Archive for the ‘Emily Carr’ Category

A Discovering Emily discovery

October 26, 2011

This morning, sorting through stuff I’ve had in storage for the past two years, I was surprised to discover a box full of bookmarks for my children’s book, Discovering Emily (a junior novel about the childhood of Canadian artist Emily Carr). I had no idea I still had all these bookmarks, and it is strange that they should resurface right at this moment. Only a few weeks ago, I found out that this book is no longer available in print, and I have to decide if I should ask for the rights back from the publisher and look for a new publisher, or possibly reprint the book myself. Are the bookmarks trying to tell me something?

Discovering Emily was originally published in 2004 by Orca (though, as with many of my books, the idea and research started several years earlier). I’ve had eight books for young people published now, but I continue to have a soft spot for this book because of my love for Emily Carr and her art and my admiration for the incredible spunk it took for a young woman in 19th century Victoria to go against the current and follow her dream of becoming an artist and painting in a way that had meaning to her. I first wrote the book because I wanted to show kids the person behind the dowdy-looking famous artist with a reputation for eccentricity. She was once a child just like them, who had fears and dreams, got into trouble, did things wrong, but kept trying and kept on being true to herself.

I was at a teachers’ conference this past Friday, and a few teachers came up to talk to me. Ironically, the one book they all mentioned using in their classrooms was Discovering Emily. I also have teacher friends who use this book every year. As one friend says, “[the character, Emily] inspired me to look for that spark in the kids I deal with every day.” Unfortunately, these anecdotes have not translated into enough on-going sales for my publisher to feel compelled to reprint the book again. Yet, I still feel there’s a spot for this book in primary classrooms and that there are children waiting to be inspired by the young Emily Carr.

Anyone out there have any thoughts on this book and what I should do? Are you a teacher who uses the book or would like to have the book in your classroom? If I reprint the book myself I may have to find a new illustrator (as well as figure out how to get the book into the hands of teachers, librarians, parents, and kids). Ideally, I’d like Orca to print the book again, as they still have the sequel, Emily’s Dream, available, and I still have all those matching bookmarks to give away!

If you’d like to encourage Orca to get the book back in print, you can contact the publisher, Andrew Wooldridge, at

[Note: on Orca’s website it says the book is “out of stock” rather than “out of print” because the book may still be available as an e-book.]

Past blog post about walking through Emily Carr’s old neighbourhood: In Emily Carr’s footsteps

Great website about Emily Carr: Emily Carr at Work and at Home

Downloadable teachers’ guide for Discovering Emily

[Note: still shows Discovering Emily available, and shows one book left in stock.]

P.S. Just discovered a Kindle edition is available (my first book available through Kindle, so kind of exciting –if I took back the rights to the book I could make it available through Kindle myself, but would have to redo the cover and art):

Sharing a Victorian Christmas

December 21, 2008

victorian_xmas_treeAs Christmas draws closer, I always love sitting by the Christmas tree and reading Christmas stories. As a way of sharing this tradition, I thought I’d post an excerpt from my novel Discovering Emily. Canadian artist Emily Carr, the heroine of the novel, was born in Victoria, BC in 1871. The Christmas scene in Discovering Emily is based on Emily Carr’s own reminiscences about her childhood Christmases:

The day before Christmas, the Carr house filled with the spicy smell of boiling plum pudding and the fresh fir scent of the Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve Father took Emily and her younger sisters into town to see the shops lit up. Every lamppost had a fir tree tied to it, and the shop windows were decorated with mock snow made of cotton wool and sparkly dust. In the grocer’s window was a Santa Claus grinding coffee. Bonbons, clusters of raisins, nuts, candied fruits and long peppermint candy sticks surrounded him. At the end of the food shops was Chinatown. Its dark streets held no Christmas decorations. Emily’s father turned them around to head back to James Bay.

Before bed the children hung their stockings from the high mantel piece in the breakfast room, and Dede read “Twas the Night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse . . .”

At the bottom of the stairs Emily peaked into the dark dining room and smelled the Christmas tree waiting there. She couldn’t see it, but she knew that it stood there, touching the ceiling and hanging heavy with presents ready for the morning. Up in her bedroom the air was chilly, and Emily dove under the covers next to Alice. She wiggled with excitement.

“Be still,” whispered Alice. “I want to sleep.”

Emily tried to keep still, but she tossed one way and then the other. How could she fall asleep when there were presents waiting? She tried not to think of the new set of paints she wanted or of the cuddly puppy she had longed for. She knew it wouldn’t do any good to wish for them, but she couldn’t help hoping that something special hung on the tree for her.

All weather at once

April 2, 2008

Here I am doing a reading at a school in East Vancouver last week (wearing my 19th century costume to go with my novel Discovering Emily).

school reading

Half way through the reading we had to break so the kids could rush to the window and look out at the snow (and blossoms).

blossoms and snow

more blossoms and snow

Celebrating Canadian books for kids

November 23, 2007

my costumeI feel like I’ve just walked a few miles in Emily Carr’s shoes (or at least in the uncomfortable, stiff leather button-up shoes of someone from the 19th c.), and now I need to put my feet up. I did a talk about my Emily Carr books for two grade three classes at York House School this morning and dressed in 19th century costume (the shoes were the only thing I wore on the bus and Skytrain — the rest I changed into at the school).

Like most Canadian authors of books for children, I’m reading, writing and promoting Canadian kids’ books all year, but this week is special. November 17-24 is Canadian Children’s Book Week. When I was growing up there were only a few books for kids written in Canada (my favourites were the Emily of New Moon series by Lucy Maud Montgomery and Secret in the Stlalakum Wild by Christie Harris). Now, there is no shortage of wonderful books to choose from — with stories that take place in every part of the country, as well as in other countries and imaginary lands. I just finished reading (and thoroughly enjoying!), Search of the Moon King’s Daughter by Linda Holeman, which is set in England in the 1830s and is about a girl who travels to London to search for her little brother who has been sold into work as a chimney sweep, a dirty and dangerous job.

Next post: Has George found a new home?

In Emily Carr’s footsteps

March 26, 2007

Carr novelsI would like to say a special hello to everyone who has been reading my novels about the childhood of artist Emily Carr (Discovering Emily and Emily’s Dream) — especially Mrs. Fung’s class at Lord Nelson Elementary School!

During Spring Break last week I spent a day in Victoria, the city where Emily Carr was born and spent most of her life (1871-1945). Walking around her old neighbourhood, I tried to imagine what it looked like when she was a girl playing in the cow yard beside her house, cutting through her family’s back field to Beacon Hill Park, walking along the road to the James Bay Bridge…. and later, being a landlady at the House of All Sorts (a house built on a piece of her family’s property), raising her bob tail sheep dogs, walking along the streets with her monkey, Woo…..

Carr house

Above: Carr house in the 1860s and me in front of the house last week.

House of All Sorts

Above: The House of All Sorts (at left), which is around the corner from Carr House (Carr House is now a museum you can visit, but the House of All Sorts is a privately owned house with apartments, and there is still a mural that Emily Carr painted on the attic ceiling). The house on the right is where I lived during my last year at University in Victoria (a room-mate and I rented the top floor, just a block away from Carr House, and no, Emily Carr was not still alive when I lived in her neighbourhood).

Empress HotelThis street in front of the Empress Hotel (photo at left) used to be the James Bay Bridge, which Emily would walk across with her father. The hotel is sitting on what used to be the water of James Bay (the bay was filled in with earth, but sea water still sneaks into the hotel basement at high tide).

Parliament Buildings

Above: The parliament buildings (behind the whale), which are across from the Empress Hotel and overlooking Victoria’s inner harbour (Emily Carr’s old neighbourhood is right behind them).

Below: Me dressed in 19th century costume, reading in the Emily Carr section of the Vancouver Art Gallery a couple years ago (my daughter, sitting on the floor at left, is dressed like Emily Carr would have dressed when she was a girl).

reading at VAG

How a bad hair day led to a possible sighting of Emily Carr’s ghost

January 8, 2007

bad hairWhile I was visiting my parents over the holidays, an old photograph surfaced of me before a high school dance. There is much I could say about this time in my life, but when I look at the photo, it’s hard for me to get past the hair.

As a teenager, I was very self-conscious and embarrassed easily. When I decided (shortly before this photo was taken) to get my long hair cut and permed, I was hoping for a slightly new look, but not a drastic, attention-drawing change. Not too short on the sides. Not too curly. When I ended up with what could be best described as poodle head, I was horrified.

How could I face the stares and jeers of everyone at school? (Yes, it sounds self-absorbed and superficial now, but this was high school, remember). I called up my boyfriend and we agreed to skip school the next day and drive to Victoria (about an hour away) – where no one would recognize me.

I can’t remember exactly what we did all day, except that we spent some time wondering around the neighbourhood of James Bay near Beacon Hill Park. Maybe we parked the car and walked or maybe we just drove around. In any case, one house caught our attention, and we stopped. On the grass in front of the house, sat a small brown monkey. Neither of us had ever seen a live monkey up close before. When we approached, a middle-aged woman came out of the house. She was very friendly, let us meet the monkey, and chatted with us for quite awhile.

It ended up being a good day, but with a strange quality – as if we had stepped out of our regular lives and even out of time. By our return home, I had grown accustomed (or at least resigned) to my new hair and bolstered enough to face school the following day.

I didn’t give the episode much more thought until two years later, when I was living in Victoria going to university and became interested in the artist Emily Carr. I had known about her before, but now something about her paintings and her life seemed to speak to me in a new and personal way. She had grown up in the Victoria neighbourhood of James Bay (she was born there in 1871) and had lived there as an eccentric older woman with many pets, including a monkey named Woo. Emily CarrAs I looked at an old black and white photo of a middle-aged Carr standing in her James Bay backyard holding a small familiar-looking monkey, an eerie feeling of deja vu came over me. Is it possible I might have seen the ghosts of Emily Carr and Woo on that fateful bad hair day?

I’ve walked around James Bay many times since then, trying to remember which house was the one where we’d seen the woman and the monkey, but I never could find it again. If it really had been the ghosts of Emily and Woo, did they appear just to help me through a bad hair day? Or was there some profound message that Carr would have liked to pass on (a P.S. about art or trees or life, perhaps)?

A few days ago, I paid one last visit to “Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon,” an exhibit which just ended at the Vancouver Art Gallery. As I walked through the rooms of Carr’s paintings, it occurred to me that she doesn’t need a ghost to pass on a message: her paintings have never stopped speaking. This is not to say I wouldn’t have a few questions for her, if I did meet her ghost….

[Click on “My Books” in the right sidebar for info on the two novels I ended up writing about Emily Carr’s childhood]