In Spring 2019, Kids Can Press published my picturebook, A Little House in a Big Place.  And a review that made me jump and click my heels!

In 2015, I had two books released: one is a Boxcar Children mystery story, The Mystery at the Calgary Stampede. It is so strange to ghost-write, and see another person’s name on the cover. What is this all about? Check out Gertrude Chandler Warner’s bio.

In the time I spent with children in the Kahnawake Library, we talked about this thing of being a ghost-writer! We had such a fun time together.

19 Things: A Book of Lists For Me


This is part of a new series that looks at mental health and well-being through lenses of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama…for grades 4-6. I’m thrilled to be part of this project!

The site is:

Here’s a page:


LOVE the simple drawings throughout…


spoken ink





Here, reading from The Cul-de-Sac Kids at Spoken INK, December 11, 2012 (Burnaby Writers’ Society)

And received the best review of The Kids to date: after reading a handful of pages, one of the writers in the audience remarked, “Sounds pretty subversive to me!”

Yes. There are a few turnarounds in the thing.

Thoroughly enjoyed the evening! Thank you to Kelly for the invite.




Spring 2012 (2013 for US and UK)

an early chapter book, ages 7-8

The Cul-de-Sac Kids









5.0 out of 5 stars A book all kids will enjoy
Aug 30 2012
This review is for: The Cul-De-Sac Kids  by Alison Acheson

What a great book for kids. I love the cover and art work inside. The story is fun, fast paced and realistic. Kids in the city will relate to the situation of a good friend moving away. The idea of a step-father is very contemporary and many kids often wonder if he will measure up as a Dad. Ms Acheson has written a book all kids will enjoy; students, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbours children etc. etc.

And the kids of St. Patrick’s, in Kapuskasing, ON, make some “Cul-de-Sac” art! Beautiful! Thank you 🙂


mud girl full cover.qxd


released MAY  2010 from Coteau Books


Molly’s Cue (2010), by Alison Acheson


This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 16.1

Molly’s Cue

Molly’s Cue fills a niche in children’s literature similar to the one Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) fills for adults.  Like Emma, Molly has it all: she is confident, talented, and sure of her future.  Like Emma, Molly needs to learn to respect others for their abilities—more, less, or just different from her own—and to understand how she can best contribute to the world around her.  For Molly, this learning is painful, and takes most of her first year of highschool, the time-frame of the novel.  The superficial issue is drama, and its connection with Molly’s recently deceased grandmother, “Grand.”  When Molly learns the truth about Grand’s relationship to theatre and the stage, her belief in her legacy of dramatic ability dissolves.  Her confidence shattered, she almost drops out of drama class.  With the help of her teacher, her best friend, Candace, and Candace’s new boyfriend, Molly rediscovers her artistic voice, and begins a journey into her future that readers will not only appreciate but possibly emulate.
Entwined with Molly’s negotiation of stagecraft, Acheson weaves the story of the adults in Molly’s life: her friend Candace’s pregnant, unmarried mother; Grand, who worshipped the stage but never performed on it; Molly’s widowed mother, supportive but strained by the demands of those around her; and Molly’s immature uncle “Early,” whose own need to grow up is instrumental in Molly’s budding recognition of her place in her family and her community.  The characters are heart-warmingly real; their troubles are expressed sympathetically, in a manner that is not overwhelmingly angst-inducing.  The balance Acheson has developed between affectionate emotional attachment and interpersonal conflict strongly resembled one of my favourite authors, Glen Huser; Molly’s Cue can sit beside Huser’s Touch of the Clown (1999) with pride in achieving a positive and strong voice for the artistic child reader to hear.

An “Editor’s Choice”  Vancouver Sun

Saturday, July 31, 2010

prologue and chapter 1

People who knew my grandmother—we called her Grand—always said she was something else.

And she was.  She wasn’t like anyone I knew.

Uncle Early said she was first in line when make-believe was handed out.

Mom said she was in an orbit all her own: she was the star and we were the planets. I remember when she said that; she turned red immediately and looked rather angry with herself for saying such a thing aloud.  At the time, Early chuckled.  And when Grand died last April, he said Grand was now in her own obit…but that’s Early for you.  I told him to be more respectful, but maybe another bad pun was his way of grieving.  Everyone has their own way, Mom says.  Though it’s hard to know just what Mom’s is.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible that Grand’s gone.  When she was with us she made me want to feel the stage beneath my feet and the spotlight on my face.  Grand belonged to the stage, and the stage belonged to Grand.  I could always feel her with me—in some way—on stage. She said it belonged to me, too; to both of us together.  She always said that, and I believed her.  Because Grand knew everything.  At least, everything that was important.

1.  Finally

“High school.  Finally!”  There are kids all around us.  “It won’t take long,” I tell Candace, “and we’ll know where everything is.”  She doesn’t look convinced.

I remind her.  “Art class.”

Her face clears.  “Right.  Art class.  And you—drama.  And Ms. Tanaka.”

Three years ago Ms. Tanaka moved from New York City to our blip on the map.  Why, I don’t want to question.  I’ve been waiting to be in her class, to step onto a stage that is more than a platform at the end of a stinky gym.  For me, that’s what high school is going to be about.

But standing in this wide entrance hallway, brightly-coloured banners overhead swaying with all the movement below, I suddenly wonder.  Candace’s face has taken on a pinched look.   And there’s something in me that feels pretty much as she looks, and it’s something I’ve never felt before.  Maybe it’s the sheer size of the place.  Landing Middle School had three hundred students; this place has more than five times that.  And right now, every one of them is running around us.

“It’s not going to be that different, though,” I tell Candace.  “Really.”

“How do we find anything?” is all she says, and seconds later a tall guy in a red cap jostles her, and the stuff in her arms flies everywhere.

“Hey!” I call out.  He keeps going.  “Hey!” I shout.  “What’s up with you, Red Cap?”  He seems to pause then, but Candace is pulling on my sleeve.

“Don’t yell,” she says.  “Help me pick up my stuff.”  Even as she speaks, I can hear a boot connect with her pencil case, and it spins across the floor.

“What sort of place is this? Where people just knock each other down?”  My voice rises, and it feels good, as if the loudness might push down this new queasy feeling.

Candace stops trying to put her binders together and looks at me.  “What’s the matter with you, Molly Gumley?  Why are you yelling?”

“Nothing’s the matter.  And don’t call me Molly…you know.”  If there’s one thing I really don’t like about myself, it’s my last name.

I scrooch down to help her pick up the rest of her stuff—her lunchbag and that pencil case she’s had in her desk for as long as I’ve known her.  There’s a huge dusty footprint across the faded polka-dot cotton.  A hand picks up the case and hands it to me, and I look to see a flash of red and an apologetic smile.  “Sorry about this,” Red Cap says.  His eyes are gold-brown.  I didn’t know eyes could be that colour.  I don’t like how I can’t come up with any words, so I pass the case to Candace as he turns away, and I can see that she hasn’t noticed The Eyes.  She reaches for the case. “This was one of Mom’s projects for her first kids’ sewing-crafts book.”

“Come on,” I say, and ignore the sad tone that keeps popping up lately when she talks about her mom.  “Let’s find the class lists.”  I find hers first.  “Ozols, Candace,” I read.  “Mr Pritchard, room 208, and now for the G list.”  I head to the other wall where there’s a huge sheet of paper posted with the letter G on top.  Then I see…Ms. Tanaka.  Candace sees her at the same moment.

“There she is,” she whispers.  “Looking  just like she does in the newspaper!”

There have been articles about her in the local newspaper.  Once they even had pictures of all her family: every member of Ms. Tanaka’s family has been on stage.  Even her great-grandparents.  They were vaudevillians.  Thanks to Grand, I know all about vaudeville.  “Go say hello!” Candace pushes me gently.  And that feeling starts up again.

I’m going to ignore it, I decide, and I march over to the drama teacher.  “I’m Molly,” I say, and fight an urge to curtsey.  That would be too weird.  Ms. Tanaka takes my hand and pumps it in a firm handshake.  “Molly Gumley!” she says. “Coming from Landing Middle.  You’re in my grade nine drama class.”

“You know me?”  Jittery stuff sputters in my voice, I’m sure.

Ms. Tanaka has an amazing laugh: her jaw drops, and the sound comes from the back of her rib cage.  “This must seem like a big school to you, but it’s a small community.  I’m a friend of Mr. Roman’s.  He mentioned you did a fine job as Dorothy.”

Mr. Roman, my grade eight teacher.  “Did he tell you I made Toto throw up?”

I didn’t have to say that, did I?  But it’s worth it for her laugh.

“He did mention something about a few cookies.  I’m rather fond of chocolate myself.  He also said you were one of the most promising students he’s ever had.”

She gives me this sharp look, as if she’s trying to see why he would have said that.  Why wouldn’t he? I want to say.  But it’s her unspoken question that hangs in the air.

Ms. Tanaka glances at her watch.  “You should be finding your home room now.”  The bell cuts off her words and, with one final x-ray look, she’s off and the hallway clears until it’s just me and that question.

We belong to the stage, Grand always said. Everyone said—it’s a family thing.  I’ve never had somebody look at me with a question in their eyes. Not this question anyway: a “What’s in you” question.  I’ve never felt this…what is it that I feel?

Then the thought hits: this is it!  This is the High School Thing that people talk about.  When people ask, “So how do you feel about high school?” this is what they’re talking about.

How have I been answering this past half a year?  “I can’t wait,” is what I’ve been saying, and I’ll stick to that.  That’s my plan.  Here I am.  It’s where I’ve wanted to be.  Except, I’m still in the hall and not in the classroom where I’m supposed to be.

September 2009


From: Read Aloud Reviews

Grandpa’s Music: A Story about Alzheimer’s
By Alison Acheson
(Albert Whitman and Company, 2009)
Reading time: 5 minutes
Ages: 3 and up

A first class story of a loving supportive family coping with the challenges of a grandparent’s gradual memory loss. Acheson shows in her beautifully crafted story, and tells in the authors note, that creativity through storytelling, singing, cooking or playing the piano can bring many pleasures to individuals with Alzheimer’s as well as to their family members. An educational opportunity for all children and a must for any child who has a loved one suffering from memory loss.


ACHESON, Alison. Grandpa’s Music: A Story About Alzheimer’s. illus. by Bill Farnsworth. unpaged. CIP. Albert Whitman. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-3052-8. LC 2008055792.

K-Gr 3—This story concentrates on how the relationship between a child and her grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s disease, changes but remains loving and strong. When Grandpa comes to live with her family, Callie’s parents make a chart so everyone can remember their responsibilities. Grandpa’s jobs are to garden, knead bread, and peel potatoes. Callie impulsively adds, “Make music,” thereby establishing a bond that will link the two of them even as her grandfather’s memory worsens. When he can’t remember a song’s lyrics, he and Callie cheerfully make them up. The passage of a year realistically depicts Grandpa’s changing medical condition. Even when he must go to a nursing home, however, Callie and Grandpa play the piano and sing together. The illustrations, rendered in oil paint, are lit with a warm glow that captures the family’s feelings. Grandpa’s face shows his confusion as well as his enjoyment of the music. By concentrating on the girl’s perspective, the book presents a simple but powerful message for children who may face a similar situation. The story does not deny the sadness of Alzheimer’s, but demonstrates a way to continue loving the person the relative becomes.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond, VA

______________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 36. . . .May 21, 2010

cover Grandpa’s Music: A Story About Alzheimer’s. Alison Acheson. Illustrated by Bill Fransworth.
Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Co. (Distributed in Canada by Fitzhenry & Whiteside), 2009.
32 pp., hardcover, $21.95.
ISBN 978-0-8075-3052-8.

Subject Headings:
Alzheimer’s disease-Fiction.
Family life-Fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

***½ /4





“It’s time,” says Dad. Time for Grandpa to move into our home. He does, with his songbooks and his little cat, Baby Ruth.

Callie’s grandfather suffers from Alzheimer’s. When he moves in, the family makes up a routine with everyone sharing responsibilities for Grandpa. Eight-year-old Callie, understanding her grandfather’s need to feel useful, makes a list on the board of the things the old man is good at, including taking care of the garden, peeling potatoes and kneading bread. Then, noticing the sheets of music her grandpa is holding, she makes an important addition: making music. Although Grandpa’s memory loss makes it hard for him to remember something as simple as where to find the piano, the “muscle memory” in his fingers enables him to play the old songs even when it is too dark to read the notes. Callie and Grandpa sing together as he plays their favorites. And when the words can’t be remembered, they make them up together.

Grandpa’s Music is a simple and touching story about a family dealing with the frustrations involved when a loved one with Alzheimer’s comes to live with them. It is told through the eyes and in the voice of young Callie. Acheson’s sensitive evocation of the special relationship between Callie and Grandpa recalls a similar relationship between a small girl and her memory-impaired grandmother in Laura Langston’s heart-warming story, Mile High Apple Pie published in 2005.

internal artIn a note to readers at the beginning of Grandpa’s Music, Alison Acheson writes: “It’s good to share stories, art, and music with people affected by Alzheimer’s. Especially music – research has shown that music stays with people even when Alzheimer’s or other diseases of the brain cause them to lose many other memories and knowledge.” Thus the memory which Grandpa needs to play the piano endures in a physical sense, even though his memory for words fails.

Alison Acheson received plaudits for her young adult novel Mud Girl published in 2006, and she is anticipating the publication of her new YA novel entitled Molly’s Cue in May of this year. Grandpa’s Music is her first story for young children.

Bill Farnsworth is an accomplished artist and illustrator who has illustrated over fifty books for children. His depictions of Callie and her grandfather are particularly appealing; each of the two main characters appear to “lift off the page.” Farnsworth’s use of warm bright colours in the foreground which fade into soft, misty backgrounds underscores the theme of Grandpa’s Music beautifully, enabling the reader to feel the strength of the “now” moment as opposed to the faded quality of past moments.

Acheson has done an excellent job in finding the right narrative voice and selecting the right details to keep her characters lovable and the story believable. As a read-aloud,Grandpa’s Music will be sure to bring up an interesting discussion about old people and memory.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

What the story is about:

Grandpa takes care of the garden, kneads bread, and makes music on the piano.  Everyone in Callie’s family helps out around the house, now that Grandpa, who has Alzheimer’s, lives with them.  The family becomes Grandpa’s “home team,” and Callie loves spending time with him.

The artwork is by Bill Farnsworth.  I am grateful for what he has created.  A childhood friend of mine wrote the following Facebook comment when he saw the cover image:

Curtis Collins
Curtis Collins
Is that a picture of you – you used to look just like that at 8 years old?
This made me laugh!  And think about all the “connectings” we do, as humans…
Curtis and I grew up next door to each other; his wife, who has become my friend,
Sarah, has taken writing classes with me (check out her wonderful early reader,
SAM & NATE (P.J. Sarah Collins, Orca Books); Bill Farnsworth lives in Florida,
about as far away as you can be on this continent…and we’ve never met.
I grew up thinking that writers always work alone.  But writing a picturebook is
different: other people have important roles and contributions.  It’s more like a
theatre production…almost…

MUD GIRL  – released Fall 2006

FINALIST for the Canadian Library Association’s

Young Adult Book of the Year

___ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006










Mud Girl. Alison Acheson.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2006.
317 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 1-55050-354-5.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Michelle Superle.

**** /4


If she lies really still—doesn’t make a move to get up—she can almost hear the sound of that laughter. No, it’s the river, carrying mud from one place to the next.

The sight of her scarf takes Abi by surprise. It seems like a dream, the day before.

Then she remembers the waiting; the phone not ringing.

What’s a promise, anyway?

Abi takes up where she left off with the needle and yarn, and leaves bed only when a hunger headache threatens. . . .

Cereal, and back to the scarf. She can feel the sun warming the east side of the house, rising over the roof. Dad gets up, dumps cereal into a bowl, looks vaguely for the milk.

“Fridge,” Abi reminds him. Click, click, click, go the needles. She likes the sound. She suddenly realizes the TV’s off. “Hey, what’s with the . . .” she starts to say, but then shuts up. Why remind him?

He sits at the table. Still seems to be looking for something or somebody.

“Dad.” Abi speaks as if he’s a songbird just landed on the windowsill. “Dad, eat.”

He does, tentatively.

They sit, almost like any other daughter and father, eating breakfast. “Did you sleep well?” she asks.

It’s supposed to be the question the parent asks the teenager, and it’s supposed to annoy the teenager.

“Huh?” he asks. “Oh. Yeah.”

Does he remember what I just said?

Alison Acheson’s newest novel for teens is a work of brilliance, most closely resembling the work of Canadian YA icon Martha Brooks, yet with an understated genius all its own. In Mud Girl, protagonist Aba Zytka Jones—Abi—spends her sixteenth summer contemplating life’s biggest questions. Abi lives in a vividly rendered shack-like house perched on the banks of the Fraser River in Delta, British Columbia. The building’s dilapidation and precarious hold on the bank mirrors her father’s tenuous hold on his mental health; his depression began after Abi’s mother left the previous year, and it leaves Abi a virtual orphan. During the school year, she traversed a narrow, subsistent existence, but this summer she actively seeks out meaningful relationships and a job, although she still faces the same emptiness in her home life.

Abi asks herself a lot of questions about her mother’s decision to leave the family, but she doesn’t come up with many answers. Her searching, however, enables the emotionally emaciated girl to make productive connections with several new people who come into her life. Each quirky and delightfully believable, the secondary characters inMud Girl add an impressive depth to the novel. Abi finds surrogate relatives (father and mother? uncle and aunt?) in Horace the kindly bus driver and “Ernestine,” the Big Sister volunteer. Amanda, a more helpful and responsive “big sister” than Ernestine, gives Abi a job and some valuable perspective on life and relationships, both familial and romantic. Jude, the lost and self-centered boy who becomes Abi’s boyfriend, is her foil, and their faltering romance allows Abi to learn to trust her own judgment and intuition. Jude’s mother, Lily, and his son, Dyl, also enable Abi to grow, and she repays the chance they give her a thousandfold. By the end of the novel, Abi has grown from a confused, frightened child to a much more decisive young woman who is aware of the realities of both her limitations and power.

Every element of Mud Girl is just right. The characters are round and realistic, the plot compels page-turning, the setting symbolically mirrors the theme, and the resolution is satisfying. Particularly impressive is Acheson’s use of language. Every sentence is understated yet filled with a full depth of meaning while the diction is gratifying for its warm poetic rhythm. Mud Girl’s best quality, though, is its tone. Acheson manages to strike the almost impossible balance between hope for Abi’s future and the true direness of her current situation. That this is done without the least hint of heavy handed didacticism is even more striking.

In a genre crowded with depressing mediocrity, Acheson has defied the norm by producing a work of high artistic quality that is also fully accessible to young adult readers. It is a pleasure not to be burdened with another cookie cutter slick teen throwaway story. Mud Girl is a compelling novel—easily the best YA book of the year. It deserves to be in the hands of every teenager in Canada.

Highly Recommended

Michelle Superle teaches Children’s Literature and Composition at the University College of the Fraser Valley.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

The Half-Pipe Kidd: (Coteau Books, 1997) book

Ogilvie Kidd has 2 talents—freestyle cycling and writing poetry. Except he wouldn’t be caught dead writing poetry. He also has 2 friends—Roland Gilbert, straight-A overachiever, and Chester “Couch” Field, a fanatical jock who’s failing English. The Kidd has to make some choices…


Thunder Ice: (Coteau Books, 1996, finalist for Manitoba Young Readers, and Red Cedar, BC Young Readers Award, and the Geoffrey Bilson historical fiction prize)

In 1880, Thunder Bay—as we know it—was two towns: Prince Arthur’s Landing, and Fort William. As neighbouring towns in Canada vied for the railway route, people were often at odds. In THUNDER ICE, twelve-year-olds Oliver and Bert, once close friends as well as cousins, aren’t speaking to each other. Neither are their fathers. Oliver’s father has left town on a dangerous mission, and Oliver needs to do something…