My new book is out! The teenage characters in Siege dodge ghosts and smugglers during a War of 1812 re-enactment summer camp at Old Fort Erie, Ontario. For several months in the real War of 1812 (which actually ended in 1815), Fort Erie was occupied by US soldiers. One of the biggest and deadliest battles of the war occurred there in August 2014. (Siege is a short easy-to-read novel in the Orca Currents series for ages 10-14). (Review)
Archive for the ‘kidlit’ Category
I thought I’d share a glimpse into the wonderful writing retreat I experienced last month at Spark Box Studio near Picton Ontario (with funding gratefully received from the Canada Council!). A whole week without distractions, focusing on the craft of writing historical picture books! I was particularly interested in exploring the question, “How do I take a huge topic such as the War of 1812 and hone in on a small story suitable for children?”
To help me get on the right footing for my retreat, I stopped in Toronto beforehand to meet with children’s book author Monica Kulling, for a thoughtful and inspiring discussion about writing historical stories for children. Her latest book, Lumpito and the Painter from Spain, about a little dog who touched the life of Pablo Picasso, was hot off the press, and provided a great example (I love the dog, illustrated by Dean Griffiths).
Next, I took a side trip to soak up some War of 1812 history and watch the reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights near Niagara Falls. The boom of cannons, smell of smoke, calls of the soldiers, costumes of the military and civilian reenactors, and the cool, damp fall day helped to cast a spell that opened a window into the past.
At Spark Box Studio, I started each day with a solitary walk between farmers’ fields. The empty fields, subdued colours, and the whispers and rustles of leaves and grasses that followed me as I walked, made it easy to imagine a young girl two hundred years in the past, standing on the edge of a field, hearing the distant boom of cannon and cracks of musket fire. I felt like I was walking with one foot in the present and one in the past as I wrote these haiku:
on the lonely path
the words always
out of reach
While it was great to have so much time to myself to think and write, talking with the creative hosts and other guests at Spark Box Studio was also enriching. And, despite that last haiku, the words weren’t out of reach. I finished the first draft of a picture book story and concluded the retreat feeling buoyed in spirit, recharged and reinspired to continue writing…
I’d love to write a real manga/graphic novel, but making personal photos into comics (with the help of Comic Life) is about all I can manage at the moment. I asked real manga artist Nina Matsumoto (who did the manga me I use for my avatar) to create a manga version of some scenes from my novel, Manga Touch, and this is what she came up with:
It was so much fun seeing these scenes from my imagination transformed into visual format, I could definately get excited about creating a whole manga story (especially if Nina did the illustrations)!
Just a quick post to let people know I’ll be joining authors Ellen Schwartz, Diane Haynes and Linda deMeulmeester Saturday, December 8, 1-3 pm at the Metrotown Chapters store in Burnaby to sign books, give out treats (courtesy of Chapters) and host a table of activities for kids. (The photo shows us with our newest books, but we actually have 23 between us!)
I 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?
The first Spring Book Hatching, held at the Vancouver Public Library on Saturday, was lots of fun! There were crowds of people and over thirty B.C. authors and illustrators showing their creative stuff. I shared a table with Diane Haynes, author of mystery-wildlife-rescue novels for teens, Flight or Fight and Crow Medicine. Diane was inspired to write her first novel in the series after rescuing an oiled seabird and volunteering with the Burnaby Wildlife Rescue Association. The crow book came about after Diane rescued a baby crow from a busy road. She was also inspired by crows’ intelligence, playfulness and love of all things shiny. I recently profiled Diane’s latest novel (as well as the first book in Clem Martini’s Crow Chronicles, The Mob) in a double-page spread on crows, which I wrote for the latest issue of Bark! the magazine of the BC SPCA Kids’ Club. With both Diane’s and my books focusing on people and animals, and with both of us being crow fans, we were a good match.
A few highlights of the Hatching (most of the photos taken by author/illustrator Cynthia Nugent):
When I was in grade seven, I used to walk to the local library every Friday after school (about two miles) to drop off last week’s books and select the next week’s. The way I picked the books I wanted to borrow was to walk along the shelves of novels in the children’s section until a spine or cover jumped out at me. This method led me to discover some of my favourite books, including “The Court of the Stone Children” by Eleanor Cameron, “The Book of Three” by Lloyd Alexander (which led me to all of the Prydain Chronicles) and “False Dawn” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (a graphic science fiction novel, which, as I pointed out to the librarian after I’d read it, definately did not belong in the children’s section).
More recently, this serendipitous selection habbit has led me to books such as “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingslover, “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd, “Blessed are the Cheesemakers” by Sarah-Kate Lynch (a title I couldn’t resist) and “Down the Rabbit Hole” by Peter Abrahams (a mystery, which I found in the adult section of the library, though it may have belonged in the children’s section, but could work in both, I think).
There’s something magical about feeling the call of a previously unkown book, or discovering the perfect book by pure chance.
Today, I walked into Chapters, killing time between a dentist appointment and catching the bus home, and not intending to buy anything. I wandered idly down the middle of the store and into the children’s section, turned around, and there was a bright orange and red picture book: “The Company of Crows” by Marilyn Singer. Poems celebrating crows and gorgeous illustrations (by Linda Saport) full of crows! I hadn’t even known the book existed. Of course, I had to buy it.
The cover and the first inside illustration also reminded me of the haiku my friend Jean-Pierre recently added to the comments of my November “Call of the Wild” post:
Eyes are everywhere
Peering through the leaves and branches
In the rookery
I launched my new book this past Saturday at the Vancouver SPCA shelter. “The Truth about Rats (and dogs)” is the second novel in a series the SPCA asked me to write about kids and animals. The first book, “Dog House Blues,” which came out last year, was also launched at a shelter event. I had three dogs as special guests at that one (rats, of course, at this one).
The highlight of last year’s event was when the dogs all ran to the front of the room where I’d been doing my reading, and my dog, Dylan, immediately (and messily) drank up my whole glass of water. The kids thought that was hilarious. The highlight of the recent launch was probably when George, the rat, escaped from my hands and scampered onto my back, where I couldn’t reach him (see above photos). I’d like to think the best part was when I read from my book, but as usual, I was upstaged by the non-human guests!
(George, in the photo on the left, has been living at my house for the past few weeks, along with his brother, Sneaker. They are both available for adoption at the Vancouver shelter. Believe it or not, rats are becoming more popularly adopted pets than the dogs and cats.)
You can read a different perspective on the launch and see more photos at www.cwillbc.wordpress.com.