening in the Caribbean this November, and it’s all thanks to a group of people who saw a literacy need in another part of the world, and took action to help.

GABBY final with school uniform

To help make Gabby feel more at home in the Caribbean, illustrator Jan Dolby gave her a smart new school uniform modelled after the ones worn by girls in St. Lucia and Grenada.

Thanks to the One World Schoolhouse Foundation more than 8,000 schoolchildren in St. Lucia, Grenada and Montserrat will receive books for their classrooms and get to meet eight popular Canadian kidlit authors and illustrators.

Gabby_Teachers_Guide-FINAL-CARIBBEAN-EDITION--cover-for-webDownload a free copy of the Gabby: Teacher’s Guide (Caribbean edition) here:

Gabby_Teachers_Guide Caribbean edition

The Rainforest of Reading Festival is one program the foundation puts on “to help kickstart the love of reading and nurture a generation of imaginative and creative thinkers in the Caribbean,” said executive director Sonya White.

“Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and volcanoes, as well as a lack of funds have contributed to a serious decline in the number of libraries in the Caribbean,” she said. The number of books available to children there, including in Rainforest of reading logothe classroom, is severely limited; often there is just one textbook for the whole class.

The Rainforest of Reading program was inspired by Canada’s Forest of Reading program, which gives elementary school kids in Canada a chance to read a selection of great books and then vote for their favourites.

Here’s what’s going to be happening in the Caribbean in November:

  • Twelve books were nominated—including GABBY. Click here tBananagramso see the list of all books that were nominated for Rainforest of Reading Award.
  • 450 copies of each book were sent to the Caribbean—one set for each Grade 3 and Grade 4 classroom in St. Lucia, Grenada and Montserrat.
Many of the authors and illustrators--as well as other volunteers--helped pack the boxes with the books and materials that were then shipped off to the Caribbean.

Many of the authors and illustrators–as well as other volunteers–helped pack the boxes with the books and materials that were then shipped off to the Caribbean.

  • Each class also receives a teacher’s kit, a “Bananagrams” game, book passports and posters.

The teacher’s kit walks the teacher through the program. You can download the Rainforest of Reading Teacher’s Kit here.

  • Teachers put up posters, which feature the book covers, in their classroom. The posters also have room for each child to check off the books as they read them.
  • The children also answer questions about each book.
  • Each child gets a “passport.” After they’ve read a book, they get a sRainforest passportsticker for their passport until they’ve read all 12.
  • The teachers fill out a survey before and after the program, so they can measure how far their kids have come.


  • Eight Canadian authors and illustrators are flying to the Caribbean to participate in the festival. (They’re each travelling on their own dime; the foundation will pay for their room and board.)
  • The children vote for their favourite books in two categories: fiction and non-fiction. The teachers submit their votes via the website (by Nov. 19). There are separate winners for St. Lucia and Grenada.Rainforest Teacher's Kit
  • On Festival Day—it’s a different date depending on what city you live in—classes travel by bus or car (sometimes a long way) to the festival site. The dates are: Montserrat, Nov. 18; Grenada Nov. 25, St. Lucia Nov. 27 and 28.
  • A parade will start the festival. Just like the Olympics, the book titles are paraded in. Schools have chosen a book to champion, and the kids from that school will dress up or create floats to represent their book in the “Parade of Readers.”
  • The Canadian authors and illustrators who have travelled from Canada will each have a tent, where they’ll sign books and passports, talk to the kids and run activity centres.
  • The kids will file into the festival area and meet the authors and illustrators. They’ll also do crafts and activities.

Here’s a terrific video of us packing up the books and teaching supplies that were sent to the Caribbean in August 2014.

Rainforest of Reading boat

The books arrived by boat in the Caribbean on Sept. 10, 2014.

Other projects
One World Schoolhouse also gathers books given to them by Canadian schools and ships them—about nine tonnes of fiction and non-fiction books as well as underutilized school textbooks—to the Caribbean.

In the future, they plan to expand their program to include computers for use in schools in the Caribbean.

Blog tag: “The Next Big Thing,” Gabby—Drama Queen

Joyce Gabby JanThis post is part of “The Next Big Thing,” which is a world-wide blog tour—someone described it as a kind of chain letter for authors. It began in Australia, to showcase authors and illustrators and their work. If you Google “The Next Big Thing blog tour” you’ll get introduced to dozens of talented authors and illustrators.

Gabby illustrator Jan Dolby and I were tagged by two talented kidlit creators whose book, Skink on the Brink, comes out later this month. Skink was written by Lisa Dalrymple and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo, a three-dimensional media artist.

In the blog tag, each kidlit creator answers the same six questions about their book. Here are the comments from Jan Dolby and myself.

What is the title of your next book?
Gabby_coverOur first book, Gabby, came out in January 2013.

Our second book in the series is called Gabby—Drama Queen, and it comes out in September 2013.



Where did the idea come from for the book? How did you come up with the final character illustrations for the book?
Joyce: I’m very passionate about literacy. Something I discovered in my research is that if reading can be “tactile,” many kids will absorb and understand it better and possibly faster. So I thought, ‘what if there was a way to have the letters in a book be touchable, and moveable?’ And there it was!

As for Gabby herself, I knew that we would have to have a character who was smart and quirky enough to just go with the flow when strange things started happening around her. The actual name “Gabby” came up in a brainstorming session with my editors/publishers, Christie and Cathy. Before that, the character was named Sarah, after a little girl I know. I think “Gabby” really suits the character—plus it’s a mild pun, which I really like.

Gabby with friends Jan: I draw and draw until I create a character-drawing that I fall in love with. With Gabby I fell in love fast. I’ve always enjoyed book characters that have red hair and a spunky personality. I had to give Joyce’s book one of those.

I tweeked the character a little to give her more height and width—with an “emotional flower” and crazy curly pigtails.

After awhile, the tiny little girl—Gabby—with the red glasses and yellow socks arrived!

In what genre does your book fall?
It’s a children’s picture book, for ages approximately 3 to 6.
At the back of the book there are also literacy activities that parents can do with their kids.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Miranda Cosgrove young
Joyce: It would have to be someone young and very quirky and smart. Maybe someone like Miranda Cosgrove when she was a little younger (she played Carly in iCarly).

38th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards - InsideOr what about Quvenzhane Wallis – the girl who was in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”? She’s pretty smart and, I think, quirky.


Phyllis Diller 2Jan: When I came up with the Mrs. Oldham character, I was constantly thinking of Phyllis Diller. I loved her outbursts of laughter, her crazy hair and body language. I’m also a big fan of Rico Rodriguez (Manny) from Modern Family. His character on the show is so confident. That’s how I see Gabby’s friend, Roy.

What is a brief synopsis of your book?
Gabby—Drama Queen
When Gabby and her friend Roy want to put on a play, what could go wrong?
They soon find out, as “Queen Gabriella” loses her precious crown! They’ll find it in the most unlikely place – with the help of Gabby’s magic word-making book and her nutty but loveable neighbour, Mrs. Oldham.

Who is publishing your book?
Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Publishers in Toronto.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? How long did the illustrations take to complete?
It took about a year to write the first Gabby book, and then re-write and revise it eight or nine times. When you don’t have many words, you have to make sure each one works really hard. Plus, you have to leave room for the illustrator to breathe.

It took a bit less time to write the second one, because I had less time—actually, we’re still revising but we’re pretty gabby-drama-queen-pg10close to the final product.

Jan: Creating the new characters for Gabby—Drama Queen was a blast and didn’t really take me that long.  That for me is the most fun.  Between the storyboard drawings and the final painted illustrations, I would say it has taken me about 3 to 4 months to get the illustrations ready to scan.  I’m at the digital stage where the magic of Photoshop and Illustrator come in.  That process will take just a couple of weeks to finish. 


ThankDavid Anderson illustrators for reading, blog tour-ers! I’m happy now to tag the next person in this blog tour, multiple award-winning illustrator and cartoonist, David Anderson. I’ve known David for a long time, back when he drew brilliant editorial cartoons for a publication I was an editor with, called Canadian HR Reporter. Of course, his drawings have also appeared in some lesser-known papers like, oh, the New York Times and Time magazine. Enjoy!

Three things you can do to get your kid reading

49th shelf logoIf you’re not familiar with 49th Shelf, get yerself on over there and check it out. It’s a terrific website that promotes Canadian literature.

They were kind enough to let me publish a guest post this week. Please take a look at my article, which talks about three things – just three – you can do to help instill a love of reading in your child.

Here’s the article on 49th Shelf.

NaNoWriMo means “write a novel in November”

NaNoWriMo logoYes, you heard that right. Write a novel in November.

NaNoWriMo is: National (presumably it refers to the U.S. but they welcome everyone) Novel Writing Month.

Starting Nov. 1, you write and write and write every day… until you’ve reached 50,000 words by Nov. 30. Simple! Well…

To help you in your endeavour, the NaNoWriMo website offers forums, blogs, tips, ideas and a word counter. (You scramble your writing and upload it to the website where it is counted and promptly deleted.) Your word count then goes into the pool for your city. Or just for yourself.

Obviously, this is something we can “just do ourselves, anyway,” right?

But… do we? No. If life was that simple, there wouldn’t be Weight Watchers. Or spin classes.

Or Chocoholics Anonymous. (Note to self: Start Chocoholics Anonymous.)
See? The ideas are flowing already and it’s not even November yet!

Sign up for NaNoWriMo and get inspired. Do it now. Before November. Because in November you’ll be, like, “Oh, it’s already started — I’m behind… I can’t possibly catch up… I’ll do it next year.”

Just like you said when you were trying to kick your chocolate habit. Uh-huh. Here’s the link again: NaNoWriMo.

"This tall" sign

By the way, there’s a kids’ forum as well so no excuses if you’re not “this tall.”

My first reading of GABBY – to JK/SKs

Gabby_coverI am reading GABBY at Word on the Street this Sunday. It’s my first public book reading… ever. So naturally, I’m a bit nervous. And, naturally, I wanted to try the book out with some kids first in a smaller setting to see what I might need to tweak.

Hillcrest school was kind enough to lend me a lovely JK/SK class for 20 minutes or so. (Thank you to the teachers and the principal for setting that up!)

Here’s what I learned:

  • When you offer some kids a fabric letter to hold, you’d better have something for the other kids to hold, too. Preferably, the first letter of their name. (Or they may throw a letter at you. At your head. And have to apologize later.)
  • At the beginning of the school year, some JK kids are very young. Not everyone will know all the letters, or the sounds they make.
  • Once you’ve finished reading the book, you’d better have used up all your time… or have something else up your sleeve. The kids all turn their eyes on you and… crickets. I had to think fast! (We talked about the first letters of the children’s names.)
  • It’s great to have a “crisis” in your book. The principal suggested that I ask the kids “What will Gabby do?” And it really worked! The kids came up with some great ideas. (Where the heck were they when I was writing the book!?)
  • If your protagonist conjures up a fish for the cat to eat… it’s probably best not to dwell too much on the cute little fish.
  • Teachers are fantastic in terms of giving you feedback and ideas for next time. Thank you, Laura, Nancy and Jon!
  • If your book ends with a word like PILLOW, you’d better make two fabric Ls. (And fast, before Sunday!)

Wish me luck!


Stuffed letters–great for literacy

Letters for Gabby

These fabric letters will be used during my book readings. Tactile letters of any kind are great for young readers to help them connect with words.

Just finished sewing some stuffed fabric letters that I’ll use as props when I do book readings for Gabby.

A local wedding dress designer donated some fabric (including some raw silk – check out the J!) and my friend Jane is helping me stuff the letters; I still need a few more.

They’ll be fun for kids to throw around and put together into words, just like Gabby does.

Playing with letters–whether they’re Scrabble tiles, letter dice like the ones in Jr. Boggle or these stuffed letters–gets kids interacting with words and is a great first step in the literacy process.