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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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A Celebration of Reading

My home town, Gatineau, is one of this year’s hosts of Canada’s largest festival of reading. We’re an official “Reading Town” this month, with events and presentations that come to a close tomorrow. It’s all part of the National Reading Campaign’s mission to make reading a national priority.

I’m doing my bit to celebrate. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be at the Mill Road Community Space in Chelsea (just a few kilometres from home), speaking with readers of all ages about reading and writing and how they go together so well.

There’s a full day planned with authors, musicians, and other creative people from the region. So, since it promises to be a rainy weekend — and reading is a great activity for rainy days as well as sunny beaches — come on out and say hello if you’re in the area.

Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

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Judging Books by their Covers

While browsing my online library catalogue, this book caught my eye:

It captured me not because of its great reviews but because I could have sworn it was in my TBR pile with a different name. I searched through the pile and found this:

Ah yes. Not quite the same book. Extremely similar cover, completely different book.

Apparently, this happens every now and then. Sometimes in a worse way:

Sheesh. They didn’t even change the kid’s clothes on that one.  (Check out this Huffington Post article for more examples.)

(A word to designers here: if you’re buying usage rights to images that other people can buy usage rights for, maybe fiddle with the image a tad. By Gaslight is a wild re-envisioning in comparison with Long Drive Home.)

How do you feel when a new book comes out that has almost the same cover as your still-quite-recent book? Amused? Annoyed? Delighted? Honoured? (I’m thinking annoyed.)

But maybe a similar cover is an advantage, so long as the contents are good. Humans like the familiar, after all. And even a duplicate cover won’t lose a book any fans if the contents are awesome. Mockingbird and Long Drive Home are a perfect example of that. (Still, both were reprinted with new, not-as-good-but-at-least-unique covers:)

 

Todd Babiak’s Come Barbarians was published in 2013 with HarperCollins. Steven Price’s By Gaslight was published in 2016 by McClelland & Stewart. Both have had great reviews. And they’re both fine-looking books. By Gaslight was in fact voted a Best Cover of 2016 (annoying the Come Barbarians designer, I’m sure).

I confess that I bought Come Barbarians because of the cool cover. It’s that attractive. In both versions. I wouldn’t change it if I was either one of them.

In fact, I’m thinking the foggy green cobblestone street is good for at least one more novel. Change the coat to a cape and add a  wizard in a window, and it would be perfect for a thrilling fantasy. Any takers?

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