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.


Perfect picture books

I stopped by Kidsbooks last night, where Kallie George and Sara Gillingham were launching their latest picture books.

Here’s Kallie reading from The Doll Hospital, which Sara illustrated with a limited palate that makes it look both richly saturated and adorably retro. It’s a gorgeous book.

And here’s Sara playing guessing games with Boats Are Busy.

So much fun! (Why don’t I write picture books? Why do I write about pot and surveillance and teen pregnancy? Picture books are so much prettier!)

Uninvited guests

I was having an idyllic writers’ group meeting in the backyard with Kallie George, Rachelle Delaney, Stacey Matson, and Christy Goerzen. Once the wine was poured and the fruit crisps passed, Rachelle got up to snap this photo.

We discussed picture books. All was well in the world.

Until I saw movement from the corner of my eye.

“Uh… guys? There’s a skunk in the yard.”

But it was fairly benign. When we made noise, it waddled along the fence until it could duck into the neighbour’s yard.

Then its friend arrived. This one wandered all the way around the pond and headed toward us. When  we made noise, it raised its tail. It took a few more steps forward.

With great squealing, snatching of laptops, and scattering of chairs, we sprinted en masse toward the house.

For the record, if there’s ever a track meet for children’s writers, Kallie George is a sure winner in the 100-meter dash.

In miniature

I went last night to the book launch for Kallie George’s new Heartwood Hotel series, an infinitely adorable collection of books about a resting place for forest animals.

There were masses of kids at the launch, and Kallie entertained them all with stories of her near-death hiking experiences. Then, she sent them to the crafts table to create their own woodland creatures. Once completed, the creatures could check in here:

Yes, that’s a replica of the Heartwood Hotel, created by Kallie’s husband Luke.

So of course I went directly home and showed my pictures to Min, who said he would be happy to build me a miniature grow-op for my Prince of Pot book launch.

But it doesn’t seem quite the same, does it?

Plus, I can’t think of a single craft idea. Well, not a single appropriate craft idea…

Warm fuzzies

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre released its Best Books for Kids & Teens 2015 edition last week. I’m sure I’m not the only person who treats it as a giant to-read list each winter. I’m also honoured to have a book included.

Minding Nana is a true story I wrote about growing up next door to my grandma, who suffered from dementia. Pearson released a Well Aware series of 60 books for middle-grade readers this year, all focussed on different aspects of mental health, and Minding Nana was included. It was a difficult story to write and I sort of felt as if I had sold my soul by publishing it (much easier to write other people’s stories!), so I am sincerely touched to have it included by the CCBC.

Others included in this year’s Best Books list include my lovely author friends Paula Ayer, Kallie George, Caroline Adderson, Lee Edward Födi, and Lori Sherritt-Fleming. Congratulations, all!

In more warm-fuzzy news, DNA Detective received a wonderful review from CM Magazine. The reviewer thinks I’m smarter than I really am, so please… no one reveal the truth.

Violence Speaks

My daughter was going to review The Enchanted Egg, the second book in Kallie George’s Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. In fact, Kallie gave her an advance reading copy just for that purpose. But Violence stole the book from Silence’s room before she’d had a chance to read it. (Yeesh. Who would steal a book from a child’s room?) Well, since he stole the book, he’s the one who will be reviewing this week. Here are Violence’s thoughts on The Enchanted Egg:

In this story there’s a new egg in the agency that hasn’t hatched yet. Clover and Mr. Jams still don’t know exactly what kind it is, but they are taking care of it anyway. One day when Mr. Jams has left to save another animal, Clover wakes up to find that the egg has cracked open, but where is the animal? Will Clover find the animal before Mr. Jams comes back?

I think this book is great because of all the animals. The fire salamanders are my favourites, but I don’t think my mom would let me have a fire salamander.

5/5 stars

On the adorable-times-infinity scale

The trailer for Clover’s Luck by Kallie George is pretty much the cutest thing ever. AND, it just happens to be narrated by my daughter.

Once you’ve finished watching, you can head to the Magical Animal Adoption Agency website and take the quiz to discover what kind of animal you might wish to adopt. (I’m getting a sea serpent or a hippocampus. Do you think Min will mind?)

Then, you can join me at Kallie’s launch party on February 12th at 6:30 pm, at Kidsbooks Vancouver.

Kallie is one of the smartest writers I know, and her books manage to be sweet and deep at the same time. I’m so excited to see Clover’s Luck released into the big, wide world!