CCBC March 2016 Newsletter
News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
March Book List: Going Green
Author Corner: Allison van Diepen
Amy’s Travels in YA
Illustrator’s Studio: Thao Lam
News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre
• We are still looking for volunteer drivers to help authors, illustrators and storytellers get to and from their presentations during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2016 (May 7-14, 2016). This is a wonderful opportunity to meet Canadian creators while helping them reach young readers all across the country. Drivers must have access to a personal vehicle. Mileage will be reimbursed at the rate of $0.40 per kilometre.
If you are interested in helping, please contact Shannon Howe Barnes, Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416.975.0010 x 227. Please include your city and province and we will contact you should there be any opportunities in your area.
News from our Friends
• World Literacy Canada’s Write for a Better World contest is open to submissions from students in Grades 5-8. The 2016 Write for a Better World contest encourages students to write an original story in 400 words max, following a unique story lead. This year’s guest judge is TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award winner Jonathan Auxier. The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2016. Click here for more information.
• National Canadian Film Day is coming up on April 20, 2016. Join this annual day-long celebration of Canadian film, through screenings, events, panel discussions, and conversations across the country. Visit www.canadianfilmday.ca for more information.
Notable News & Links
Articles and videos of interest to educators
March Book List: Going Green
This month, our library coordinator Meghan Howe recommends Canadian books with environmental themes. Use this list to prepare for Earth Day, coming up next month. Visit www.earthday.ca for more information.
The Busy Beaver
Frankenstink! Garbage Gone Bad
Mr. King’s Things
Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World
Junior & Intermediate Fiction
Ghosts of the Pacific
Justine McKeen vs. the Queen of Mean
Luz Makes a Splash
Sydney & Simon: Go Green!
Be the Change for the Environment
Power Up! A Visual Exploration of Energy
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World
Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World
Author’s Corner: Allison van Diepen
Born and raised in Ottawa, Allison van Diepen is the author of nine novels for young adults. Her books Street Pharm, Snitch and Takedown are American Library Association Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, and The Vampire Stalker is a Red Maple Honour Book. She will be touring Manitoba for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week in May.
How did you get started as a writer?
I knew from the time I was 12 that I wanted to be a writer. In high school I wrote several full-length manuscripts which, looking back, weren’t even that bad. I wrote a fantasy about a girl archer (Hey Suzanne Collins, I thought of it first!) Writing was always my passion, but it wasn’t until I graduated from university and became a teacher that I realized I wanted to write for a teen audience. I started my teaching career in a Brooklyn high school, and I decided to write books my students there would enjoy — books dealing with issues they could relate to.
What were your favourite books growing up?
As a tween, I loved John Bellairs’s spine-tingling thrillers, like The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull (Dial Books for Young Readers, 1984). Bellairs’s novels usually featured an awkward teen who was friends with an elderly professor or librarian — some crazy paranormal event would happen, and they’d have to team up to save the world from the forces of evil. I devoured all of Bellairs’s books. Around that time, I started writing stories of my own, and haven’t stopped writing since.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
There are two main schools — the planners, and the let-the-story-unfold-organically writers. I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t have a detailed plan, but I do brainstorm before I begin a book, and then periodically as I go along.
In my talks, I often say that writing a book is like dating. You have an initial idea (aka meet the cute guy/girl) and you have to decide whether there’s enough substance there for it to develop. Sometimes I’ll get an idea, brainstorm a bit, maybe dabble with a few pages, but it won’t really go anywhere. Usually my gut tells me fairly quickly if it’s THE ONE.
You are touring Manitoba for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week in May! What do you have planned for the schools you are visiting? What are you looking forward to the most?
I’m a big extrovert and I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I plan to give the schools the TOP SECRET TRUTH behind my books and the incidents that inspired them. I will also tell them all about the crazy industry of publishing, and I’m full of advice for aspiring writers. But it’s hearing what the students have to say — rather than hearing myself speak — that will be the highlight for me.
Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how to incorporate your books into the curriculum? How do you like to see your books used in classrooms? Do you have any activity suggestions?
I’m a high school English teacher myself, and I always write study guides for my books. You can find them on the Teacher Resources page on my website. I have the usual reading comprehension questions, discussion questions and essay topics, then some fun creative assignments. P.S. I love it when teachers send me pictures of student work!
What projects are you working on now? Can you tell us about any upcoming books?
Oh yes. Right now I’m finishing up the third book in the On the Edge series, Run the Risk. It’s about a girl who blackmails her ex-boyfriend, a former gang member, into mentoring her troubled brother. Danger and romance ensue.
I’m in the very early stages of a new project. I don’t want to say anything about it yet, but students who attend my Book Week presentations just might find out what it’s about…
For more information about Allison’s work, visit www.allisonvandiepen.com.
Amy’s Travels in YA
by Amy Mathers
Within the vast realm of books geared toward a YA audience, contemporary YA is one of the most challenging genres to review. Able to cross multiple genres, a prime example can be found in Canadian YA author Mariko Tamaki’s upcoming contemporary work, Saving Montgomery Sole (Razorbill, April 2016), also classifiable under LGBTQ YA and perhaps paranormal YA, the contemporary genre is distinguished by its portrayal of the world we live in, and the issues facing us today.
But in the age of ‘trigger warnings,’ a practice requiring cautionary labels to be put on articles, books and stories that may contain emotionally provocative subjects such as physical or sexual violence, misogyny and/or racism, it’s difficult as a reviewer to walk the line between the need to forewarn a reader and the need to protect a writer’s integrity as well as their development of natural suspense.
Contemporary waters are murky, making it difficult to relay possible trigger information without giving away plot. In a way, this is because a book’s genre classification is its own warning. Historical YA contains the instinctive expectation that traumatic events will be explored (Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass, Pajama Press, 2013). Dystopian YA is all about the horrors of a fictitious world gone wrong (Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Doubleday Canada, 2011). Science fiction YA or speculative YA readers may anticipate harrowing circumstances, but those are greatly eased by the genre’s imaginary nature (Sila’s Revenge by Jamie Bastedo, Red Deer Press, 2010). Same goes for fantasy YA (The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch, Doubleday Canada, 2013).
Mystery YA is clear, revealing answers in a review is just cruel to the reader as they await the big reveal (The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart, Annick Press, 2012). Though LGBTQ YA can at times fit under contemporary YA as well, until more recently it is also consistently heartbreaking, featuring characters who must overcome violent bullies, unaccepting parents, and self-harm to embrace their true selves (Chance to Dance for You by Gail Sidonie Sobat, Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2011).
Readers who chose these genres know what to expect, and, if needed, can prepare themselves accordingly for what they might encounter in their read. With the variety and element of realism that defines the contemporary genre, however, the biggest risk for being triggered lies in the exploration of now. It’s easy to become upset over uncomfortable truths exposed by thoughtful writers about our reality. Does this mean we should stop reading contemporary? Definitely not. When it comes to a YA audience though, as a reviewer I like to err on the side of transparency, so readers are aware of potentially upsetting topics.
While I deal with my discomfort over a genre that constantly challenges me to really look at the world I am living in, I keep in mind that in a way, all YA novels can be considered contemporary when they are published as they are unavoidably a product of their time. Also, the contemporary novels of today are the historical fiction novels of tomorrow, meaning perhaps future societies will have a greater perspective about them, mourning our mistakes and celebrating our triumphs from a fictional view trigger free.
Amy Mathers read and reviewed 365 YA books to raise money for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award in 2014. Read about her journey at www.amysmarathonofbooks.ca.
Illustrator’s Studio: Thao Lam
Thao Lam is an illustrator and an art buyer for an education publishing company. Her art has appeared in publications such as Cricket and Highlights magazines. Her first book, Skunk on a String, will be published this month by Owlkids Books. She lives in Toronto.
How did you get started as an illustrator and how did you develop your unique style?
As a kid I would spend hours in the children’s book section of the library pouring over books, I still do as an adult. The idea that you get to spend your day drawing and being creative was mind blowing so there was never any doubt in what I wanted to do when I grew up. I went to art school and then I went to Sheridan College for illustration. While I was there the teachers really encouraged us to find our style and voice so I started experimenting with fabrics and sewing my illustrations together. I really loved the textures and patterns found in fabrics but it became really expensive to work with, especially on a student budget. One of my classmates introduced me to The Paper Place which carried a variety of papers in all different colours, textures and patterns, giving me a similar feel to fabric but with more flexibility and not as costly.
Can you tell us about your illustrating process?
At the beginning of a project, I do a ton of research. I spend a lot of time looking at books and on the Internet, pinning images for inspiration, ideas and references. From there I start working on the storyboard. Once the storyboard is approved by the publisher, I sketch out each panel. With sketches approved I make photocopies of the different elements, then cut out the bits and pieces to use as templates.
One of my favourite steps in the process is finding papers for the project. I have a huge collection of papers in my studio already but I love hunting for more. I tape the photocopied templates to the scrapbook paper and cut out the pieces.
Once the pieces are cut, I add details with paint. Depending on the paint coverage you can still see a bit of the pattern or colour of the paper underneath, creating a new layer of depth.
After all the pieces are cut and painted, I glue everything together until I end up with the final picture. There are so many little pieces that it feels like I am putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
Click to enlarge images.
Tell us about the process of creating Skunk on a String, a wordless picture book, and your first book as an author and as an illustrator. What came first, the story or the illustrations? What inspired the story?
The illustration always comes first. I think visually so the story would play in my head like a silent movie which is why I lean towards wordless picture books. The inspiration for Skunk on a String (Owlkids Books, 2016) came years ago when an image of a skunk tied to a balloon popped in my head. It made me laugh and stuck with me. I never forged ahead with it because I couldn’t figure out how to get the skunk down. So I shelved it while I pursued other creative projects.
I was working on my own version of Little Red Riding Hood, which caught the attention of the folks at Owlkids Books. Though my version of Little Red Riding Hood did not end up getting published, they were interested in seeing what other ideas I had. So I told them about the image of that little skunk tied to balloon. I didn’t know how he got tied to a balloon, where he was going or how to get him down, but they loved it!
Publishing my first book has been an amazing experience, but a lot of work. I was at the tail end of my pregnancy at the time so I was juggling my first book and then my first baby. Luckily, my partner was really supportive. He took care of our baby full time while I worked on meeting the deadlines for Skunk on a String. The folks at Owlkids Books were also super supportive and understanding during that time. The making of Skunk on a String was a very collaborative project and without support and teamwork from my partner and Owlkids Books it would have never happened.
What were your favourite children’s books and illustrators growing up?
My favourite books were written by Robert Munsch with art by Michael Martchenko; Mortimer, Thomas’ Snowsuit and Jonathan Cleaned Up —Then He Heard a Sound or Blackberry Subway Jam (Annick Press, 1983, 1985, 1981) always made me laugh as a kid and still do. When I wasn’t reading, I studied the illustrations in children’s books, I spent hours pouring over Michael Martchenko’s illustrations, studying his characters and learning how to capture facial expressions. I had a chance to meet both gentlemen years ago; I was so giddy and nervous, I probably sounded like a silly goose!
Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they could use your book in the classroom?
A couple of my friends are teachers that teach at different age groups and they gave me a lot of suggestions on how Skunk on a String can be useful in the classroom. Plus, I had the chance to meet a couple librarians at the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference in January, who also gave me some great advice. The wordless nature of Skunk on a String makes it a great creative tool. Here are some ideas:
Creative storytelling using language: students can write their own version of the story or expand on the story. For example, how did the skunk get tied to the string? Where will the skunk go next?
Team building: Students collaborate on adding words to the book by each picking out a different panel from the story and then writing a caption for it. Afterwards, they piece all the panels back together and read their own panels out in sequence.
Student participation: The teacher can start off describing the action in the panels, but then it’s up to the students to chime in to move the story along.
Science: students can learn about the behaviour and biology of skunks. What makes them smell so bad?
Visual storytelling: Use Skunk on a String as an example of how to tell a story without words.
Visual arts project: Use Skunk on a String’s art style to introduce students to collage. Have students look for different scrap paper around the house to use for their collages. Recycle paper, old magazines, newspapers, gift wrapping paper, etc.
Culture and Geography: Teachers can pin a cut out of the skunk to a world map and have students explain what the skunk would learn and discover if it floats to that part of the world by balloon.
What projects are you working on now? Any plans for a second book?
I am very excited to be working on a second book with Owlkids Books. It is in the very early stages. We have a very active toddler at home full time so getting any work done requires a lot of patience and discipline. If all goes well, it should be ready late 2017 or early 2018. Like Skunk on a String, it was inspired by an image that popped in my head. Currently it is a wordless book but who knows, I might add a word or two to spice things up!
Images courtesy of Thao Lam. Visit thaolam.com for more information about her work.
Starting this month, we will be featuring picks from some of Canada’s independent booksellers. To find a local independent bookstore, visit findabookstore.ca.
• Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books in Ottawa, ON: Mabel Murple by Sheree Fitch and Sydney Smith (Nimbus Publishing, 2010), Ages 4-9
Mabel Murple by Sheree Fitch is a fantastic story book to read aloud. The rhythm and the rhyme flow from page to page in this story of a purple loving girl. Many a parent has told us that they read this to their kids so often that they can now recite it from memory. Sydney Smith’s vibrant illustrations make the book feel like it is in multi colours rather than being in shades of purple for many pages. This is a Canadian classic that’s a great addition to a family’s picture book shelf. —Kim Ferguson, Co-owner
Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books: 1018 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1S 3W8 www.kaleidoscopekidsbooks.ca
• Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: Flannery by Lisa Moore (Groundwood Books, May 2016), Ages 13 and up
In bold, beautiful and evocative prose, Lisa Moore’s debut YA novel is instantly engaging while also exploring more weighty issues of contemporary teen life. When Flannery finds herself paired up with her long-time crush, bad boy Tyrone O’Rourke, for an entrepreneurship project, she is both hopeful that he might notice her in a new way and worried about how committed he will be to actually working on a school assignment. But as Flannery immerses herself in this project, she also finds herself wrestling with family frustrations, the abrupt ending of an important friendship and other situations that help her see herself and those around her (including Tyrone) in a new light. —Lisa Doucet, Co-manager
Woozles Children’s Bookstore: 1533 Birmingham St, Halifax, NS B3J 2J1 www.woozles.com
• McNally Robinson at Grant Park in Winnipeg, MB: The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016), Ages 4-8
Someone is transforming the once dull, drab street of Grimloch Lane into a garden of topiary mastery. With each new sculpture, a young boy witnesses how the actions of one mysterious figure can spark change in a population starved for wonder.
This sweet, simple story paired with captivating illustrations by The Fan Brothers makes The Night Gardener a debut masterpiece. A stunning reminder to find the beauty in the everyday and to make every day beautiful. —Shanleigh Klassen, Kids Bookseller
McNally Robinson at Grant Park: 1120 Grant Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3M 2A6 www.mcnallyrobinson.com
• Type Books in Toronto, ON: Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viva (MoMA, 2015), Ages 3-7
Young Charlotte is obsessed with black and white. She makes movies without any colour at all and in fact “just wants to take a straw and drink all the colour right out of the air”. I love that Charlotte parents encourage her creativity: they bring her to the movies on Friday nights and spend Sundays at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, she meets the museum’s film curator, Scarlet (based on the MoMA’s long-time film curator, Jytte Jensen, who passed away mere months before the book’s publication). Scarlet opens up the world of art film, and champions Charlotte’s own filmmaking to glorious results. —Serah-Marie McMahon, Children’s Buyer for Type Books
Type Books: 427 Spadina Rd & 883 Queen St W, Toronto, ON www.typebooks.ca
If your independent bookstore would like to participate in this feature, please contact us.