Summer thoughts

I’m writing this blog post from the deck of Hillcrest Pool, surrounded by a million children. The lifeguards here are the most patient people in existence.

A few minutes ago, my son turned up dripping by my side to say he’d lost his friend in the pool during a game of hide and seek. I thought I might have to explain to the friend’s mom that her son had drowned as I was supposed to be supervising, but then I found the friend, sitting on a lounge chair. It turns out my son is as bad at finding friends in the pool as he is at finding socks in his sock drawer.

Trying to write on the pool deck is not so different than trying to write at home these days. My desk is on our stairway landing, which is perfectly fine during the school year, but significantly less convenient when my house is full of children.

My wise friend Stacey suggested I think of this as the season for inspiration and input rather than for productivity, and this idea has been helpful.

On the subject of input, I’m on the final pages of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and the book is mind-blowing. Trees communicate. They taste and smell things. They nurse their young. And this is all science, not Lord of the Rings. I will never again see a forest in the same way.

I hope you’re enjoying the summer, with all of its hiding, seeking, and splashing. I’m off to hug a tree, ponder the existence of ents, and think about what I’ll write once my office is again my own.

School days

My son goes to an elementary school that’s more than a hundred years old. There was an open house this week, and I was helping at a table of memorabilia. We had Parent-Teacher Association notes from 1916, class photos from the 1940s, and — most popular with our visitors — a principal’s record of punishments, displayed alongside the strap.

Visitors found names in the punishment book of someone who’d gone to prison, someone who’d become head of maintenance at the Vancouver School Board (in the book for “repeated misbehaviour”), and a lot of little boys who couldn’t sit still. Some seniors remembered very clearly what it felt like to get the strap!

Here are a few other scenes my fellow volunteers and I witnessed…

“Johnny”

One man, dressed in a suit and tie, came along and looked at the punishment book. “I’m on this page four times, and I was only nine,” he said.

A few minutes later, a group of three men looked at the same page. “There’s Johnny,” one of them said. “Most likely to become a criminal.”

The suit-and-tie man wandered back over. The group of three looked up.

“JOHNNY!” they said.

Eleanor and Daphne

Eleanor was signing in at the guest book when she noticed the name above hers.

“I know Daphne,” she said. “We were in school at the same time. Is she still here?”

The volunteer looked around the room and spotted Daphne.

“Daphne!” the first woman called. “It’s Eleanor!”

And they had their own mini-reunion in front of the guest book.

The Strap

A older woman wandered by and glanced at the principal’s punishment records.

“Are you in there?” we asked.

“No, not me,” she said.

A few minutes later, she was back. This time, she was with a middle-aged woman who was scanning the pages carefully.

“This is my daughter,” the older woman said. “She refuses to believe me.”

Under Pressure

Look what arrived on my doorstep this week! An advance copy of Under Pressure: The Science of Stress.

This was absolutely fascinating to write. I had no idea we experience so many chemical and neurological changes related to stress. Plus I got to research obsessive tennis players, fearless base jumpers, and feminist rat researchers. (Um… the researchers were feminists. I’m not sure about the rats.)

This is my first-ever book with Kids Can Press. They have been incredible to work with — not an ounce of anxiety involved! Plus they recruited the über-talented Marie-Ève Tremblay to do ever-so-subtly-silly illustrations.

I kind of want to sleep with this copy under my pillow. Would that be weird?

Speaking of weird, I have two more books coming out with Kids Can Press in the next couple years, both on subjects that also begin with the letter S. My accidental S-sound series will eventually include stress, stereotypes, and sleep.

The writing part of the next two books is complete, so I’d better get working on a new proposal. Smells, possibly? Snails? S’mores?

Under Pressure is out in September. But you could avoid any undue stress and pre-order your copy now.

TD Children’s Book Week

I spent last week winding my way from Ottawa to Toronto as part of TD Children’s Book Week. The event is organized each year by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. The centre chooses thirty authors, illustrators, and storytellers from across Canada, shuffles them up, and sends them across the country.

The official TD Book Week banner.

There were LOTS of B.C. folks travelling this year. My friend Kallie George explored Prince Edward Island. Another writing group member, Sara Gillingham, flew around the Northwest Territories on frighteningly tiny planes. And Lee Edward Fodi zipped back and forth across Toronto.

I began my trip with a visit to the Carp branch of the Ottawa Public Library, which is on the grounds of the Diefenbunker, a steel and concrete structure built as a Cold War hideout for Canadian government officials. You could see it in this photograph, except… it’s underground.

This is where you hide from impending nuclear disaster.

I did a second presentation at lovely Elmwood School near downtown Ottawa, then I was off to the picturesque but teensy village of Sharbot Lake, followed by ever-so-slightly-larger Tweed.

Apparently North America’s smallest jailhouse.

Along my route, there were storybook farms and Canadian shield scenes which I’m quite sure came straight from my seventh-grade social studies textbook.

Probably a movie set? Could farm scenes this perfect be real?

Marmora had both the prettiest church and the prettiest school library. (Don’t you want to just stay here and read forever?)

Sacred Heart Catholic School in Mormora.

By Friday, I was worried my voice or my energy might give out, but Trent Lakes turned out to be one of my favourite stops. I signed an armload of books at Trent Lakes Public Library (home of über-cool librarians), presented to a super-enthusiastic bunch of students at Trent Lakes Elementary, and was given a “seal of approval,” complete with flipper clapping. Plus, THEY HAD MADE ME A SIGN! So I flew home on Saturday feeling like a rock star.

Those Trent Lakes kids really know how to make someone feel special.

A huge thank you to the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, to TD Bank, and to the teachers and librarians who spent hours organizing and who made the week an absolute pleasure. And to the hundreds of kids I met! You are all amazing, and many of you perform EXCELLENT dramatic death scenes, create highly realistic explosion sound effects, and invent absolutely ridiculous things with pipe cleaners. Thank you!

Launched!

Kallie George and I were at Kidsbooks last night to celebrate the release of our new middle-grade novels, Mya’s Strategy to Save the World (Penguin Random House) and Wings of Olympus (Harper Collins).

I stole this photo from Lee Edward Fodi, who launched his own new book this month: The Secret of Zoone, published by Harper Collins. Lee was at the launch with his wife, Marcie, and the world’s most adorable toddler.

It was wonderful to see so many friends there. I felt like I should be renewing my vows or something. Can you renew writer vows?

Kidsbooks was amazing, as always. When Maggie introduced my book , she said readers only needed to read the first paragraph. Then they’d be hooked. Apparently, that was true!

The first paragraph is about snot.
Also, Angela is a spectacular writer, author of Krista Kim-Bap. Look her up!

I talked a little about the inspirations for Mya, including my daughter’s save-the-whales letter from years ago. (That letter was a hit. I think I’m going to subcontract all my writing to Silence from now on.) I talked about how Mya, the young activist in my book, wants to work for the United Nations, win a Nobel Prize, and, perhaps most of all, get her very own cell phone.

Then Kallie took the stage to talk about love vs. might. Wings of Olympus is about a winged-horse race, and about whether the love between one girl and her horse can help them triumph over mightier teams.

Kallie also told us about writing down her ideas for this book in a café. She was thinking about the words, smiling out the window, when a cute boy walked by and assumed she was smiling at him! He came inside to introduce himself. Now, several years later, that cute boy is her husband and Wings of Olympus is published book.

Overall, it was a fabulous night, full of books and cookies. Thank you to everyone who joined us for the celebration!

Cookies! Baked and decorated by Silence. Well, a few were decorated by Min and me (see the blue one in the foreground), but we were quickly fired.

Almost party time

My book launch for Mya’s Strategy to Save the World is only a week away. There’s a flurry of preparations going on at my house.

Because crafting is not my forte, I’ve subcontracted the paper cutting and cookie baking to my lovely daughter, Silence. She has happily concocted Make Your Own Nobel Prize instructions for the activity table AND made a delicious practice batch of peace-sign sugar cookies.

Violence, meanwhile, had a look at my first author copy. He said, “It looks good. I mean, I wouldn’t buy it because I could get three Pokemon booster packs for this price, but I’d definitely get it out from the library.” (I will be posting him on Craigslist any day now.)

Reviewers, thankfully, have been more complimentary. Mya has received kind comments from Kirkus, School Library Journal, CM: Canadian Review of Materials and The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books.

The book launch is a double event, and my friend Kallie George will be there with her new middle-grade novel, Wings of Olympus, which is an absolute treasure of fun and adventure.

And what am I doing to prepare for the evening? Mainly waking up at 4:30 a.m., because my brain seems to think this is the perfect time to run through possible speeches. Sometimes I go back to sleep and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I think I’ve been awake for hours, and then I remember talking to a gnome, so it’s possible I’ve been sleeping.

I may or may not be coherent once April 25th rolls around, but I will definitely be excited, and I hope to see you there! If you want to join the fun at Kidsbooks, you can RSVP here. The event is free for everyone. Even gnomes.


Off to Ontario

I’m heading to Ontario in May, as part of the annual TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour. Each year, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre chooses thirty authors, illustrators, and storytellers and sends them to a province outside their own for a tour of schools and libraries.

This year, I’m one of the thirty!

I fly into Ottawa on May 5th, then spend a week winding my way toward Toronto, via Nepean, Sharbot Lake, Tweed, Marmora, Dunsford, and Buckhorn.

I have to admit, my grasp of Ontario geography is a little fuzzy. Last time I was there, I had to use Google Maps to figure out which Great Lake I was standing beside. But my world view’s going to be bigger and better by May 11th.

A big thank you to TD Canadian Children’s Book Week for the opportunity. And Ontario readers, I can’t wait to meet you!

Book launch

Hello, friends!

Mya’s Strategy to Save the World is officially published this month! On April 25th, I’m having a joint book launch with Kallie George, at Kidsbooks on Broadway. I hope you can come!

The launch is free, but if you’re planning to attend, you should RSVP here.

And, before you go, here’s a bit more about Kallie’s Wings of Olympus, a book full of adventure and daring and winged-horse love:

Aloft the slopes of mighty Mount Olympus, winged horses glide among the sun-splashed meadows. It’s a world full of gods and heroes, of daring and intrigue. It is not a place where one would expect to find a lost, parentless girl like Pippa. But destiny has taken this foundling from the mortal realm to jockey a steed in a once-a-century race of winged horses. Pippa has been chosen to ride Zephyr, an undersized but spirited stallion, and now Pippa has to confront the greatest challenge of her life—achieving victory in flight.

I hope you can make it on the 25th!

Desperation reading

We were eating Yorkshire puddings the other night, which was enough to make me turn to Silence and Violence and ask, “Have either of you read All Creatures Great and Small? James Herriot?”

Of course they hadn’t, because (a) that collection came out in 1972 and (b) they have a never-ending supply of middle-grade and young-adult books at their fingertips, either in print or through the virtual magic of Overdrive.

All of this made me think about the differences between their readings habits and mine as a kid. I was constantly running out of books, scavenging through the house for anything better than a cereal box to read. This meant I reread books endlessly, I picked up my grandpa’s Louis L’Amours, I read romance novels, obsolete school textbooks, and the encyclopedia.

The library wasn’t virtual, and it wasn’t particularly close to our house. It also wasn’t stocked with as many books for young readers as libraries are these days. So when I did get there, I read the entire rack of children-dying-from-rare-diseases-but-leaving-their-families-with-hope books from the adult section, all of Mary MacCracken’s memoirs, and everything ever written about astral projection.

My children are better read than I was (or am). But at their age, I was much more widely read.

So which is better? I have no answer for this question, it’s simply something I ponder over Yorkshire pudding and memories of animal stories. Which, now that I think of it, I should probably reread…

On the scheduling of bathroom breaks

If you raised your hand to go to the bathroom in my fourth grade class with Mr. Woods, and Mr. Woods thought you had asked to go to the bathroom too many times, he would say, “Do you have a TB?” 

TB stood for “tiny bladder.” I’m sure many kids thought this was funny, but I lived in mortal fear of being asked whether I had a tiny bladder. For the entire year, I avoided going to the bathroom. 

This should’ve been fine. There was time to go to the bathroom at lunch hour. But did I ever remember to go to the bathroom at lunch hour? 

No. 

I spent my lunch hours playing Mary Poppins on the jungle gym. Then, I spent my afternoons wiggling in my desk because I desperately had to pee but couldn’t ask to go in case I was accused of having a tiny bladder. 

You would think in the years between fourth grade and now I would’ve matured sightly. You would think I could at least remember to go to the bathroom during lunch hour. But this week I spent four days giving writing workshops at the Richmond Children’s Arts Festival. And did I remember to go to the bathroom during my breaks? 

No. 

Most days, I remembered that I needed to go to the bathroom about five minutes after I drove away from the Richmond Public Library and started towards home. 

Despite my obvious lack of life skills and time management abilities, the arts festival was pretty amazing. Every year, the organizers bring in actors, magicians, musicians, artists, and writers to lead workshops for kids from across the district.

This year’s students were incredibly engaged and attentive. The only downside to the entire festival was that I really wanted to leave my own writing class and join the improv workshop next-door. But apparently it’s frowned upon to abandon your students. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to pee.