Search Words with Hidden Pictures. Fun!

I’m pleased to announce the release of my latest book, “Painting with Words,” the most unique word search puzzles you’ve ever done. Word puzzles and colouring in one great collection.

How are they unique?

Find the word, colour the letters according to the colour key, and reveal the hidden pixel-art image, one box at a time. Scroll through the slide show to see some of the amazing pixel art.

Here are some of its best features:

  • 27 different puzzles
  • 27 different themes
  • Large, easy to read text
  • High quality paper
  • Full colour solutions
  • Totally unique

For a free sample puzzle, click this link.

You can buy “Painting with Words” on Amazon and through other online book sellers. If you are in Seattle, Washington, you can buy your copy at the Fireworks Gallery.

And while you’re at it, check out my other unique activity book, “Dot to Dot to Dot: 88 Advanced Dot to Dot Puzzles with Extra Dots. Follow the counting pattern to connect the dots, skipping all the extra dots on the page! Also available through Amazon.


Student Privacy Goes Zoom

Schools and educators work very hard to protect our students. We control who does and doesn’t get to enter the school and access the children. We vet the volunteers. Belligerent or violent parents get stopped at the office or banned from the building entirely. Anyone with a criminal record can be denied access. Our role as first defence all but disappears if the Ministry of Education insists on mandatory “Zoom style” teaching. As such, the government call for synchronous online learning is opening up the province’s children to severe violations of their privacy and personal safety.

Let’s start with the privacy rights of students who struggle with school. In class, we try to establish a positive, supportive learning environment. Mistakes are a good thing to make, and we acknowledge that we all make them. We encourage each other and help each other. If this means that we’re going to give one child some extra think-time, if this means we’ll listen to their full answer even if it’s wrong, if this means we’ll take the time to explain something even though everyone else has to sit patiently as it happens, then that’s what we’ll do. But if there is someone the student doesn’t know lingering in the background, someone rolling her eyes or tapping a finger impatiently off to the side, or mumbling into the microphone about how easy this is, then those kids will shut down. They won’t answer, they won’t try, and eventually they won’t participate at all. Zoom style teaching invites the parents and guardians of every single student into the classroom. Now, a student’s struggles and their reactions to those struggles (which could range anywhere from going quiet to having a screaming meltdown if not managed properly), is open to the scrutiny of total strangers. Strangers who might not respect these children’s right to privacy, who might think nothing about gossiping about the “stupid” or “creepy” or “weird” kid they just watch in their child’s class.

Many of our students live in Hell. School is their escape. With their friends in class and on the playground, they can forget the conditions of their houses and the mental states of their parents. These children don’t talk about their home lives. They don’t invite friends over to play. They keep their living conditions a secret. Stephen Lecce’s plan would see the squalor, daytime intoxication, and other horrible issues these children experience put on camera for all their classmates and their parents to witness. A student can turn his laptop so it only shows a blank wall behind him, but can he close the lid fast enough to prevent his friends from watching his mother stumble into the shot, or before they hear his father smashing something because he can’t find his stash? Lecce has not thought about how mortifying synchronous learning could be for some children.

The school board has firewalls and password protection. These are superseded simply by using a child’s login to access virtual classrooms. We struggle to keep our children, especially girls, safe on social media. With synchronous learning, there is nothing to stop some man from using his son’s login to join the boy’s grade 9 history class meeting to stare at the 14-year-old girls, camera off, microphone muted, bathroom door locked.

These might be considered extreme cases, but they aren’t even the worst that could happen. And these examples don’t come close to covering all the things that could occur to embarrass, humiliate or even harm the children in Ontario schools. A mom choosing Zoom time to rip a strip off of her daughter’s teacher. A non-custodial parent using his friend’s child’s account to spy on the son he’s not allowed to see. A class hearing someone’s mother murdered off camera, as was the case in Florida, just this month. 

A policy of enforced “Zoom style” meetings circumvents all laws and policies that safeguard our students’ rights to a safe and private learning space, because we don’t control their home environments or the people who live there. 

Don’t Burst the Bubbles

A worried bubble is looking at a pointy pencil.

Will your child be going to school this fall? If so, I would like to make a request.

Please remember that your child’s classmates are not part of their social bubble. They will not be sitting side by side, playing Ring-around-the-roses, or taking turns with a toy. This year, students can be no closer to or intimate with each other than you are allowed to be with the cashier behind the plexiglass at the grocery store.

Your bubble is made up of the 10 people you can be physically close to. Think of it in terms of living arrangements. Imagine not a bubble, but a house. You, your partner, your two kids, your mom, your father-in-law, your sister and your three nephews make a ten-person bubble. They aren’t necessarily living with you, but for the sake of this argument, that’s how close they are allowed to be. These are the people you can hug or snuggle with. Share a bed with. The people you brush pass as you move through the hallway. The people breathing the same air you do without a mask. The people you don’t have to sanitize the TV remote for.

In order to protect these ten people, every single one of you must wear masks and keep two meters apart from everyone else. It is imperative you all practice physical distancing. Your mom cannot hold hands on walks with her special friend. He’s not part of your bubble. Your kid can’t do a sleep over at their buddy’s house. Not your bubble.

Please note, grandma, sister, and junior are in your bubble and you’re in theirs. They do not have their own separate little bubbles with nine completely different people.

Venn diagrams of social bubbles are not allowed.

Also, your bubble cannot change from day to day, hour to hour. You can’t have six people in your family bubble during the week and then have a different six in your poker or book club bubble on the weekend.

When we end up back in the school buildings this fall, my wife and I are worried that the students in our classes will become our de facto bubble people, simply because of the proximity to, the number of, and the duration of contact with these children who are coming from large, intimate social bubbles of their own.

If you and your children are not vigilant and careful with your social bubbles, then our bubble will pop. I will have to stay away from my 70-year-old mother and my wife will need to say no to a visit with her 78-year-old father.

So, please ensure everyone in your family understands how social bubbles work, and do your best to follow physical distancing and mask wearing protocols when you’re in contact with people who are not in yours.

Stay safe, and all the best this school year.

Mr. Reed

Free Extreme Dot to Dot Puzzles

I’ve put together two free packages for you to download.

For the general public, the first is a collection of five advanced dot to dot puzzles for you to enjoy while you are dealing with self-isolation and social distancing.

For educators, the second package includes free samples of hard and easy versions of some of my puzzles, plus a teacher guide explaining how and why to use these puzzles with your students. Use them as part of your class work or include them in your remote/homeschool program.

Please feel free to share these documents with everyone, young and old, who might like them.

Click here for the package of 5 download.

Click here for the Teacher Package

Both of these documents are PDFs and they open in new tabs.

*Read the directions carefully as these are not your ordinary dot to dots, and if you don’t follow the instructions the pictures won’t turn out.

Take care, everyone.


D’Oh: Confused about the Wholesale V. Retail Discounts with Ingram

I have spent the last three months sending emails to bookstores encouraging them to stock my book somewhere in their brick and mortar. I have very likely killed every one of those sales by getting my numbers wrong.

I made the mistake of telling them in the sell sheet that I’m distributed by Ingram. Right! There is a wholesale discount of 55%.


Wrong! Well, not wrong, just irrelevant. I got confused between Wholesale and Retail discounts.

I now understand that retailers pay 60% of the cover price. I was telling anyone who asked that they paid 45%, which, if they then followed up with Ingram and discovered I was wrong, probably put them off entirely.


So, here is how the discounts with Ingram actually work.

Ingram wants you to WHOLESALE the book to THEM for 45% of the cover price (a 55% discount).

Ingram will then sell your book to RETAILERS for 60% of the cover price (a 40% discount). Their price to the retailer includes shipping and all fees and covers the costs of returns.

You, the author/self-publisher make your profit in the narrow margin between the cost of printing the book and the 45% Ingram pays to cover the printing and royalties.

My book Dot to Dot to Dot: 88 Advanced Dot to Dot Puzzles with Extra Dots has a cover price of $15.99. I let Ingram have it for 45% of that, which is $7.19. It costs $5.19 to print the book (a chunk of which is profit for Ingram as the printer). So, I get $2.00 per book.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how much money I get per book if I turn everyone off with my misinformation!

More learning.

Hey, Look at Me! Getting My Book in Stores.

Since the release of Dot to Dot to Dot: 88 Advanced Dot to Dot Puzzles with Extra Dots, I’ve been doing almost nothing but selling it to stores. Selling. Not making sales.

It’s been a steep learning curve for me as an indie author, figuring out what to say and how to say it, especially with such a unique and new kind of book. But, I think I might finally be getting the approach right.

Here’s what I’m doing.

  1. Searching
    I’m looking for bookstores that might actually carry this kind of book. This means doing a search for bookstores on Google, then going to each webpage (or Facebook page) to look at their stock and get a contact email. No used-book stores, obviously. They need to have a children’s section, even though my book has adult-appeal. And, they have to have an email address. I have gotten next to zero replies from stores when I tried to ask for a buyer’s contact information through their email form.say something
  2. Soliciting
    I’m sending each store an email that introduces the book and gives them a sample of the puzzles to try. Silly me, when I first starting reaching out, I gave a very brief paragraph. ‘Hey, I wrote a book. Check out the attachments.”dumb

    It’s too easy to NOT click on the attachments and trash the email. So, now I include as much detail in the message as possible, including the description, the distributor and the wholesale terms. The first paragraph is the elevator pitch. The rest of the email is me pretending they said ‘keep talking.’

    buddy elevator

  3. Customizing
    With each bookstore, I’m looking for something that might help me make a connection between the store and the book. Does it stock unusual books or just the best sellers? Do they carry toys and other playthings? Do they focus on family fun, education, holidays? If any of these details are apparent, I mention them in the body of my email (which is otherwise a template—not ideal). This has already worked for me, finding a shop that carries very unique and unusual books and giftware. Fireworks Galleries in Seattle has taken a chance on 40 copies. I’m taking credit anyway.strategery-gif
  4. Sampling
    I started out sending only the sell sheet and a sample. But, when I buy a book, I want to look at it, flip the pages, read a bit. It’s too expensive to send out review copies. (Not at $20 a shot!) So instead, I’m sending a PDF mini-book. It has the full cover spread (go ahead, judge me, please), a contents page, the instructions, a sample puzzle, a solutions page, and the sell sheet. I want to convey as much about the book as possible.will-ferrell-Zjn870

Hopefully, I’ve done enough to convince a buyer to open the sample package, try the puzzle, and order copies. Let’s wait and see.




Judged by My Book Cover

I am on the third edition of my dot to dot book, and it is already more successful than both the previous versions combined. The only thing I’ve changed is the cover.

I am an art school grad. I’ve worked as a designer. I took the Ryerson Publishing programme’s book design course. Dripping with the skills I thought I possessed, boosted by an undeserved sense of marketing savvy, that describes me when I started on this project.

I mean, my first attempts at cover design weren’t Edsel or mullet-bad, but I’m no Chip Kidd.

The first covers I created were for the PDF versions of my puzzles, which I publish on Teachers Pay Teachers. I tried to be mindful of a number of factors.

Design 1

old christmas cover

Teachers Pay Teachers is like Amazon. You see the thumbnail in the search first. This cover was supposed to catch your attention and tell you what the book was about with a glance. I thought I did that, but I did not.

Design 2

old cat cover

Upon reflection, I decided it would be a good idea to actually show what picture you’d be drawing. I released these puzzles in a collection and as singles. Each individual cover featured a boring little outline of the finished image. Each one also had a giant graphic of a pumpkin outline, just to confuse matters.

Design 3

xmas thumbs5

I realized that the most unique feature of these dot to dots was missing. I got rid of the giant counting dots and focussed on the puzzle images and all the extra dots.

Design 4

book cover 1

When I decided it was time to release the paperback to the world, I wanted to showcase all the different holiday themes in the book. I hadn’t learned the lesson about the bad title and I ended up making the dots too small. You can’t read most of the text, but the drop shadow is nice.

Design 5

snowflake cover

I did get wise about the font size.

Design 6

deluxe cover

Eventually, I figured out that the title needed to go. I also mention the extra dots this time. I thought the specially shaped dots used in the book would be a nice touch. I thought wrong. They look like ink blotches or moles.

Giving myself credit where it’s actually due, I have sold many copies of the dot to dot puzzles on TPT, despite the graphic horrors. However, I have to admit that the competition on the site is not made up of award-winning artists and marketing experts. Clip-art reigns supreme over there, meaning I could potentially sell even more with the right cover.

Design 7

When I decided to release a third, expanded edition of the paperback book using Ingram instead of Create Space (Another blog topic), I took advantage of the opportunity to change the design almost completely.

This is what I came up with.

cover thumbnail large

Click to Enlarge



First, I simplified the title. Playing with the text orientation makes it stand out from all the other titles on the search page. Next, I further emphasized the puzzle image and the extra dots by using the image at a 1:1 scale. You don’t see the dots as numbers in the thumbnail, but the mass they create contrasts very well against the big, bold line drawing of the cat. You are curious to see what they might be. Finally, I kept the text simple, big, and informative. Even shrunken down, most of it’s legible.

Since the upload of the redesigned book, two weeks ago, I’ve sold 22 copies online without even trying. I had 13 pre-orders before the title was officially available because a few die-hard searchers noticed it among the thumbnails on page 17 of their Amazon search “extreme dot to dot.”

Needless to say, I will be revising the layouts of all 88 puzzles and collections on TPT.

The process of redesigning these covers over the past three years has taught me a lot. Even if I hire someone else to do my next cover, here is what I must remember.

  1. Don’t go with the first design. Too bad if you’re anxious to launch and you want it done right now. Instead, just do it right.
  2. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Leave the filters, tricks, and design-school cleverness to the experts who can afford to experiment because they’ve got a million-dollar ad campaign forcing the book on people, bad cover or not. I still have some drop shadows on the back cover (wink).
  3. Even if you’ve hired an expert (especially if), get feedback from people you don’t have to share a dinner table with. You need honest opinions. Ask artists what they hate about it. Ask philistines what they like.

Keep this in mind when designing your book because, in the world of online shopping and search page scrolling, you will absolutely be judged by your cover.


Teach Math with Art

This May, I presented at the OAME (Ontario Association of Mathematics Educators). My session was on combing visual arts and mathematics to create rich cross-curricular learning experiences.

Obvious Math

Albright-Knox Gallery

A lot of art has direct connections to math. You don’t have to look long to find examples of geometry and patterning and, in some ways, number. The art elements shape, form, line, and space are all found in the geometry curriculum.

Calder at the National Gallery of Art

The design principle of balance is connected to the concept of equality and every painting, symmetrical or asymmetrical, can be looked at in terms of equations. The design principle pattern/repetition is ubiquitous in graphic and product design, using colour, shape, orientation and texture to create harmony and movement.

Hidden Math

Behind the scenes, all strands of math abound, especially measurement. An artist cannot make art without knowing and applying math concepts and skills. From preparing a canvas stretcher (perimeter and area) to mixing plaster (capacity, proportion, time) to calculating the shrinkage rate of clay (ratio, percentage), there is math that the artists must do.

Teaching Math with Art

mandala small

When teaching math with art, the goal is to notice the obvious and hidden math, name it, and apply it. Watch this video to see my first project, Mandalas with Geometry and Pattern. The video gives a captioned explanation of each step while the math connections pop up as the video plays. You can pause at certain moments to think about and discuss the math as you watch. Download this PDF for a written lesson plan that goes with the video.

You can use such an art project at the beginning of your unit, letting the hands-on experience be the concrete modelling your students explore before they move to paper and pencil tasks.

Or, you can do these projects to apply the math they’ve already explored in other contexts, spiralling back to previous learning, turning the knowledge into understanding and application.

You can even use these projects to evaluate your students’ math knowledge by observing them and discussing the math as they work. Can they use a protractor properly to make a mandala with nine segments? Can they tell when their art isn’t symmetrical? Note: when doing culminating assessments, you can’t rely on the finished product alone because undeveloped artistic skill might get in the way of showing the math properly–if your student can tell you their folding wasn’t congruent or their rotations weren’t quite equal, then they are demonstrating they know the math, even if they aren’t that precise with the art-making.

Have a clear list of success criteria that covers knowledge, understanding, thinking and application. Pay attention to the students as they work, making note of successes and struggles, intervening when necessary. Use the math language. Apply the procedures. Push understanding and thinking by doing more and more challenging work.

Links to my Art Math videos and PDFs:

Mandalas with Geometry and Pattern – VideoPDF
Tessellations with Geometry and Pattern – Video – PDF (in the works)
Animal Collage with Geometry – Video – PDF (in the works)
Collage with Number Patterns – Video – PDF (in the works)

Please share with anyone you know who loves doing art and math.

Making a Clay Armature


I’ve been wanting to try my hand at clay portraiture for a while. I made a bust of myself in high school (the chin exploded in the kiln), but that was 30 years ago.

Here are the instructions for a homemade armature I designed and built. It cost me around $40 and uses materials you can get at most box-store hardware suppliers.

Make an Armature

Update, April 14, 2019

Here is the sculpture I made with the armature. What do you think?

Free Valentine Dot to Dot Puzzle

Please enjoy this Free Valentine Dot to Dot to Dot.

Click the image to download the PDF. Read the directions. Print off the “easy” or “hard” puzzle. Fill in the To: and From: Give it to a special someone for them to solve.

This freebie is a sample of one of my Dot to Dot to Dot skip counting number puzzles. These puzzles have a twist. If you don’t follow the pattern and skip over the extra dots, the picture doesn’t work. Learn or practise skip counting by 2s, starting at 1. Have fun and stay sharp.

A complete set of my Dot to Dot to Dot puzzles is available at
TeachersPayTeachers.Com, Etsy, and in paperback at !ndigo and Barnes and Noble.

Valentine Freebie


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