I’m excited to share with you the recent posting of a video interview, recorded back in May, but released on July 22, 2014. This was during Canadian Children’s Book Week and the location was the beautiful H.T. Coutts Library, University of Alberta. It was a great thrill to be asked by the talented team at the Coutts Library. My apologies for the tardy posting. I was away for a bit on holidays and then it was the back-to-school blitz.
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It’s official. The Bank Street College Centre for Children’s Literature has released its “Best Books” list for 2014 and Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs (published Sept. 2013) is on the list! I know I mentioned this in an earlier post, but now there is a link to the pdf for all the age categories. Click “Nine to Twelve” and scroll through to page 14 to find my book. I encourage you to poke around and explore the lists for the various age ranges. It is indeed a great honour to have Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs on this list. Thank you to the reviewers and all the committee members.
Speaking of feeling honoured and grateful, I’m still reeling from the whirlwind Canadian Children’s Book Week tour, though it wrapped up a month ago. I loved the opportunity to be a part of the national celebrations and to meet children in a sampling of schools throughout Alberta.
One of the highlights of my trip to Alberta was meeting Nicole Robertson in person. I featured Nicole as one of ten female entrepreneurs in my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. Although I’d interviewed her over the phone, I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her face to face. As owner of Muskwa Productions, Nicole sends good news stories about Aboriginal people to mainstream media outlets. She’s an optimist through and through and is very much in touch with Indigenous issues. She’s also highly skilled at photography, videography, presenting, and consulting. Like all the entrepreneurs in my book, Nicole is overbrimming with passion for her work. She’s a lovely, warm person and it was such a pleasure to chat with her. You can read more about Nicole in this past post here — and also in my book, of course!
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I’ve been working on my book talks for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2014. I know it’s not happening until May, but time is flying these days and I don’t want to be caught short. While researching, I came across this article called “How Indian Women Are “Leaning In.” The cool thing about it is that it brings together Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Naina Lal Kidwai (HSBC), both featured in my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. I thought it was pretty neat that another writer linked these two women who come from such different backgrounds and work in different industries. It turns out that the article was adapted from the Indian version of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and it was written by Naina Lal Kidwai, not a journalist. Now that is very cool, indeed. Naina, as you may know from my book, was the first Indian woman to graduate from Harvard Business School — in 1982.
On another note, I just finished reading a novel called One Year in Coal Harbour by Polly Horvath. It’s the long-awaited sequel to the Newbery Honor Book Everything on a Waffle. What a fabulous, fabulous book! I devoured it in a day. I loved the protagonist, Primrose Squarp, and the interesting adult characters, including Miss Honeycut and Miss Bowzer. The author has a great feel for her target audience. There are some serious and heavy themes: foster kids, the death of two dogs, poverty issues, problems with “friends.” But there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to off-set the sober moments. Horvath’s images are utterly unique. She writes about a “bedrock of multiplication” (p. 2) and waves that are “bunched up and wrinkled” (p. 3). At one point Primrose’s mom recalls a “lady who lives on the outside of town” and writes poems about cats saying that “being a writer was like being a cross between a ditchdigger and a pit pony” (p. 20). Wow.
I was continuously amazed at the range of vocabulary Horvath used. Page 7 offers up “complicit,” page 8 features the word “staccato,” and by page 25 the word “ersatz” stands out as an anomaly in books. This is a book for middle schoolers. Then — I kid you not — on “heretofore” makes a bold appearance (p. 33) and later “ululation” (p. 128). Yes, I starting collecting these lovely words, jotting them down as I read.
A foster parent named Evie, who is wonderfully nurturing and down-to-earth, has a thing for putting mini marshmallows in everything she serves kids and teens. By the book’s end, I figured I’d never look at mini marshmallows in the same way. Interspersed through the book are recipes that hail from the 1970s: “Penuche with Mini Marshmallows,” “Gussied-Up Cinnamon Toast,” and “Polynesian Jell-O Salad,” to single out a few.
In short, One Year in Coal Harbour is a stylistic masterpiece, highly deserving of the 2013 TD Children’s Literature Award and many more. I strongly recommend this book.
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I’m not a playwright.
I finished writing a play this week. A play? Yeah, I know. I’m not a playwright, or didn’t used to be.
I’m not sure if completing a draft of a play makes me a playwright or not. Of course, it took me years to accept that I was a real author, too. It’s that old insecurity complex that plagues authors, young and old, experienced and inexperienced alike.
I took a playwriting/screenwriting course last spring. On my first day, I told the group:
Writing fiction terrifies me.
I’ve always loved reading it, admiring it, and promoting it, but do I view myself as a fiction writer? No. But in this hands-on workshop we had to write a play. Well, at least the beginnings of a play. After meeting once a week, for six weeks, we either read a portion of our play aloud or, better, had friends come and act out a ten-minute segment. I opted for the latter. I invited some actor friends and their son to come and act out a couple scenes. The play I was working on was suitable for families. It featured three siblings, a mother, a father, and an uncle. It was amazing to see the story come to life on stage. I know that sounds clichéed, but it really was a worthwhile part of the process. It helped me see and hear which parts worked and which parts didn’t. After I knew which lines to rewrite, shorten, or expand upon. It made me think more about the logistics. Does it makes sense to have a set change after just one scene? Which props will have to be mimed? The stones. And which ones can be real? The doll.
Then, a year later, I had some time. I opened up the file and read it over. I looked at my notes, scribbled down some more and did some more research. Then, I pushed myself to devise a plot — something very new to me. The hardest part — which I see more clearly now — was getting started and making a commitment to focus on it and try to finish it. Once I’d done that, however, the process wasn’t as terribly scary as I thought it would be. It was a challenge to work out the plot, but I decided I should get more lines down on paper, and see where that took the story. And so, I wrote another page or so. Then I looked at what I’d written and asked, “Now how can I get from A to B?” It was never obvious. Sometimes I took a break and mulled over the conundrum while doing other things. Then, I wrote some more. I knew it still wasn’t quite right; I had more loose ends to tie up. I continued writing and thinking, and writing some more. In the end, I finished it. Setting a personal goal and exercising determination helped me create characters, build a setting, and unravel the plot. Much of the process was a lot of fun. I felt productive while writing and pleased with the way it was developing. I proved to myself that I could do it. And I discovered that I enjoy writing dialogue; I like making up scenes.
It was fun.
This week is Canadian Children’s Book Week. Last year, during this special week, I had a lot going on in the community. You can read about it in a previous blog posting here. It’s lovely to have a week that honours the wonderful home-grown talent we have. I hope you’ll read some wonderful Canadian children’s books, stop by your library and see the book displays. Check out the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s website: here.
Writing is hard. Writing a book, poem, graphic novel, or play, which is accepted, published, reviewed, shared, and read, is deeply rewarding. I think what this quiet, writing-focused week has shown me as a children’s author is that it is important to continue to challenge oneself artistically in order to develop as a writer. Who knows where this path will lead?
The notion of continually challenging oneself reminds me of The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can. I think I can.”
If you are passionate about being a writer and are willing to work hard, you can succeed.
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I know I should have blogged this last week, but better late than never, right?
In celebration of Canadian Children’s Book Week, Young Kingston authors are creating a bit of a buzz in the downtown. Kingstonians walking down Princess Street can admire the window display at Novel Idea, Kingston’s independent bookstore.
The window features books by several members of Young Kingston, including Y.S. Lee, Ann-Maureen Owens, Mary Alice Downie, Peggy Collins, Leanne Lieberman, Sarah Ti-Mei Tsiang, and me.
Ehem, Ann-Maureen and I can now add “window dresser” to our resumes! It was an interesting challenge figuring out how to best display the wide array of children’s books represented by our group. With stuffed animal characters from one of Peggy’s beautifully illustrated picture books (Tallula’s Atishoo!), a model of a canoe and Martello tower accompanying The Kids Book of Canadian Exploration and Forts of Canada by Ann-Maureen Owens, Victorian maps of London to showcase Y.S. Lee’s Agency series, and hand-crafted megaphone, spinning plate, juggling balls to feature my Backyard Circus book, the overall effect is upbeat, energetic, and fun.
It is such an honour to see my books in the store window. I am forever grateful to the store owner, Oscar, for giving us this opportunity to celebrate local children’s and young adult books. I’m sure all YK members echo this sentiment. I’d also like to extend thanks to the helpful staff at Novel Idea: Cynthia and Natasha.
I gave a ten-minute talk to pre-schoolers at the Isabel Turner branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library on Saturday, May 5. With mismatched socks, polka dot bow tie, and oversized plaid jacket, I read and performed from Backyard Circus. I also read three poems including two new ones that I wrote just for the occasion: “The Kids’ Table ABC and “Night Fears.” Simultaneously, Peggy Collins read at the Central library in Kingston.
On Sunday, May 6 from 1:00 to 5:00 members of Young Kingston chatted with the public, with each other, and were on hand to sign books to patrons. I dressed up Backyard Circus style — why not? — and the afternoon was a lot of fun.
There are still plenty of signed books in the store, so please pop in this week to pick up some very meaningful and beautiful birthday gifts for children and youths. The selection is truly impressive.
This Saturday, May 12 at 10:30 a.m. I’ll be giving another ten-minute talk at the Central branch of the KFPL. Since this is the branch my family frequents, it will be extra special having the opportunity to speak there. Thank you to librarians Sarah Balint and Sarah Macdonald for their efforts in organizing these readings.
One more item to note: the Central branch has created a book display and bulletin board featuring Young Kingston writers’ books, biographies, original artwork by Peggy Collins, newsclippings, and book covers. Another display area includes other picture books by Canadian authors and illustrators. Again, thanks to Sarah and Brenda for creating the displays. What a wonderful way to show off the works of talented Canadians. It’s going to be such a fun week!
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