The Canadian Children’s Book Centre BOOK WEEK

I fully intended to write this immediately, once home. But was SMITTEN (only word for it!) with the flu, and am still in bed with a stack of books (so this is not a bad thing really!)

And I’m still putting together the pieces of the week in my mind. Surely Book Week is magical!

First, because my new picturebook is so directly connected with Book Week, there was a real sense of looping backwards and forwards for this week.  (And that sense of “looping time” is always magical.) I shared photos and pieces of my Book Week in Ontario seven years ago; that’s when the seeds were stumbled over, the seeds that germinated and became A Little House in a Big Place. It was such a pleasure to share with young readers just how those pieces came together, and what is their nature…and how they can use such pieces to possibly build their own stories. We brainstormed a LOT of stories; I’m hoping some of them get to fly.

Second, Book Week ends up being a time to meet new people. Readers, of course, smiling and filled with questions and ideas. And teachers and principals, school secretaries, librarians. I also met the people who had volunteered to drive me, and because we share a joy for writing and/or reading, these people tend to feel like instant friends! I also went out one evening–Thursday–to a restaurant, and met a woman who sat with me while a musician played and we had a wonderful conversation between music sets, with a few words gathering between songs: I could tell she is like me, and loves music, because she did not speak WHILE the music was actually happening. So nice to feel that kinship with someone. Better than conversing, that feeling. This was in the township of Cowansville, and it turns out that she has a wonderful project of going into small towns–villages–and filming people dancing. Music and dance, to me, are so healing and life affirming that, again, I felt like I’d found a friend. Such moments may have little to do with books and tours, but make the week a special time. And all the writers, illustrators and story-tellers who take part in Book Week are really ambassadors for books and reading…just as this woman is an ambassador for the freedom of dance.

On the first two days I also met two people who have the most interesting jobs of bringing together and creating COMMUNITY. Imagine having a job where one day you might be outside planting new gardens between a school and a seniors’ residence, and working toward growing vegetables and sharing them with people in that place…then the next day you are working to bring together a group of caregivers, and the next day…you’re driving a writer to get some lunch before she heads off to another school to share a story…all the time, putting together what will make a community a good place to be, and every day different. I love hearing about such life work. So “third” might be larger community.

As part of that, and part of meeting new people, there’s always a certain connecting with “old” friends too. (If you check out my book called 19 Things: A Book of Lists About Me, you’ll see there are 2 lists for ways to develop new friendships and to make old friendships better. Like that.) So always the wonderful folks at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre work with us if we have friends and relatives we can stay with. In Montreal, I stayed with my friend Silvia, who I don’t see often enough. I never sleep particularly well in hotels, so this was good, and we had a few lovely catch-ups.  (Below is their family cat, Romeo, who is not really a cat. He jumps up and down when he’s excited about the door being opened for him…most d– -like, to my mind. And is shockingly solid…even his fluff has heft! I kept telling the kids I was staying with a cow-cat.  Here he is, with his let-me-in face.)


Then there’s the NEW. Things I’ve never seen before, might not see again. A mural of Leonard Cohen on the side of a building–huge!–thrilled me. My next book, out in September, and a memoir for big people, is titled Dance Me to the End, after one of Cohen’s songs…so it seemed so right to see that mural.

And I do need to include this photo, of a woman who we (I was walking with the writers Helaine Becker and Bev Brenna) wondered about…she’d make such a perfect fictional “ghost of Sherbrooke Street.” She was dressed completely in white. One moment she’d be behind us, and the next ahead, even suddenly, inexplicably, on the other side of the street! It was dusk, and really, she glowed. Hmmm…

Speaking of ghosts, at Kahnawake Library, I had the opportunity to share the experience of ghost-writing a Boxcar Children book, Mystery at the Calgary Stampede. That was fun! With just a small group, and they shared snacks…

Come to think of it…maybe there’s a ghost theme here: a picture of the B&B I stayed… What do you think? Was an absolutely lovely place, with THE best raspberry French toast breakfast! But I’m thinking it could be the setting for a Feenie Bailey book, a mystery series I’ve been working on… (not published yet…)

At Bishop’s College School, I saw one of the countries oldest indoor hockey arenas. There was not time to go inside, which is unfortunate, but I did get to eat lunch in their dininghall, and that felt to be right out of Hogwarts! (I did not have my camera on me–a regret!)

Something of note: There are certain precautions I take before I leave home. One is that I put all my presentations on a USB stick. And I also carry everything I actually need for my presentations in my carry-on stuff, in the event that if my baggage goes astray, I’ll still have everything I need to do my work. But as early as the first day, I found that we had technology issues. Apple TVs were most of this, as my laptop does not connect with them. At Beaconsfield Library, the presentation came up…and then completely disappeared!  That particular presentation stood out for me, as the children were full of ideas…and they gave me courage and made me realize that tech is not necessary; it’s so much more important to get a sense of what is going on with the audience–just in that moment. So when, at the next library, Lennoxville, there was no projector, no technology at all (the library was a retired post office), I said,  “That’s just fine–we’ll go with it.” And that time was truly Magic! I wonder if children are so accustomed to a screen, that to be without is something new… (The Lennoxville sloth slung over the children… I think they are used to his presence. They paid him no mind.)

Before leaving the Townships to return to Montreal, I had a wait time for the bus, rain was coming down in a spring way,  and I thought it would be the ideal time for…

It freaks me out how the cheese squeaks!

I come away thinking about the pyrotechnics of contemporary life, and how humans still connect over simple things–stories and books and looking at each other. Maybe mostly seeing and acknowledging each other…maybe even just a simple wave of hand…oh, wait, that sounds familiar: that would be A Little House in a Big Place.

(Take a peek at this review if you’re wondering about my picturebook.)

Feels so good to have roamed this big old place, Canada, a bit more. Thank you to The Canadian Children’s Book Centre, TD Bank, Shannon Howe Barnes, Carol-Ann Hoyte, volunteers, teachers, librarians, principals, READERS READERS READERS… book nibblers, even.

With gratitude–