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Immersed in Student Writing

A stage full of awesome authors at the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors Award Ceremony this week.

This Tuesday, I had the pleasure of calling the names of twelve young writers whose short fiction won places in the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors Contest. What a pleasure to be one of this year’s judges and to read excerpts from the fantastic mix of winning stories: humour, drama, sci-fi, horror, and sad, sad contemporary realism. What talented young writers.

I’ve been immersed in student writing this season. One of my favourite school visits was at my local junior high, Symmes-D’Arcy, where I spent four days with Secondary I (grade 7) English classes working on short stories. With funding from Quebec’s Culture in the Schools Program, I visited three English classes for two days in February, giving workshops on character, setting, and plot development. I left the students to work on their stories under the guidance of their fabulous teacher, Alex Peach, before I took all the draft stories home to read over March Break. I returned to the classes for another two days in March, to talk about critiquing and revision, and to meet with each student for one-on-one feedback.

One of the heartwarming thank-you letters I received from Symmes Jr High School students whose classes I visited this winter.

What a treat! I’m used to visiting schools to give one-day presentations or writing workshops, so it was a special opportunity to spend several classes with the same groups of students, to watch them begin with blank pages and basic ideas and work up to polished pieces of writing. An intense and inspiring experience for me.

And what fabulous stories I got to read! I’m always amazed at the sheer variety of creative writing a small group of students can develop in a short time. Mystery, memoir, romance, realism, stories that moved my heart and stories that made me laugh. All those kids creating worlds that didn’t exist before they wrote them. It’s magical.

What a treat to speak to Bishop’s  History of Children’s Literature class.

Another standout for me this month was a visit to Bishops University to speak to students in Professor Heather Davis’s History of Children’s Literature course. (My first children’s novel, Walking Backwardpublished in 2009 with Orca Book Publishers, was on the course reading list.) I’ve spoken to elementary, secondary, and CEGEP classes who’d studied my books before, but this was my first university-level visit. It was awesome!

University classrooms are way more technologically advanced than back in my day. It was cool just to be there. The students were wonderful — it’s inspiring to be around so many bright young minds. It was an honour to share my writing experiences with them and to hear their thoughts about my book, children’s books, and the creative process. I expect to read some of their books some day soon.

I have a few secondary school visits coming up next month, where I’ll get to meet even more students, and hopefully read some of their writing. It’s one of the greatest parts of being an author — visiting classes and being around young readers. It always makes me want to write more books.

And that’s what I’m off to do now. Happy Friday.

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The Art of Story: SCBWI Canada East Conference

SCBWI Canada East banner, artwork by Farida Zaman

I always look forward to my regional SCBWI conference. This year it’s especially exciting because I’ll be giving a workshop myself. My topic: revision.

I used to dread revisions. I loved drafting; I loved polishing; but I loathed the grunt work in between the two.

I spent the past year revising a middle-grade animal adventure novel, transforming it from something cute and fun into something with heart and soul. This novel taught me to love revision. It’s not all grunt work. It’s discovery and revelation. And it’s what I’m most looking forward to in my next work.

I can’t wait to pass on my newfound love and all I’ve learned about revision to the SCBWI Canada East conference-goers.

Art of Story illustration by Alice Carter

If you can’t face the topic of revision–or if you yearn for revision and so much more–you’ll want to check out the full lineup of workshops and presentations at the Art of Story conference. There are workshops hosted by editors, agents, authors, and illustrators, with topics ranging from craft to marketing. There’s a first-page critique session open to everyone, plus one-on-one manuscript critiques for those who register early. There’s even a party to kick it all off.

Check out the full conference schedule and the speaker lineup on the SCBWI Canada East website.

If you are a Canadian children’s writer, established or aspiring, come join us in Ottawa from April 27-29, to hone your craft, have some fun, and feel the love of the Canadian kidlit community.

Hope to see you at the Art of Story.

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Awesome Young Authors in Ottawa

Yes, it’s on! The Ottawa Public Library is holding its annual Awesome Authors Contest for youth aged 9-17. If you’re a young person in Ottawa with something to say, get to work on saying it well.

(BTW, the 9-year-olds don’t have to compete with the high-schoolers. The contest is divided into three age categories: 9-11; 12-14; and 15-17. For each age division, there are fiction, poetry, and graphic storytelling categories in both French and English.)

The contest opened on December 1st, so there are bound to be young people already halfway through their second revision. But don’t worry. There’s lots of time to catch up. The contest is open till February 19, 2018.

There will be prizes for first, second, and third place (and up to 3 honorary mentions) in each genre in each age division. Every one of the winning pieces will be published in this year’s Pot-pourri anthology. (See my recent blog post for information on last year’s Pot-pourri.)

There are many rules to follow (no 8,000-word stories, please!), and specific requirements to enter. Be sure to check out the details on the OPL’s Awesome Authors webpage.

If you need a little help getting started or finishing up, come out to one of the Awesome Author writing workshops being held this month and next, led by the contest judges (including me):

Writing workshops for ages 9-12:

Writing Workshops for ages 13-17:

Hope to see you there!

 

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Good Reading

Me proudly reading this year’s Pot-Pourri anthology

I just received my copies of the latest Pot-Pourri — that’s the annual volume of youth writing published by the Friends of the Ottawa Public Library Association (FOPLA). This lovely book contains all the winning poems and stories from last year’s Awesome Authors Contest, a youth writing competition held every winter by the Ottawa Public Library.

There’s a lot of good reading in this one slim volume. Some of the pieces are so moving and marvellous — funny, sad, fascinating — they rise above any age expectations you might have. I’ve read all the English pieces several times, and I’m still amazed at how talented their young authors are.

I had the good fortune of editing the English half of this year’s collection. I was one of several judges of the contest last winter, and as I was reading the entries all those months ago, knowing there would be some excellent pieces in the final book, I thought, “I hope I get to edit these.” And I did. And now I have the book in hand, and I’m so proud to have been part of it.

Some recent Pot-Pourri covers, all designed by student artists

You can buy a copy of the 2017 Pot-pourri directly from the FOPLA website for $15 Cdn. (You can buy all the previous years’ anthologies, too, for a mere five bucks apiece.)

You can learn more about the Awesome Authors Contest and last year’s winners here on the FOPLA website or here on the spring OPL news release.

If you’re a young writer in the Ottawa area and you’d like to see your work in this anthology one day, it’s time to sharpen your pencils. The 2018 Awesome Authors Contest will be starting this month — I’ll keep you posted on workshops and deadlines once the contest officially opens. You’ll have lots of time to get your very best poems and stories ready. They might end up in a beautiful new edition of Pot-Pourri next fall.

In the meantime, enjoy reading this year’s collection.

That’s all from me for this Friday. Have a great weekend.

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The Squirrels are Coming!

Mwa ha ha. Making plans for winter.

Wonderful news: When the Squirrels Stole my Sister, my upcoming picture book with Fitzhenry & Whiteside, is going to be illustrated by Patricia Storms. 🙂

Patricia is an accomplished author/illustrator well-known in the Canadian kidlit scene. Her illustrations range from super-adorable to just-a-little-creepy (intentionally so, of course!) — which makes it totally exciting to know that she’ll be bringing my story to life, because I have no idea what kind of pictures she’ll create to do it.

Will my clever little squirrels be diabolically drawn? Or will their cunning natures be hidden behind sweet furry faces with just a glint in the eye? I can’t wait to find out.

But wait I will have to, because it takes a while to illustrate a book. I don’t have a firm publication date just yet, but it’s in the works. (A little girl with a big bag of peanuts has no idea what’s coming.) I’ll announce more here as the book develops.

In the meantime, check out the recently published books in Fitzhenry & Whiteside’s Fall 2017 catalogue.

And check out this week’s CBC radio stories about a baby squirrel rescue and a red squirrel study. Or just step outside, if you live most anywhere other than the poles, and you can probably find a busy squirrel to study yourself. They are certainly active this time of year, making their plans for winter….

For now, here’s an assortment of Patricia’s book covers: Never Let You Go, written and illustrated by Patricia Storms (Scholastic); The Pirate and the Penguin, written and illustrated by Patricia Storms (Owlkids Books); and 13 Ghosts of Halloween, written by Robin Muller and illustrated by Patricia Storms (Scholastic):

Adorable.

Cute

Just a little creepy

 

 

 

 

 

Not much just chillin’

That’s all from me for this Friday.

(I write that as if I’d blogged last Friday instead of, oh, two months ago. I always intend to write again the following week but alas, I’ve been busy with my amateur squirrel studies. I’ll try to pop in a bit more often, and maybe even write a fable.)

Have a great weekend.

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My Latest Story (Not for Children)

My latest short story, “Mr. Boots,” has just come out in the Summer 2017 issue of The Fiddlehead. (Yes, that’s me peeking inside the magazine at left, and yes, I could use some eye drops and a mascara wand. What can I say? I’ve been up late writing.)

The Fiddlehead is one of Canada’s most esteemed and longstanding literary journals. It’s an honour to have my writing in its pages.

I wrote short fiction for adults back in my twenties, but I stopped writing in that form for a long while and only recently resumed. I’ve had a couple of pieces published online and in anthologies in the past few years, but this is my first lit-mag publication since, oh, the twentieth century. It feels good to be back.

“Mr. Boots” is not for children (though it has a child protagonist) and it’s not comedic. To people who only know my children’s novels, it may seem out of character. But it’s actually a return to my roots.

The full cover, without the red eye.

I have not stopped writing for children. In fact, I’m in the thick of a new children’s novel, and I just received a grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec to finish it. More on that in posts to come.

For now, check out “Mr. Boots” and all the other great stories and poems in this gorgeous issue. Visit The Fiddlehead website to order a single copy or a year’s subscription.

Have a great weekend.

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Friday Faves–Books I Read and Loved this Spring

I updated my Goodreads account this afternoon, adding a dozen or so titles that I read and loved this spring. If you’re looking for a summer read, here are a few of my recent faves.

Picture Books

Once I Ate a Pie

Written by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest; illustrated by Katy Schneider (HarperCollins, 2006)

“Every dog has a tail to wag and a tale to tell.”

My new favourite picture book. (It was published ten years ago, but it took me a while to discover it.) It has completely captured my heart, and made me feel just a bit more connected with my dog. Gorgeous images, beautiful words.

 

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

Written by Margriet Ruurs; illustrated by Nizar Badr (Orca Book Publishers, 2016)

“This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs.”

An extraordinary book, the making of which is almost as interesting as the final product. So worth buying, especially since a portion of the cover price goes to refugee settlement organizations. Just beautiful–the stone illustrations will astound you.

 

Middle Grade Novels

The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children

Written by Keith McGowan; read by Laural Merlington (Brilliance Audio, 2009)

“A contemporary recasting of Hansel and Gretel.”

I listened to the audiobook while cooking (not with children) and it completely charmed me. So many funny lines, such engaging characters–it’s a great story to cook to.

 

The Girl who Drank the Moon

By Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers, 2016)

“Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest.” 

Kelly Barnhill is my new favourite children’s author. All of her books are wonderfully written stories that sing. This one has some sinister characters and high stakes.

 

Adult and Young Adult Novels

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press, 2011)

“It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races.”

I love Sean and Puck (and Corr–oh how I love Corr, the water horse), and I feel as if they’re still out there in their world, continuing the lives I got a glimpse of in this wonderful book. It took me a while to get hooked, but then it reeled me right in.

 

The Humans

By Matt Haig (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

“A funny, compulsively readable novel about alien abduction, mathematics, and that most interesting subject of all: ourselves.”

One of those books you’ll have to buy five times because you keep giving copies to your friends and telling them they just have to read it. I loved this book and I want all good things to come to this author.

 

Non-Fiction

Extreme Birds

By Dominic Couzens (Firefly Books, 2008)

“A photographic showcase of 150 birds at the extremes of nature.”

Gorgeous, fascinating, entertaining. This great big book captured the awe-inspiring diversity of nature and reminded me what a wonderful world we get to live in.

 

The Boy who was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook

By Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz (Basic Books, 2007)

“What happens when a young brain is traumatized?”

A compassionately-written account of several stories of traumatized children this psychiatrist has worked with. Not depressing despite some very sad cases. A fascinating look at how genetic tendencies and early experiences interact and how we can improve or worsen the consequences.

 

If you’re looking for your next good read, try one of these or check out more of my faves on Goodreads.

Now I’m onto summer reading! (Feel free to leave a recommendation. My TBR pile is only a few feet high.)

Have a great weekend.

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