Horn tootin’

I am so thrilled to have DNA Detective included in the Ontario Library Association’s Best Bets list for 2015. The committee reviews all the books written or illustrated by Canadians or people living in Canada and chooses 10 from each category: Picture Books, Junior Fiction, Junior Non-Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, and Young Adult Non-Fiction.

I’m in some wonderful company on the Junior Non-Fiction list. The other books include Child Soldier by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and Power Up! by Shaker N. Paleja.

In other news, I am doing a Twitter chat with Publishers Weekly tomorrow at noon Vancouver time. In preparation for the event, PW is sponsoring a DNA Detective giveaway. You can enter here.

Readings and lights

I visited Graham Bruce Elementary School in East Van yesterday, as part of a Books for Me! literacy program. The students had been studying DNA, so I told stories from DNA Detective, but I’m pretty sure a few of those kids knew more than me. When I paused for questions, someone asked about the effects of gamma radiation. And I said something super-smart, like, “uh…”

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They were a great group. Many thanks to Books for Me! and librarian Dee Mochrie for setting up the event. (You can always tell when a school has a great teacher-librarian at the helm!)

Just before the presentation, I scooted down the street to see a certain plaque at Sunrise Park. This week, the Vancouver Public Library and CWILL BC launched a program called Reading Lights. They’ve posted images from B.C. children’s books on street lights all over the city.

Just as I drove up to see the image from Deborah Hodge‘s Watch Me Grow!, the sun came out.

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Here’s her lovely plaque:

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It’s so fun to see these little bits of literature become part of the city landscape. You can check for plaques in your own neighbourhood here.

Alternate realities

I feel as if I’ve been lost for the past week or two in an alternate universe. In that universe, I’m someone who leaves her house each day and speaks to other human beings.

Shocking, really.

First, I spent a day at Chalmers Elementary in North Delta. I know a school has a good library when the first thing I see as I walk in is a castle. All the surrounding columns had been turned into trees, and great books were growing everywhere.

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The next day it was off to one of my favourite libraries, the West Vancouver Memorial Library, where it always seems there’s more sunshine and light streaming in the windows than ever existed outside. There, youth librarian Shannon Ozirny had signed up a whole crew of eager writers to take part in a survival writing workshop. I’ve given this workshop a few times now, but West Van was the first place students chose to have their characters escape crisis situations by TELEPORTING TO HAWAII. Now, why had I never thought of that?

Have you ever heard of Bookfest in Maple Ridge? I had never heard of it before, and it is amazing. Hundreds of kids are plucked from their regular classes by virtue of being keen readers. They read eight books this fall, including When the Worst Happens, and they all turned up at the ACT Arts Centre — many of them in costume as their favourite characters — to spend a day celebrating books. The best part? Some of them were dressed as characters from my book!

After Bookfest, I spend two days visiting schools in Maple Ridge, including Alexander Robinson, Allouette, and Laity View. The librarian at Alexander Robinson, known as “Mr. J.,” has taught at the school for 15 years or so, but this is his first year as librarian. In the hallway, one of the students called to him: “My mom says you’re wasted as a librarian, because you’re such a good teacher.”

Which was an interesting semi-compliment. Because obviously the mom appreciated Mr. J.’s teaching skills but failed to appreciate the potential of a good librarian. And honestly, you could just tell these schools all had great librarians. The students were engaged and informed and curious, and it warmed the cockles of my writerly heart.

I am now retiring back to my regular universe for a rest. But giant thank yous to all the students, teachers, and librarians who gave me such wonderful welcomes over the past two weeks.

The people in the neighbourhood

Today I filled in for my lovely friend Stacey as a volunteer for the Writer’s Exchange. The organization works to get inner-city kids excited about reading and writing. This morning, the team was helping grade one and two students at Thunderbird Elementary start their own book about what they’d like to be when they grow up.

To kick off the project, the Writers Exchange hosted a mini job fair. I was there to represent the writers of the world. There was also a farmer, a flight attendant, a nurse, a police officer, two basketball players (maybe they only travel in pairs?), a magazine publisher, and a teacher. (There was no firefighter, much to the disappointment of the nurse.)

It was like being a real-life part of Sesame Street.

I think the police officer won the “coolest tools” contest, with the nurse a close second. And the flight attendant got bonus points because she had a miniature airplane with her. But the kids liked that I could write whatever and whenever I chose, and that the illustrator for my 50 Questions books got all his best ideas by putting a chicken on his head. (You were a hit, Ross!)

At the end of the morning, one of the little boys put his head down on the table and refused to leave the library. I felt the same way, really. I wanted to stay and talk to all the other volunteers. How does one become a farmer, anyway?

Of all the nerve(s)

I used to panic before all presentations. I’d lose sleep for a week, develop a terrible stomach ache, and erupt in acne.

Over the years, I’ve slowly improved. Before last week’s Vancouver Writers Fest talks, I lost only one night of sleep and had only one pimple (though it was ginormous).

Yesterday, I gave a lecture to a creative writing class at UBC, and I didn’t panic at all. I slept fine, had no unusual skin conditions, and even managed to dress appropriately.

But then, I woke up at 2 a.m. last night, stewing about all the things I should have done differently.

WHAT GOOD WAS THAT? THE PRESENTATION WAS OVER!

Sometimes I think I should take my brain back to the store and ask for a more reasonable replacement.

At the Vancouver Writers Fest

The people at the Vancouver Writers Fest are just plain awesome. When I arrived at the Dockside Hotel on Granville Island this morning, Hal Wake hugged me. Someone handed me a bag of swag. I talked election news with Susin Nielsen. A lovely woman named Kathryn was assigned to shepherd me from place to place in case I fell into a writerly daze and walked off a dock. A sound guy rewired my microphone so I could flit around the stage.

I would like to live permanently in a state of writers-festishness.

I had two presentations today. I talked about DNA Detective with a big crowd at the Waterfront Theatre, including Liisa House and her enthusiastic grade sevens from Edith Cavell.

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And a second presentation in conjunction with the downright incredible Michel Chikwanine and librarian extraordinare Shannon Ozirny.

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Thank you to all the Writers Fest staff and volunteers who do such a wonderful job, and to the ever-smiling crew at Kidsbooks who put plenty of survival stories in plenty of new hands today. You’re all my favourites ever.

Reading, writing, and absolutely no arithmetic

I’m a one-project-at-a-time kinda girl, but for the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on so many different things, my head is spinning. I have:

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  • Booked presentations in West Van for November, Maple Ridge for December, and Richmond for February. (I haven’t been this popular since I had a free French-fry connection in high school. I hope all these people don’t expect me to wear my clothes right-side-out and speak in complete sentences.)
  • Finished an index for Extreme Battlefields, then reviewed said index once someone with a logical mind fixed it.

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  • Written a chapter of my newest non-fiction manuscript. (Only two left to go — hurray!)
  • Revised my novel. And… um… switched the gender of the protagonist. I didn’t mention that plan to my agent. Do you think she’ll notice?

One of these days, I’m even going to shower. Because it’s always good to have goals.

Vancouver Writers Fest!!!

Let me apologize now for the three exclamation marks in the title of this post. But… the Vancouver Writers Fest!!! (Oops… did it again. Sorry.)

I’m so excited to be a part of the festival this year. And, as the catalogue has just arrived in my mailbox, it must be time to share a little news about my presentations.

DNA Detective
Wednesday, October 21, 10 – 11:15 a.m.
In this DNA Detective talk for students in grades 5 through 8, I tell stories about the deranged and obsessed people who figured out how DNA actually works. (One of them drank hydrochloric acid.) We explore the wild and wacky side of DNA mishaps, cloning, and woolly-mammoth reconstruction, consider the pros and cons of glowing goldfish, and wonder how Icelanders avoid marrying their cousins.

Against All Odds
Wednesday, October 21, 1 – 2:30 p.m.
This is a panel discussion with Michel Chikwanine, moderated by Shannon Ozirny. Michel was kidnapped by rebel Congolese soldiers when he was five, taken to the jungle, and trained as a child soldier. I am… providing comic relief? Because the closest I’ve come to a survival situation was Metrotown Mall on Boxing Day. BUT, I did write When the Worst Happens, which is all about how our body and brain handle crisis situations, how to control panic and take action, and how to survive just about anything. Except maybe rebel Congolese soldiers. (I may simply stare at Michel in awe during this hour. But you can join me.)

There are many more events that I’m dying to attend, so hopefully I’ll see you on Granville Island in October! (There. I’m down to one exclamation mark. How sedate of me.)

Personal professional

I had dinner with my friend Mark recently, who teaches grade five. He mentioned that when teaching a unit about blogs, he used me as an example of someone who blends personal and professional stories.

“Do I?” I said.

And of course I do, but I’ve never thought much about it because the line between personal and professional in my life is rather blurry. The things I’m musing about in my non-writing time end up in my written work, and the social events I attend are often writing-related. All very confusing.

Yesterday, I went to Granville Island for the Vancouver Writers Fest preview. There, Artistic Director Hal Wake announced the line-up of writers coming to town in October. It was a room filled (packed!) with book lovers, half of them marking and circling on their advance reading lists. You could tell they were waiting for the introductions to end so they could start page-turning.

I also got a little hint about my own role in October’s festival, which gives me four months to get nervous. To prepare, that is. In a personal/professional way.

On to Ottawa…

Whew… what a whirlwind! I gave two presentations in Pelham on Monday, then travelled by car, bus, train, and my own foot-power to Mississaugua. There, I gave three presentations in less than three hours at Allan A. Martin Senior Public School, and now I’m at the airport on my way to Ottawa.

So far, I’ve said two somewhat inappropriate things to large groups of people. While wearing a microphone. There should probably be some sort of psychological test which helps the Canadian Children’s Book Centre decide if authors have a filter before hiring us. But apparently there’s not, so here I am explaining to kids what my last name means if they say it ever-so-slightly wrong in Burmese. (It has four letters and begins with an “s.”)

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In my defence, the librarian asked. (She’s lovely, as are the other teachers at Allan A. Martin. You can find them on Twitter at @mjwheelerali and @@AllanAMartinPS.)

Also, photos shouldn’t be allowed during my presentations because they’re always excruciatingly embarrassing. But, as sharing tends to make things less embarrassing and more funny, here I am wearing my underwear outside my pants.

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Apparently, in Ontario, everyone wears their underwear inside their pants? This would have been helpful to know before my school visits.

It’s off to Ottawa now, where I will attempt to be more appropriate in public. I’m thinking chances are slim…