Only a few months ago did I spot the amazing art work of Nizar Ali Badr. Nizar lives in Syria and posted photos of his art on his Facebook page. Somehow I glanced at one image and fell in love.
"This should be in a children's book!" I thought.
It took me three months to make contact with Nizar who lives in Latakia, Syria and finds both his inspiration and art supplies on the beach. He collects rocks and arranges them into beautiful images.
I used some of those images to put them in a sequence. Then I wrote the text for the story which I imaged his art told. It is the story of a refugee family.
Thanks to the internet I was able to communicated with Nizar and one of his best friends. We discussed the possibility of making a book for children together. Then I contacted Orca Book Publishers who create beautiful books. They agreed that Nizar's art makes amazing illustrations and contracted him to be the illustrator.
I can't wait to hold the actually book in my hands as words, art and design come together.
Stepping Stones, A Refugee Family's Journey will be out by mid October. Much of the proceeds will benefit refugee causes.
I hope you will be able to get a copy and share Nizar's art.
You can order to now from your local book store or click here:
The publisher will make available books at a special discount to any schools who would like to sell the book as a fund raiser for a refugee cause of their choice.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
I always tell them I don't have just ONE favourite book - there are so many and all books are so different.
However, right now I do have a new favourite and I want to share it with you: 14 Cows For America by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez.
Why have I not seen this glorious book in every house, every school and bookstore? Everybody needs to read this amazing, TRUE story.
14 Cows For America is the touching story of Kimeli, a young Maasai warrior from Kenya. He goes to America to study. When he returns to his village, he brings with him the heart wrenching story of hatred and hurt, a catastrophe that happened in America on 9/11. The Maasai elders are shocked. How can anyone hate like that?
To the fierce yet gentle Maasai, cows are sacred. Cows ensure life.
And so they offer the greatest gift they can: 14 cows for America. To help the American people to heal. 'Because there is no nation so powerful that it cannot be wounded nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.'
A true story - beautifully worded by the author, accompanied by breathtaking paintings of the beautiful Maasai people. This is a tale to treasure and share.
And for now, it's my favourite picture book.
I ordered my copy from: www.betterworldbooks.com
Monday, May 9, 2016
We each conduct presentations in schools and public libraries.
Funded by TD Canada and other sponsors, this program has tremendous impact on reaching and encouraging young readers. A writer from Nova Scotia might be send to the Arctic. An illustrator from British Columbia might get to share his art with children in New Brunswick or Quebec. I am touring, this year, in small towns in rural Ontario.
Each of us meets with hundreds of children who've been reading our books. We all show the process of how books are made and how these kids, too, can grow up to be the future generation of storytellers and artists.
I asked my fellow writers/illustrators on tour which book THEY are bringing with them, to read in planes, trains, busses and hotel rooms.
This is their eclectic list of titles. Have fun finding them and seeing what Canadian book creators are currently reading:
Birdwing, Rafe Martin
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
Flickers, Arthur Slade
The Dogs, Allan Stratton
The Nest, Kenneth Oppel
Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
Saving Montgomery Sole, Mariko Tamaki
Otherbound, Corinne Duyvis
Birdie, Tracey Lindberg
The Illegal, Lawrence Hill
Mortal Danger, Ann Aguirre
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, Paige McKenzie (with Alyssa Sheinmel)
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
#GoodMorningEarth: Chris Hadfield, Kate Lunau
Release, Daren Wride
Canadian Crusoes: A Tale of the Rice Lake Plains, Catherine Parr Strickland Traill
How the Heather Looks, Joan Bodger
Jenny Watson's Prove It, Josh
Lonely Planet Canada
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson
Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles, Shari Green
This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki
The Truth Commission, Susan Juby
Saint Anyone, Sarah Dessin
Mosquitoland, David Arnold
Legacy, Waubgeshig Rice
Legacy, Waubgeshig Rice
Ask and It Is Given, Esther and Jerry Hicks.
Monday, April 18, 2016
Had fun talking about books, reading, writing and the whole publishing process to nearly 2,000 students in 10 schools over 5 days in Kelowna BC.
Very nice to receive teachers' comments like this one:
Thank you so much for visiting Glenrosa Elementary. My students were already amazing little story tellers but your visit brought the whole process to life and we have been writing stories ever since.
And to see the kids producing such fun art based on books and inspired by Ted Harrison!
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
I have made some life-long friends among teachers and librarians who share my love to literacy and travel.
Highlights include bringing books to nomad children in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, reading stories to children in Lahore, Pakistan, handing out books to children in Myanmar and many others.
Attached is an article about my recent visits to schools in Kenya and Ethiopia. I love the added bonus of learning about different cultures and now also write a travel blog:
Visiting international schools has led me to write books of a more international nature. My latests books include titles such as Families Around The World and School Days Around The World. Coming out in 2017 will be Birthdays Around The World as well as The Elephant Keeper, a book about my visit to an elephant orphanage in Zambia.
As I plan my next tour of schools in the Middle East, I often pinch myself and marvel at the fact that I am so lucky to be able to combine my passion for writing with my passion for travel.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
This is simply the very best biography I have ever read.
Try writing a biography of a famous person who has led a long life, rich in a wide variety experiences. Chances are this will turn into a lengthy book.
But you are writing for children.
A picture book is only 32 pages. Still, most biographies have dense text and many information boxes to cramp in the facts.
is a very short, simple story with lovely illustrations.
It focuses on a very small girl with big dreams. Jane's favourite companion is a toy chimpanzee.
Jane watches a chicken hatch an egg and is enamoured by nature. She sketches birds and other animals in her diary. And Jane dreams of, one day, traveling to Africa.
Jane grows up to become one of the world's most well known primatologists, Dr. Jane Goodall.
The story is told in such a way that degrees and accolades are not important. What is important is for a child to dream and to follow that dream. It's a beautifully told story.
Backpages do give more information on Jane Goodall, on all she accomplished and on her Foundation which enables many young people to follow in her footsteps and become environmentalists.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Judging by this list of recognitions I am not the only one who loves this book:
A Charlotte Zolotow Award WinnerA Horn Book Fanfare BookA New York Times Best Illustrated Children's BookA New York Times Notable Children's BookA Booklist Editor's Choice BookA Kirkus Reviews Best BookA Kids' Indie Next List BookA 2011 Bank Street College Children's Book Committee Outstanding BookA National Parenting Publications Awards Gold Winner
A Booklinks Lasting Connections Book
A 2014 Illinois Monarch Children's Choice Award Winner
A 2014 Iowa Goldfinch Book Award Winner"
A 2012 Caldecott Honor Book
Monday, January 18, 2016
The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi, Tamim Ansary
"I was late to school, and that's all I could think about. I started across the field. And then suddenly a fire flashed in my face and the earth seemed to move beneath my feet. I remember a shower of soil and then nothing. I woke up on the ground, surrounded by a crowd, men and boys...no women. They were all staring down at me with huge eyes. Their lips were moving, but I could hear no voices. All I heard was a loud ringing in my ears."
How is that for a gripping opening?
All the more if you realize that this novel is nonfiction. It is an autobiography.
Farah Ahmedi is born at a time when the war between the mujahideen and the Soviets reaches its peak in Afghanistan. Bombs are falling all over the country, and her native city of Kabul is bursting at the seams with hundreds of thousands of people looking for homes and jobs. The sounds of gunfire and fighter planes are as normal to Farah as the sounds of traffic or children playing are to a schoolgirl in America. When Farah steps on a land mine on her way to school, her world becomes much smaller than the dreams and hopes in her heart. She begins to learn--slowly--that ordinary people, often strangers, have immense power to save lives and restore hope.
"The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky" recounts an epic journey. It shows what a childhood in Afghanistan is like, where classrooms are bare spaces with only chalkboards on the walls and are filled with more students than seats (and no books). In Kabul, they cancel school because of rockets and bombings; in Chicago, Farah might have a snow day. In Kabul, a schoolgirl wears a black dress and a white headscarf; inAmerica, girls need the right jeans and trendy tops.
Thanks to a number of good people who crossed her path at critical moments, Farah is thriving. She may be haunted by her past, but she is no longer enslaved by it. Farah is now a proud American citizen and, in this time of new refugees coming from another country, this might be timely read.
Monday, November 30, 2015
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
As a child I adored scary fairy tales. Even the ones where the witch’s head got chopped off did not keep me awake at night. Tales in which horrid characters met a gruesome end, where good. Bad characters were supposed to meet a gruesome end. Those tales reiterated to me that bad deeds would be punished, that you had to be good and kind and fair. They taught me right from wrong, exactly what fairy tales had been doing for generations. In fact, their raison d’etre was likely to teach morals to many generations.
Remember the scariest tales told by a campfire? Tales so deliciously exciting that you wouldn’t walk alone through the woods anymore, back to your tent or cabin? Such is the story of The Night Gardener. A very scary page turner that tight rope walks the line between sci/fi-magic-fantasy-folk tale-and-legend. Fine writing, masterful, Harry Potteresque storytelling.
Jane Yolen in her powerful book Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood says “A shadowless man is a monster, a devil, a thing of evil. A man without a shadow is soulless. A shadow without a man is a pitiable shred. Yet together, light and dark, they make a whole.” The story of The Night Gardener is whole. Even the physical book is delicious with the gnarly tree and the metallic figure on the cover and its pitch black page edges are perfect and foreboding.
Molly and her brother Kip have come across the sea from Ireland to England. Of course, as is the case in most good stories for children, their parents are no longer around. They are somewhere, lost at sea - neither here nor dead. Molly needs to look after Kip now, make sure her cripple brother will be safe. They need a home, and food.
The two find a house where no one else will work. The aristocratic family, living in a rambling, inherited mansion needs help and can’t afford to be picky so Molly and Kip find both lodging and food to keep them safe.
But we soon find out that, in this mansion, no one is safe. Horrible secrets lurk in the shadows and on the lawns around the house. The ghost like tree lures with promises and wishes. This is a tale of greed and wanting more. ‘What is the difference between a story and lie?’ Molly asks of the storyteller Hester Kettle. And this story lives up to its own answer: ‘a story helps you to face the world’. It weaves a strong tale where all ends are tucked in, where every character is accounted for, every action sees a suitable reaction.
My reaction as a reader? I couldn’t stop turning pages!
In Touch Magic, Jane Yolen states that “[W]hen the modern mythmaker, the writer of literary fairy tales, dares to touch the old magic and try to make it work in new ways, it must be done with the surest of touches. It is, perhaps, a kind of artistic thievery, this stealing of old characters, settings, the accoutrements of magic. But then, in a sense, there is an element of theft in all art; even the most imaginative artist borrows and reconstructs the archetypes when delving into the human heart.”
That’s why I found it satisfying to read Jonathan Auxier’s last pages in which he credits many other tales for helping him to create this new one. One that many young readers will love. One that just won the TD Canada Book Award. And one to which, according to Auxier’s website, that Disney just bought the rights. So, do a young reader a favor: have them read the book so they can see the pictures in their own mind before the movie is made.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to rush off to read his other books: Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, and - out in April 2016 - Sophie Quire & the Last Storyguard!
Puffin, ISBN 978-0-670-06772-5
Thursday, November 5, 2015
One of my latest books is the biography of Canadian artist Ted Harrison. This book is proving to be a welcome addition in homes and schools everywhere and has been shortlisted for almost every possible children's book award in Canada. Thanks to Ted Harrison's inspiring story and to the gorgeous design by Pajama Press, this book is rapidly becoming very popular.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
When I picked up Rebel Queen, I found the cover intriguing but the woman's thigh and her sword did not exactly made me want to read this book. Although I liked the title.
Once I read the short content I really knew I wanted to read this story. But I was still skeptical. The story takes plays in the mid 1800’s in India. I wasn’t sure this was my kind of book. However, as soon as I started reading, the use of language and the tone of storytelling pulled me in.
All along, I marveled at the skillful writing. “How did this writer do all this research?” I kept asking myself. I loved this unique story with its colourful characters, its strong plot, with its passion and violence and unique setting. The customs, the food, the smells, the sights and sounds of India. I learned how people in India cooked meals, how they behaved and why, what their homes looked like. I learned about living in purda and other customs. It all pulled me in and took me along on an exotic journey.
But what made it a truly amazing story is the fact that this is a true story. The real Rebel Queen was an Indian rani, married to the raja of Jhansi. Their kingdom was fine until the British invaded, wanting to conquer all of India. The story that unfolds is told in the voice of one of the queen’s female bodyguards, her so called Durga Dal. I kept wondering how much the author had invented to make the story work. But, once I finished reading, I did some research and to my amazement I found that almost all of the story is true. The length to which this queen went to protect her country are incredible. Apparently all Indians know about this amazing woman. I'm glad I do, too, now because of this book.
If you want to read a ‘different’ book, set in a unique place in history, about strong females - this is the book. The queen and her all female guard really existed and resisted the British in an admirable, albeit bloody, manner. Great writing!
Click here to see an interview with the author:
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (March 3, 2015)