December 14, 2018

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein

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Well, here's a post that is well overdue . . .

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, published by Tundra Books and illustrated by the amazing Júlia Sardà, has been out in the world for some months now . . . and getting a wonderful reception. Here are some of the ways the book has been honoured:

* Starred reviews in Publishers' Weekly and Booklist
* Best Books of 2018, Publishers' Weekly
* Best Books of 2018, New York Public Library
* Best Books of 2018, Globe & Mail
* Best Youth Picture Book of the Year, Booklist
* Betsy Bird's 2018 Calde-notts, Fuse 8, School Library Journal

I'm thrilled beyond words by all this.

Just a bit of back story. As with most of my books, this one had a long gestation period. I started writing it (just checked!) back in 2009. It began with a reading of Frankenstein and especially with a reading of Mary Shelley's short Author's Introduction to the book. That introduction amazed me. I was particularly hooked by two things: Mary's childhood and adolescence as a daydreamer and her writing process during the creation of Frankenstein. I was interested in Mary-the-writer, and her childhood habit of building "castles in the air" seemed to be key to her creative process as an adult.

I started to read more about Mary's life. Wonderful bios for adults have been written in recent years, and I began to wonder if I could write Mary's story for kids. I poked along slowly, and it was years before I handed the manuscript over to my editor at Tundra Books — Tara Walker. It was Tara who brought Júlia Sardà in to illustrate, and it was Tara who brought my text and Júlia's stunning art together to create the final book. Tara also chose 2018 — the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein — as the year to publish Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein.

And now? I'm delighted with the results and so pleased that we can bring Mary's story to a whole new audience of young dreamers and writers.

August 20, 2018

TINY HERO is a Nominee!

I'm delighted to announce that The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library has become an award nominee — several times over, and in both Canada and the U.S.!

It's currently nominated for the following fantastic children's choice reading awards:

•  The 2019 Sequoyah Book Award of Oklahoma (Oklahoma Library Association)
•  The 2018-19 B.C. Red Cedar Award (British Columbia)
•  The 2019 Rocky Mountain Book Awards (Alberta)

All three lists are filled with wonderful middle-grade novels. Happy reading to all the lucky kids who will participate!

P.S.  The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library is also a 2018 Canada-wide TD Summer Reading Club  Choice.

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April 18, 2018

Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt!

I am SO happy to announce the return of the Binkerton kids!

A few years back, Bill Slavin and I and Kids Can Press created an innovative book series about three time-traveling siblings that was . . . well . . . before its time. We called the books comic-book histories — but only because the term "graphic novel" was not yet in widespread use. The books combined a humorous adventure story with non-fiction info, and kids who found them LOVED them! But filed away on separate history shelves, they weren't always easy to find . . .

Fast-forward to 2018! I'm delighted to announce the Binkertons' return in a new, kid-friendly, soft-cover, graphic-novel format — updated, improved and expanded! Here's what they look like inside. Fiction on top, non-fiction below:

And here's some of the all-new, extra material at the back. (So much fun for me to revisit this ancient world.)

So welcome back to Josh, Emma and Libby Binkerton! I MISSED YOU GUYS! Thanks, Kids Can Press!

P.S. Coming soon — Stowing Away with the Vikings and On the Run in Ancient China.

January 19, 2018

The Perogy Party!

What could possibly be more amazingly, comfortingly, cheesily delicious  than a few hundred hand-made perogies?

The photo above shows me and my sisters — Debbie (centre) and Wendy (right), just a few weeks ago in Vancouver. My year-end holidays this year were extra-exciting — with a wedding! My daughter Tess got married on New Year's eve to Lucas. It was a brilliant wedding, and everyone was thrilled!!!

Not least, if I do say so myself, by the bowls of home-made perogies. My family had gathered, and as part of the celebrations, we decided to go back to our Polish-Ukrainian prairie immigrant origins — and make perogies. Lots of them. From scratch. With our hands.

So one rainy Saturday in Vancouver, my sisters, my daughters, my nieces, my grand-niece and I — and one very brave niece's boyfriend — gathered around a giant bowl of dough and an even more gigantic bowl of cheesy-potatoes, and proceeded with the extreeeemely labour-intensive job of making perogies.

Our efforts were hampered at first by the fact that most of our labour force were rank amateurs. Luckily, they were quick learners. It only took an hour or two — okay, three — to hand-make all the perogies you see in the top photo. And since you ask . . . YES, they were amazing! And YES, they were the hit of the wedding. 

Why am I reporting all this on my blog? Because there could be a book in it. Hasn't been done, right? I don't know a single book anywhere about a perogy party.

Okay then. It's January. Less eating. More writing. Enough said.

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September 22, 2017

Welcome to Under-the-Bed Fred!

Welcome to Under-the-Bed Fred — a new chapter book for early grades!

From the moment I started to write this book, I felt I knew Fred well. Why? Because the story is so rooted in my own childhood fears of that "thing" that lurks under the bed, inside the closet or behind the furnace in the basement. For me, the "thing" was a shape-shifter, but it usually manifested as a wild animal — lion, tiger, wolf. If pressed to explain how such a creature could have ended up under my bed, I would have had a ready answer. The Winnipeg Zoo. Obviously! I had been there. I had seen the animals. Clearly, this one must have escaped.

Well, that was then. And now, after all these years . . . here's Fred, turning up in a book. He's the "thing" that hides under Leo's bed. And Leo, like me, is obliged to leap from his bedroom door into bed to avoid getting his ankles grabbed. Once there, he doesn't dare dangle an arm over the side. Nor can he get up to pee at night.

But unlike my young self, Leo tackles his problem head-on. "Hey, you!" he eventually says. And so the conversation starts . . . and with it, one of those odd-couple relationships that are such fun to write. Leo has things to teach Fred. Fred has things to teach Leo.

It's about friendship. The first in a series.

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May 1, 2017

Two New Books for Spring, 2017! YAAAY!

Carson Crosses Canada is a brand new sesquicentennial book. Happy 150th birthday, Canada!
Carson the dog and his friend-and-driver Annie Magruder take a cross-country trip across Canada. From Tofino, BC to Witless Bay, Newfoundland, they drive coast-to-coast to visit Annie’s ailing sister Elsie. “Are we there yet?” barks Carson. Along the way, they see, hear, smell, touch and taste the grandest land of all — Canada! From dinosaurs in Alberta to tourtiere in Quebec to tidal flats in New Brunswick, Annie and Carson enjoy every moment. And at the end? A wonderful surprise for Carson! Stunningly illustrated by Kass Reich, published by Tundra Books, this book will arrive in bookstores on May 30.

The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library is the story of a very small character with a very big heart. Eddie is a bug who lives in Room 19 of Ferny Creek Elementary School with his parents, his Aunt Min and his 53 brothers and sisters. Unusually for a bug, he has learned to read. So when Aunt Min disappears in the Library, Eddie bravely sets off to find her — a perilous journey! Along the way, there are gigantic big-footed Squishers (humans) who could squish a bug in two seconds flat. When Eddie finally arrives at the Library, he finds his poor aunt injured. Even worse, a nasty plan is afoot to close the Library forever. What can one tiny book-loving bug do? Published by Greenwillow Press in the U.S. and Tundra Books in Canada and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson, Tiny Hero will be available in bookstores June 20.

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February 25, 2017

Exciting Nominations for 2017!

So proud to have books nominated for these wonderful 2017 Canadian readers' choice awards: 

Ontario Blue Spruce Award: Stanley at School

Saskatchewan Shining Willow Award:
  • When Santa Was a Baby
  • If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur

BC Chocolate Lily Award (picture books):
  • When Santa Was a Baby
  • Stanley at School

In the novel category, Seven Dead Pirates has been nominated across Canada (and beyond) for the following awards:
  • BC Red Cedar Award
  • Ontario Silver Birch Award
  • Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award
  • Atlantic Provinces Hackmatack Award
  • Saskatchewan Diamond Willow Award
  • Alberta Rocky Mountain Book Award
  • BC Chocolate Lily Award
  • Maine Student Book Award

Many thanks to all the organizers, and happy reading to participants!

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June 1, 2016

A Springtime of Good Fortune

Oh, wow! I have had such a wonderful spring. The children’s choice awards across Canada are always amazing, and this year some of my books have been fortunate enough to be voted by Canadian kids as their favourite.
I’m delighted to announce that If Kids Ruled the World has won the Saskatchewan Shining Willow Award. Here's a photo of the beautiful “willow tree" that now sits proudly on top of my bookcase. Huge thanks to all those young readers in Saskatchewan . . .

Thank you, Blue Spruce peeps,
 from both of us!

Adding to the excitement, a few days later If Kids Ruled the World won the Ontario Blue Spruce Award. Illustrator David Huyck and I were lucky enough to both be in Toronto for the announcement. This was the first time we’ve ever met. What a complete sweetie! (He’s every bit as friendly as he looks.)

Good luck must really come in threes because soon afterwards I learned that If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur won the BC Chocolate Lily Award. Chocolate Lily readers, thank you so much for your votes.
And now I will just sink back in my flowered chair and pinch myself a few times. This has been one terrific spring. Thanks to all!

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November 2, 2015

Stanley at School Trailer

Stanley is back — and this time he’s going to school. Check out this trailer of Stanley at  School to find out what happens when Stanley and his pals sneak into a local school. One thing’s for certain: Stanley + School = TROUBLE! Enjoy this preview of the sixth book in the Stanley series.

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September 13, 2015

Yes, really, a haunted castle . . .

This week I'm getting ready for two wonderful Canadian fall literary festivals — Thin Air in Winnipeg and Wordfest in Calgary. I'll be talking to kids at both about my new book, Seven Dead Pirates.

Kids love to hear where you got your ideas. As Seven Dead Pirates is a ghost story, I have decided to tell them the true story of — cue creepy organ music — my night in a haunted castle.

It happened long ago when I was backpacking in Europe with my friend Gloria and staying in youth hostels. Most hostels at the time were neglected historical buildings, converted as spartanly as possible into bleak-but-cheap accommodations.  My friend Gloria and I searched them out as we hitchhiked around northern Ireland.

One evening at dusk, we were dropped at a castle-turned-hostel. It was located in remote countryside. A sign on the door directed us down the road to the caretaker, a surprised-looking woman (late March was early for hostelers) who grabbed her keys and walked us back to the castle. Amazingly, I still have a photo, taken the next day.

The caretaker led us into the Great Hall — empty except for an enormous walk-in fireplace with a laminated card on the mantle. It said "Castle History." As there was no electricity, we read it by . . . er . . . gaslight? Yes, gaslight. It lit an area less than an arm's length from the source. Huddling together, Gloria and I read that the castle had had a long, tragic history of violent deaths, bizarre sightings and eerie sounds which had naturally (unnaturally?) earned it a reputation for being haunted. The card concluded with a suspiciously cheerful attempt to reassure would-be guests. Unusual sights and sounds, it said, were "probably just due to the bats in the tower."

"Well then," said the caretaker. "I'm off! Here are your candles. Ta ra!" And she was gone.

In that moment, Gloria and I understood two things: (1) we were alone in a haunted castle (at least, we hoped we were alone), and (2) we had no choice but to stay overnight. Eventually, we crept up the stairs with our candlesticks and found our way to a room containing a dozen empty bunkbeds. Claiming the two closest to the door, we slunk into our sleeping bags. And then, like your favourite hackneyed gothic movie in which things can only get worse . . . they did. A clap of thunder shook the stone walls. Gloria and I looked each other in the eye, as best we could by candlelight. Really? Was this literally going to be a Dark and Stormy Night in a Haunted Castle?

In fact . . . yes. It was. Cue sound effects. Thunder crashed. Lightning flashed. Rain lashed. Winds shrieked. We did not, I am now sorry to say, see or hear a ghost. But the main point is this — we must have believed that there could be ghosts. Because neither of us slept. At. All.

And I will tell the kids when they ask in Winnipeg and Calgary that although I did not meet a ghost that night, I did learn what it felt like to be afraid of a ghost.

And yes, I put that fear in my novel.

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September 9, 2015

Three New Fall Books (the Math!)

I've been writing kids' books now for decades — and they generally come out one a year at best. But this fall, for the first time, I have three new books coming out all at once. See below — three! I'm a little gobsmacked.

Other people are as surprised as I am. A few have said things like, "Whoa, you've been busy." Well, yes . . . but no. These books are all being published this year. As for how long I've been writing them, that's a different story. I checked my files:

Stanley at School — started 7 years ago
When Santa Was a Baby — started 11 years ago
Seven Dead Pirates — started 18 years ago

Add it up. It comes to . . . 36 years! That's not cumulative time, of course, but even so — none of these books exactly tripped off my pen. Most of that time they spent in a computer file labeled "VAULT."  I call it that to remind myself of its value because on the surface, it doesn't look like much. A scrap heap. Messy files, half-baked ideas, semi-abandoned projects.

But that's the thing about writing . . . you never know. Some faint spark might, years later, finally strike and blaze. The 17th draft of that execrable little story might turn out to be . . . the one. And meanwhile, there's the slow, steady polishing.

My three shiny new books all put in time in the scrap heap (VAULT!) of a working writer. Eventually, they found their way to the surface. And from that, two simple thoughts emerge to sustain me in the inevitable years of no-books:

1. Don't be in a hurry.
2. Don't throw anything out.


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