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.)

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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–

Alison

 

 

Anderson Mill Elementary

On Wednesday, Feb. 20, I had the pleasure to share A Little House in a Big Place with some of the learners at Anderson Mill Elementary… making this the first school to be introduced to the new book!

It was “reading week” at UBC, where I teach, so I flew with my friend to visit Austin, Texas, where one of my longest-ever friends lives. While there, I met one of my friend’s longest-ever friends, and then I met his spouse, Mrs. Husty. She teaches at Anderson Mill Elementary, and I gave her a copy of A Little House…and then we talked and decided I would go visit the children in her class. And she would ask Mrs. Brumley’s class to join us!

When I arrived, I discovered that altogether the children and Mrs. Husty and Mrs. Brumley had done the wonderful thing of already having read the book and…my favourite: come up with GQ…that is, Good Questions. I love Good Questions!

And I got to meet the school librarian, Ms. Henson… another one of my favourite things to do: meet the Librarian!

I do love Austin. It is a place full of amazing music EVERYWHERE. And many good places to walk, which is something that is important to me. There’s a beautiful river that runs through the city.

But this class visit was a highlight! Sharing stories has a way of bringing people together.

Thank you, Anderson Mill Elementary!  Thank you for the invite, Mrs. Husty!

And an old book in hand… or Still Life with Books

Ah…another moment in a writer’s life: getting an email to advise me that my book, published in 2009, is now going OOP. That is, out-of-print. There were only four copies remaining, sitting lonely in some warehouse somewhere. Somewhere house.

Just like in December, when my new book showed up, these came along. And in a most odd way there is something equally ceremonious to seeing a work through to its close.

And I feel a rush of affection for libraries. Libraries take care of books and give them a home while people still share them.

Still life with books. Life stills with books.

 

New book in hand

On December 12, my neighbour knocked on my door. Where I live, in east Vancouver, if there are packages left outside the door, a neighbour will grab it and take it into their house for safekeeping until you are home. So she had in her hands a large padded envelope. I wasn’t thinking about my book when I opened it; my dad had passed away two days before, and the book wasn’t supposed to be out until the spring.

I opened the envelope, and there was A Little House in a Big Place!

Technology is a pretty amazing thing! Months before the people at the publishing house, Kids Can, had sent me pdfs of all the pages, and I was able to show the dedication in the book to my dad on my laptop.

He was so happy to see it all. He couldn’t talk then; he hadn’t talked for a long time. He had a disease called ALS, and ALS affects how the brain connects with muscles and communicates–his muscles just weren’t working. But he could see and he could type on an ipad to let me know his thoughts. And he was excited about the book.

My dad was a carpenter. He built beautiful homes for people. The house I grew up in, he’d built. And he was always finding something to fix or build in the home in which my boys grew up.

As I held A Little House in my hands that first time, I thought about how this is now the tenth time I’ve done this: held the product of my work in my hands. But for my dad, at the end of every work day, he SAW his work. Maybe he’d built a wall that day, or maybe he’d painted, or put in doors or windows. I often witnessed how he worked and I knew that at the end of every day he took time to thoroughly clean his workplace, sweeping sawdust, sorting leftovers of wood, organizing gyp-roc, then cleaning and caring for his tools, and securing the site. What is it, I wondered, to actually SEE one’s work every day, to see changes, to see it growing. Writing isn’t quite like that. I might have a feeling about what I’ve done–whether it’s “enough”–whatever that might be. Or if I feel that whatever I’ve produced is “good.” See how I’ve put quotation marks around that? That’s because I’m not really certain. Sometimes I write something that seems to be what I want it to be, and the next day or the next week, I look at it and realize it’s not what I thought it is and it needs to be tossed and done over. My dad couldn’t afford to do that with a wall; he had to get it right the first time. And then it was done.

Such different ways to work. It can be important to know how you like to work. Do you need to see the results every day? Or are you okay with experiencing that differently? I know that creating things can take a long time; maybe that’s why I like to paint a wall occasionally, or do some gardening…

Push

New site and first blog post.

So I’m going to tell a story about last week.

Last week we had An Important Meeting at my workplace. It was going to be a rather stressful meeting; some meetings are like that. I had a bit of a stomach ache thinking about it.

So I went to the room where it was to be–a lovely room, with three sides of glass, at the top of a building. It’s been awhile since I was in that room, and it’s been renovated. And in renovating, someone made the decision to get rid of the washroom that used to be there. So I had to go back downstairs to find one.

One was fairly close by–just around a corner. But with a large sign on it, a rather official looking sign, about how this washroom was for the use of faculty and staff only. Faculty of that particular department, I guessed. The Classics are in that area. In my own building, we have the Philosophy folks who are also rather keen to keep their loo to their selves, and the only way to access their toilet was to requisition a key…which I did a few years ago.

So I tried my key in this lock. No, it did not work. I headed off down the hall to find the next bathroom. And realized it was FAR away. I muttered some words at that point, some really grouchy words. Surely, there had to be another washroom somewhere closer. Grouch. Mutter, mutter…  I stopped to ask someone, and he pointed me back to the washroom I’d already tried. Then he walked with me to it. Even as I began to say something about it being locked…he pushed at the door. And it opened.

I hadn’t even tried to push. I thanked him, and walked in.

I sat through the meeting, spoke up as needed, and listened. And kept thinking about how I need to remember to push sometimes. Not even a hard push. Things are not always locked. Not even when they appear to be.