last day: Book Week in Ontario

Kapuskasing. A magical word to me as a child. Where my Mom was from. Where there was Family. Great Grand-Mere. Great Aunts and Uncles. Twelve of them. And cousins and cousins and cousins.

It meant so much for me to be there. My cousin met me at the airport (after a 14-seater plane ride! with ROARING engine) and in the morning (frosty!!) we went to the school. Right by the front door was an AMAZING display of visuals from The Cul-de-Sac Kids! (And funny: someone had placed a training-wheels bike right next to it, which connected completely with my presentation!)

For lunch, the teachers had a pot-luck. And I had a conversation with a music teacher about…what else…arts careers! and how to sustain them..seems to have become a theme of the week: follow your passion and it will work. Had the same conversation with the newspaper reporter who came to interview me after the second presentation of the day. The students–two groups of grades 1-4 and 5-8–were terrific, with more Good Questions.

And to close the day, a trip to the local branch of the TD Bank! Who makes it all happen. So we had a quick read.

Magic happens in many forms. Often, money has nothing to do with creating magic. And other times, money has so much to do with it! If you know me, you know that I’m a hippie who doesn’t think well of the directions that business ethics often take. So when I acknowledge and say huge positives about an organization or business, it’s Big Stuff for me. So here: Thank you, thank you TD Canada Trust for what you do for children’s literacy, literature and book and story creators in this country! Thank you for a most magical week.

And thank you to CCBC–the Canadian Children’s Book Centre–and Monica Winkler, for administering and organizing, Canada Council (funding readings for public), and also all of the teachers and librarians who volunteer to organize on their ends. And Niki, driver- extraordinaire! And my cousins, Lorraine, Pauline, and Gaby, for driving me to presentations.

And all the young folks who listen, ask, learn, READ, and write! Keep on rocking in a free world!

Thursday, May 10 the adventure continues

Had terrific fun with grades 1 and 2, talking up more “Funny Writing” and then grades 3 and 4 “Re-VISION-ing.”

And sold every book I carried in the doors. And left a few unhappy that there weren’t any left! PLEASE go to your local bookstore and ask for THE CUL-DE-SAC KIDS. And you can let them know the ISBN.  That’s the little International Book Number on the back of the book by the funny little barcodey thing: 9781896580999. It MAKES MY DAY when someone goes to a bookstore and ORDERS the book (because then the folks who own the bookstore know my book is out there…THANKS!)

Any school with a picture like THIS in the office has to be a good place… Thanks for a great morning, K-W Bilingual School (Kitchener)!

They’re HERE…and I’m going there…

Yeah! I picked up 76 copies of The Cul-de-Sac Kids from Tradewind Books on Granville Island last Friday. Emmett and a friend and I were heading down to Science World, in keeping with our “Field Trip Fridays” thing (saw a wonderful movie on the BC part of the Canadian Railway!) and stopped in. I carried the box from the office to the van–and realized this is not good for my ageing back! Had to plop them in the car and reward myself by going to get some of that amazing Turkish Delight from the wee candy place in the Island market. (Or, as my middle son used to say, “Tuggish Delight”–when reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

So here they are:






And yesterday I hit the local thrift shop to find myself a suitcase ON WHEELS. After all, there’s only so much Turkish Delight I can reward myself with…

Airing it out on the deck…








Now off to Ottawa, Toronto, St. Mary’s (home of Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame!), Waterloo, and my mom’s hometown, Kapuskasing!



Spring…and a new book: The Cul-de-Sac Kids

I am SO looking forward to introducing this one to the world! A new age group–ages 7-8 or so–and Funny! I’ve so enjoyed hanging out with these kids…and their new neighbour. Who is supposed to be a hockey player, but is quite a disappointment on that count.

The Cul-de-Sac Kids

TD Canadian Children’s Book Centre Book Week Tour

On May 6, I’ll be flying to Ottawa to begin a week of touring Ontario, going to St. Mary’s, Nepean, Osgoode, Toronto, Waterloo…and (drum roll!) Kapuskasing, my mom’s hometown! I was there twice, with my mom, in my early twenties. I am so very happy about all of this 🙂

Here, I’ll have to place a photo of my great grandmother’s house as I remember it, at the outskirts of town, and where she raised her thirteen children, one of whom I’ll be visiting!

A New Year

It is like a baby, just a bit. An opportunity to re-write.

Reminds me of sniffing the crowns of my infant sons’ heads and breathing deeply. Somewhere in my core, I carry that smell-memory. Such memories carry and motivate. The tough part is to think about these things briefly, at the outset of a day, or remember them at moments when you need them. And there’s only one way to do this.

I think that will have to be my guiding thought for the year. Slow down. I haven’t waited until the first of January to start anew. Really, I feel as if I’ve been preparing for this coming year for some time now, laying foundation to build on…and I’m ready to build further.

For months, everything has had a slightly frantic edge. Now it’s time to dive in to the cool, silent depths, slow, go deep. Daily yoga time really works with this. Finishing various writing projects. Establishing my editing work. Solidifying teaching. Seeing my boys grow up–something full of wonder in that.

“Be still.” The two words I’ve taken from my childhood/familial belief system. Possibly the most powerful little phrase.


in medias res

in medias res, in the middle of things, is trotted out in writing classes as THE place to begin telling a story. I was taught it. I have taught it. I read it in the “successful” books now being published.

So when I sat to begin reading with my son this past week, and he interrupted me after a few pages to say, “I hate it when a book starts in the middle of the story,” (uh, did I mention this was my first published book we were reading?) it was a bit of a shock.

“What do you mean?” I asked. Idiot.

“It’s starting right in the middle.” (Yes, dear, it’s supposed to. In medias res.) “And it shouldn’t. It should build up, and set it up, and take time.”

Exactly what we don’t have. And if I do that–if I ‘take time’–I don’t have a hope of finding an editor, a publisher, let alone those marketing people, to publish my book. But how to explain that to an angry-looking red-head who is asking for setting.

This son, my third, is not a happy reader. He only began to enjoy reading after about six months of home-learning in grade 5. Before that, it was a chore; a school-task. And now there are many books he sets aside, often returning to a small number of default.

A month ago he explained to me that when he reads Harry Potter to himself, he can “see” the story. Other writers don’t quite manage to do that in the same way, though if I read aloud to him…after awhile…then he can also “see” the story.

I’m learning. Although just how I’ll use this knowledge, I’m not sure. J.K. Rowling creates visuals and begins with setting up the story. While I’ve tried to create visuals in my work, certainly, I haven’t done so with the thought of time-taking, setting-up, and I’ve never thought of visuals and setting in terms of the needs of reluctant readers. I’ve been quick to agree that it is exactly those readers–reluctant–who need the in medias res, otherwise they won’t stay with us. Perhaps it’s the very speed with which we attempt to haul ’em in that turns them off and causes us to lose them. We need to get the film reel moving, but first we need to give them the theatre, the feel of the plush seats, the smell of popcorn with real butter, the lights that carve out the path to follow in the floor, the old woman, hunched in the nearby seat who turns up by herself for the afternoon matinee…maybe a digression into the life of the young teen sweeping up kernels and scraps from the floor (why is he here during school hours?)…there’s music playing in the theatre. Let’s see…it’s the soundtrack of…

Emmett enjoying a book

I got the news today, oh boy…

about where I’m going for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre Book Week next spring! I’m Ontario bound, and happy to be. Now hoping I can see the Kids in Cambridge…

I spent time last week, thinking through my presentations, and putting together final touches…and am so looking forward to it. May 5-18.

EIGHT years

Just before my friend Katy moved to the UK eight years ago, she came over one evening with boxes of plants she’d dug up from her garden. Some of these plants were from her grandfather’s wonderful garden in Victoria. One of these plants was a peony. Together, we put the plants into my garden, with the idea that when she and her family returned from the UK, two years later, she’d dig them back up and put them in her new garden…wherever that would be.

The peony never bloomed. When she did move back, I told her. Katy said they can take up to seven years after a move to bloom. (So moving is traumatic…) Katy is a third generation–or more–green thumb gardener. I am a second generation no-thumbs gardener (although my grandma had a knack for veg). Last summer was seven years. How many times I’ve looked at that peony, right in the outside edge of my half-circle right-by-the-front-of-the-house garden and wondered about just digging it up and being done with it.

Last week I realized that there was actually a small, round bud on the end of the tallest stem. No! And several days ago, it opened. EIGHT years. One past the max. Late bloomer. Like me. I’ve always been one of those.

You’re supposed to hit your writing stride, your strongest years as a writer, in your fifties, they say. Here I come!

Oh, and I’m an idiot. The no-thumbs thing?! I had no idea peonies smell like roses. A rose by some other name is a peony! Here it is: (wish you could smell)

How could I have ever thought to tear out the green scraggly stuff?

Best Practice

Questions around learning and teaching are always close to me. It’s true that if I had to choose between being a full-time writer and a full-time teacher, I would choose writing without a lot of thought. Without any thought; but not without regret. In my life, there’s a three-strand braid (I specify because I know there are others, and what’s more, given my history, I can do them) of learning, teaching, writing. (And learning is always a part of writing. But a two strand braid gives you nothing, unless you spend half a day twisting it into shape.)

My mind still muddles through all I’ve learned in the past three–at times, painful–years of learning about teaching and our education system. Phrases come to me…or more accurately: reactions to phrases throw me at times. Here’s one: Best Practice. You’ll hear teachers and teachers of teachers use this. It means “this is a principle of teaching that has come to be because after many years it has proven to be THE most effective way of doing _______.” And implicit: therefore, YOU should do it this way. It is, after all, Best Practice.

Now is it because I have a wandery mind, or because I’m a gemini, or ____who knows_____ that I resist the word “should?” Or I’m stubborn, stupid, and simply don’t get it?

Best Practice means that there is a preferred way. It was made very clear to me during the two practica I endured that while I was told I could develop my own path to teaching, REALLY there was Best Practice and I’d best practice it.

But I always return to this idea, from biology, that diversity is healthy for all life forms…and now even the lives of thoughts. So if I find myself gravitating to the notion that there is only one way, am I not choking or bludgeoning, or at least kicking aside, other ways? Even if I, ultimately, can choose only one way to actually DO something, might I consider others? Or create mental alloys from considering combinations? Won’t diversity of thought work best in a world where each student is at the very least just a bit different from another, and another?

Best Practice or Mental Alloys.