How did you get started in children’s books?
Homesickness for the Maritimes led me to writing my first book La butte à Pétard, which has been continuously published since 1989. It tells the story of an Acadian family who, like my ancestors and hundreds of other Acadians, escaped the deportation of 1755 by hiding in the forest for several years. The book was both a cure for my homesickness and a “novel” answer to my students’ question: “What is an Acadian?”
The following year, to help save the tallest tree in Canada, my first picture book, Maxine’s Tree, was published. Based on my family’s involvement in preserving an old-growth rainforest, this book shows that even a tiny person like my daughter Maxine, can make a big difference. A pro-clearcutting group wanted the book banned from school libraries. It remained on the shelves, however, and the real Maxine’s Tree is still standing.
My two first books became bestsellers, so I was off to a good start writing in both languages.
What (or who) inspires your writing or art?
My village and my passion for Acadian History have inspired my writing for the last 30 years. My life experiences have also inspired stories with different themes. The famous Acadian author Antonine Maillet inspired me to be true to my voice when she won the 1979 Prix Goncourt, the highest literary award in France and the only North American to have received this honor.
What was your favorite book as a child? Why?
Caroline sur la lune, by Pierre Probst. This book was my favorite in the series of lavishly illustrated picture books about young Caroline’s adventures with her eight endearing and sometimes naughty pets. Often being in charge of entertaining my five younger siblings, I strongly identified with this character’s predicaments. In this story, Caroline and her pets dress as astronauts and land on the moon. This really impressed me because in the mid-sixties, no one had set foot on the moon.
When I was a little older, it was La Comtesse de Ségur’s Les nouveaux contes de fées, especially the story of ‘Blondine.’ After being abandoned in a forest of lilac trees, Blondine is cared for by an enchanted doe and a cat. She falls asleep in their castle for seven years. When she awakes, Blondine is well-educated in science and literature. She can also speak several languages and is able to play various musical instruments. This was the best part. Marrying the prince at the end was just a bonus.
How can teachers use your books in the classroom?
(A) For a study of Acadian History: La trilogie de la butte à Pétard (French only), Piau’s Potato Present (La patate cadeau)
The first book in the trilogy, La butte à Pétard,* is still being used in Canadian and Cajun schools as an introduction to Acadian History. *A teacher’s guide is available from me.
(B) For a study of the environment: Maxine’s Tree* (L’arbre de Maxine*) and Who’s in Maxine’s Tree? (Qui est dans l’arbre de Maxine?)
(C) For art classes: Emily Carr’s Attic (Le grenier d’Emily Carr)
(D) For themes of diversity, acceptance and peace: My Two Grandmothers (Mémére Soleil, Nannie Lune), Piau’s Potato Present (La patate cadeau)
What are you looking forward to most during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week?
Reading My Two Grandmothers and Mémére Soleil, Nannie Lune. I love imitating my Acadian and Scottish grandmothers, who were as different from each other as the sun from the moon. Children and adults respond very well and I hope to inspire them to write stories about their own grandparents.