CCBC March 2015 Newsletter: Plays and Performing Arts


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre
March Book List: Plays & Performing Arts
Author Corner: Dennis Foon
Classroom Activity: Storytelling Through Drama
News from our Friends
Illustrator’s Studio: Elise Gravel
Coming Soon: Canadian Children’s Book News
Next Month…

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

Teachers, we would love to get your feedback on our History Book Bank! We have extended the deadline for our survey until Friday, March 6. Fill out the short survey for the chance to win a set of Canadian children’s history books for your classroom!

Posters and bookmarks, featuring Julie Flett’s beautiful artwork for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week, are available for purchase on our website. Our free theme guide will be available on the Book Week website in early April.

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March Book List: Plays & Performing Arts

by Emma Sakamoto

March marks the 30th anniversary of Playwrights Canada Press. It’s the perfect time to read—and perform — some Canadian theatre! We’ve included plays for all ages in our list, along with a few non-fiction titles about the performing arts.

Primary Level

A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids
(Shakespeare Can Be Fun!)
Written by Lois Burdett
Firefly Books, 1997
ISBN: 978-1-55209-124-1
IL: Ages 7 and up  RL: Grades 2-3
“Who is William Shakespeare?” For more than 20 years, Lois Burdett has asked that question of her elementary school students in Stratford, Ontario, leading them on a voyage of discovery that brings the Bard to life for boys and girls. Written in rhyming couplets, this text is suitable for staging as class plays as well as reading aloud.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Munsch at Play Act 2: Eight More Stage Adaptations
Written by Irene N. Watts
Based on original stories by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Annick Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-55451-358-1
IL: Ages 6-9  RL: Grades 2-3
This second collection of eight plays based on stories by Robert Munsch requires minimal sets, props and costumes and can be performed by small groups or whole classes. Watts incorporates many drama conventions into her staging suggestions, making this a useful resource for teachers with limited drama experience. Teachers could use this book to support their classroom drama program or to create a production piece for a school concert.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Munsch at Play: Eight Stage Adaptations for Young Performers
Written by Irene N. Watts
Based on original stories by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Annick Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-55451-230-0
IL: Ages 6-9  RL: Grades 2-3
The eight wonderful plays in this collection — adapted from Robert Munsch books — require minimal sets, props and costumes and can be performed by small groups or whole classes. Irene Watts incorporates many drama conventions into her staging suggestions (e.g., tableau, mime, soundscapes, etc.), which makes this a useful resource for teachers with limited experience in drama and shows teachers how easily stories can become drama performances.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Sprouts! An Anthology of Plays, From Concrete Theatre’s Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids
Edited by Mieko Ouchi and Caroline Howarth
Playwrights Canada Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-887548-89-5
IL: Ages 4-10  RL: Grades 4-6
This collection of culturally diverse short plays gathered from eight years of Concrete Theatre’s ground-breaking Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids brings us stories from the rich cultural tapestry of Canada that explore both the challenges and joys of growing up.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate Level

Hana’s Suitcase on Stage
Written by Emil Sher
Based on the original book, Hana’s Suitcase, by Karen Levine
Second Story Press, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-897187-05-0
IL: Ages 9 and up  RL: Grades 4-6
The remarkable true-life Holocaust story is ready for live theatre. This new book includes the script of the play, together with the full text of the original story. Since 2006 the play has been staged in cities in Canada, the US and Japan.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
New Canadian Kid/Invisible Kids
Written by Dennis Foon
Playwrights Canada Press, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-88754-830-7
IL: Ages 9-15  RL: Grade 4
A collection of two of Dennis Foon’s plays: New Canadian Kid is about a boy who moves to Canada, where he is forced to grapple with his fears of a new culture and language. Invisible Kids looks at children from different ethnic backgrounds who learn how to deal with institutionalized racism.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Silverwing: The Play
Adapted by Kim Selody
Music and soundscape by Denis Gougeon
Based on the novel Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Playwrights Canada Press, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-88754-745-4
IL: Ages 10 and up  RL: Grade 5
Shade is a young silverwing bat determined to prove himself during the long and dangerous winter migration. When Shade is swept out over the ocean during a storm, he sets out on a remarkable journey to rejoin his colony.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
The Remarkable Flight of Marnie McPhee
Written by Daniel Karasik
Playwrights Canada Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-77091-126-0
IL: Ages 10-13  RL: Grades 6-7
Meet nine-year-old Marnie McPhee — daughter, sister, aspiring astronaut and possible Martian. Convinced she’s not like the rest of her family, she begins building a spaceship so she can leave home and live amongst the stars. But as she works on her spaceship she realizes that maybe earth isn’t so bad after all, even if it is filled with imperfect people.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Senior Level

Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays
Written by Jordan Tannahill
Playwrights Canada Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-77091-194-9
IL: Ages 14 and up  RL: Grades 6-8
This collection includes Get Yourself Home Skyler James, which follows the journey of a young lesbian who leaves the army after being outed by her fellow soldiers; Peter Fechter: 39 Minutes, which chronicles the last hour in the life of a teenager in East Berlin in 1962, who is shot while trying to cross the Berlin Wall; and rihannaboi95, which focuses on a Toronto teen whose world comes crashing down when YouTube videos of him dancing to songs by his favourite pop heroine go viral.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Pure Gold: Scenes from Canadian Plays Since 1990
Edited by Brian Kennedy
Playwrights Canada Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-88754-910-6
IL: Ages 14 and up  RL: Grades 9-10
A collection of 25 scenes from some of Canada’s finest playwrights, featuring a broad range of topics for all ages. The book is divided into sections to facilitate group work of two to five or more actors. Includes excerpts from The December Man (L’homme de décembre), Elizabeth Rex, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Mary’s Wedding, The Real McCoy and many more.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Rick: The Rick Hansen Story
Written by Dennis Foon
Playwrights Canada Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-77091-037-9
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 7-8
Fifteen-year-old Rick Hansen is the star of his high school basketball team, until an accident severs his spinal cord, leaving him in a wheelchair. His accident forces him to adapt and deal with his new life. Refusing to be put at a disadvantage, Rick conquers the challenges presented to him and redefines the meaning of disabled. Teachers, from middle school to high school, can use this book to support their classroom drama program or create a production piece for a school concert.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Rites of Passage: Three Plays from Roseneath Theatre
Written by David S. Craig and Chris Craddock
Playwrights Canada Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-88754-923-6
IL: Ages 13 and up  RL: Grades 6-8
For nearly 20 years, Roseneath Theatre has created and produced plays of enduring quality, specifically for young people and family audiences. This book collects three of Roseneath’s most successful plays — Smokescreen, Wrecked and Napalm the Magnificent: Dancing with the Dark — showcasing the strength and vitality of Ontario’s largest touring company.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Putting on a Show: Theater for Young People
Written by Kathleen McDonnell
Second Story Press, 2004
ISBN: 978-1-896764-89-4
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 6-7
Using four of her original plays, which have toured in Canada and the United States, as the centre piece, McDonnell talks about the history of theatre and drama with a who’s who of players, including descriptions of the roles of actors, directors, playwrights, choreographers, producers, designers and more. The book contains complete text and stage directions for four of McDonnell’s best-known plays, Loon Boy, Ezzie’s Emerald, Foundlings and The Seven Ravens. Photographs of performances and programs enrich this wonderful learning tool.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
The Jumbo Book of Drama
(Jumbo Books)
Written by Deborah Dunleavy
Illustrated by Jane Kurisu
Kids Can Press, 2004
ISBN: 978-1-553370-08-6
IL: Ages 8 and up  RL: Grades 3-4
Break a leg! Over 200 pages of theatre games, drama activities, sample scripts and costume ideas take readers into the wonderful world of make believe and get them started on the stage.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Showtime: Meet the People Behind the Scenes
Written by Kevin Sylvester
Annick Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-55451-487-8
IL: Ages 10 and up  RL: Grades 4-5
In addition to the entertainers on the stage, there are dozens of people behind the scenes whose work ensures that the show will go on. From the designers of the sets and costumes to the choreographers and vocal coaches, and even the long-haul truckers who ensure everything gets from one venue to another, this book describes the careers involved in show biz and what kids can do now to prepare themselves for those jobs.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Truth in Play: Drama Strategies for Building Meaningful Performances
Edited by Debbie Nyman and Jill Lloyd-Jones with David S. Craig
Playwrights Canada Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-77091-272-4
IL: Ages 13 and up  RL: Grades 9-10
Geared towards high-school students, this curated collection of short scenes from Canadian plays will help students step inside the text and empathize with the characters to further their understanding of motivations and feelings. As a vehicle for deepening comprehension and exploring relevant themes and issues, the book creates a shared experience which allows students to connect authentically with their characters in performance.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Emma Sakamoto works in Canadian publishing and has a particular love for children’s books.

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Author Corner: Interview with Dennis Foon

by Kate Abrams

Dennis Foon is an American-born playwright who now makes his home in Canada. After discovering a love of writing, Dennis undertook a MFA in Playwriting from the University of British Columbia, and hasn’t looked back since. He is one of the founding members of Green Thumb Theatre in in Vancouver, and his plays for young audiences have been produced around the world. He is also an accomplished novelist and screenwriter.

How did you get started as a playwright?

When I was in university, I had some success writing fiction and a friend who was into theatre said that if I wrote a play he’d produce it. I knew nothing about playwriting and little about theatre but leapt in like a blind fool and wrote four bizarre little plays. By some strange miracle, the evening struck a chord with the audience, receiving standing ovations every night and I was literally lifted up and paraded around the hall. This was a dangerous place to start as a playwright, because I was too young to grasp how ignorant I was about the craft or the art. What followed were many difficult years trying to acquire some actual technique. A rough road but I couldn’t stop trying — I was chasing the dream of repeating that crazed experience with an audience.

What drove you to write plays for children and teens?

I decided to go to the University of British Columbia to pursue an MFA in Playwriting. Mainly I saw it as a chance to just write for a few years and see if I could hack it. My thesis was a handful of one-act plays, each experimenting in different ways of interacting with the audience. One was a pretty bad children’s play. A bunch of UBC grads produced it outside of school. It became the first production of our new company, Green Thumb. To be honest, entering into it I was more interested in experimental theatre than TYA [Theatre for Young Audiences]. But in a very short period of time, I became enchanted with the responsive young audiences who, unlike adults, haven’t learned yet to sleep with their eyes open.

Do you have any suggestions for teachers who want to use your works in the classroom? Are there any of your plays in particular that are suited to in-class use?

Virtually all my TYA plays are reflecting the experience of children and youth and stimulate a great deal of discussion. Whether it’s a play like Skin that addresses racism, or Seesaw, that looks at aggressiveness and bullying from a wide range of angles, educators and students have found many a good springboard for investigating challenging subject matter as it relates to their own experience.

As to finding a play that addresses a specific need, the best thing is to check the synopses on my website.

How do you think drama facilitates discussion sensitive topics such as race and class?

I always start with the emotion, trying to find something from my own life that connects to the research I do with young people. That’s what I believe makes any work connect with the audience and allows the facilitator an honest inroad into discussion. Kids respond to emotional truth — and that acts as a catalyst for discourse.

How does your process differ when you are writing plays vs. writing novels or screenplays?

Unlike a novel, plays and screenplays are blueprints for production — they’re a “realized potential” waiting for collaborators to bring them to life. With my plays, I try to embed as much as possible in the dialogue so that the designers, director and actors can pull everything they need out of the words. With my screenplays, I’m always looking for a way to tell the story visually. Once I find an image structure that matches the emotional content, I know I’m on the right track. For me, novels are hard work because they require everything to be described on the page. I constantly struggle to find kinetic ways to create a world as vital to the reader as it is to me. When I first started writing the Longlight Trilogy, I thought it would only be one book. About a third of the way into The Dirt Eaters, I realized I needed two more books to tell the tale — it’s a lot of detailed work to create a dystopia!

What sort of response have you had to your plays outside of Canada?

My plays are constantly performed south of the border; I’m told New Canadian Kid is one of the most produced plays in Canadian history. Liars and War are currently in rep in some German theatres. Overall, the plays have been seen throughout Europe and Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the UK.

Thank you, Dennis, for answering our questions!

Kate Abrams is a freelance dramaturge and editor based in Toronto.

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Classroom Activity: Storytelling Through Drama

by Sandra O’Brien

Storytelling through drama can be a fun and enriching experience for students. Teachers can introduce the conventions of mime, movement, soundscapes, tableau, choral reading and chanting to bring stories to life for young students. Teachers without a lot of experience teaching drama will find Irene N. Watts’s books Munsch at Play: Eight Stage Adaptations for Young Performers and Munsch at Play, Act 2: Eight More Stage Adaptations — great resources to introduce drama to their students.

I would recommend teachers read the Munsch stories, included in Watts’s books, aloud to their students and then choose which stories the students would like to bring to life in the classroom. Watts has provided notes about the cast, staging, set design and props & costumes at the beginning of each script, but encourages students and teachers to be creative and innovative in their adaptations. Watts introduces mime and movement as alternatives to designed set pieces, allows for plays to be performed by large or small groups, suggests that narration can be performed by one or many narrators and that plays can be performed in any location. She uses sound and silence to enhance the productions and provides opportunities for arts, crafts, stage design and costuming.

Once teachers and students have attempted a few of the plays in these books, they can then move on to creating similar scripts and productions for other picture books they enjoy reading.

Sandra O’Brien, a former teacher, is the Interim Program Coordinator at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

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News from our Friends

  • Shakespeare in Action’s TD Shakespeare for Kids Library Club is a FREE readers’ theatre program for children ages 7-12.

    Led by professional actors and educators, kids explore plays like Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest — worlds of ghosts, magic, silly mix-ups and swordplay in some of the greatest stories ever told! Kids read aloud, play drama games, build confidence and make friends with other Shakespeare fans.

    The program runs for 6 consecutive Saturdays at 10 Toronto Public Library branches. The Spring session begins Saturday, April 11, 2015. Parents and guardians, click here for the list of participating branches and register in person at your chosen location.

  • Shakespeare in Action’s Summer Camp for Kids (ages 7-12; 2 weeks) and Young Company for Teens (ages 13-17; 4 weeks) return this July! It’s an opportunity for youth to work with professional actors; learn performance skills; design sets, costumes and props; and step into the spotlight for their own Shakespeare show! For more information, click on the program names above.
  • From the organizers of the 14th World Festival of Children’s Theatre: You are invited to participate in the upcoming Play! A Symposium, June 4 – 6, 2016 in Stratford, Ontario. This two day event will effectively begin the International Amateur Theatre Association’s (AITA/IATA) 14th World Festival of Children’s Theatre, to be held for the first time in North America in scenic Stratford, Ontario, from June 5 – 14, 2016. Organizers expect Play! A Symposium to be a dynamic and thought provoking launch for the overall Festival.

    You can find the Call for Proposals here. As it outlines, organizers are interested in any form of presentation to do with Play!. While organizers will of course accept academic proposals, they are also eager to entertain other forms of presentations, as they believe the theme of Play! is evocative, exciting and rich in possibilities. The deadline for proposals to be received is May 1, 2015.

    Please do not hesitate to contact Pat Quigley and Glenys McQueen-Fuentes, symposium Co-Chairs at with questions.

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Illustrator’s Studio: Elise Gravel

by Stephanie Dror

This month we interview Montreal born author/illustrator Elise Gravel. Elise was popular in kindergarten because she could draw princesses, she was popular in high school because she could draw prince charming, and now she is popular because she draws all manner of quirky lovable characters that entertain while also teaching the child reader that everyone and every creature is different and that’s a beautiful thing. The creator of the Disgusting Critters non-fiction series and winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration for La clé à molette, Elise writes in both English and French and her books have been translated into many languages making her one of Canada’s internationally acclaimed artists. Here is what she had to say to us:

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a children’s book illustrator.

I always loved to draw! I studied graphic design, and the classes I liked best were the illustration classes. When I got out of school, I didn’t have many clients, and no experience. I decided to develop my illustration style by creating a series of ad posters for fake clients with silly products. For example, one of those ads was for shaving cream for cacti, another for a beauty kit for flies. When I had about 20, I sent them to a publisher, and it became my first book! After that, I was hooked.

Elise, you illustrate all manner of picture books for children, from your series of non-fiction about gross creatures to your most whimsical works in both English and French like La clé à molette and Adopt a Glurb. What draws you to this variety of projects?

Because I need to keep exploring new territories. I get bored easily. Also, I have so many ideas! Only about one-tenth of my ideas end up becoming books.

Though your books don’t often have a lot of text in them, you create books in both English and French and have won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration in French. Could you speak to this honour and what inspires a story to be rendered in one language or the other, or both?

I write mainly in French, which is my first language. My English is not as good, but I’m practicing a lot, thanks to my English-speaking husband. When I won the Governor General’s Award, English-speaking publishers and editors noticed me, and I started writing books in English as well. Some of my books I’m told are very French; some are more universal. I like it that way, and it doubles my work opportunities.

Your illustration style is very unique, packed full of colour, the weird and the wonderful. Can you talk about your way of illustrating stories and how it came about? Would you share some of your inspiration and method with us?

First of all, I love to read! I read all the time. I also love to look at other people’s art. All those stories and images mingle in my brain, and then, they have babies! It’s very important for me to keep up to date about new styles. When I come across an image I like, I put it on my wall, so I keep seeing it when I need inspiration.

Another thing that helps with inspiration is to draw all the time. Even when I don’t feel like it, or when I don’t have any ideas. I just doodle, and sometimes, a funny idea will emerge. I allow myself to make bad drawings or to have bad ideas, and to make mistakes often. That’s how artists evolve and learn.

I draw most of my illustrations on a graphic tablet on the computer, because it goes faster and I’m a bit lazy.

Elise’s workspace. Click to enlarge.

How do you imagine that your illustrations, apart from or with their texts, might be used in the classroom? Do you have any suggestions for teachers or parents to engage kids with illustration?

Kids could use my Disgusting Critters series and write and illustrate their own funny documentary about some gross animal or insect! My style is very simple and easy to imitate, and the kids would learn about biology and science while having fun creating characters and jokes.

What projects are you working on now? Anything you are particularly excited about?

I’m working on 8 new books in English for HarperCollins in the United States. It’s a lot of work, and it’s very, very exciting! My first book will be the story of a little girl who wants to adopt a pet monster.

Thank you so much Elise, for your time and your answers!

Photo courtesy of Elise Gravel.

Stephanie Dror has a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature. She is the Membership Secretary for IBBY Canada, a founder and blogger at The Book Wars and a book reviewer for CM: Canadian Review of Materials and The Ottawa Review of Books.

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Coming Soon: Spring 2015 Canadian Children’s Book News

In the Spring 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News: First Nations, Métis and Inuit Writing and Publishing

In recognition of the TD Canadian Children’s Book Week and its theme “Hear Our Stories: Celebrating First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature,” this issue will explore several facets of this vibrant part of children’s literature.

This issue will also include:

  • a profile of graphic artist David Alexander Robertson
  • Who is publishing First Nations, Métis, Inuit stories? a look at the publishers and the market for these exciting new voices and stories
  • a personal reflection by David Bouchard

Plus a summer sports book list in preparation for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, a chat with first-time Book Week authors and our regular news and review columns.

The Winter 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News is currently available for purchase at select bookstores or in our online store.

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Next Month…

Our April newsletter will be all about TD Canadian Children’s Book Week. Please contact us if you have any questions or feedback — we would love to hear from you!