Friday, December 18, 2009

Seasons Greetings!

Wishing you peace, joy, love and happiness in this festive season!

Thank you to Unicef for this beautiful card.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Thank you, Sage Salfi!

Sage Salfi, aged 7, is the reviewer of two of my recent books, Desert Animals and Wetland Animals. She says, "I had fun reading these books."

If you'd like to read the full text of her review, it's in the current edition of KNOW, the Science Magazine for Curious Kids. The online version is here.

Thank you, Sage! I'm so glad you liked the books! :-)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small Beneath the Sky

I am currently reading a memoir by Canadian author and poet, Lorna Crozier. Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir is prose, written the way you'd expect a poet to write. It is lyrical, lovely and understated. After being in Saskatchewan (my birthplace) this fall, I am finding this memoir very evocative of the time and place in which it is set (Swift Current in the 1950s).

So often as I read, I think to myself: I wish I could write like this. It is especially true for this book.

The cover design is eye-catching. I love seeing the sky in its blue beauty, and the rolling wheat fields. I also like how big the word "small" is and how small the word "sky" is. Very clever indeed!

If you're interested in reading the book, I highly recommend it. For a Globe and Mail review of it, go here. For an excerpt, go here.


Monday, November 30, 2009

The Art of Nonfiction Writing

Recently I came across a funny and insightful article in the Globe and Mail, written by Canadian humourist, Will Ferguson. It was titled, "How's the book coming? Well, let me tell you..." and it described what it's like to be up against a deadline, and the many ways that authors procrastinate.

What I liked best about his piece was his comparison of writing fiction and nonfiction, and how they are different. For your reading pleasure, I quote him here:

"I've always said that fiction and travel writing are comparable to two types of sculpturing. Fiction is like working with clay; you build something up from a single character, an image, a scent. It's the art of addition. Nonfiction, and travel writing in particular, is like working in stone, cutting away everything that doesn't fit. You start big and pare down, reducing the mass of possibilities, trying to decide what matters, what doesn't."

Me again. When I talk about writing nonfiction for children, I like to say that the author's job is to know (or find out) as much about a subject as possible, then determine what the essence is, and decide what to leave out — in order to shape the information into a form that is meaningful for our youngest readers.

It's an art to be simple and concise, while retaining the essence of a topic, and yet convey enough information in a way that delights, delivers, matters, and holds a child's interest.

An American children's nonfiction author I admire, and who does this so well, is Gail Gibbons. (She even illustrates her own books. Wow! Multi-talented.)

I wish I could have explained the process as well as Will Ferguson did (smart man!) — but alas, I cannot. However, I may borrow his quote from time to time. If you'd like to read the entire text of his article, you can find it here.

On Wednesday night, I'll be speaking to library students in a UBC class (thank you for inviting me, Professor Judi Saltman!), and talking about these very matters. Wish me luck. :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Clay Man: The Golem of Prague

I recently had the pleasure of reading an inspired new book by my friend and fellow author, Irene Watts. Clay Man: The Golem of Prague tells the story of how, in 1595, a protector of the Jewish ghetto in Prague came into being. Clay Man, the protector, was molded from the clay of a riverbank by a rabbi and infused with life by the rabbi's words. Clay Man's job is to keep the people of Jewish town safe from fierce anti-Semitic attacks.

The story is a retelling of a famous Jewish folktale and is told through the eyes of young Jacob (the rabbi's son), who longs to explore the big city beyond the ghetto's gates, and secretly witnesses the formation of Clay Man late one night.

It is a beautifully written story that moves quickly and dramatically. The book is illustrated by another friend, Kathryn Shoemaker, and the combination of her evocative art with Irene's words is a winning one.

It opens with a poem:

I am of clay
Old as earth
I lie here
River washes over me
Water cools me, Sun warms me
I know light and dark
Light is bright and dark is black
I lie and wait

For a riveting read, full of Jewish history and lore, pick up this book. I highly recommend it!

Published by Tundra Books, for ages 8-12 years old and up.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2009 Information Book Award

One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists is the winner of this year's Information Book Award, given by the Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada. Congratulations to Janet Wilson! She's the talented author and illustrator of this worthy book.

A few years ago, some of us heard Janet Wilson give a talk in Vancouver where she described how difficult it had been to find a publisher willing to take the book. Apparently, most of them found the topic too serious and difficult. But Janet persevered, believed in her book, got it published (by Orca Books) and here she is today — the big winner of a very prestigious award. I'm thrilled for her!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2009 Hycroft Event

If you're in the Vancouver area, consider giving yourself a fall treat by attending the launch of dozens of books, written and illustrated by talented BC creators. The event will be held at Hycroft Manor, on November 10 at 6:30 pm.

Come out and see what an amazing array of books are being created in our corner of the world. Prepare to be impressed!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Autumn Poem

Every day as I stroll through my neighbourhood, I am taken by the beauty and colour of the autumn leaves, and I think about all the poets who have written poems to capture such a glorious fall scene.

For your reading pleasure, here is the first stanza of a poem titled Autumn, by John Clare, 1821.

The summer-flower has run to seed,
And yellow is the woodland bough;
And every leaf of bush and weed
Is tipt with autumn’s pencil now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Hallowe'en!

It's dark and rainy. The wind is blowing. The leaves are falling. It's getting very spooky out there.

Happy Hallowe'en to all the little ghosts and goblins!

Have fun! Be safe!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Prairie Horizons Conference

I've been meaning to write about this conference ever since I returned home from Saskatchewan in September, but life and writing seems to have gotten in the way.

CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers) has a prairie gathering every two years, and this year was my first time to attend. I was a little nervous, attending on my own, but as I have always heard, prairie people are amazingly friendly, and I had a wonderful time!

The conference was held over a weekend at a conference retreat centre (St. Michael's) in Lumsden, in the beautiful Qu'Appelle Valley. It was summer weather (31˚C) and lovely. There were probably 50 attendees in total, and many (but not all) were published. The best part of the weekend for me was listening to the Open Mic night, where anyone could take 5 minutes to read or perform their work. I loved hearing the variety of writing, including fantasy, picture books, song lyrics and poetry. (I think I may have been one of the few nonfiction writers in the crowd.) What a talented group they were!

My favourite performance of the night was hearing a song, composed and sung, by Saskatchewan high school teacher, Sheena Koops. She had a beautiful voice, a delicate guitar strumming style, and a polished performance. What impressed me most was her ability to put all of those qualities together with her writing talent, into a song that made a big impact on everyone. It was called, "I Remember You, Grandpa" and it was the story of Sheena's two grandfathers during the time of the Second World War. One grandfather was a pacifist and the other was a soldier. Sheena's song is the story of how she loved them both, and how she came to terms with her own feelings about war, in light of a complicated family history. In the end, she celebrated both her grandfathers, and was able to make sense of a tricky issue. I was impressed! It's a song that should be heard at every Remembrance Day ceremony.

I'm hoping Sheena will record her song. For now, she has been performing it for folks like us, and at her local farmer's market. I wish her great success, with both her writing and musical ventures.

For your viewing pleasure, I'm posting a photo of Sheena and I at the conference. :-)

I encourage every children's writer and illustrator to get on a plane to Regina in September 2011 for the next Canscaip Prairie Conference. It was a memorable weekend for me, and one I hope to repeat again and again.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Governor General's Award Nomination!

Congratulations to my dear friend and fellow author, Shelley Hrdlitschka, for her nomination for Canada's most prestigious literary award--the Governor General's Award for Literature in the Children and Youth Category. Wow! That is a wonderful achievement. Her nominated book, Sister Wife, tells the heart-wrenching story of a teenage girl living in a restrictive polygamous community, and the choices she must make for her future.

I've been friends with Shelley for a long time and I know how hard she works and also how talented she is. If there's anyone who deserves this nomination, it's her! Hooray!

If you haven't read the book, go straight to your local library or bookstore. It's a book well worth reading.

Congratulations, Shelley! Fingers crossed. :-)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Love Summer, I Love Fall (I think)

I love summer heat, I love summer sun, I wish it could always be summer. But it can't (at least not here in the northern hemisphere), so I try to love fall, too.

Fall is book season. And that makes it one great season to love. I've been to several book events already this month, but my favourite so far was the book launch at Vancouver Kidsbooks the other night, where my two talented pals, Beryl Young and Norma Charles, were launching their new books.

Beryl's book, Charlie: A Home Child's Life in Canada, is the true and poignant story of her Dad, who came to Canada as a Bernardo Boy.

Norma's Book, Chasing a Star, is the story of young Sophie La Grange who is dying to meet Barbara Ann Scott, the famous Canadian figure skater.

It was a real treat to hear both authors talk passionately about their books, and it was fun to be part of the audience.

Check out their books for some great fall reading. Soon, you'll love fall, too!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Moose Jaw Photos

Returning to Moose Jaw, the place of my birth, was a wonderful time of travelling back into family reminiscences. I didn't grow up in Moose Jaw, and was only a small child there, but I had a strong sense (while strolling the city) of remembering places that were important to my family. I took photos of some of these places for my parents, and now offer a few to you. The photo above is the home where I was born, and the place where I lived with my parents and older sister. (We lived on the top floor and there are family photos of us, sitting together on the front steps.)

This is Crescent Park, a lovely green space in the centre of the city, where my parents played as children, and so did I. The public library building sits in this beautiful park.

Here are the ducks at Crescent Park. My parents tell me that graceful, white swans also used to nest and swim here.

Here's the Moose Jaw Public Library -- a place of enormous importance in our family. Books have always played a huge part in our lives, and I like to think this is where it all began. Although I have no memory of it, it's fun to imagine my parents and grandparents walking up these stairs into the library, perusing the books, then leaving the library with arms loaded, in eager anticipation of the wonderful reading they were about to do.

While at the library, I stopped in to meet Arwen Rudolph, the current children's librarian. She is fortunate to have a huge, beautiful space for her books, and it was one of the nicest children's libraries I have ever seen. I loved thinking that, in no small measure, this was the place that gave me my start.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Hooray for Saskatchewan Schools!

I'm back after an amazing week in sunny Saskatchewan. I'll be posting a few notes about my trip over the next few days.

For now, I'd like to send a big thank you to the wonderful teachers and librarians in Moose Jaw who invited me to visit their schools. They are: Rae Trites at Palliser Heights Elementary, Paula Shareski at King George Elementary, and Susan Bergen at Cornerstone Christian School. It was a real pleasure to meet you and your students!

The photo is of King George Elementary, one of the schools I visited, and where my father went to school as a boy. It was especially thrilling to visit here, and think about him playing on the playground and walking through the hallways.

Hi to all of the students I met last week. You were a fabulous audience! I hope I get to come back and visit you again someday.

Have a great fall!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Not Quiet For Long...

It's been a month, and I found out that I miss blogging. So, I'm back, but it may be sporadic postings. :-)

I finished the book I was working on over the summer and am about to write a proposal for a companion book, but in the (mini) interlude, I am travelling to Saskatchewan to attend the Prairie Horizons Canscaip Conference in Lumsden. I'll also be visiting elementary schools in the city of Moose Jaw, where I was born. (That's where this fantastic moose statue resides.)

I haven't been back to my hometown in 40 years, and part of the reason for going is to explore my roots and see the old family homesteads. I've always wanted to write a prairie book, and this trip may provide the inspiration for it. Fingers crossed!

On another note, I've been thinking a lot about blogging since I took my hiatus, and also thinking about Facebook and Twitter. I notice that a lot of folks are moving from blogging to these social networking sites. It's an interesting migration. I'm not quite ready to flap my wings, but it may come. I'll keep you posted.

Until then, I hope the fall is good one for you.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blog Goes Quiet

I've finished the first draft of the book I've been working on all summer. Hooray! I hope my editor thinks it's looking good (or at least okay). I will write the final manuscript in September and the book will hit the bookstore shelves next August. 

Vancouver had its hottest day ever a couple of weeks ago, and it was day where I was writing about winter and snow. Very odd indeed! But that's the great thing about being a writer — you can imagine anything!

Which gets me around to the point of this post: Now that I've been busy writing a book and not blogging, I have come to a startling conclusion. (Drum roll, please.) I get a lot more book writing done when I'm not thinking about what to post on my blog. So, sadly, I'm going to say farewell to the blog (at least for a little while) and get back to the business of writing books.

Thanks to everyone who was kind enough to read my posts over the last year. It was fun being a part of the blogosphere, and I will miss it. I may be back sometime, but for now, the blog is going quiet.

Happy rest of the summer! 

Cheers for now. :-)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer Hiatus

It's a year since I started blogging, and it's been an interesting one. I've learned a lot about the online world. I have yet to start a twitter presence, and am contemplating whether or not I'd be brave enough to post tiny missives from wherever I am.

Yesterday marked the end of my talks for this school year. A big thank you to Jacqueline Gaudet at Ecole South Park and to Patricia Bartha at Sir William Osler Elementary for inviting me to speak at their respective schools this week. It was wonderful to meet you and your charming students.

And, now, with my speaking schedule wrapped up, I must turn my strict attention to the first draft of a book that has a July 31 deadline. Over the next 7 weeks, I will be hard at work. No swimming, no sunning, no lazy, hazy days of summer. I'll be at my computer. 

On that note, I will also be taking a blogging hiatus. I realize that I'll likely need to direct all my writing energy to my book.

Thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to read my blog over the past year. It's been a real treat to get your comments. 

Have a wonderful summer! Cheers!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Michelle Obama and Me...

I was out watering my garden this morning and admiring the leafy green vegies that are poking up from the soil, and thinking about ways in which Michelle Obama and I are similar. In case you're interested, here are my conclusions:

- We both dug new gardens this spring, and are clearly interested in sustainable, local food sources. (I didn't have quite as many photographers documenting my ground-breaking, however.)

- She lives in the White House and I have a bit of white trim on my house.

- We both have 2 daughters (though mine are a bit older and I also have a son).

- We think that feeding our kids delicious home-grown food is a worthy endeavour. (Who can argue with that?)

- We both have husbands who aren't shy speaking in front of a crowd. (My husband's crowds might be a touch smaller and we're still waiting for his inauguration.)

I think the similarities end there, but I will continue to muse about the First Lady as I watch my garden grow over the summer, and be impressed by her example. 

I wonder if she'll be whipping up a spinach salad with greens from her garden tonight?

Bon appetit, Michelle!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chocolate Lily Winners


Last night's winners of the Chocolate Lily Awards are:

In the novel category: 

Winner: Joan Betty Stuchner for Honey Cake 
Honour Book: Norma Charles for Boxcar Kid

In the picture book category:

Winner: Chris Tougas for Mechanimals
Honour Book: Kari Lynn Winters for Jeffrey and Sloth.

And congratulations to all the nominees! What a grand showing of talent. It was so interesting to hear the speeches of the nominated authors and find out the stories behind the stories.

The room was full of writers, illustrators, and enthusiastic children and their parents. Thank you to the Chocolate Lily organizers and to Vancouver Kidsbooks for an excellent event!

P.S. I didn't win, but I got a delicious chocolate treat and a beautiful certificate for being nominated. I was happy. :-)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chocolate Lily Awards

Tomorrow is the annual Chocolate Lily Awards ceremony being held at Vancouver Kidsbooks at 7:00 pm. There is a wonderful line-up of local B.C. authors who have been nominated for this children's choice award. (Check out the Chocolate Lily website here to see the list.)

I wondered where the award name came from and found this photo of the Chocolate Lily flower. Beautiful!

I will be there tomorrow, having been kindly nominated for my picture book, Lily and the Mixed-up Letters, published by Tundra Books. (Lily and Lily: coincidence? I think not. :-)

Hope to see you there! 


Monday, May 25, 2009

Writing Time...

The garden is planted.

The research is done.

The contract is on its way.

It's time to write the book. 

No excuses accepted.

I'm self-employed. 

My boss is very tough. :-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blogging Slowdown...

I'm finding that blogging takes place in an inverse proportion to how much other work I'm doing. I apologize for being out of the loop for an entire week. You may remember the "To Do List" I wrote about a few months ago. Well, that list is pretty long these days. Added to that list, as of today, is a deadline for a first manuscript, due by the end of July. This may be the fastest book I've ever written. (But I like a challenge!)

One of my excuses for the blogging slowdown? 

Today, I visited the amazing UBC Research Farm to take part in a school tour learning about sustainable farming. I discovered a lot — including what kids find most interesting: worms in the compost, bees in the hives, and feeding the free range chickens. It was a sunny, beautiful day, and great to contemplate the balance of nature on the farm. 

Back soon (I hope). Cheers for now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nonfiction is Cool!

One of the blogs I regularly read and enjoy belongs to talented nonfiction author, Tanya Kyi. Her recent post on nonfiction says a lot of what I believe to be true about this genre. Read her post here

As for me, my lastest book proposal was also accepted (just heard the excellent news today). The past few months of research and writing has clearly paid off. Now the hard part begins... writing a book that matches the glowing description of the proposal. :-)

Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Clinton Elementary School

A big thank you to Pam Hossack, the amazing librarian at Clinton Elementary School in Burnaby, for two lovely days at her school. Thank you also to the students and staff for making me feel so welcome!

It's been exciting to speak at so many Burnaby schools this spring, partly because I grew up in Burnaby, and learned how to read and write there. I'm able to talk to the students about which schools I attended as a girl, and how my family spent many happy hours checking out books from the Edmonds Public Library. 

Author visits allow kids to see that becoming a writer of books is possible. It also gives us (authors) a chance to say that being an avid reader as a child often leads to a career in writing. The same is true for illustrators who often spent their childhoods sketching and drawing. 

When I was a child, I really had no idea that *regular* folks could become authors or illustrators. I think it's wonderful that kids today have a chance to hear that they if they follow their hearts, work hard, and hone their skills, they too may be able to have their dream career.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nonfiction Dinner Recap

It was great to catch up with other children's nonfiction writers at dinner on Friday and discuss the state of the nation, so to speak.

What did I learn?

- That nonfiction writers are very smart! Wow! What an amazingly literate and articulate group of people to sit around the table with.

- That the internet has dramatically changed the publishing market. What we write these days has to appeal to the trade market, and be clever or have a twist. The "straight-ahead" style isn't selling because everyone thinks (possibly mistakenly) that they can get all of their information simply by checking the internet.

- That the market is increasingly tough, but there will always be a need for books, especially well-written and well-researched ones.

- All of us are regularly asked, "When are you going to write fiction?" Ouch! We adore nonfiction; that's why we write it. 

- We may be closer to journalists than to fiction writers.

- Many of us have degrees in subjects other than English. There were people with science degrees, history degrees, education degrees, business degrees and even a psychology degree (me!).

- Many of us came to writing as a second career.

- All of us have a sense of humour!

- We work very hard.

- We are dedicated to getting great information into the hands of kids.

- We love what we do! 

To be continued... (following our next meeting).


Friday, May 1, 2009

Nonfiction Writer's Dinner

Tonight marks the first time local nonfiction authors will get together for a dinner and a chat about the joys and challenges of writing nonfiction for kids. Surprisingly, there are at least 8 of us attending the event, and a few more who are unable to make it. Who knew there were so many talented local folks working on nonfiction for kids? 

We are supposed to bring our best and worst stories of working in this genre. My best is probably feeling privileged to work in a field that allows me to learn new things every day, and share them with enthusiastic kids. My worst (hard to think of anything!) might be that the publishing market is really tough these days. Yet, that in itself provides an interesting challenge. Work harder, work smarter. That's my new mantra! 


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Okanagan Photos

I'm posting a few photos of my time in the Okanagan. Thank you to Georgia Bruyel, of the Okanagan Falls Library, and Leah Anderson, Grade 2 teacher at Peter Greer School in Lake Country, for these fun photos.

Here's me with my faithful bear fur, and if you look at the table behind me, there's a beaver and wolf skull as well. We wildlife writers like to take our props with us! This is from a talk at the Okanagan Falls library, pictured below.

Okanagan Falls Branch of the OK Regional Library system. Hi to Georgia and everybody there!

Here's the Grade 2 class from Lake Country. You were a lovely audience! Thanks for coming to my talk. It was fun to meet you all.

More photos to come soon. Cheers!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Okanagan Highlights

I'm finished all but a day of my Okanagan library tour, and I'm pleased to say that it's been a grand time. I have loved meeting all the dedicated librarians, and the wonderful students and teachers who have been coming to my talks. Thanks to everyone for being so hospitable!

Although the mercury dips down to freezing at night, the days are sunfilled and warm. I've seen some old friends and had dinner with my cousin, Ben, all of which made the trip even more fun.

I do two talks tomorrow, then fly home. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak in the libraries here. A great big thank you to the Okanagan Regional Library system, Linda Youmans, and the Writers in Libraries grant for making this trip possible. I hope I can return some day.

Thank you, everyone!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

I'm in the beautiful Okanagan, visiting the public libraries, and talking a lot about my wildlife books. Today, it feels especially fitting because it's Earth Day, and it's important to remember all the wonderful wild creatures with whom we share this planet.

As I was driving to my first talk of the day, I was able to look out over Okanagan Lake and see the sun reflected in the water. An eagle was circling overhead, and I felt happy to be able to ponder Earth Day as I made my way through the sage-brush covered hills.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Okanagan Spring

For the next week, I'll be on a library book tour in the sunny Okanagan. I'm looking forward to seeing the lakes and the sun, and chatting with elementary students in the area. 

We lived in the Okanagan for more than a decade, so it's great to have the opportunity to go back for a visit. I will be visiting Penticton, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Peachland and several libraries in the Kelowna area. 

A big thank you to Linda Yeomans and the Okanagan Regional Library System for kindly inviting me on the tour.

I'll be back at the end of April. Check in then for a report. :-)

Happy Spring, everyone!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Win-Win Situation

Today, I spent the afternoon with my 4-month-old twin grandbabies, and felt that we were clearly in the throes of a win-win situation. 

The babies and I strolled along boulevards lined with pink ornamental cherry trees in full blossom, while the bright sunshine beamed overhead. 

The babies gurgled and cooed, then fell happily asleep, lulled by the moving stroller. I got to coo along with them and take a rejuvenating walk, while the twins' parents had a couple of free hours working in their garden. We were all entirely happy. What could be more win-win than that?!!! :-)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's Hard to Blog When...

It's a long weekend.

The sun is shining.

You're waiting to hear about a book proposal you've submitted.

The sun is shining.

You're packing for a trip.

The sun is shining.

Everyone else's blog is much more interesting than yours.

The sun is shining.

Maybe I'll blog next week. 

If it rains.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


It's a beautiful day spring day and the sun is streaming through my office windows. This is the reward we rain-soaked Vancouverites get after months of slogging through puddles. 

And, while the rain is an amazing writing motivator (who wants to go outside?!!!), the sun really lifts my spirits. Yesterday I went for a lovely walk, listened to the birds, peeked at the crocuses, and gave thanks to the sun gods who were smiling down on this soggy city.

I plan to do the same today. :-)


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hard at Work

I've had my nose to the grindstone, working on a proposal for a new book idea. I think I may have finished it tonight. Hooray! It's for 32 page children's nonfiction book (probably only a 2000 word manuscript), but the proposal and sample text turned out to be 13 typewritten pages long. Crazy! But it takes a lot of convincing these days to get a publisher to sign on to a book. 

I'll send it off tomorrow. Now the waiting begins...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Burning the Midnight Oil

For many years, I rose early and did my best writing of the day in the morning hours, but life seems to have have turned upside down. Now my most productive writing time is at night, when the house is quiet and the phone rarely rings. I used to marvel at the stories of so many writers who worked at night, and couldn't imagine how they kept their eyes open, let alone found the right words for the page. Now, I've turned into one of those writers, busily working while everyone sleeps. Shh....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Straddling Time Zones

These days, I've been thinking a lot about how writers work, and how we perpetually inhabit multiple time zones: the past, present and future. To keep ourselves working, we must always be imagining and proposing new projects to our publishers (the future). We are also busily researching, writing and working hard on a current writing project (the present). And finally, we are enthusiastically promoting recently released books that appear new to our reading audience, but actually feel old to us — possibly written up to two years ago (the past). What's it like straddling the time zones? Exciting, rewarding, hectic, and a little bit crazy. But that's the nature of the job, and I wouldn't trade it for anything!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Research, Glorious Research!

I'm deep in research mode, which is one of my favourite parts of writing a book. These days I'm spending a lot of time "dreaming" about what my new book will look like, playing (in my mind) with different formats and voices, and digging into research in the various wonderful ways that the book requires. And fortunately for moi, this new book idea requires me (beyond reading books) to go on field trips, visit markets, watch things grow, and cook and eat delicious local food. I feel my waistline expanding as I type. :-)

This is the first time I've been able to combine my three big interests — books, kids, and cooking — into a single, tantalizing project. What could be more fun than that?!!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Phoenix Photo

Here's a photo of some of us from the Phoenix IRA (International Reading Association). Beginning from the left are three authors: Mary Casanova, Margriet Ruurs, and moi, and one of our most enthusiastic audience members, Monica Scarborough. 

This photo was snapped the day after our symposium, when we were signing books in the giant book hall. (Thus, our lovely yellow nametags, allowing us into the hall.) Obviously, we weren't working too hard signing books at the time. :-) It was great fun to have a chance to hobnob with one another. Thanks to Monica for initiating the photo session!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Clever kc dyer!

My blogging pal and fellow author, kc dyer, has a brand new book titled A Walk Through a Window. 

She's also got a very clever promotion going, where her main character, Darby Christopher, interviews mystery authors on her own Darby Speaks blog

Today, I was the mystery author. Go here to read my interview. For a fun read, check back through all of the interviews of mystery authors, and for even more fun, why not attend kc's launch at Kidsbooks in Edgemont Village. (See poster above for details.)

Congratulations, kc! It's a great promotion!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Maywood School's Best Questions Ever!

When I was at Maywood School this week, the students asked me some of the best, most thoughtful questions I've ever been asked. Below is a sampling of what they asked (with my answers in parentheses). Above is more lovely art from the Maywood School hallways.

Which do you prefer: writing or teaching? (I loved being a teacher, and planned to be a teacher forever. I was very surprised to find out that I also really liked writing. Today, I love to write, but I still feel like I'm teaching through my books.)

When you are out in public, do people recognize you? (No.) 

What is your favourite genre to read? (I read everything: fiction and nonfiction — written for adults, kids, and everyone in between. These days I'm very partial to teen fiction.)

Who is your favourite author? (I was stumped by that one. I kept thinking of Emily Bronte, Daphne Du Maurier, and other favourite authors from my past, and then flipping forward to Siobhan Dowd and Sherman Alexie, favourite authors of my present — but I couldn't get the words out. It was like fast-forwarding through a movie of my book-reading life.)

Do you know any famous authors? (I know quite a few children's authors from our local writers and illustrators group: Cwill BC. Most of my friends these days are children's book writers.)

What is your greatest achievement? (Being able to combine my love for kids and my love for books into one great job: that of being a children's book writer.)

What inspires you? (I'm not sure I gave the best answer. I should have said: Great kids like you!)

How much does it cost a publisher to create a book? (About $50,000 a book.)

How can the publisher earn that money back? (It's hard; they have to sell a lot of copies. Also, no one — except for JK Rowling — makes very much money when creating books. There are so many people involved in making a book who need to be paid: the author, illustrator, editor, page designer, art director, copy editor, printer, and so on. People don't write books to make a lot of money. They do it because they love it.)

If you weren't a writer, what would you be? (A baker. I love to cook, especially to make homemade jam and pies. My secret dream is to bake pies to sell at the local farmer's market.)

Have you travelled to other places in the world? (Yes, I love to travel, and have been to a few other countries, including: Mexico, USA, England, and China. There's lots more I'd still like to visit.)

Would you like to write about them? (Yes!)

When you were my age (Grade 7), did you think you would become an author? (No, I had no idea, but I did know that I loved to read. Now that I'm an adult, I realize that kids who love to read often become writers.)

Is writing a good career? (Absolutely! You don't earn a lot, but there are many other rewards — especially — getting to do what you love to do!)

What advice can you give to someone of my age (Grade 7) who wants to be a writer? (Keep writing. Write about things that interest you and matter to you. Keep reading. Read as much as you can, and you will learn a lot about how to put words together. Find places to publish your writing, such as online magazines and websites for young people. The author, Margriet Ruurs, has a website called Kids Write, where kids can send their work and have it posted online. Good luck!)

Wow! What great questions. Thank you to the Maywood Community School intermediate students for really making me think. You made my day (and week, and year)! :-) 

I hope to see you again soon.

Cheers! Deborah

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Maywood Community School

I'd like to send a sincere thank you to Brenda Hain, librarian extraordinaire, and to all the staff and students at Maywood Community School in Burnaby. I spent the last couple of days in
Brenda's library, meeting her intermediate students, and talking about books. It was an amazing time! Thank you to everyone for your kind welcome, and your great enthusiasm. You have a very special school.

I loved the art on your school walls! The mural shown above is a tree formed from the hand prints of all the students in the school. The tree trunk is composed of prints of the students' forearms. The tree is representative of the feeling of the school — that everyone is included and important.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Joyful Jan!

We've reached the final installment in my Phoenix profile series. 

Introducing... Jan Keese, Iowa Teacher of the Year for 2007! 

Jan is a 3rd Grade teacher with enormous passion and dedication. She is so passionate, in fact, that she received the top teacher award for her state, and had the great honour of going to the White House to receive her award from the President of the United States. (Jan's on the right.)

Jan spent the fall using our books in her classroom, and creating writing and literacy activities to accompany them. She brought stacks of writing projects from her students, and shared her results with the assembled audience. We were so impressed!

If you'd like to read about the Teacher of the Year program, go here. If you'd like to be moved by the power of an excellent teacher, check out Jan's video called "Why I Teach" here. Get out your hanky!

That wraps up my series, unless there are any audience members who'd like to send me their photos of the day. If so, I'll post them on this blog if you email them to me.

Thanks for reading! Cheers!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lively Linda!

Linda Bailey was a key member of our Phoenix symposium, and she is the clever, funny author of picture books, novels and nonfiction, all of which have enormous "kid-appeal." These days, she is probably best known for her Stanley books, the stories about the goofy canine named Stanley, who has a series of funfilled adventures with his doggy pals. The photo here shows Linda with her golden retriever, Sophie, the real-life dog who was the inspiration for Stanley.

Linda and I have been friends for a long time, and I have had the great privilege of having had a ringside seat to her active imagination and creative process, as she worked through her many books. In addition, she was the one, so many years ago, who first urged me to send a manuscript to a publisher. I might never have been brave enough to do that without her encouragement. Thank you, Linda! :-)

Linda's most recent Stanley book, Stanley's Beauty Contest, is newly on the bookstore shelves. I urge you to seek it out. And, if you'd like to find out more about Linda and her charming books, please check her website here.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ticket to the IRA...

I'm taking a brief interlude in my profiles of presenters from the Phoenix symposium to explain how we all got to go to the IRA conference last weekend. 

Margriet Ruurs had the excellent idea of proposing our symposium day to the IRA selection committee, and then asked us all if we'd be willing to participate. (Wasn't she brave?!!!) Once Margriet's proposal was accepted, there was a flurry of activity as the 6 of us prepared slide-show presentations for the day.

Some of us were able to get some financial support from our publishers to attend (a big thank you to Kids Can Press and Tundra Books!), but most of us flew on our own airline points, paid for our own hotels and spoke for free. Why would we do this? Times are tough in the publishing biz, and it's really up to authors and illustrators to do a lot of their own promotion these days. Margriet, clever woman that she is, saw a great opportunity for us to share our books with an audience of amazing literacy specialists and reading teachers. 

It was a wonderful day, and I am thrilled to have taken part, and would do so again in a heartbeat. If you're an author, and keen to go to the IRA, do what Margriet did. Send in a proposal, and get speaking!

For all of you dedicated, reading enthusiasts who were in the audience: It was a real treat to meet you! Thanks so much for kindly (and enthusiastically!) spending the day with us.

Check back soon for the final two profiles: Lively Linda (Bailey) and Joyful Jan (Keese).

So long for now!

Sensational Sara!

Sara Holbrook was the engaging, talented poet in our group at the Phoenix IRA. She performed her poems throughout the day, with tremendous energy and finesse. I was touched by her sensitivity to difficult issues in children's lives, and the way she is able to teach kids to use poetry in a powerful way to express themselves. 

As well as being a marvellous poet, she is a gifted educator, and was able to lead us through a fascinating (and fun!) poetry writing exercise. To find out more about Sara and her clever poems, please check her website here. Some of her poetry collections are titled, The Dog Ate My Homework, Am I Naturally This Crazy, and I Never Said I Wasn't Difficult.

It was a pleasure and privilege to meet Sara and see her perform her poetry. She really inspired me!

More about our other symposium partners to come soon. Cheers!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Magnificent Mary!

Mary Casanova was another amazing author on our program in Phoenix. I hadn't met her before, but was charmed by her books — some 25 of them, including award-winning novels and picture books. Many of her books have a wilderness theme, no doubt influenced by her living on the Minnesota-Canadian border. 

I was intrigued by her question: "When does a picture book become poetry?" And, in fact, her picture books read like poetry. I especially enjoyed hearing about two books: "Utterly Otter Day" and "One-Dog Canoe." 

Mary has a masterful way with written language, and each word in her picture books was carefully chosen to give the maximum impact in meaning and sound. She also exhibits a delightful sense of humour that I really enjoyed. If you'd like to read more about Mary, check out her website here.

I'll be posting about our other panel members over the next few days. Check back soon. 


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Marvellous Margriet!

Our symposium in Phoenix turned out to be an amazing celebration of books and literacy. Everyone in the room was clearly a keen champion of kids and reading. I can't imagine meeting a more dedicated group of people anywhere! 

For the next few posts, I'm going to feature a single author from the symposium and tell you a little bit about her books. Today, I'll start with Margriet Ruurs, who may be the biggest champion of literacy that I've ever met. Margriet organized the day and lined up the 5 authors and 1 teacher of the year to speak. She coordinated us all, and put our slideshows on her computer, then acted as MC for the day-long workshop. She was an incredible trouble-shooter (both with the technology and in any other little glitches that popped up) and a tirelessly optimistic host. I told her she was a force of nature. And she was!

Margriet has written some 25 books for children, many of them about nature and fictional animals, and she travels the world, speaking at reading conferences, schools and libraries. Wherever she goes, she carries her message of the importance of reading. Tomorrow, she is on her way to China and Burma for 5 weeks to speak at international schools. In addition to writing and speaking, she has created a global book exchange program, as well as coordinating book donations for needy schools around the globe. 

One of my favourite books by Margriet is called, "My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World." In essence, it's a photo essay that shows mobile libraries in remote parts of the world. These libraries move from place to place in remarkable ways: by bus, boat, elephant, donkey and more! These unusual libraries are often the only way that people in remote areas such as in Thailand, Mongolia or Azerbaijan can access books. I really wish I had written that book! I also really wish I'd seen those libraries. (Do you detect a note of professional jealousy? :-)

I've got a lot to learn from Margriet: fearless traveller, bold optimist, and the best darn promoter of literacy that she is.

If you'd like to find about more about Margriet and her books, please check her website here.

Check back soon to hear about the other authors at our symposium. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Symposium Handouts

This note is for those of you who attended our symposium at the Phoenix IRA last Saturday (and anyone else who's interested). 

When we ran out of my printed handouts on writing & publishing, and curriculum activities to accompany my books, I promised to email copies to anyone who wished them. I spent this afternoon sending these out, but alas, some of the emails have bounced back. If you are someone who is hoping to receive a copy of the handouts and didn't, please email me and I will get them to you ASAP. Send your message to:

More to come on the conference soon. 


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Phoenix Highlights

I'm back from Phoenix, which I'm pleased to report, was a sensational experience! Over the next few days, I'll jot down some detailed thoughts about the weekend conference (and will post some photos), but for now, I'll list a few highlights. 


* Meeting the amazing folks in our audience: dedicated literacy specialists, teachers and reading coaches from all over North America. I couldn't imagine a more passionate, committed group of reading enthusiasts anywhere. 

* Hearing the other authors on the program talk about their books. Wow! They were inspiring.

* Feeling the warm sun on my waterlogged Vancouver skin


* Phoenix folks were wearing sweaters and jackets. They thought it was cold!

* Hearing the Phoenix radio announcer say that in the chilly Canadian city that Obama visited (Ottawa), people ice-skate to work.

* Picking an orange growing in a tree outside my hotel.

I'll post again in the next day or two, with more thoughts on the conference, but for now I'd like to send a heartfelt thank you to the wonderful folks who attended our symposium, and shared their thoughts on teaching, children's books and their love for reading. Thank you, thank you!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Phoenix Bound!

My Keynote presentation is finished, my bathing suit is bought, my bags are (almost) packed, and my passport is at the ready. I'm flying to sunny Phoenix tomorrow to speak at the International Reading Association conference with my pals and fellow authors, Linda Bailey and Margriet Ruurs. (See my earlier post here to refresh your memory.) Wish us luck!

I'll post a full report on my return. :-)


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiter Rant

I spent the weekend reading Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, and wondering which type of restaurant customer I am. Judging by this book, there are almost no good customers (including me!). I'll never ask to switch tables again. This book was a fun read, and a revealing one (possibly more revealing than you'd ever want it to be). I had trouble putting it down.

It began as a blog, written by an anonymous, disgruntled waiter working at a New York fine dining restaurant, and quickly gathered a following. An agent who happened to read the blog, offered to represent the waiter (Steve Dublanica) and between the two of them, they ended up with an instant New York Times Bestseller. Now there's a good reason to blog!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Phoenix Reading Conference

Winter weather getting you down? Consider flying to sunny Phoenix, Arizona for the International Reading Association conference, Feb. 21-25. I'll be there with local authors, Linda Bailey and Margriet Ruurs. We're part of a team presenting a day-long symposium titled: 

Spinning Multiple Genres Into Classroom Gold: Writers of fiction, poetry and nonfiction share their expertise, while the 2007 Teacher of the Year weaves their books together with practical classroom writing activities. (See our listing here, under Institute 8.)

I am busily preparing my presentation these days, and getting very familiar with Keynote (the Mac version of PowerPoint). It seems that nothing I ever do is quick. Sigh. But I'm learning a lot, and enjoying the creative part of structuring a presentation with multiple images.

Besides that, I'm bathing suit shopping. No easy task, either. :-)

Sunny weather, here I come!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Thank you, South Slope School!

I spent two wonderful days this week at South Slope Elementary School in Burnaby, and want to thank everyone there: the staff, students, interpreters and, most of all, Holly Lloyd, the amazing teacher/librarian who invited me. All of you made me feel enormously welcome. 

For interested folks, you can read up on the school here.

After spending time at South Slope, I am now keen to learn some sign language. It was an inspiring couple of days.

Thank you, again, South Slope Elementary!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thank you!

A big bouquet of metaphorical flowers to Renee Norman and her students for hosting a wonderful afternoon at Fraser Valley University yesterday! Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of your day. It was heartening to see all of you future teachers, and to converse with you about students, books and learning. An extra thank you to Natalie for kindly selling our books and to David for his kind introduction. I wish you all the best of luck in your careers!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Afternoon of Children's Literature

I've been kindly invited to speak to Education students at an "Afternoon of Children's Literature Event" at the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, on Wednesday. The other speakers, with whom I share the afternoon, are Ellen Schwartz and Robert Heidebreder, both friends of mine and accomplished authors. All three of us are former teachers, and have been asked to speak about our books and how our teaching backgrounds inform our writing. 

Robert (Bob) is a recently retired Kindergarten/Grade 1 teacher who won the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence. Wow! That's an inspiring award! He specializes in creating wonderful, lively poetry for young children. Ellen is a versatile author, who capably leaps across multiple genres including: picture books, juvenile and YA novels, as well as nonfiction for the intermediate grades. For more information on my talented pals, check out these web links for Ellen and Bob.

It should be a fun afternoon! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Irish YA Books

I've just finished reading two superb Irish YA books: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd and War Children by Gerard Whelan. Both are powerful works of fiction that taught me far more about "The Troubles" than I've ever learned from a history book. 

In case you're interested, here's the cover description for Bog Child:

"Digging for peat in the mountain with his Uncle Tally, Fergus finds the body of a child, and it looks like she's been murdered. As Fergus tries to make sense of the mad world around him - his brother on hunger-strike in prison, his growing feelings for Cora, his parents arguing over the Troubles, and him in it up to the neck, blackmailed into acting as courier to God knows what, a little voice comes to him in his dreams, and the mystery of the bog child unfurls." 

"Bog Child is an astonishing novel exploring the sacrifices made in the name of peace, and the unflinching strength of the human spirit."

And for War Children

"Six stories -- one set in Dublin, the others in the countryside -- about children who get caught up in the War of Independence and suffer dire consequences."

"These stories bring to life one of the most dramatic periods in Irish history."

They're sobering books, but well worth reading. I highly recommend them!