It’s been exciting opening packages lately! I received my author copies of The Power of Wind, published by Nelson Cengage Learning in far-away Australia. Writing this information book took me on another fun research expedition and personal journey, learning all about wind. I included wind-powered transportation, such as a wind-powered car that travelled right across Australia in 2013. The section about recreation looks at hang-gliders, windsurfers, and innovative, three-wheeled kite buggies. There’s more about wind energy, types of wind, how to measure wind — and, of course, a section on tornadoes and hurricanes.
It’s fun thinking visually while writing descriptive, factual books like this. I enjoyed searching the Web for photo references for the designer and production team. They did a great job in finding a wide variety of images that show the splendour and this everyday weather phenomenon. A hot-air balloon, a boy flying a kite, and the dispersal of dandelion spores are among the classic images that help draw readers into this interesting area of weather science.
The story “Experiencing Hurricane Juan,” which makes up the book’s final pages, is based on a harrowing personal experience when I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I reframed this story from the point of view of a child. It was pretty neat to be able to weave my memories of that time into this short, fictionalized account. It felt like a risk when I submitted it, but the publisher was in favour. I admit it’s a bit of a thrill to have one’s own experiences transformed in this way. It was frightening and unforgettable to have 150-kilometre winds bombarding my coastal home.
There’s no doubt: extreme weather events leave a life-long impression. I’m sure that’s why I keep feeling compelled to write about this particular event.
Note: this title is sold directly to schools for use in literacy or language programs; it’s not available in bookstores. Find out more at Nelson Cengage Learning.
Signing off until next time, on this grey, rainy spring day.Read More »
You may recall my Hush Hush post about great things in the making. Well, this is one of my favourites. I’m thrilled to announce the arrival of a new book, which I wrote last summer: Every Drop Counts. I really, really enjoyed researching and writing this social-justice-themed book. The research phase involved interviewing several people, including two water-savvy 10-year-olds. Also, it was a great honour to interview Dene Elder Nancy Scanie from Cold Lake First Nation in Alberta.
Nancy told me how, as a child, she used to dip a cup into a lake or river and drink water than was “pure” and “tasty.” But today in Cold Lake, lakes are dying and families have to spend hundreds of dollars on bottled water. My first thought was knee-jerk skeptical. Why not just boil the water to purify it? Yes, this works for parasites, such as beaver fever — giardia — but boiling doesn’t rid water of deadly poisons like cyanide.
In her final message, Nancy said, “Keep Mother Earth clean and keep our waters clean.” And from all the articles I combed through, the stats I examined, and the people I spoke, to Nancy’s advice stands out for its simple honesty.
The books in Scholastic’s informative Take Action series encourage children to make a difference by making changes and speaking out.
If you teach children in grades 4 to 6, you might want to check out the classroom sets available through Scholastic Canada.
CountsRead More »
Huge apologies! I last wrote about having so much neat stuff on the go, and, well — hush-hush — and all that. Then I did a long disappearing act and didn’t blog for months. Sorry. Really.
I landed a one-year, full-time contract at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in October. It’s very exciting and I’m working with great people. Everyone there is incredibly smart and cool and there are chalkboards EVERYWHERE! I really do mean everywhere. In fact, only the washrooms don’t have chalkboards.
So, yeah, the rumours are true; I have a bunch of books coming out. (It feels so great to say that!) Exploring Caves was published in December with Nelson Cengage Learning in Australia. It’s part of a literacy series and meant for students in grade 5. This is a book I wrote last winter, so it’s really fun to see it now. I was delighted to pass on copies to my nephews and hope they like it. Also with Cengage, and available to schools soon, is The Power of Wind, which I wrote last spring. My third title with the same publishing house — written six months ago — is called Exploding Volcanoes. And these last two should be coming out imminently. I’m told these titles are being advertised in their catalogue so it’s OK to blab about them. (See Hush-Hush blog.) The neat thing about these literacy program books — from my view — is that my contracts are royalty-based. That means the more books schools buy, the better it is for me. Most contracts for educational books are flat-fee arrangements, so this seems extra sweet. I will cross my fingers that schools check them out. As always, it is heartwarming to imagine kids curled up in their favourite reading chair, learning about these neat topics. And, even more important, becoming better readers!
It was a lot of fun writing these books. I learned a whole lot and I tried my hand at a short fictional piece in The Power of Wind. It’s from the point of view of a boy whose family experiences Hurricane Juan. This hurricane hit Halifax in 2003 when I lived there and so I experienced it first-hand. In fact, lots of details in the fictionalized account were real things that happened, including the water dripping through the windows in my house. Scary stuff.Read More »
Why so quiet? Here’s the thing: So much about writing is hush-hush. You can’t always disclose the title, topic, or finer details of books until they hit the press’s catalogue. This is pretty much always the case for books in literacy programs. The educational market is highly competitive and no publisher wants their competition to know what they’re cooking up. When it comes to confidentiality, I tend to err on the side of caution and assume I shouldn’t say too much.
For submissions in trade (books that are sold in bookstores, as opposed to those sold exclusively to schools), it’s not always smart to tell the world what you’re working on—at least, not in too much detail—before it is in production and the pages are being set. Even then, it’s all about strategically worded teasers and working to get that social media and word-of-mouth buzz happening.
So, that’s why I’m being strangely silent, even though it’s been a crazy-productive year so far, with lots on the go. I’d love to announce I have a new trade book coming out soon, but alas, it’s going to be a while.
As a special note for those of you in Canada: Make your voice heard. Vote on October 19!Read More »
I’m half-way through writing my 20th book. YES! Since January, I’ve been blessed with four book contracts. They are all for educational publishers, so these books will be sold directly to schools, not bookstores (sorry!). I love knowing that kids in elementary schools across Canada and around the world will be reading and learning from these books. Some are nonfiction descriptive texts based on earth science topics. One is a social justice title that encourages kids to get involved and make a difference.
I had the great fortune of interviewing two 11-year-old kids, a nonprofit group founder, and a First Nations elder. Interviewing is a little nerve-wracking, challenging to set up, and downright hard to do. But the more I try it, the more I see its value. Speaking one-on-one with an expert is an honour. The information, the facts, and the personal stories people share are often moving, powerful, and inspiring. I can research ’til the cows come home, but including a quotation from an expert is like unearthing a nugget of GOLD.
I also absolutely love the way individual voices come through, adding truth and dimension to the manuscript. Young and old, from here or from afar, the individual voices in this particular project help show the power of people — including kids — in making a difference and changing the world to make it better for all.
And so, yes, I’m half-way through writing my 20th book. It feels GOOD! I always hoped I’d reach that magic number of 20, and here I am. I’d like to line up a trade book deal some time soon — that’s for the kind of book you can buy in a bookstore. In the meantime, the pickings have been mighty fine in the educational sphere.
And that means one happy writer!Read More »
Wake the Stone Man; Carol McDougall; $20.95 paper, 9781552667217, 256 pp., 5 x 8; Roseway Publishing (Fernwood), spring 2015
Beginning with a description of a girl climbing a fence—using simple language, and with a sense of in-the-moment immediacy and raw intensity—readers may wonder at first if this could pass as a young adult novel. When a nun yells, “Get off that fence,” and it’s apparent that the fence is an enclosure around a residential school and this unknown girl—an Ojibwe—is trying to escape, the harrowing aspects of this coming of age story begin to take hold. Mature teens may well enjoy reading this timely story, which focuses on the devastating effects of residential schooling and racism, but this is a book for an adult audience. The story begins in 1964 when Molly Bell—the “skinny as a rail” protagonist and narrator—is eleven, and it extends into her adulthood.
Wake the Stone Man is told in a simple, bare-bones style. It’s the perfect medium for conveying the Northern Ontario gruffness and matter-of-fact (gonna-skin-a-moose-now) events that punctuate Molly’s remote, sawmill town surroundings. The jarring, comical, and strange northern custom of greeting a friend with “I hate your face pretty much” is a common thread through the story, alongside Molly and Nakina’s standard conversation opener: “Hey white girl.” / “Hey Anishinaabe.” There is a beautiful calmness in this exchange as it’s repeated in the same way and, I’m convinced, the same tone, despite the train-wreck of life-changing events and tragedies that unfold. The soft greeting weaves through the curving narrative of the story like a refrain or a verse of gentle poetry. It soothes. It connects.
Molly is an avid reader with a “four-book-a-week habit” by high school. When she’s under stress, she increases her habit to a book a day. Molly is an observer who watches the ways her friend Nakina is mistreated, abused, and marginalized. But when the two teens are together, their deep connection transcends horrible events and the passing of time. Though they speak in clipped sentences full of sarcasm, mocking, and a good dose of “shut ups” and “leave me alones,” it’s clear the two share a profound understanding of one another.
Author Carol McDougall grew up in Northern Ontario and now lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She is author of Nova Scotia Guide to Frugal Living (Nimbus, 2009) and co-author, with Shanda LaRamee-Jones, of Baby Look, Baby Play, Baby Talk, Look at Me Now! (Nimbus). McDougall is the long-time director of Nova Scotia’s Read to Me! program and a strong advocate for baby and toddler literacy. Wake the Stone Man won the Beacon Award for Social Justice Literature, a prize for an unpublished novel.
The author captures 1970s northern Ontario with great authenticity through expressions used in dialogue, references to pop music, draft dodgers and brief, but chilling, mentions of the Vietnam War, including napalm bombs and a Buddhist monk setting himself aflame. McDougall’s descriptions of chopping wood, star-filled skies, bitter, bitter cold, and over-wintering in a remote, poorly insulated home with no electricity show a deep connection to the land and underline Molly’s fierce sense of determination to survive and make it, despite all odds.
Certainly, this issues-focused novel is well-timed with the growing awareness and concern for survivors of the residential schools—a terrible occurrence in Canada’s past, recently called “cultural genocide” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s interim report.
This is a story that will stimulate important discussion. The book club notes included at the back present in-depth questions to facilitate further exploration of the story’s themes.
Reviewed by Jill Bryant.Read More »
I know, I know. I’m interminably late in the game, but I’ve finally joined Twitter and am looking for people to follow and, in turn, followers. My Twitter handle is @JillBryantBooks. I’ve tweeted successfully 78 times to date–whoo hoo! That’s one hundred and forty characters or fewer about female entrepreneurs, feminist topics, writing nonfiction, the writing process, author events, science news, and books. It’s definitely a learn-as-you-go experience for me, so I hope I don’t make — or haven’t already made — any terrible foibles.
Twitter began in 2006 so I’m nearly a decade behind on this social networking bandwagon, but who’s counting?! I recall being similarly skeptical of email many years ago and, ehem, it revolutionized the way I work. I was pretty happy not to have to set up my old fax machine upon my return to Canada from abroad, at which point it was abundantly clear fax machines had pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur and I could reclaim that portion of my desk for books and papers.
Speaking of dinosaurs, I heard on CBC Radio (not through social networking) that the brontosaurus is a real species after all. “But nobody gave up on the brontosaurus, did they?” says Carol Off. “I mean, children love the brontosaurus; they love this giant vegetarian …” What a great quote. And then, through the beauty of the Internet, I Googled “CBC Radio brontosaurus” and found a link to the podcast to have a re-listen.
Authors for Indies
Mark your calendar on May 2nd for Author for Indies. I’ll be at Novel Idea Bookstore in historic Kingston, Ontario, along with other authors from the area. It’s sure to be a fun event. Show your support for local independent bookstores by stopping by your local indie and saying thank you to the booksellers that nourish readers, host literary events and book launches — and serve as friendly liaisons between the public and the Canadian book industry. Indie booksellers are passionate about literature and work tirelessly to promote good books.
Thank you independent bookstores. We love all that you do!
I grow weary of waiting, ever so impatiently, for warmer weather to arrive. At last, on Thursday, April 2nd, my snowdrops were in bud. Now, April 9th, they are in their full glory — little jewels of spring. Come on, Mother Nature, bring on the new season! Let’s have some crocuses, daffodils, tulips. It’s time.
Read More »
There’s a whole lot of buzz around International Women’s Day today. It’s exciting and I feel like there’s a new feminist wave in the making with all the discussion around empowering girls and also raising boys differently. Think “It’s All Right to Cry” from the Free to Be … You and Me album of the ’70s — an important influence on my youth.
To pay tribute to International Women’s day, I’m flagging a few noteworthy webpages and also a STEM-related video. I know it’s a bit of a “cheat” blog post, but there is so much rich content and there are many interesting perspectives to ponder. This quote on CBC’s Writers and Company webpage that features an interview with Gloria Steinem says a lot:
“We were so occupied with trying to raise our daughters more like our sons that we probably are only now seeing how much we need to raise our sons more like our daughters – so that both of them can be whole people.” – Gloria Steinem
Great facts and stats are laid out on the Because I Am a Girl‘s website. The article “Attention women: Ignore the glass ceiling (we have other problems at work)” refers to women falling into a “helper” role and often being “bogged down by menial tasks.”
Last week, in conjunction with my Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs book, I was invited to attend the launch of the Lassonde School of Engineering’s 50:50 Challenge.
View the video about this very exciting initiative at York University in Toronto: The Lassonde 50:50 Challenge.
It’s also great to see all the lists emerging with books featuring strong female characters:
- 12 Canadian women writers you need to read
- Top 10 feminist icons in children’s and teen books
- Book Riot: The Best Feminist Books for Younger Readers
- Amelia Bloomer Project 2015
- Orca Books: International Women’s Day Reads
All and all, conversations are happening and ideas are swirling; great things are happening for girls, boys, and the planet. Let’s celebrate the achievements. Happy International Women’s Day!Read More »
Hello from cold and blustery Kingston, Ontario. I’m accepting bookings from schools for author talks in March, April, May, and June. Interested teachers can email me directly to set a date. The Writers’ Union of Canada has funding available to offset costs and make these visits very affordable. Investigate further at Ontario Writers-in-the-Schools Program Overview and on my member page. Please note this important statement on The Writers’ Union of Canada’s website: “We are now accepting applications for the 2015-16 funding year for visits taking place between April 1, 2015 – August 31, 2015. Applications will be processed in late February.” Funding is allocated on a first-come first-served basis, so don’t delay. You can find out more about my presentations on my website under Book Talks. A detailed description of book talk topics follows:
My presentations draw upon my three books in The Women’s Hall of Fame series, Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, Dazzling Women Designers, and Amazing Women Athletes, plus my activity book Backyard Circus. All presentations encourage active student participation. Each session includes a short Q&A segment. With advanced notice, I can alter specific presentations to suit a broader range of grades.
Kindergarten to Grade 3: Backyard Circus [30 – 45 min]
Imagine the fun of creating your very own backyard circus! Let’s bring on the silly hats and the big shoes and try out some circus stunts to captivate the classroom crowd. I read aloud and act out sections from Backyard Circus, encouraging children to take part. Classroom performers walk the “tightrope,” juggle, dress up, and tell jokes. I stress that practice makes perfect when it comes to polishing skills at the circus — and as a writer. A real crowd-pleaser!
Grades 4 – 6: Dig, Dig, Dig! [50 min]
Using my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, I take students behind the scenes to explore one of the first stages in the writing process: research. Together they compare secondary sources to primary sources and learn the value of conducting interviews to collect factual information about real people. Through a series of interactive exercises, students devise questions and practise interviewing. Looking at advice and tips gathered from successful entrepreneurs, I show how students can use a similar approach in their own goal setting. Persistence and determination pay off.
Grades 7 – 8: Get Real [50 – 60 min]
Can nonfiction writers borrow techniques from fiction to draw readers into a story with panache? You, bet! I demonstrate how to fill in the gaps that can arise in nonfiction narratives, despite meticulous research. The goal is a believable, true-to-life portrait of an individual that may just walk off the page. Then, by drawing examples from my Women’s Hall of Fame books, I encourage students to combine sleuth-like observational skills with memories from personal experiences to create catchy openers. This presentation also explores the importance of honesty and integrity in writing about real people’s lives.
High School: Girl Power [50 – 60 min]
Images from the media, messages from peers, parents, and others may make you feel like you have to act in certain ways. This presentation, which is geared for female students, shatters stereotypes and encourages young women to explore their interests, find their passion, and go for it. With an open, inclusive outlook, girls can aspire to holding top executive positions, breaking records in sports, and pursuing diverse fields in math, science, and design. Citing real-life examples from my Women’s Hall of Fame books, I share inspiring quotes and advice from successful women.
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Coming up this spring, I’m thrilled to have been asked to be one of three local judges evaluating entries for Teenswrite! hosted by the Kingston WritersFest. Entries will arrive in April and I’ll have to submit my choices by mid-May. What a wonderful opportunity to provide support for a local arts and culture initiative. I am looking forward to reading the entries and seeing the creativity of Kingston youths.Read More »
Hi, all! I’m happy to report that I’m back at my writing desk. I decided to leave my in-house publishing position at the end of December to free up time for writing. So far, I’m loving it.
I have a huge grin on my face.
I’m sitting here in the sunshine with a view of the park across the street, my dog is snoozing beside me, and I have a list of projects to work on. My first assignments are writing some literacy program books for an overseas publisher. Bliss.
Well, I have a few ideas. In the meantime, I have to consider if I should write another nonfiction biography book or if I should knuckle down and attempt fiction. I’ve been dabbling, but I keep telling myself to get serious. I have some good support, too. My editor for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs says I should go for it. But, but, but … plot, character, suspense, point of view. It’s still scary.
I wish you a very happy 2015. May you follow your passions and meet your challenges head on,