First Book

I like the sound of this First Book program. They've just set up shop here in Canada and here's a bit of info from their site:

First Book is a nonprofit with a single mission: to provide children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books. Since its founding in 1992, First Book has distributed more than 50 million new books to children in need.

Now qualified as a registered charity in Canada, First Book/Le Premier Livre stands ready to reduce barriers to book ownership by offering free and affordable new books to programs reaching the most disadvantaged children in Canada, ensuring every child is able to experience the joy of reading. First Book/Le Premier Livre is committed to providing wonderful stories by authors from Canada and around the world to children in need.

Here's a link for those who'd like to get involved and here's a link if you're interested in making a donation.


Kiddie Records

Oh this is too cool - found on Design Mom where Burgin Streetman was guest blogging: Kiddie Records.

I love the album cover art:

And there's a huge selection of old kid's albums to listen to. Oh, and look at this one!

And for your listening pleasure, here's the wonderful Manners Can Be Fun - you can download or stream.


Dolls vs. Action Figures

Okay, this is simply bizarre! A Hitchcock inspired Barbie doll:

Thanks to Maud for the link.

I was actually attacked by a murder of crows not too long ago and so won't be buying this one myself.

Perhaps, in honour of Canada Day next week I should be buying one of these instead:

Sonya Hartnett at Bookwitch

There's a great profile of Australian writer Sonya Hartnett over at Bookwitch.

If you're not sure who Sonya Hartnett is then it may help to state that she's the most recent winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. And if you don't know about the Astrid Lindgren prize then it may get your attention when the phrase six hundred thousand dollars is thrown about.

I was pleased to see the Bookwitch profile, partly because her profiles are always so enjoyable, but also because I was quite curious about Hartnett. I've just recently read her latest novel The Ghost's Child and while I quite loved it, I couldn't quite see what made it a YA novel rather than just a novel. On consideration, this may be a good thing.

Here's a little taste of the interview:

Sonya seems very sure that she doesn’t write books for Harry Potter fans - which I happen to think isn’t entirely true - so I ask her who does read her books. She reckons she writes for “Columbine kids”, those who feel “they don’t have a place in mainstream life”. I suggest that Columbine kids aren’t necessarily readers of books at all, and she agrees that they “probably play computer games” instead. Her readers aren’t interested in “things they are generally expected to be interested in. That’s why my books will never make me a fortune.” Except now her books have done just that.

To find out how Sonya decides who her readers are, I ask where she meets them. She doesn’t do many school visits, although there was a time when she had to, for the money. She’s always had a part time job, too, to make ends meet. “It’s not worth it” she says, referring to schools, and how most of the pupils don’t have an interest in seeing her. “When they make a special effort to come and see me at a festival, it’s always a pleasure to meet them.”

But “it’s a long time since I was a teenager. Maybe the kind of teenager I write for doesn’t exist any more…” Sonya herself hasn’t read Harry Potter, and doesn’t want to. She says about people who read her books, that if they don’t like it, they should look for another book, and she will look for another reader.


PEI or bust

An interesting press release from Alina over at Penguin in my (recently re-accessible) email. Has to do with a contest I hadn't heard about where the prize is a trip to PEI. I would love a trip to PEI! And I've missed it. How heart-rendering, as dear Anne would say.

Here's my favourite bit from the press release:

Penguin Group (Canada) has announced the winners of a national letter-writing contest in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables. The announcement was made Friday at the site of L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish home at a ceremony unveiling two commemorative stamps from Canada Post, and a series of commemorative stamps to be issued by the post in Japan.

Winners were announced in four age categories as follows:
Age 10 and under: Rebecca Brooks, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Age 11–14: Traleena Rouleau, Braeside, Ontario
Age 15–17: Hannah Tufts, Elgin, Manitoba
Age 18 and over: Sarah Khan, Mississauga, Ontario, and Bill H. Wiebe, Port Rowan, Ontario (Co-winners)

In the 18 and over category, a national jury chaired by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson unanimously agreed the prize must be shared....
There were two extraordinary entries, one by Sarah Khan, a Muslim who comes from Saudi Arabia, and the other from Bill Wiebe, a farmer from Ontario. Sarah found Anne of Green Gables in a pile of trash left by American soldiers following the first Gulf War; Bill identifies heavily with Anne, even though Anne is a woman.

In her letter to Anne, co-winner Sarah Khan said the following:

“My curiosity was cured before it began. Books and magazines were strictly forbidden from entering the Kingdom. In my ninth year, I met you. After the first Gulf War, the Americans went back to their land, leaving behind garbage that became our treasure. I found your book sitting in a pile of trash in the American compound, and I instantly fell in love with your red braids and big green eyes. I spent the next three days reading it, and getting to know you. Those three days were the defining moment of my life. I found myself in you, through you. I was not alone in being rebellious and curious and free spirited. Anne, you became my soul-mate and to this day I hold your memory dear; you drive and inspire me every single day to be the
woman I want to be.”

Each of the five winners will receive a $2,500 travel voucher to visit Prince Edward Island, courtesy of Tourism PEI, a set of commemorative stamps from Canada Post, a commemorative coin from The Royal Canadian Mint, a collection of the 100th Anniversary books published by Penguin Group (Canada), and a limited edition print of L.M. Montgomery. Sponsors of the national letter-writing contest included Penguin Group (Canada), Tourism PEI, Canada Post, and Canwest Raise-A-Reader. The winning entries will be posted on 100yearsofanne.com.


Last Post and Chorus

It looks like I may be on an enforced break here. The nineteenth-century house by the sea where we are spending the summer seems to be a very resolutely nineteenth-century house. It is none too crazy about us having phone service and has rejected the high-speed internet outright. Either this will get resolved or else I will spend the summer idly reading books and maybe writing a few.

Apologies to anyone who has dropped by and found me not at home.



Had a great time at Book Expo Canada and got to see some great work and talk to some great children's writers. More on all this later when I've been able to leave the house to forage for coffee, but one of the people I had a chance to talk to at BEC was Don Gillmor, who is the author of one of my all-time favourite picture books, Yuck: A Love Story. I'm too tired to be articulate about the reasons you need to add this one to your collection if you don't already have it, but you really, really do.

Gillmor was there promoting his latest children's title, The Boy Who Ate the World (and the girl who saved it) which pubs from Scholastic this fall. Will post more on this one later.

Seeing him reminded me that I could link to an excellent article he wrote for The Walrus about picture books called "Has Childhood Gone AWOL."

Here's a taste of what he has to say:

There is no more democratic art form, other than perhaps finger painting, than the children’s picture book. Almost everyone, it seems, has an idea for one, or is writing one, or would if they had the time. But they are harder than they look. The first children’s book I wrote (The Trouble with Justin, 1993) was finished in a day, but that happy pattern was never repeated in the books that followed (among them When Vegetables Go Bad! ; Yuck, a Love Story). Now they take longer, as the subtleties of the form, the ruthless economies, present themselves. The publishers’ catalogue copy states that my books are for children between the ages of four and eight. On those occasions when I read to kids, I find eight is a bit old. They are distracted, often disarming, still sweet though flirting with early adolescence (two girls struggling over a Barbie pen, one of them saying through clenched teeth, “Fuck off, Madison”). There are moments when I’m reading publicly that I wonder if the children’s picture book is a dying form. I look at the children and sometimes wonder if they too are a dying form.

There are fewer children’s picture books being published these days, and the erosion of childhood itself is one of the reasons, though there are others. Historically, children’s books have largely been driven by library sales: 80 percent of the books in North America went to institutional markets. Librarians were the gatekeepers of kidlit, and who better? Educated, concerned, in touch with children. But budgets have suffered over the years, and book budgets now have to accommodate videos, DVDs, and other multimedia formats. Canadian librarians also need to consider books in other languages that serve local ethnic populations. So the book budget is further diluted.

The retail market presents other challenges. Children’s books don’t have the same exposure as adult books—reviews, book shows, author interviews—and as a result, it can take six months for a new children’s book to find an audience. The selling cycle of chain stores is short and unforgiving, and while chain stores stock books in creative ways, the staff isn’t really equipped to guide you through the thousands of possibilities. Unlike independent bookstores, there is rarely anyone who can introduce you to a new author, who can create a bestseller. So the chains do better with recognizable series (Franklin the turtle), and franchises (Disney), and familiarity (Pooh). It is one of the reasons for the rise of children’s books written by celebrities; they provide instant recognition.


So Toronto

Oh I feel so Toronto today - the Quillblog has pictures of two of the parties that I was at last night up on their site.

Off to Book Expo this morning ... ttfn.

Will be giving away some of these postcards while I'm there:

Aren't they pretty?



Okay, so this isn't really to do with children's writing but I'm sort of on vacation here and it is good news. Montreal writer Rawi Hage has won the IMPAC Prize for his novel De Niro's Game (Anansi). If you follow the link you see a headline saying the winner of the IMPAC was "uveiled" by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Which does conjure up a rather strange picture for those of us who suffer from being overly literal-minded.

Here's a bit from the press release:

On hearing about his win Rawi Hage said "I am a fortunate man. After a long journey of war, displacement and separation, I feel that I am one of the few wanderers who is privileged enough to have been rewarded, and for that I am very grateful. My gratitude extends to many people, but let me start with special thanks to the people of Ireland for their legendary hospitality and love of literature and words; to the organizers of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the award’s sponsors; and to the city of Dublin and its Lord Mayor. As well, to all those women and men of letters, and all artists who have chosen to represent multiple and diverse voices and people in their work, and to all those men and women who have chosen the painful and costly portrayal of truth over tribal self-righteousness, I am grateful. We should all be grateful."



Off to Toronto today for Book Expo Canada. Will be doing a signing there on Sunday which was loads of fun last time. Will also be having a wander around looking for familiar faces.


Eight Today

My son Euan is eight today, and to honour that fact I was trying to think of an appropriate post. Took me a while to work it out and here it is - a free online audio version of his favourite book: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.

It's on a site called LibriVox which is new to me but looks quite interesting.


Love or Friendship?

Up for auction is a picture of the boy who apparently made Jane Austen's young heart go pitty-pat.

His name is Tom Lefroy and when Austen met him she noted that he was "a gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man." Which hardly sounds the height of passion, but at the close of their brief encounter she wrote: "At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy ... my tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea."

This is the basis of the film Becoming Jane, which I have yet to see.

For anyone who hasn't read the Austen juvenalia, there's very nice edition of Love and Freindship available from the wonderful Hesperus Press. And it was through Hesperus that I found out that Jane has a myspace page!


Literacy Playground

There's an article about a very cool new library for kids - pardon me, an indoor literacy playground - over at the Toronto Star.

In case you need persuading to make a visit, here's a little preview:

Right from the start, it is fun. Kids insert their library cards in a red globe, which sets off a cavalcade of lights overhead.

To the right is the rocket ship, with small benches inside and a bin full of puppets for the puppet theatre cut out at the back.

Big wooden cubes on the floor offer all kinds of letter and shape activities.

The "wall of blocks," created by the Ontario Science Centre, retells poems and nursery rhymes; a cursive writing table has letters carved into the top for children to trace. Two toddler computers, with brightly coloured keyboards and tiger-ear headphones, link directly to online books.

A big, red mailbox encourages children to write letters and "mail" them to librarians and there's also a giant version of "Read Me A Book," by local Toronto writer and artist Barbara Reid, mounted kid-height on the wall.

Libraries have always been important to me, but never more so than as a mother. I think this sounds like a fab initiative. Thanks to Fuse #8 for the link.


Almost Eight

Busy running around getting ready for a birthday party for our almost eight-year-old. He took time out to explain the difference between Marvel and DC Comics, which was pretty much wasted on me. I did like his explanation of Iron Man, though: "He doesn't have any superpowers. He's just a guy who made a big toy to make him feel better about himself."



Looky here: Patricia Storms has done a great poster for the TD Summer Reading Club.

I can't see that LOL without thinking of the wonderful Adam Gopnik essay in Through The Children's Gate where he talks about thinking his son was sending him messages filled with "Lots Of Love," and then going on to misuse that that little LOL in ways both horrible and funny. Oh hey, you can listen to Gopnik telling this story here at The Moth. Get a cup of coffee and treat yourself.


A Toronto Launch

Just received this invitation, but sadly I'm unable to attend.

Anybody up for going in my place?

I reviewed the first of Jennifer Lanthier's Hazel Fump Adventures: The Mystery of the Martello Tower when it first came out. Back then I was books columnist for the CBC radio program Freestyle and here's a bit of what I said at the time:

It's basically a great plot-driven adventure story. And it features a brother and sister who are forced to spend their summer holiday uncovering a family secret and exposing a ring of international art frauds. And Hazel's a great girl detective. She's got red hair. She plays basketball. She could probably kick Nancy Drew's butt. She ventures into dark tunnels without so much as a flashlight. I want to be her.

The Mystery of the Martello Tower
has just come out in the US and it will be interesting to see how the book does in that market.

One of the things that I really appreciate about both of these Hazel Frump books is that they've got strong female characters without being at all "girly" books. I would buy these books for both girls and boys as they provide a good combination of high interest plot with a historical subplot.

In The Legend of the Lost Jewels, there is breath-stopping combination of peril and adventure as 12-year-old Hazel and her younger brother Ned undertake a treasure hunt in their cousin's castle. There is also a historical mystery concerning Fenians - and how often does that happen? I've seen enough YA novels featuring vampires to hold me for a very long time - but Fenians? That's something fresh.

Full marks to Jennifer Lanthier for giving us a girl hero to cherish - although really, how could you not love someone named Hazel Frump?



Here's the list of what we talked about on CBC with Anne Lagacé Dowson today. We also talked about a number of books that weren't on any of our lists.

Radio Noon's children's book panel got together recently to talk about their suggestions for summer reading.
Sara O'Leary is an award winning Montreal author. She also teaches children's writing in the creative writing program at Concordia. She writes for both adults and kids. Her upcoming release is titled Where You Came From.
Angus Byers works at Babar books in Pointe Claire and Babar en ville in downtown Montreal. He is also a freelance illustrator.
Kathy Conroy is the children's services co-ordinator at the Eleanor London Public Library in Cote St. Luc.
Here are their suggestions:

Sara O'Leary's list:
Picture Books
- Jumpy Jack & Googily by Meg Rosoff, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Henry Holt/H.B. Fenn)
- Mama Robot by Davide Cali, Illustrated by Anna Laura Cantone, Translated by Marcel Danesi (Tundra Books)
Graphic Novels
- Jellaby by Kean Soo (Hyperion)
- Skim by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood)
- The Legend of the Lost Jewels: Hazel Frump Adventure by Jennifer Lanthier (HarperCollins)
- The Apprentice's Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain By Melanie Little (Annick)

Angus Byers book list:
1. Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His First Case - Shane Peacock
2. I Want To Go Home - Gordon Korman
3. A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever - Marla Frazee
4. Doodle All Year - Taro Gomi
5. You Wouldn't Want to be a Victorian Mill Worker!: A Grueling Job You'd Rather Not Have - John Malam
6. Skunkdog - Emily Jenkins
7. I'M BAD! - Kate & Jim McMullen

Kathy Conroy's list:
1. Confessions of a Serial Kisser - Wendelin Van Draanen
2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules - Jeff Kinney
3. Face on the Milk Carton- Caroline B. Cooney
4. Schooled - Gordon Korman
5. The Boys' book: How to be the best at everything -Dominique Enright
6. The Girls' book: How to be the best at everything - Juliana Foster
7. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Lots of good chat on subjects such as graphic novels as a bridge for beginner readers, children's lit in translation, the boom in YA, and the pink book phenomena.


O frabjous day!

Calloo! Callay!

Just arrived ... advance copies of the new book:

I'm off to CBC to talk about children's books today. And maybe to give one of these babies away.


Do You Know Green Knowe?

I didn't know Green Knowe, but now I'm intrigued.

I wandered over to There's Always Time for A Book the other day, although I forget whose door I passed through to get there. And there I read about a visit to the Manor at Hemingford Grey which was the inspiration for the Green Knowe series of books by Lucy M. Boston.

The house looks heartbreakingly beautiful and I love the concept of the books - a little boy who befriends children who have lived in the house at other times in history.


Olivia's New Gig

Ian Falconer's Olivia - one of literature's great porcine heroines, is making the move to television. Here's the gist of it: Nickelodeon, 2009, CGI. If you still want to know more you can go here.

We love Olivia - I just hope all this success doesn't spoil her. Would hate to see her suddenly going semi-nude for the Vanity Fair cover or somesuch.