How did you get started in children’s books?
When I was six years old, I drew all the things I was going to be when I grew up. Of all those things, my actual life came down to two: professional roller skater, or author. Fate delivered the latter. I wrote my first novel, The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods, after walking through the woods with a six year-old boy whose mittens were wet, tummy was empty, and feet were cold. I told him he’d better shush and keep walking or else. “Or else what?” He said. “Or else the junk-hunting wood pirates will hear you.” That story got us all the way back to the house. When I got home, I decided to write it down before I forgot it. From that moment, I officially abandoned roller skating.
What (or who) inspires your writing or art?
One day I was walking down Robson Street in Vancouver, which is a really posh shopping district. A boy and a girl had climbed into one of the mannequin displays facing the street, and were pulling faces as crowds of people walked by. I looked just in time to see the boy press his face to the glass and blow. Then his sister did the same, and I thought Those are the best people in the whole world right now. If I could ever make them laugh, make them stay up too late reading? That would be a dream. Kids like that inspire my writing. The quiet ones, the goofy ones, the clowns and the scientists. They have the whole world to choose from. That they might choose to spend some of their time in a story of mine is such a thrill.
What was your favourite book as a child? Why?
There were so many—anything by Roald Dahl, Gene Stratton Porter’s Girl of the Limberlost, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett—but two that were dragged around the most were GIANTS by David Larkin and GNOMES by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. Both are written like non-fiction field guides on the classifications, daily life, and habitats of giants and gnomes. To be able to recognize a distant hilltop as Bran the Blessed, Iron-Age Celt warrior, taking a nap? To have an elemental understanding of gnome carpentry? Heaven.
How can teachers use your books in the classroom?
The Dread Crew and Flight of the Griffons are novels for 8-14 year-olds, and are great for reading aloud. The second one in particular, Flight of the Griffons, features a storyline about environmental protest—nature-loving pirates tear down pipelines and sabotage clearcutting equipment at night. It’s pretty timely stuff that kids innately care about—it drives to question the value of activism, the inevitability of capitalism, and the glue of community and friendship.
If I Were A Zombie is a picture book for 4-8 year-olds, and it’s a celebration of dress-up and silly imaginary play. Teachers often follow a reading with an art project—kids draw themselves as their favourite monster of mystical creature—and it’s fun for them to make up their own stories about all the beasts that I left out. They never fail to let me know who I forgot: Cyclops! Yeti! Mummy! Werewolf! It’s pure gold when a kid shows me a drawing of herself as a unicorn who went through the Tim Horton’s Drive-Thru and galloped away with twenty-five doughnuts on her horn.
What are you looking forward to most during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week?
The kids! The shouting! The growling! Whenever I do back-to-back readings, especially at elementary schools, I’m just beat—I lose my voice, I sweat like a racehorse. Or a goblin. It’s a really physical and wild and rowdy time. But despite all the energy it takes, I get so much energy back. Kids are so full of sass and confidence. For them, being foolish and unselfconscious is right at the surface. There’s nothing blocking them from play. We could learn a thing or two from kids. They are the best of us. Especially when they are being little beasts.