I’m grateful that my own kids, both teenagers, are avid readers. My mom says, “you can’t go wrong, if you’re a reader.” It’s true that books can help you soldier through some of the challenges life throws your way, giving you a wonderful escape and a reprieve from the hum-drum and the ordinary. My kids have become accustomed to my taking an interest in what they are reading. I ask, good naturedly, I’m sure, “is that Canadian?” They roll their eyes in response and groan, “Mom!” Somewhat exasperated by my relentless advocating for Canadian literary talent, they, like their avid-reader peers, often gravitate to the blockbuster books: Divergent, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, the Lunar Chronicles, and His Dark Materials. I’m always delighted when a Canadian title makes it into their stack of books and receives their rapt attention. The Bone books, the Breadwinner series, Seraphina, the Silverwing Saga, the Agency series and various titles by Janet McNaughton, Sharon McKay, Budge Wilson, Janet Wilson. My eldest daughter shelves her books according to “awesome girls” and “pretty covers” on Goodreads. It great to know that strong female characters are high on her list.
Here are her stats on where the stories she’s read in the past year took place:
- USA: 19 (one had a scene that took place in Canada)
- England: 11
- Continental Europe: 12
- Africa: 1
- Asia: 2
- Fictional land: 4
The Opinion piece in the Fall 2014 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News, entitled “Who will write our stories?,” really got me thinking more about the value of home-grown books for kids. It’s important that kids have books to read that speak to the places they live and the sort of everyday reality they face. And it’s great for kids to have access to local writers through book talks in schools and public libraries. The author of this article, Nadia L. Hohn, is an educator in Toronto, and also an author with three forthcoming children’s books (with Rubicon Publishing and Groundwood Books). Her heritage is Caribbean Canadian. Hohn refers to a blog post by author Dr. Zetta Elliott, entitled “Black Canadian children’s literature ~ the stats.” This post contains an excellent list of Canadian books about black children; it includes books written by Caucasian authors, a trend that keeps Hohn awake at night. In the same way that it’s important to nurture new Canadian talent in the sphere of children’s and young adult literature, so too is it vital to make sure all our voices are heard. Diversity in and among our authors and illustrators is sure to extend the reach of our literature across racial, cultural, economic, religious, and social boundaries.
In writing three books in The Women’s Hall of Fame Series (Second Story Press), I had the good fortune to to research, write, and publish biographical profiles that feature women from different parts of the world and from different times in history. I sought out talented and exceptional women to highlight and revere as excellent role models. In Amazing Women Athletes, I wrote about tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Recently in Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, I featured Susan Mashibe, a Tanzanian aviation entrepreneur and pilot. My own background and experiences often differed greatly from those I featured, which meant I had to research thoroughly and not only about the individual’s life, but also about the culture in which they were raised. I find this kind of research fascinating and it’s no surprise that I also love to travel and learn about other cultures. I’m sure my own experiences backpacking in India and other parts of Asia have had a huge influence on the way I write and perceive the world. But, having said all that, there is certainly a special place that must be nurtured in fiction, especially, for the voices that have lived and breathed the experiences of various cultural backgrounds. When marginalized groups, such as blacks, indigenous peoples, and the physically challenged, tell their own stories in their words and when these stories are published and released into the world, more children will smile and read with a “hunger” — as Nadia Hohn recalls she did as a child when she discovered books by African American authors.
Hohn wrote, “I didn’t want to become the ‘black’ representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.”
Beautifully said.Read More »
Branded by the Pink Triangle
Ken Setterington; $15.95 paper 978-1-926920-96-2, 155 pp., Second Story Press, 2013 (ages 13+)
Branded by the Pink Triangle is an important historical account for YA readers that tells the little-known story of the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi regime. Within a strong overarching narrative, Ken Setterington weaves in a series of meticulously researched vignettes from the lives of real people. Some are heartbreakingly poignant, while others focus on the injustice and torture endured by men who were singled out as gay. Forced to wear a pink triangle on their prisoner uniforms, these men were stripped of their human rights and dignity under Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code. Setterington paints an accurate picture of life in Berlin, the homosexual capital of Europe, before the rise of the Nazis. There, gay men and women met freely in gay nightclubs. They felt at ease to express their fondness for members of the same sex, to cross-dress, and to kiss. Setterington shows how this easy, open atmosphere of tolerance was obliterated by the Nazis. In no time, homosexuals began to fear for their lives, and even an innocent, kind gesture could result in persecution or death. Historic photos, newspaper cartoons, data tables, personal letters, and journal entries all serve to illustrate this horrific period in history accurately, but with a touching, human element. Readers witness the tender humanity of the men who were persecuted for their sexual preference and the myriad examples of rife injustice proclaim loudly that this is wrong.
Found in the teen section of public libraries, this book targets mature teens who are familiar with terms such as incarceration, propaganda, castration, masturbation, eradication, and extermination. At a time when LGBT communities are finally gaining a stronger voice and asserting their rights, when high schools host gay-straight alliance groups and encourage an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, this historical account offers a significant and important contribution to our knowledge of a terrible time in world history — allowing discussion and understanding to replace dangerous ignorance. Certainly, this book is a must-have purchase for all libraries.
~ Jill BryantRead More »
Recently I attended the Ontario Library Association’s “Superconference 2014” at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto. I had a 10:00 a.m. book-signing gig at the Second Story Press booth. When I first walked into the lounge for authors and presenters, I saw fellow Second Story Press author/illustrator Janet Wilson and had a quick chat with her. Then I found the booth and met some very welcoming Second Story employees. There was a great turn-out for the signing. Hey, what teachers won’t line up for a free, signed copy of a book for their school library?! I enjoyed chatting with teachers and teacher-librarians. One funny moment was signing a book for a teacher from QECVI, one of the three fantastic downtown public high schools in Kingston, where I live. After about 20 minutes, the stack of give-away books were gone. I enjoyed checking out the books Second Story Press had on display. Wow! There were so many books that I wanted to read. Every Day Is Malala Day is the first book in a new series through Plan Canada. This looks like a great partnership for SSP.
Later, walking through the aisles, and popping in and out of booths by various publishers and organizations, I bumped into author/illustrator Patricia Storms who I worked with at KNOW magazine, but had never met. I also had a chance to meet author Marsha Skrypuch and caught a glimpse of author Lizann Flatt while she was busy signing books. I don’t often travel into Toronto, but events like this are a lot of fun to attend, largely because of the enthusiastic, book-loving attendees and the who’s who of author, illustrators, and publishers moseying about. I bought a book called In Those Days: Collected Writings on Arctic History by Kenn Harper and picked up a catalogue for “Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned publishing company that aims to promote and preserve the stories, knowledge, and talent of northern Canada.” After interviewing Nicole Robertson for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, and then the heightened media attention around Aboriginal issues during last year’s Idle No More campaign, I’ve become increasingly interested in indigenous issues and stories.
About a week ago, I made the happy discovery that my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs is on the Resource Links Year’s Best 2013 List. A reviewer who published a December critique says, “I was impressed with the conversational tone that still conveyed a lot of information.” She added that the “writing style makes the text easy to read and understand.”
That’s all for today, folks! It’s back to preparing for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week. I’m getting very excited about travelling to Alberta!
Ciao!Read More »
Mmmmm. This is a celebratory apple pie that I baked. That’s A – P – P – L – E. My (almost) six-year-old helper put the letters on top. Thank you, Noah!
First, I’m very sorry for the delay in blogging. I’ve had too much going on. Ai-ya, where do I begin?
I submitted my latest book manuscript to the publisher in February — ten days early! It was an amazingly intense, but infinitely gratifying, researching and writing process. I was feeling pretty darn pleased with the final draft. I was even more pleased as I began to receive bits of very positive feedback from the publishing house.
I have a title. My book, which profiles ten female entrepreneurs, from different countries, different times, and working in different fields, will be called Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. The series’ name is The Women’s Hall of Fame series, and the publisher is Second Story Press in Toronto, Canada. It was challenging to find a title that worked with the press’s established alliterative pattern of Adjective + Female/Women + Descriptor [field]. The obvious choices of “Extraordinary” and “Exceptional” had already been used for previous books in the same series. Though I scoured the dictionary and flipped through the entire “E” section of my humongous Random House Dictionary of the English Language, I couldn’t find many words that had quite the right meaning. We mulled over “Excellent,” “Eminent,” “Enlightened,” and “Exemplary,” but, in the end, credit goes to the publisher herself for crafting the title as it now stands. I like it. I think it has a good balance. I admire the way “Phenomenal” and “Entrepreneurs” are equally long, look good on the page (which I think is really important), and have some heft to them. The managing editor said she likes the ring of the title. It’s true. It does have a ring to it.
And then, it got even crazier . . .
No sooner had I submitted my manuscript — no, wait — before I had even submitted my manuscript, I received an email asking if I was available to work on an editorial project. I wasn’t quite available and had heaps of papers all over my desk as I fine-tuned the final draft of Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. But like the intrepid freelancer I am (and most of us are), I gulped, said “yes,” and jumped in. That’s what I’ve been doing since mid-February. The hours have been crazy, the work stimulating and interesting with a great balance of research, thinking, and writing. But best of all, I have to say, is to get a contract like this after taking 15 weeks off to write a book. Yes, day jobs are worth their weight in gold. I love writing books, but editorial work helps make it affordable to do so, and, thank goodness, I really enjoy the editorial work, too.
Drop me a line if there’s something you’d like me to write about on this blog. Apparently a lot of people are reading it lately and I thank you for visiting. I appreciate your feedback and thank you for your interest in my books!Read More »
One morning last week, I felt compelled to look for an necklace from my childhood that I still have. It’s a piece of Aboriginal jewellery–a yellow, red, and blue beaded necklace. I found it and put it on. I wore it all day and thought about Idle No More, First Nations communities, and Nicole Robertson. This evening I heard on CBC Radio that Chief Theresa Spence will end her hunger strike, and has signed a 13-point declaration. See this breaking news story here.
In November and December, I had the honour and privilege of interviewing Nicole Robertson for my upcoming book about women entrepreneurs. Like the other books in the Women’s Hall of Fame series by Second Story Press — two others of which I’ve written — this new title will feature profiles of ten women who are excellent role models for children, especially girls. The series targets children ages 9 to 13.) Nicole is a Media Specialist and President of Muskwa Productions & Consulting in Calgary, Alberta. She’s a Rocky Cree from Sandy Bay in north-eastern Saskatchewan, but she now resides at the Tsuu T’Ina [soot-tenna] Nation, just outside Calgary.
Nicole is devoted to spreading good news stories about Aboriginal peoples. She is well connected with the media and this puts her in a great position to notify mainstream media about positive and inspiring stories about indigenous people. She also makes videos that educate non-Aboriginals about First Nations culture. I just love this whole idea of being a messenger of good news stories for the media. What a welcome change!
In the last six weeks, the Idle No More movement and Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike have brought Aboriginal issues into the spotlight. Concerns about poverty and the destruction of the environment are central in the movement. When I visited the remote Inuit community of Nain, Labrador, two years ago, I felt like I was in a far-away foreign country. The living conditions were closer to developing countries than they were to what I previously associated with Canadian communities. There was tremendous beauty in the land and most Aboriginal people feel this connection strongly. It’s part of their culture and something they revere.
What’s clear to me is that something HAS to change. It is not right that a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people live in poverty. How can we turn our backs to this and pretend it’s not our problem?
I think non-Aboriginals have much to learn from indigenous people. Consider the value in inviting a full-of-attitude tween to sit quietly with an elder in the community, listening to stories that the elder chooses to share, or meditating silently. This deep respect for elders is lacking in non-Aboriginal culture, and we are missing out! Our elders possess great wisdom, gained from years of living and experiencing life. Young people can learn a lot from the elders in our society, and yes, we can learn a lot from young people, too.
Let’s stop the racism and embrace the positive changes that are underway, at last.
You can read more about Nicole Robertson and other fantastic women in my fall 2013 book, Enterprising Women Entrepreneurs (working title).
Read More »
I was reading the December 2012 issue of Quill & Quire and saw a quote by Howard White that resonated with me. In responding to a question about the future of Canadian publishing, he says, “…we need to keep the faith.” Then he raises the glass of water analogy: “I think one of the most damaging things that’s happening to publishing right now — and to writing — is that people are looking at the empty half of the glass.” I’m going to keep this analogy in mind over the next while and consciously try to talk more positively about the book biz. Why not?! A prolific children’s writer recently stressed the importance of celebrating the good things: a new book contract, a cheque from Access Copyright (yay! Just got this!), a royalty cheque that is bigger than expected, a request to speak at a writers’ festival, a glowing comment from a reader, a booking at a local school for a book talk. These are not events that happen every day, or even every month — but when they do happen, take note, smell those roses and take the time to do something special to celebrate the success.
I’d like to raise my half-FULL glass of water to all the Canadian publishers, editors, authors, designers, publicists, and marketing staff who create the beautiful landscape that is Canadian literature. Thank you for all the hard work you do to give readers so many rich experiences with painstakingly crafted content. And for the rest of you, my advice of the day is: hug your children, read books, and buy some made-in-Canada books for the fast-approaching holiday season.
Psst! My personal celebration this week is that I’ve completed drafts for four out of ten profiles for my upcoming Women’s Hall of Fame book. It will be the last book in this important series. The release day is early fall 2013. Hurray!!!!!!
Other news is that the National Reading Campaign has some great Twitter-based contests for kids and adults. Check it out. And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not on Twitter. I don’t know if I should add the word “yet” to that sentence.
Until next time…Read More »
My apologies for the lag in blog postings. I’ve been researching and writing my next book–yay!–which will be released by Second Story Press in early fall 2013. I feel so good being in writing mode, but there is this deadline looming over my head, adding some time pressure to my life.
I may be a bit lackadaisical about blogging over the next few months. Multi-tasking while writing a book is not my forte. It’s one of those all-consuming projects that demands full attention and makes for lots of late nights. Currently, my home office is filled with stacks of library books from two different libraries–the public library and the university library.
Tomorrow, however, I’m taking a day off to attend The Writers’ Union of Canada workshop “How to Be Your Own Publicist” by Ann Douglas, Elizabeth Ruth, and Kelly Duffin. It will be so valuable to learn about social networking and blogging and all that through these talented and accomplished women. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Ann Douglas who I first met when I was a children’s book editor working in-house in Toronto. Ann is the creator of the blog Having-a-baby.com and is well-known for The Mother of All Books series. I’ll have to report back as to which local writers attend the workshop.
I have some homework to prepare for the workshop, which I haven’t even looked at yet. For now, it’s back to my research!
Cheerio!Read More »
Yesterday morning’s CBC Radio program The Sunday Edition featured a discussion about the future of publishing in Canada. This was a brilliant overview of the current struggles facing publishers, and those who work in this industry. Three publishers spoke their minds: Marge Wolfe, President of the Association of Canadian Publishers and Founder and Publisher of Second Story Press (one of my publishers!) in Toronto; Patsy Aldana, Founder and Publisher of Groundwood Books and Co-Chair of the National Reading Campaign in Toronto; and Scott McIntyre, Founding Partner and Publisher of Douglas and McIntyre in Vancouver.Read More »
I was dazzled and delighted to find two copies of Dazzling Women Designers in my mail box yesterday. What an amazing surprise! These didn’t look anything like my other copies, though. They are Korean translations. The cover looks completely different, as does the inside — and I don’t just mean the text. Many of the photos are new and they have more photos showing the designers’ work. The cover features fabric designed by Senegal’s Aissa Dione and India’s Ritu Kumar. I spotted a photo of R2D2 in the profile about robot designer Cynthia Breazeal. No, she didn’t design it; she’s my age and would have been a kid when Star Wars came out. Breazeal was influenced by the robots in Star Wars and loved R2D2 and C-3P0.
The book’s dimensions are 6-6/8 x 8-1/4″, making it more square. It’s thick, too! Oooh, and it has French flaps.
Here’s one inside spread from interior designer Aissa Dione’s profile:
What a neat feeling it is to think of children in Korea reading my book. I will cherish my copies — absolutely!Read More »