Happy Family Literacy Day!


Reading with or to a child is more than sharing stories. It is a sharing of ideas and emotions. It provokes questions and reflections. It opens a dialogue between the adult reader and the child. Reading permits an exploration of imaginary worlds, of abstract thought, of art and colors and shapes. Reading with or to a child should go beyond the experience of learning to read. Reading should be a pleasure, a moment of joy, an island to explore. I am often asked when, why, where, how and what should I read to my child? 

FAQ to an author-illustrator:


When should I start reading books to my child?

It's never too early! You can start before your child is born.

You can read to book-chewing, thumb-sucking, fidgety babies.

You can read to two toddlers (and one cat) or more, at a time.

Don't stop reading to your child when your child has learned to read. Let him read to you. Or take turns.

Read books with your child as long as you both enjoy it.


What should I read to my child?

There are books for everyone: budding scientists, clowns, cowboys, princesses, explorers, astronauts, baseball players, ballerinas, pirates and artists.

Find the right one. The book that will interest, captivate and inspire your child.

Offer your child a wide variety of books. Expand his mind.

After all you wouldn't serve your child potatoes for dinner every single day. Or would you?

 Bring your child to the library and let her choose her own books.

Read paper books to your child. They are lovely objects that you can feel, touch, smell and share...

Don't worry, your child will be interacting for the rest of his life with screens, technological devices and other as-of-yet uninvented modes of communication. More than you could ever imagine.


Make a habit of reading every day to your child. Reading at bedtime is great, but why not read at other times or in different places? Read on the bus, in a dentist's waiting room, after lunch. Read outside, with a flashlight, in a tree, etc.


How should I read to my child? What is the best way to read to my child?

 There is no best way, but...

 …you could make characters come alive by giving them voices: The monster GRRRRRROWLED! (Use a loud, deep, grrrrowling voice).

The ant whispered: "My name is Anton..." (Use a tiny, whispery ant voice).

The duck quacked. (Use a quacking nasal voice.) And so on and so forth.

…Or, you could "read" the illustrations: Look for details in the art. Empower your child by letting him point out the details that he has spotted. Discuss the art: What materials did the artist use? What is the body language of the characters? What does it mean?

If your child interrupts you with a question or a comment, don't hesitate to stop reading to answer the question. If you don't know the answer, ask your child: What do you think? 


My child doesn't like reading. What should I do to encourage him to read?

Be a role model. Read books in front of your child. Talk about the story you are reading.

Try to find books about subjects that will interest your child: She likes fire engines? He likes drawing monsters or pirate ships? She likes worms? After all, don't you choose your books according to your interests?

Librarians and good independent booksellers are a great help when you don't know where to start looking.


My child just reads comic books or picture books, how can I get him to read novels or more serious books?

If your child only reads comic books, show your interest. Read them with him. Discuss them. Then propose graphic novels. Or first novels with a lot of illustrations. There is no rush to graduate to 'serious' novels.


Why should I read to my child? He will learn to read in school anyway.

You are right. There is a good chance that your child will learn to read in school. But don't you think it is a parent's responsibility to encourage their child to read with delight and curiosity?

It is the best, most enduring and life-changing gift that you can give to your child.





How do you choose your colours?

This question was put to me by a young artist visibly mystified as to how one decides to put one colour next to another.  Or how one decides to paint a sky blue, or yellow or bright pink. Do all colours come from nature ? And must they reproduce nature faithfully?

A Short Travelogue of Colours...

I think that a lot of my exploration of colours and light stems from my travels. When I travel I am much more aware of colours that are not familiar to me either because of their combinations or juxtapositions or because of how the light of the country I am travelling in transforms them. You could say that this is one of the main reasons I travel, to sharpen and refresh my sense of wonder at the light, colours, architecture, flora, and fauna. I collect these impressions and use them often as visual nourishment in my art.

Travel Journals

 When I travel I keep a journal, mostly written in pencil with small sketches. In it, I note the places, events, adventures, and I sketch bits of architecture, tiles, details, birds, flowers. Sometimes, I'll tape leaves, feathers or bits of paper into the journal. I will write the colours down if I don't have any colours or a camera with me.

Leaves, feather and annotated bird sketches from the South of France

My second journal is photographic.

I have just come back from a writing retreat in Mexico and my photographic journal is absolutely bursting with light and colours. In towns like Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and Cholula, for example, my senses were assaulted by a riot of colours. Look at this impossibly lemon-yellow church in Cholula: 

Or the palette of colours in the city of Guanajuato: 

And the contrasting yet harmonious juxtapositions of colours in San Miguel de Allende:

A Colour Collection

 So, in short, I would suggest to my young artist friend to start a colour collection.

Colours of every hue, shade, and value. Brilliant reds, delicate pinks, blood oranges, fluorescent greens, jacaranda purples, turquoise blues, pearly whites...

And then experiment...

¿Alguna Pregunta?

I spent a lovely afternoon talking about ¿Alguna Pregunta? with schoolchildren at the Sala Literaria of the Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende. We exchanged stories, ideas and questions in Spanish and English. That day, it snowed in the mountains above San Miguel. A rare occurrence. It was my first Mexican snow day!  https://www.facebook.com/salaliterariasma/



Comment choisir ses couleurs ?

 C'est la question que m'a posée un jeune artiste curieux qui se demandait comment on prenait la décision d'utiliser telle couleur plutôt qu'une autre. Doit-on peindre un ciel bleu, jaune ou gris? Est-ce que toutes les couleurs viennent de la nature? Doit-on les reproduire fidèlement? Comment faire le plein de couleurs inusitées, inspirantes et évocatrices?

Un guide de voyage tout en couleurs...

 Ce qui m'inspire le plus, c'est de me retrouver dans un environnement nouveau, où les paysages, la lumière et les couleurs m'émerveillent par leurs combinaisons osées, éclatantes et inconnues. Où l'architecture est différente, où la faune et la flore me surprennent. C'est pour toutes ces raisons que je voyage beaucoup: je m'abreuve visuellement, c'est un ressourcement et un retour à la vision du monde tel que je le percevais quand j'étais toute petite. Donc, je renouvelle ma palette de couleurs.

Journal de voyage

 Lorsque je voyage, je tiens un journal dans un petit carnet qui ne me quitte jamais. Je note mes impressions, mes idées et mes aventures au crayon et j'y ajoute de petites esquisses: 

esquisse à Beijing : cages d'oiseaux et sous-vêtements

esquisse à Beijing : cages d'oiseaux et sous-vêtements

Je tiens un deuxième journal, celui-là, en photos. 

Je reviens tout juste d'une retraite d'écriture au Mexique et mon journal photo est une explosion de couleurs. Dans les villes de Cholula, Guanajuato ou San Miguel de Allende, les couleurs et la lumière me font rêver.

Ci-dessus: le jaune citron invraisemblable d'une église de Cholula, la palette de couleurs extravagantes de Guanajuato, et les contrastes et juxtapositions harmonieuses de San Miguel de Allende.

Une collection de couleurs

 Donc je suggérerais à ce jeune artiste de commencer sa propre collection de couleurs.

Des couleurs en pagaille! Rouge coquelicot, orange feu, jaune citron ou safran,vert pistache, bleu outremer, gris perle...

Et ensuite, il faut explorer toutes les possibilités.

Et oser...

¿Alguna Pregunta?

Un autre plaisir du voyage: J'ai passé un après-midi joyeuxen compagnie d'une quarantaine d'écoliers mexicains à la Sala Literaria de las Bellas Artes à San Miguel de Allende. Je leur ai lu mon livre ¿Alguna Pregunta? (Un million de questions!) et, bien sûr, j'ai répondu à leurs questions, en español! 


Reading on the Road or in a Bathtub

Fall is the season of book events and award announcements. I was thrilled to learn that I was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for my book Any Questions?

CBC Arts sent filmmakers to explore my studio from top to bottom, filming sketches and paint brushes, watercolour palettes and ink bottles, unfinished drawings and bits of coloured paper, my usual "artistic" mess. I was interviewed while drawing, while reading, while looking out the window. What a change from working alone in my studio!

Every year, CBC Books partners with the TD Book Awards and the CCBC to create Book Clubs in cities across Canada.The finalists are invited to meet with kids who have read and discussed their books in class. I was invited to the Edmonton Book Club where I visited the Westglen Elementary School. There the grade 2 and grade 6 paired off and did buddy-readings. Chris de la Torre of Daybreak Alberta was there to interview me as well as talk with the kids, who after reading the book together had created all sorts of fantastic art.

I was also invited to the Halifax Book Club where I had the pleasure of reading in a bathtub in a classroom at Ste Catherine's School (luckily the bathtub was filled with big purple cushions!). This is the teacher's way to encourage children to read anywhere and everywhere. Then I visited Crichton Park School in Dartmouth where the children who had each received a copy of Any Questions? had millions of questions for me, of course.

Finally, on Wednesday night at the wonderful TD Gala I was thrilled and totally surprised to win the CBC Fan Choice Award, the result of an online poll in which young readers voted for their favourite TD Canadian Children's Literature Award finalists. Seven-year-old voter Nora Vukadinovic of Calgary won a trip to Toronto to see me accept the award and meet me. We were both speechless. Although, after the presentation, Nora chatted with me about her favourite books. 


I will be travelling next week to Paris to attend Le Salon du livre jeunesse de Montreuil, an immense book fair which invites authors, illustrators, teachers, parents and children to celebrate the joy of reading. The tragic events of last week in Paris which I have no words to describe, have of course colored this event in shades of darkness. I was very moved to read the letter which the organizers have sent to everyone. Here is the translation of an extract:

"(...) Culture in general and children's literature in particular are treasures that help illuminate the world, giving our young people a place to stand and grow. Children's literature tells stories that help the young of all ages understand each other, and learn about one another, face the fears that concern them, and form answers to the many questions of their lives. But also, and especially, because these books help them dream, and discover words and language, and stimulate their imagination, they introduce young people to the world in as free a way as possible, making them citizens of our planet.
Because the right to culture and freedom of expression is not negotiable, because our children have the right to imagine and dream, despite recent events we have chosen to hold the Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse -- the book fair for young readers -- that will take place from December 2 to 7, 2015, in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris.(...)"

I will be signing books all week as well as visiting schools in Paris and its suburbs. 

Marie-Louise Gay's books are available from your favourite wholesaler or bookstore.
Or visit Groundwood Books.