Bless the Bookstores

I'm trying to gather a list of places selling the new book in order to make it ludicrously easy for people to buy it.  Ha!  It's shameless but I will add listings here as I find them (and welcome any and all suggestions).

I was inordinately pleased to find the book up at Buy Olympia - partly because you are always in such nice company there and partly because they do such a great job of presentation.   (Also they do ship world wide.)

One of my other very favourite bookstores in all the world is Kidsbooks in Vancouver.  I had a lovely visit with them when I was last there and am very happy to see them stocking the new book as well.

* And bless the bookbuyers as well!  The comment from anonymous (below) made my day!


Marie Antoinette's Dulcimer Player

While I haven't yet seen the film Hugo, I loved the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  
I've been thinking about the book again lately as we've been doing a little search for automata and happened upon this amazing one.  It was damaged in the French Revolution and later repaired by Jean-Robert Houdin: magician, clockmaker and the fellow who gave Ehrich Weiss the idea for the stage name Houdini.

Brian Selnick talks about automata here and recommends this book, Edison’s Eve: A Magical Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood.  Will be looking for that one.


I'm Your Other Mother

According to Neil Gaiman Bloomsbury (UK) will be doing a Tenth Anniversary edition of Coraline next year,  with illustrations by Chris Riddell.  

Ooh, look!

But can it really have been ten years?

Yes, I guess so.  Here's my review from 2002.


Windy with a chance of lucky

Here's your chance to win a hardcover copy of Windy by Robin Mitchell and Judith Steed.  I've been working "with" Robin for the past five years but got to meet her for the first time last week.  Very pleased to note that she was just as lovely as I had predicted.  

Drop by the Windy blog for your chance to win.  Then go to your local independent children's bookstore and buy copies of their other books for any little ones on your Christmas list.  You can also purchase online at Buy Olympia.  Watch for a new softcover edition + app coming next year!



Dress Up Time

CBC is holding a competition for best literary hallowe'en costume.

Here's one that gets my vote!

This charming little fellow by the name of Clem went dressed as Henry from When You Were Small last year.  Don't you love his little thimble hat?  Kudos to his creative mother, Vania, who blogs at A Crafty Vegan (and thanks for the use of your picture).

Anybody else have pictures of kids dressed as childrens' book characters?


Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

When I was trying to call up the list of nominees for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) for 2012, I came across this picture:

Which if you think about it is pretty much how you'd like to imagine the creator of Pippi Longstocking.

And here's Pippi as imagined by the wonderful Lauren Child.

There's a great write-up on Lindgren here.

But on to the prize - here's what the website has to say:
The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) is the world's largest prize for children's and young adult literature. The award, which amounts to SEK 5 million, is awarded annually to a single recipient or to several. Authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and those active in reading promotion may be rewarded. The award is designed to promote interest in children's and young adult literature, and in children's rights, globally.  
Lots of exciting names on the nominees list (Canada is well-represented by writers Jean Little, Brian Doyle and Michel Noël), but I was particularly pleased to see Meg Rosoff's name.  I'm a great admirer of Rosoff's work, but my particular favourite amongst her novels is What I Was.  You can read my review online at Monsters & Critics.

Update: that link has gone dead so adding that review here.

What I Was, Meg Rosoff's third novel, is classified as juvenile fiction.  So call me juvenile.  It's a lovely and confusing love story, which seems perfectly apt as love is confusing when you are sixteen (or when you a hundred).   The narrator of this novel is both.
            Our hero – he remains nameless until page 184 – is a boy named Hilary (a song Shel Silverstein might have written if he'd been more anglophile in his tendencies).  The year is 1962 and Hilary's father is dropping him off at his third boarding school, after he has been summarily dismissed from the previous two.   His father tells him "It's time you sorted yourself out …. You're nearly a man."  Which leads our narrator to muse: "But a less true description could scarcely have been uttered.  I was barely managing to get by as a boy."
            As Rosoff makes obvious – painfully, wonderfully obvious – getting by as a boy is no easy thing.   The boarding school, named St,. Oswald's and located on the coast of East Anglia, has its requisite population of bullies, addle-pated masters and bad food.            
           Hilary's reflections, both on his own character and that of his contemporaries, often range beyond what is reasonably precocious for a sixteen-year-old boy.  But then, he is also a hundred-year-old man looking back over the events of his life.  There is a very short prologue to the book that begins, "I am a century old…." but I managed to miss it on the first read.
            The novel takes place in the year in which our boy hero discovers love.  The object of his affections is a strange, wild boy named Finn that he meets while out hiking along the coast.  Finn lives alone in a hut that once belonged to his Gran, the woman who raised him after his own mother ran off when he was a young child.  Finn is wonderfully self-sufficient, a latter-day Robinson Crusoe, happily shipwrecked and in no need of rescue.
            Hilary's infatuation with Finn vacillates between wanting to be him and simply wanting him, in a helpless, inchoate way, and he is unsettled by these seemingly homoerotic impulses in himself: "None of what I felt could be explained by what I generally understood about sex."   For anybody beginning to worry at this point, it is worth noting that the attachment between the two youths remains emotional rather than physical. 
            There is a huge plot twist toward the end of the novel, one which I am not going to be mean-spirited enough to give away here. There is also a huge leap into the future, a sort of epilogue in which our narrator, the century-old man, gives a summary of his life after the calamitous events of 1962—events which include a death, an arrest and an estrangement, for those who like their plots at full boil.   But the writing never falters, and that's what makes this a novel that bursts loose of the constraints of juvenile fiction.
            The voice of this novel is both ruminative and assured, but not necessarily the voice of a pubescent boy.  Perhaps as men approach their centennial year they attain the wisdom generally accorded to middle-aged women.   Perhaps pubescent boy readers can be convinced this is how they are meant to think. And, given the charm of passages such as the one that follows, I don't really care.
            Here is Hilary, reflecting on his schoolboy existence:

My experience of the world came from comics and detective stories and Hitchcock films starring American actresses with stiff blond hair.  The rest of the time I spent staring at teachers or out of windows, or at the obscene scribbles on lavatory walls.  Despite my exquisitely honed indifference, my life telescoped down to a few sad little desires: to have second helpings of food, to wear clothes that didn't itch or cause undue humiliation, to be left alone.
An observation both particularly universal and universally particular.  What I Was is recommended reading for young, old, or old-at-heart readers.
            Meg Rosoff is the author of two previous prize-winning novels, How I Live Now, and Just In Case.   The first is a dystopian novel in which teenagers are fugitives, the second a novel in which a teenage boy becomes fate's plaything.  You can read excerpts from Rosoff's books and find out more at www.megrosoff.co.uk


Picturing Books

Hanging out with the cool kids at Canadian Bookshelf this week.
Talking about some of my favourite picture books.

Here's one of my favourite favourites....

Thanks for asking, Kerry!


If you go down to the woods today, you're in for a BIG surprise....

I love this picture - it comes from an article in Asylum about raising pandas in order to return them to the wild which entails the researchers dressing up in panda suits.

 Trying to think if there are any good children's books about pandas.  They're at least as cute as penguins.  


Daisy Hat

When I Was Small ~ November, 2011
There 's a sneak peek of
some of Julie Morstad's illustrations
for When I Was Small over at the
Simply Read blog.

Here's one of my favourites....


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Well this is pretty darned charming.

William Joyce's The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is available as an iPad app.

I particularly love the whole Buster Keaton vibe.  You can download the original short film here

You can read more about the app from Moonbot Studios in this write-up in The Atlantic.  And you can read about further William Joyce fabulousness in this earlier post on the title credits he created for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.


Tots TV

Thinking about little houses the other day also got me thinking about this children's program we used to watch when my son was small.  It was one of the few that didn't make me want to put pins in my own eyes.


Statistically Speaking

There have been several recent news stories and associated twitter and natter about the subject of children's books from a statistical standpoint.
  • A study of children's picture books shows that the main character is male two times out of three.   (from New York Times Arts Beat)
  • In a recent UK study three out of ten children (aged 11 - 13) did not own a book.  And that was the girls.  With boys the number rises to four out of ten.  (from The Guardian)
Frankly,  it's that second story that seems to me to carry real meaning.  The discussion surrounding gender in children's books has been ongoing and most people associated with children's publishing know that girls will happily read books with male protagonists while the reverse does not hold true.  Would publishing more books with females in the leading role make any difference to this bias?

Some time ago The Guardian published a fascinating little piece by the novelist Ian MacEwan, in which he describes a day spent with his son, attempting to give away copies of novels to passing strangers.

Every young woman we approached - in central London practically everyone seems young - was eager and grateful to take a book. Some riffled through the pile murmuring, "Read that, read that, read that ..." before making a choice. Others asked for two, or even three.
The guys were a different proposition. They frowned in suspicion, or distaste. When they were assured they would not have to part with their money, they still could not be persuaded. "Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks mate, but no." Only one sensitive male soul was tempted.

It's really that "not for me" attitude that needs to be addressed in boys.  There are any number of ways this is being addressed at the publishing level - from high interest novels for reluctant middle grade readers to books geared to boys more interested in sport than literature - but the study linking literacy levels to ownership of books seems highly relevant to me.

Libraries are fine - fantastic, in fact - but children need to own books.  Kim Beatty, founder of the Toronto Children's Book Bank (an absolutely marvelous innovation) as quoted in article in The Toronto Star on this very subject:
I think ownership is essential to lifelong learning. You have to be able to pick up the book and when you want you read it over and over.  Every parent remembers reading the same book over and over for three weeks until you were sick of it. That’s how you build readers.
If you are in Toronto you can donate "gently used" children's books to the Book Bank, but what I think we really need is a book bank in every city and a book in every child's hands. Whether that book's hero is male or female really doesn't make a damn bit of difference to me.



Lovely column by AL Kennedy in The Guardian today,  from which I have lifted the following:
And here I can mention that there is nothing like writing for those you love. Building something out of words, an intensely personal medium – something for someone you respect, someone for whom you care – that's both a pleasure and a properly testing exercise. I have long argued that the writer's relationship with the putative reader should probably be one of loving respect: it's a way of maintaining a correct form of address.


Little Houses

I've been thinking lately of my need for a Wendy House (as in Peter Pan).  

Need may be too strong a word but I certainly passionately desire one.

I was reading an article about writers and their sheds recently.  Dylan Thomas had one, as did Virginia Woolf (that's where she spent her final afternoon).

And George Bernard Shaw had one he designed to rotate in order to follow the sun.

The lovely re-nest blog has some nice images of sheds here, including this one which belonged to Roald Dahl.

Very covetable.

And back in the day,  at a writers' colony at Emma Lake in Saskatchewan, I had all to myself a little cottage much like this one, (the original cottage built by Gus Kenderdine at the Murray Point Arts Camp in 1936).


It was maybe a smidge smaller, with just room for my bed, a little wood stove and a table for my laptop.   Perfection.

But my ideal "little house" would have to be the Maud Lewis cottage, which I first saw reconstructed in a Nova Scotian shopping mall. 

It now has a permanent home in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.  See pictures of the highly decorated interior here.  

There is a wonderful picture book for children on the life and art of Maud Lewis called Capturing Joy by Joan Ellen Bogart with illustrations by Mark Lang.  You can take a peek here.

I do have a little cottage that I hope to convert into a writer's shed one fine day.  It is also pretty perfect in its own way - despite the current lack of a floor.  One day.... 

Would rather have this exorbitantly-priced children's playhouse than an actual house

tudor playhouse £25,000 Tudor Playhouse Invites Children


Forgot to mention ....

It's Children's Book Week!  
Get details here and watch for author and illustrator events in your community.  My son's grade five class is being visited by Linda DeMeulemeester, author of the Grim Hill series.

Join the Celebrations! TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2011  |  April 30 - May 7, 2011
                                                                                       poster by Eugenie Fernandes


Oh, You Beautiful Dolls

Of all the many things I currently covet, at the top of the list is a doll version of little Henry as drawn by Julie Morstad.   I picture carrying him around peeking out of a shirt pocket and this makes me very, very happy.  
I've looked a few times at sites of people who do custom made-to-order dolls, and just today I stumbled on the Etsy site of Jo Anne Lauder whose Prairie Girl's Passion dolls are so lovely that I would like to write them their own little book!

                                      (image property Jo Anne Lauder)



image property of Sophie Blackall

And if you haven't been spending time hanging around illustrator extraordinaire Sophie Blackall's fab website then you don't know what you're missing.  Check out her Etsy shop here.



Recommended Reading

I must confess to not knowing very much about Diana Wynne Jones, but have been thinking about her this week with the news of her death.

This morning, I found a delightful little autobiography on a fansite devoted to her work.   Highly recommended reading.

There's also a link to an article "Hints on Writing a Story" which offers all manner of wonderful, sensible advice such as "Most teachers will tell you that you need to make a careful plan of your story before you start. This is because most teachers do not write stories."


Yarn Bombing Away

Cherry blossoms are coming early this year to The Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver thanks to some local yarn bombers.

The event is intended to highlight the writer-in-residence program held at Kogawa House, the childhood home of author Joy Kogawa who lived there until she was six.  The home was expropriated in 1941 and Kogawa and her family were interned.  She has written about this experience in her novel Obasan and in the Ruth Ohi-illustrated book for children, Naomi's Tree

Some info from the Kogawa House site:
All blossoms will be stitched in place on the cherry tree at Historic Joy Kogawa House, 1450 West 64th Avenue, Vancouver, on Sunday, March 6, from 2:00 to 3:30pm. Join Yarn Bombing authors Leanne Prain and Mandy Moore, along with writers Nancy Lee, Zsuzsi Gartner, Mary Novik, and June Hutton, among others, as they decorate the Joy Kogawa cherry tree. Drop by to help out or just to watch the magic happen! 

The event is organized to raise awareness for the writer-in-residence program that takes place in the house each year, when the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society hosts a celebrated Canadian writer for three-months at a time.
Blossom patterns are available at www.yarnbombing.com, and those who love to knit or crochet are invited to download patterns, find pink yarn, and get going on this new, fun project. Finished blossoms can be mailed to Historic Joy Kogawa House, 1450 West 64th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. V6P 2N4.

                                                                       image property of Janice Wong

A little inspiration, courtesy of Vancouver-based visual artist (and my pal) Janice Wong.

Check out the Yarn Bombing site for more details.


"A Lower Register"

You cannot write for children. They're much too complicated.   You can only write books that are of interest to them.              Maurice Sendak

Came across this quotation from Sendak today and it seems to me an apt retort to Amis Jr.'s latest foot-in-mouth-ism.

Here's what Martin Amis had to say:
People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book', but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.
And for a visual response to Amis's uppity attitude to children's writing, click on over to Booklust  where children's writer and illustrator Patricia Storms has created some fanciful caricatures.

Diary of a Grumpy Kid?


Families & Literacy

Family Literacy Day has come and gone and I was remiss in not organising anything to put up here.  But I was pleased to see that I was represented in another way, when I came across The Canadian Children's Book Centre's list of recommended books in celebration of Family Literacy Day (which I would say deserves a month of its own, at the very least).

In celebration of Family Literacy Day, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre has compiled a list of Canadian books that share in the joys (and struggles) of families of all sizes and combinations. Canadian children’s authors and illustrators have done an admirable job of exploring Canada’s diversity, and many of their finest books are listed here.

In addition to noting both reading level and interest level for each title, the books are classified by thematic links.  For Where You Came From I see that thematic links given are Families, Questions and Humour.  I think that could fairly well sum up everything I've ever written.

photo courtesy BuyOlympia.com


The Speaking of Verse

Now this is interesting.  Scott Griffin is sponsoring a student competition for the recitation of verse.  What a lovely thing to do!

My choice - if I weren't too old and living in the wrong province - would be William Blake's The Tyger ... although around these parts we've always favoured the Yeats poem beginning:
My name is Daniel O’Leary, my great interest is the speaking of verse.