SEP017: Writing Children’s Books With Tahnee McShane

Tahnee McShane is a Tasmanian teacher who is writing children’s books and creating accompanying podcasts.

Almost every teacher has that book in their head. 

Have you ever acted on yours? Tahnee has.

Tahnee McShane is going through the early process of writing her children’s book, listen in as we explore all that she is learning on her way. 

I love what Tahnee is doing with her business and it is something that every teacher can look to.

Links mentioned in the show

Read the full transcript

Note, 100% accuracy is not guaranteed with transcripts, but gee we try.

Yeah. So I, I came to teaching as my, my second secondary career After moving to a regional community. So when it, you know, were lots of teaching jobs needed. But in my previous career, not many jobs, but I’d teaching it always been a part of what I did. So I was a classically trained violinist. And so I always had modeling students. And so then I retrained as a teacher, and I started working in my local community in earlier, which worked really well, because I had a young family at the time. So that was what we’ve got down in tears. Yes, you’re launching into learning program that’s in all the state government schools. And it’s really about getting kids engaged in school with their parents really early. And then as my children got a little bit older, I went into the classroom. So I’ve been in lower primary classes and kindergarten, which is a part time it’s a part time thing down here, kindergarten, and then you go into to prep, which is your first year of school, which I think a lot of the sites called foundation. So we do it a little bit differently down in Tasmania, but I really enjoyed my time in the kindergarten classroom, because it’s such an important an important phase of the child’s life. And, you know, it’s their transition into school. And so I did that for a little while, but things just just became too much, I find that I really struggle with the school ground politics. So I,

you know, I really like to work in a collegial environment. And I really try to get the best outcomes for my my students and to make the parents expectations. But I found that that wasn’t always aligned with what the school’s focus might have been. So I found that really challenging and then that was becoming quite a negative for me and for my family on are becoming harm quite upset or angry, or, and I just wouldn’t focus. So we took a break, I took a break from that for a little while. And I focused more on our family business completely unrelated to education.

And then I started getting back into it, my children. So I’ve got three children now. And so in between all of that have come back. And so I started writing book and then that’s morphed into the Annabel and turtle podcast, and that’s all about growth mindset, and doing a few other creative jobs, but also on I’m working for charity, doing some tutoring for some for some children. And I’m also doing some relief. So I just find that that’s a much better balance for me. And that’s been great part of this journey is just finding what suits me and it’s different for everybody.

Yeah, definitely. And that’s like you said, it is different for everybody. And finding, finding that balance that suits you. For some people. It’s completely it’s wanting to start a business when they’re teaching in hopes of, you know, eventually leaving teaching. Some people want to have that balance for a long time. Some people want something that they can sort of focus on more during the holidays, and finding that balance is different from person to person. And it’s not something you’re going to get right the first time. So it’s really important to sort of find what suits you and suits your lifestyle the most.

Hmm, absolutely. And I found for me, I I don’t want to be completely dispatched from the classroom. My creative work is still really stemmed in education. Because I just believe so strongly in the importance of the early years. And I love the kids of that age. I love working with them. So my, my work outside of the classroom still

is inspired by the kids that I’m working with. So especially with my growth mindset work, I’ve got some children that haven’t been in the classroom for a long time, for various reasons that I’m tutoring. And so I’m getting ideas of how story can really help them see things from a different perspective.

Yeah, definitely. And I want to go back to the book, you mentioned it briefly or when, like, when did you have the idea? Is that something you always had in mind? Take me a little bit through the process.

Yeah, well, I have always loved writing. And I think a lot of teachers would, would agree that they’ve always loved writing, and especially those of us who have several degrees, we can get addicted to it. But um, I the, the idea for this particular story came around really organically, it was something that I told my children at night, and then they would give me variations of the story. So we had lots of different ideas. And then it just kind of grew for a while I’m was just thinking of it. When I was driving, I do a lot of thinking when I’m driving. And I just thought I

it seems to be a picture book and I cannot draw and I’ve not that way inclined at home. I’m really good ideas. But drawing is not been something that works well for me. And it’s, I don’t know anybody that’s an illustrator. And I don’t have a reputation as an author. So I’m going to have to do this myself. And then it came to me that I had a colleague

from working at school who was a fantastic artist and I thought I wonder if she wants to join in this project with me. And look that was amazing that was such a special process and she said yes, and like straight away and then the so the characters are Annabel and turtle Annabel is one of my children’s names, so and just the drawings that Marianne came back with, straightaway, just added so much more than depth and personality than the stories that I had created in, you know, for the bedtime stories. So just that collaboration with someone else is on the same page with you adds so much to your work,

and really helped push it along. So it got to the stage where originally I thought we were going to submit this book for publishing. And as I researched more into that, I found that not many publishers were accepting unsolicited submissions from people from people. So they really were really looking for middle grade fiction and that sort of thing. And so I thought, well, my one wants to look at my books. And we’re going to have to self publish. And because I had already got Marianne on board, what we were committed to the process. So that’s probably where I could have backed out if I the all is too hot, and I’m not really don’t really know what I’m doing it, you know, that’s, I would have done that in the past. But because I had someone else went out that I was working with that commitment to what she’d already done, help bring it over the line. And so now we’re fully committed to this self publishing

idea. He has been a huge learning learning learning curve, I suppose you would say, um,

yeah. So when you go along about self publishing, and you decide that that’s the best route you want to take? How do you go about sounds like i’d like you said, there are so many teachers out there who love writing. And I think almost every single teacher I talked to has a book in their mind. And it’s something it’s, it’s, it’s on the bucket list for so many teachers that I talked to,

if you going down the self publishing route, what are the steps that you need to take?

Ah, ok,

there are different models, I think that would would work better for different people and different types of books.

So I think

for a novel, so one is not illustrated print on demand services seem to work quite well. So and that’s through this. Yeah, I’m not directly through Amazon, you can do it directly through Amazon. Yeah, absolutely. Um, I’ve, I’ve looked more closely with a company called in Grand Spark,

they have a relationship with Amazon. But as far as I understand, they’re not owned by them. But, you know, that’s been another part of what I’ve learned is that Amazon also own quite a few other companies. So they may be involved there, but they own book depository, which I was surprised to find out about, Okay. Um, but the print on demand company that I’m working with, they have factories in six places all over the world. So at does if your book or product is, is a novel, and it can be printed anywhere, you know, you could get if someone orders a book from you, and they live in the States, it could be there in a couple of days, and you just ordering it to be printed at the factory in the states and shipped with that domestic postage. So that certainly beats having, you know, the other option, which is, you know, that you order a certain number of books to be printed probably in China, Hong Kong, or Hong Kong, somewhere like that, and, you know, and then if someone from the States or does your book, you, you pay for that to be to be posted internationally. And also, you’ve got to find somewhere where you can store 1000 books.

So that idea of having a big ship and printed war was is frightening if you don’t know how many people are going to buy a book.

So I think for it’s probably all I’m saying is that it’s really I’m not really sure. And so that’s, that’s kind of where, where I’m at at the moment. And then I thought, well, that printing on demand would work for me, because I don’t want to have 1000 books in my bedroom. And I don’t know where, you know, I don’t want to have the hassle of shipping. And so print on demand sounded really good, except that printing costs and shipping costs are a lot more expensive for picture book, because, well, printing obviously is full color and glass and bigger. Also, postage is you know, it doesn’t fit into that normal size. Because it’s a picture books I would rather than in a rectangle. So yeah, just all of those sorts of things. So I will be looking at getting a bulk run done at some point and distributing my books that way.

So yeah, just hands. And and then also, if this when the podcast starts kicking off a little bit, if my audience becomes bigger overseas, then we’ll look at other options. Yeah, it’s just it’s got to be super flexible. So that’s the other benefit I would say about the the print on demand companies is that you would sit with some of them, certainly, Amazon, you automatically get listed on Amazon. com, and all of those websites, if you feel like you’re going to sell a lot of books online. And then certainly being able to be distributed by companies automatically is is a huge plus.

Yeah, definitely. And like you said, there are so many ways to self publish a book now. And there’s a lot of a lot of different and there’s so much information out there and finding ways to find the solution that’s right for you. And yeah,

I mean, oh,

yeah, sorry, keep going.

And yeah, like in Tasmania, obviously, shipping costs are going to be a bit more for me. And I did also look into local printing costs. But again, we’re quite limited here. So whilst they could print a color book for me here would have to be the cover, the hardcover would have to be done overseas. So

it just, it depends where you are, and really finding it out. And I reckon if we have a chat in a year, Vince, then I’ll have it all sorted out. And I know the best way that works. But again, that’s still going to be a highly individualized because it’s depending on if it’s picture book as pending on where you’re located, and where your market is located.

Yeah, 100%, and you’ve gone down a really interesting path with the book as well with and you mentioned it quite briefly with the podcast. So go a little bit more into that.

Yeah, I ok. So the main focus for the book and the podcast is, it’s about promoting growth mindset. So

growth mindset is just another way of looking at resilience that, you know, it’s really important that we teach these skills to children. And I mean, we always have as parents and teachers to tried to instill a sense of resilience in our children. And it’s just that it really underpins everything that they do. And it really underpins how they learn if they have a growth mindset. And I’ve found that stories are such a good way of teaching children. So the idea is that Annabel and she has growth mindset. So she approaches problems,

you know, open an open fashion, she, she, she doesn’t mind if things are hard. And she doesn’t mind if she fails. Because she knows that if she finds things tricky or difficult, that she’s learning, and that’s, that’s what we want all our children to, to be able to do. This is difficult, but I’m learning, you know, we want them to tackle the hard stuff. Too often, we’re seeing children coming through school that don’t want to tackle the hard stuff.

And we would say that they’ve got a fixed mindset. So children that don’t think that they’re good at math, I’m not going to do it, I’m not good at it. That’s it. That’s a fixed mindset. And because we know that the way you think about how you do things, changes your outcome.

And so that’s how for the younger children, we look at turtle who has fixed mindset. So you know, he’s got a hard shell, which is symbolic of the fact that he looks at things in a fixed way

he cries, if something doesn’t go his way, he and Annabel encourages him. But this is a really easy identifiable way for children to go up, you’re being a turtle, you know, you’re not looking at this with a growth mindset. So lots of activities can stem from these stories. And that’s what we’re going to be putting on our website is a lot of resources for teachers for the classroom.

Just lesson plans that can come straight out of the podcast. So kids can do some role play or do some drawings or some other other activity to identify what is a fixed mindset. And what is a growth mindset. And they can see it in the characters in the story is really obviously, but then the idea is that they can apply it to real life. So, you know, you see children that come through into kindergarten, that haven’t had a lot of exposure to fine motor skills writing, you know, so we’ve got a lot of children now that use a lot of use iPads, or they are moms firing a lot. And so they’re really good at the screen. And that’s, that’s a great skill to have. But often, they really struggle to have the strength in their fingers to hold pencil. And so automatically, that’s too hard. I don’t want to do this, I can’t, I’m not good at that, you know, we want to really encourage a growth mindset, because that’s really demonstrating a fixed mindset. And, and also the other thing is that if they have had a lot of these games, and this will apply to all the children as well, that they’re really used to instant gratification.

So growth mindset encourages persistence, rather than it needing to be, you know, this instant gratification. Yeah, you got through the next level, and all the lights flashing in your face and giving you all those that rush of endorphins that games do. Yeah, we’ve got to bring it back a little bit. And, you know, this is this is real life. And it does feel really good when you work toward something slowly as well.

Yeah, I completely agree. And was the fixed mindset, a common theme in your teaching experience, and something you were noticing in the classroom?

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you can, you can tell when you’ve got children, they don’t want to participate. Because they’re, they’re not good at it, or they don’t do it. And that’s frightening for me when you see that coming through quite young and all you know, but it’s kind of it’s it’s common, fixed mindset is common, and we’ve always done it, we’ve all got it to a certain extent. And I say to my own children, that they don’t think that they’re good at a particular thing. So they, they won’t do it, or they’re perfectionist, so they won’t do it in case they’re not perfect at the first the first go. So, um, yeah, I think we’ve always needed to encourage resilience, and I definitely have seen it in the classroom. Me and I see with some of the children that I’m yeah, I’m working with as part of my charity work.

Yeah. And it’s, it’s a very fine balance, isn’t it? Because on one side, you want that growth mindset where, you know, it’s okay, because you’re learning and on the other side as well, you want to play to your strengths and finding the balance between someone who is playing to their strengths and doing what they’re good at

mixing that with a growth mindset as well is I can be quite, it could be quite a challenge. And like you said, I think we all have a fixed mindset in some part, whether it be on a particular topic or, you know, if we’re in a particular mood, it or it could even be just, we, you know, we might avoid doing something because we don’t like doing it, and we’re not good at it. We don’t think we’re good at it. And

being able to solve something like that through through a medium and engaging meeting, like children’s books is is a really special thing. And like you said, there are so many different ways to do it. And you’ve taken a lot of the stories from the book and expanded on that in the podcast. Where did that decision come from? How was the thought process leading into that?

Yeah, I’m the podcast. Well, I suppose I listened to a lot of podcasts myself, I’m definitely a podcast addict.

And so our first I just wanted to go back to your point though, I’d love Love

isn’t how it came about. But so you mentioned about the balance between growth mindset and want. Yeah, and but also finding your nations and really thriving in your niche. And that’s a really interesting dilemma that Angela Duckworth talks a lot about in her book grit, which I’d recommend to anybody that’s interested in this topic. Because Yeah, I mean, as a parent I’m interested in is that


grit? Okay. Don’t have that.

Yeah, I just found out a fascinating read. And it’s shots that a lot of the research that has been done in this field, but it’s not, not a hard read. It’s not too heavy. But as a parent, I find I found it interesting, because you want to know, yes, you want to encourage your children to try a whole different range of things so that they can be find what they’re good at. but on the same token, you don’t want them to be quitters. So yeah, she discusses that balance in a better way than I can because I’m still struggling to find that balance between Yeah, what’s just pushing through through sheer perseverance and stubbornness and what’s actually yet gritty. So she describes that really well. But with my podcast,

I was thinking originally, well, what can I do to promote my book, and I could, I could do podcasts that stem from, you know, with the same characters. And actually, that was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert did a very similar thing with her book, Big Magic. So she had a podcast come out before her book came out, but along the same themes, and that’s a fantastic podcast as well for anybody that’s trying to find their creative outlet, because she talks to people one on one

about how they can make creative work, work. And then she gets an expert to come along and give them some more ideas. But sorry, that’s not about my phone. But as opposed we just work in this field where we just constantly drawing on inspiration from other creators and other educators. So podcasting is a medium that really works for me, and I love I love stories. So I think the current fascination in true crime podcasts is because we are fascinated by narratives

and that that’s why they do so well. We’re we’re not used to listening to fiction very much. But of course, children really love listening to fiction. So my podcast is very much inspired by the radio series, The muddle headed one that

so once I had this idea that I wanted to do a podcast with children, I then thought about the things that I like to listen to as a child. So we did a lot of driving when I was a kid. So we had lots of cassette tapes in the car. And one of them was the model headed wombat, which was originally written as a radio program in the 50s. And why that is different to an audiobook is because it’s written with

with the voice medium as its priority. So it’s not a story that’s been read out, because I find that that can be really dull, because the story that’s written as a picture book, and is then read out, and you listen to it in the car without the pictures, that’s quite del. So an audio so a podcast or radio stories that were in the old days when everyone to tune in at 2pm on a Sunday for the same story, this in this case, we do it for a podcast, but it’s, it’s written with the sounds in mind. So it’s got a narrator, it’s got characters that interact with the narrator. Occasionally, it’s got sound effects, it’s got music, it’s got a chance to pause, and for the kids to talk. So yeah, you can, there’s a reflection time to reflection times in each podcast with music, but that you can pause it if you need longer. So you can discuss with the child or children that you are listening with, about, you know, when they might have had a time when they showed fixed mindset, and they should have showed growth mindset, or when will they a little bit like total, because it way when we reflect on our own behavior, that’s when the learning really takes place. And so I’ve loved during the podcast, because as I briefly mentioned, I have a background in music, I don’t have it a radio journalism as well. So it kind of, it’s, for me, it’s really my niche. And more so than writing the book, I think, because I’m able to record the music and able to use the audio, I’m able to bring in story and I will bring in education, which, you know, is my passion. So I it’s just, it really, it really works for me. So now I’m looking at getting the podcasts out first, and some resources to go along with those podcasts. And then I’m just going to see where that takes me.

Yeah. And it’s really just reimagining the radio cereal from, you know, the 50s and you know, where the world’s and all that sort of stuff. It’s just creating that

audio experience, I guess as a way to put it and creating a story. Yeah, like you said, that’s made for made for radio or made for podcasting. And like you said, it is different than just reading out a book and as an audiobook and creating things for audio will obviously create better engagement as well. But it’s also makes it a lot easier to use in the classroom.

Yeah, exactly. And I did use audio books in my classroom when I when I had when I was on class. And I called that do and it’s actually quite easy to do. Most classrooms have a couple of iPads these days. And so, you know, you can get a splitter for your headphones that plugs into the iPad, and then you plug in your headphones. So you can have five kids listening to the same story the same time. So it can easily become part of one of your group rotations. Or it can become what they do when they come in to school in the morning after them, you know, put their bag and they lunch box away, and they’ve practiced running their name, and they can come and have a listen to the story. And yeah, or it can be part of your literacy rotations or, or anything like that. And, and there are a lot of other podcasts out there that I think could that can be used in the classroom as well. And they can be for an older audience. I can give you some examples of ones that I I think would be really useful in the classroom if you like.

Yeah, of course, that’d be lovely.

Yeah, which shorts abilities will already know, because they already listening to podcasts, but so does well in the world. And so that’s a science based one. And that’s from NPR in the States. And then there’s so many great ABC ones. So they put a new one out called animal sounds, Safari, and there’s short and curly and his fear skills. So there’s, you know, fear skills is based on women in history. Sean Kelly, some ethical problems and animal sounds. Safari, I think is, is all science you back around animals inside that all you’d be able to, I’m sure, find resources from the BBC website to support those. So we, once you’ve listened to that, once your group has listened to that podcast, and you can add some questions about it. Or you could reenact something or you could do a whole morning’s work. And yeah, it just brings up

he has some really good learning opportunities so that they’re more links to the educational curriculum, or as far as mindset really underpins everything we do. So I really feel that growth mindset is so important, because that’s how we learn. If we know that we’ve got a growth mindset, then we can approach learning in such a better way. And we get much better outcomes.

Yeah, for sure. And when you’re creating your educational resources to go along with the podcast, are you going to a go along the way that aligns with like you said, the English curriculum or away like that, are you going to go for a more general kind of

Creek kind of resources that are based on more on growth mindset, more so than the subjects?

Yeah, I think I, I don’t want to want it too strongly to the curriculum, because I want this to be a something that can be used by parents as well, and also internationally. So I don’t want to be stuck rigidly into the Australian curriculum that said,

I will see how they go and develop a new system, really obvious curriculum links, and I’ll pop them in there. But, you know, educators are going to be able to say this, this links into this part of the curriculum that will be teaching next term, so we’ll definitely use that. And yeah, so not directly, I suppose is my answer to that question. Yeah,

no, that’s, that’s a good that’s a good way around it. Like you said, it’s a bit more flexible, if it’s mainly focused on growth mindset, which is obviously the purpose of the story and the purpose of the book and the podcast and whatnot. So focusing on that gives you that flexibility for

it to be used overseas to be used by parents and potatoes to sort of take that license and see where it fits into what they’re already teaching.

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean that’s that’s the real challenge with teaching at the moment is trying to get as many outcomes out of one lesson so that you really teaching across the curriculum in every lesson it’s not just one hour is English curriculum the next hour is math curriculum yet that you know, that’s obviously been the push in the last five to 10 years is really trying to get their cross curricular stuff into every lesson.

Yes, lots of demands on teachers to change the way they do things at the moment.

Yes, there are it’s it’s definitely it’s it’s it’s definitely a definitely a topic of conversation probably for another day though because I think we could talk about that for another two or three hours I know I could Tani thank you so much for

joining us where can all of the listeners find you and find what you’re doing

Oh fantastic thanks Vince well at WWW dot Annabel internal. com you’ll find everything there. So there’s links to the podcasts and we’re on Instagram and Facebook at Annabel and Natasha and we are on Apple podcasts and everywhere else good that you get podcasts.

That’s it everywhere. Good in some probably not good places to just like mine. Right.

Got him excited. Thank you so much for joining us. Have a great day.

Okay, thanks. Bye bye.

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