Vancouver Writers Fest: virtual edition

It was a little odd speaking to myself in my family room and assuming — in other rooms in other places around the continent — there were people laughing at my jokes. But it was also fun to talk about my newest book, This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes. And apparently, 1200 people tuned in. (Thank goodness no one told me that until after my presentation!)

A book birthday!

This is Your Brain on Stereotypes is officially on store shelves this week (in real life and virtually). It’s all about the ways bias works inside our brains, sometimes without us consciously realizing.

The book was illustrated by the talented Drew Shannon.

When the printed copies arrived, Violence grabbed one.

“It looks so cool!” he said.

This is rare praise from any thirteen-year-old boy. I’m taking it as my best review yet. (Though I’m sure it had everything to do with Drew’s cover, and nothing to do with my writing!)

The book has earned lovely praise from more official reviewers, too, including Kirkus. (And a star! Yay!)

I think you should get a copy. But… of course… I’m thoroughly biased.

Away time

We just returned from a lovely vacation on the Sunshine Coast. We were only an hour from home, but it felt as if we’d flown to Hawaii. (You know, the part of Hawaii where the water turns you blue and shivery.)

This is Smuggler’s Cove, once a hide-out of prohibition-era rum runners.

It was the first time we’d been away since August 2019, which explains why we were all so excited. We spent our time hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. And also eating s’mores, for the sake of balance. (Or ballast?)

Min paddling with our ever-so-helpful new family member, Coby.

I came back to face some major deadlines, but I feel a thousand times better for having left the house. Now to hang on to the vacation vibes for as long as possible!

Words from Mom

I was talking to my mom a while ago about tennis (my favourite) and golf (hers). The games have one similarity: they involve getting intensely frustrated with a small, round, inanimate object.

“But I always try to remember that I’m paying for the privilege of chasing a little white ball around a field,” Mom told me.

She’s quite clever, my mom.

Since I choose to play tennis, there’s no sense throwing my racquet at the net. (I only do that in my imagination, even at the worst of times.) Likewise, I choose to write, so there’s no sense tearing up my notebook or tearing out my hair.

I wouldn’t say this has been the easiest writing season ever. It seems like approximately a hundred years since I was last alone in the house. The world outside is on fire. It’s hard to write a scene about a group of middle-grade students cheating on a math test, and believe the scene has any purpose or worth.

I’ve taken to carrying my notebook, my coffee, and a blanket to the far corner of the back deck and closing the door behind me. If I’m lucky, no one finds me for twenty minutes or so. Then I mutter the words “choice” and “privilege” and try to fill a page or two.

Problems at the pickle factory

Join me for a free writing workshop on July 14th, hosted by Camp Penguin! You can register here.

You can also visit one of Camp Penguin’s participating bookstores, pick up the titles from the reading list, and ask how to get your hands on a bookworm tote bag (while supplies last) and craft activity. In Vancouver, participating stores include Vancouver Kidsbooks, Black Bond, and Book Warehouse. For the entire list, click here.

Hope to see you online!

Stung by a bee

You might think I’m all about serious issues these days, since I’ve been posting about Black Lives Matter and stereotypes and pandemics.

Well, rest assured, my life is just as ridiculous as ever.

About five days ago, we got a puppy. His name is Coby (short for Cobra Kyi, for those of you who are martial arts nerds like my family members). He is small, cute, and very demanding.

He looks truly fierce, doesn’t he?

My house is now carpeted in pee pads and dog toys. My days are spent wrestling over sock ownership. And my nights are spent shlepping the little guy outside every few hours, whenever he starts to whine.

A couple nights ago, I carried him downstairs at 3 a.m. I pointed him toward a safe place to pee. Then I sat down — in my nightgown — on the threshold of my house.

On top of a bee.

That’s right. I sat on a bee at 3 a.m.

And it hurt! I haven’t been stung in years, and I forgot how much it… well… stings!

“What was a bee doing on your doorstep?” my friend said, when I told her the story.

Presumably, he was sleeping. Which is something I hope Coby and I manage to do, too, sometime soon.

Reading for change

As protests continue over systemic racism and the death of George Floyd, there has been a flurry of social media posts listing children’s books by diverse authors.

It can be easy to give these posts an eye-roll. What good can book lists do in the face of centuries of oppression?

Often, when we talk about children’s books with diverse characters, we talk about how important it is for all readers to see themselves and their lives reflected in the stories they read. I know I was always thrilled to find books with Asian protagonists, so I could share them with my Burmese-Canadian kids. I didn’t want Silence and Violence growing up feeling like books were only about white kids.

But books can do much, much more than reflect one’s own experiences. And books with diverse characters are not only for readers of colour. They’re for all of us.

First, because they keep us from repeating the mistakes of history. For a few years now, my daughter has been suggesting that schools replace their current eighth-grade English curriculum with The Hate You Give, Moxie, and Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda. (This would definitely be an improvement on The Red Pony, which is what I remember reading in high school.)

The police officers who are reacting so violently to protesters… would their reactions be different if they had spent eighth grade on a deep reading of The Hate You Give? One can certainly hope so.

The diverse books on our reading lists don’t all have to focus on big issues, either. They don’t have to be political. We should give our kids books about Black characters playing instruments, about Indigenous characters solving mysteries, about people of color falling in love for the first time.

Why?

Let me put on my science hat here.

Way back in 1954, a guy named Gordon Allport published The Nature of Prejudice. He made a suggestion: if people hang out together as equals, they discover they have things in common. They learn that everyone’s human. They grow less likely to stereotype. 

Researchers have since taken Gordon’s guess and turned it into science. First, they gave it a fancy name: the contact hypothesis. Next, they designed experiments to see if it was true. They did more than 200 studies in twenty-five countries. They probed the biases and reactions of 90,000 people. What they found: 94 percent of the time, contact between groups reduced prejudice.

But maybe you live in a tiny town, with a homogeneous population. Maybe your school isn’t diverse. Well, good news. Researchers at Canada’s McGill University found that reading books about friends who have different ethnicities can also help reduce prejudice.

So don’t roll your eyes at the reading lists. Instead, dive in. Here’s a list from The Conscious Kid, one from Munro’s Books in Victoria, one from Kidsbooks in Vancouver, and resources from Embrace Race. And there’s lots more information at We Need Diverse Books.

Reading won’t solve all the world’s problems. But it’s certainly a good place to start.

Still reading…

When my social media feeds are full of pandemic news, and my TV reflects a world on fire, and it seems impossible for any one person to make a difference, reading serves as my refuge, gives me windows to new ways of thinking, and allows me hope for the future.

I’m so happy to think of kids finding all of these things in their books. And if I were to give advice to a young person overwhelmed by the recent changes in the world, I would say, “Disappear into a book for a while. See what you discover there.”

With all of that in mind, I’m thrilled to have Mya’s Strategy to Save the World included as a Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Awards Sundog nominee.

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And to have Me and Banksy on the list for the 2020-2021 Surrey Book of the Year.

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These are both reader’s choice awards, which are the very best kind.

In all of the nominated titles, I hope readers find things that make them think, things that make them laugh out loud, and things that make them feel a little lighter on a cloudy day.

Happy reading, everyone! (I’ll be joining you. I LOVED Maybe He Just Likes You, by Barbara Dee, Wings of Olympus, by Kallie George, and The Case of Windy Lake, by Michael Hutchinson. Next up: Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga.)

Not too sad, not too funny…

Years ago, my running group tried to become a book club. We thought the wine would be more fun than those little water bottles you wear around your waist on long runs.

But the whole idea fell apart when we tried to choose a book.

“I have to read the last page first,” my friend Heidi said. “I can’t read the book if the last page will make me cry.”

“I don’t read funny books,” someone else said. “They’re never funny.”

And so it went…

Failed book club members,
but supportive friends.

Between us, we excluded all possible reads, and we were left with only running.

I feel a little like that failed book club, in my pandemic reading choices. I need something that will hold my attention amidst a thousand distractions, but not something too trivial because I feel as if I should be doing something useful with my time, and not something too sad because there are already a lot of sad things.

This week, I settled on comfort reading, and I’ve been churning through Emily of New Moon at bedtime.

But I’m also listening to the audiobook of My Lady Jane, which is somehow a collaboration between three authors, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. It’s an alternative history of England with the quirkiest narrative voice ever, and I’m enthralled.

Next up, and even at this moment waiting for me at the curb-side pick-up at Vancouver Kidsbooks, is The Glass Hotel by Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel. She describes it on her website as: “a ghost story that’s also about white collar crime and container shipping.” (What???)

Emily is the author of pandemic novel Station 11, another capitivating read, even (especially?) during COVID19. I have high hopes for The Glass Hotel… I’ll let you know!

What are you reading these days? And what are your rules for book choices? I’d love to hear…

In need of inspiration?

I have two bits of news to share today, both from Ink Well Vancouver, the writing community I run along with fellow children’s authors Stacey Matson and Rachelle Delaney.

We’ve launched a newsletter, and our second edition is coming out within the next few days. You can sign up here.

AND, we have an online writing workshop coming up! Kallie George will be hosting on Sunday, May 3rd, as we delve into the writing and editing of picture books. There’s still time to register, and lots more information at Ink Well Vancouver.

In the meantime, happy writing!

A rare moment of quiet on the back deck.