September 22, 2017

Welcome to Under-the-Bed Fred!

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

From the moment I started to write this book, I felt that I knew Fred well. Why? Because the story is so firmly rooted in my own childhood fears of that "thing" that hides under beds, peeks out of closets, and lurks behind furnaces in the basement. For me, the "thing" was a shape-shifter, but it usually manifested as some kind of 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, stealthily finding its way to my house and sneaking in through the old coal chute.

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 all those years ago, is obliged to leap from his bedroom door into bed to avoid getting his ankles grabbed. He doesn't dare dangle an arm over the side of his bed. Nor can he get up to pee at night.

But unlike the youthful Linda, Leo tackles his problem head-on. "Hey, you!" he eventually says to the monster. And so the conversation starts . . . and with it, one of those symbiotic 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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