Get To Know The Touring Creators Part 3

Get To Know The Touring Creators Part 3

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It’s the week before Book Week and we’re getting to know the 28 touring authors, illustrators and storytellers better before they travel to 175 communities across Canada.

Do you have a touring creator coming to your community? Get to know them beforehand with these interviews. Be sure to read past interviews: part one, part two.

Michelle Mulder
Wendy McLeod MacKnight
Sara Leach
Tony Cliff

 

Michelle Mulder

Michelle’s first children’s book came out in 2006, and since then, she’s written books for kids about migrant farm workers, child marriage, bicycles, activism, water, garbage, guerrilla gardening and more. She loves sharing the inspiring stories of people around the world who are doing simple things to make a difference in their communities. (She likes to experiment with their ideas in her hometown, too. After writing Trash Talk, she helped start Repair Café Victoria where volunteers help people fix broken household items. While writing Home Sweet Neighborhood, she got a few new ideas for her own neighbourhood, which now includes a book exchange box, a public garden and the city’s first traffic-calming road mural.)

When not writing, Michelle can be found speaking at schools and libraries, riding her bicycle, foraging wild foods with her nine-year-old, or walking along the beach near their home in Victoria, BC.

 

Do you have any advice for any young, aspiring creators out there?

Do what you love, and be yourself! Skill and practice are important, but really great art requires bravery, too. It can be scary to put ourselves out there and show people how we think and feel, but that’s what gives art its spark. Also, first drafts are messy, and that’s a good thing. Get it all down on the page without worrying about how it sounds or looks. You can tidy and shape it later. Read lots, stare out the window, play with your creation, and use it to express exactly how you think and feel. There’s no one else who can create art exactly the way you do!

What are you most excited for about Book Week? Is there anything you’re nervous about?

I’m excited about meeting kids who love books and reading. I’m excited about visiting parts of Canada and learning about what the world looks like from those places. I’m always a bit nervous about talking to big groups, but the excitement is definitely stronger than the nervousness.

What is one random fact about yourself that might surprise people?

People are often surprised when they find out I don’t have a car. I live in a part of Victoria where it’s actually easier to get around by bike, and the odd time that I do borrow a car, I have to rethink my routes because I’m not on a bicycle anymore!

How did you get started in children’s books?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old, and although I’ve read quite a few books for adults, I’ve always enjoyed books for kids the most. When I was in my twenties, I took a course on how to write for children. At the same time, I was doing some editing work for Nimbus Publishing, and one of the editors there asked if I’d be interested in writing about the popular local tourist tugboat, Theodore Too. I knew nothing about writing picture books, and even less about tugboats, but it seemed like a great opportunity, so I said yes, and I’ve been writing books for kids ever since.

What (or who) inspires your writing or art?

Conversations with my friends, neighbours and family. We talk about such interesting things (like placemaking or guerrilla gardening), then I start researching, and I’m off and away on another book project. I love exploring ideas, and the people in my life are always drawing my attention to new possibilities.

 

Find out more about Michelle Mulder at her official website or through the Book Week website here.


 

Wendy McLeod MacKnight


Wendy lives in Hanwell, New Brunswick, and wrote her first novel at age nine. During her first career, she worked for the Government of New Brunswick, ending her career as the Deputy Minister of Education. She has been known to wander art galleries and have spirited conversations with the paintings – mostly in her head, though sometimes not. Her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017.

Do you have any advice for any young, aspiring creators out there?

Read, write, revise! Reading teaches you story structure, character development, voice, the beauty of language, and the joy of a story well told. Writing builds your skill set. But revising is everything: If you can make it better, you must!  It takes me at least three drafts to even understand where the book is going, no matter how much preparation and plotting I do in advance! Oh,  and one more thing: DON’T GIVE UP!

How did you get started in children’s books?

I wrote my first novel when I was nine years old!  And kept writing, though I got side-tracked for many years by another (almost as wonderful) career. But my dream was always to write for children, and one day I woke up, left my job and never looked back. I would have always regretted it if I didn’t try!

What (or who) inspires your writing or art?

I am inspired by the students I meet, by my life experiences, and by the amazing stories written by other authors!

What was your favourite book as a child? Why?

This one is such a hard question, because there are so many!  But if forced to pick just one, I will always choose Anne of Green Gables, because Anne is a fully realized, lovable character, and because I was amazed to read a story set in a place close to where I grew up. It gave me hope that I could tell New Brunswick stories someday.

How can teachers use your books in the classroom?

The premise of The Frame-Up — that all original artwork is alive and living parallel lives to their creators — encourages young readers to look at art and the creation of art as a jumping-off point for the imagination and for how communities and stories are created. I’d suggest the following activities:

  • Develop creative writing prompts to encourage students to look at the paintings in the novel and identify who’s missing — for example, women and minorities — or in the background, to help students understand how paintings, particularly older ones like those in The Frame-Up, offer a sanitized and narrow perspective of the time/place in which they were painted. Help students identify how paintings from their own culture might differ in the stories they tell and encourage them to tell them through writing/drawing/painting.
  • Pair a painting with a non-fiction/historical text to stimulate discussion and new stories.
  • In the book, characters are from various time periods/cultures — students could be presented with two paintings and encouraged to write stories about how the characters might interact.
  • Encourage students to create graphic novels about the artwork they see, like one of the characters does in The Frame-Up.
  • Encourage students to identify what items they’d want to take into a painting with them and why.
  • In the book, students attending art camp learn that artists use perspective to draw the viewer’s attention to specific areas in the painting. Authors do this, too. Students can be encouraged to identify this in the artwork they view, then work to write stories that use a different perspective or try to trick the reader into focusing their attention on certain things in order to hide the author’s true intention.

 

Find out more about Wendy McLeod MacKnight through her website or through the Book Week website here.


 

Sara Leach

Sara Leach is an award-winning author of books for children. Her newest book, Penguin Days, illustrated by Rebecca Bender, is the sequel to Slug Days, which received an Honourable Mention in the Foreword INDIES Book Awards for Juvenile Fiction and was nominated for the Chocolate Lily Book Award. Her middle grade novel Count Me In has been translated into four languages, and won the Red Cedar Book Award.

 

Sara lives in Whistler, BC, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She enjoys skiing, hiking and biking in the local mountains with her two teenaged children and husband.

 

Do you have any advice for any young, aspiring creators out there?

Pick up a pen and start writing! When you are first writing, it’s most important to get your ideas down. Don’t worry about spelling on your first draft. Just write your best guess and be prepare to go back and make your work better when you’ve finished. Don’t forget that revising is an important step in the writing process.

What are you most excited for about Book Week? Is there anything you’re nervous about?

I’m most excited about meeting children and seeing schools in another part of Canada. I’ve never been to rural Saskatchewan, and I’ve heard it is beautiful. I’m a little nervous about whether my computer will “speak” to the projectors in all the different schools on a tight schedule!

What is one random fact about yourself that might surprise people?

I’ve never been able to learn how to whistle, but after 47 years, I’m still trying!

What was your favourite book as a child? Why?

I loved Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl so much that when I reached the last page I turned back to page one and started reading it again. Mr. Fox is a wonderful, heroic character, and Boggis, Bunce and Bean are awful. I was immersed in the story and could smell the cider and chicken livers and feel the foxes’ fear.

How can teachers use your books in the classroom?

Slug Days and Penguin Days are both great books for teaching about tolerance, as the main character, Lauren, is a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They could also be used with older students as a jumping off point for talking about point of view in writing, as Lauren has a distinct way of looking at the world. Students could re-write scenes from the point of view of one of the other characters.

Find out more about Sara Leach through her official website and through the Book Week website here.


Tony Cliff

Tony Cliff is the author of Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules. It is the third in the critically-acclaimed DELILAH DIRK series of books. A New York Times Bestselling author and nominee for Shuster, Harvey, and Eisner awards, Tony was raised in and currently lives in Vancouver, BC, where he is a 13-year veteran of that city’s animation industry.

 

Do you have any advice for any young, aspiring creators out there?

Yes! Two pieces of advice that I hold close to my heart:
1) Start small and take an entire project from start to finish. Short stories, short comics, whatever. The important thing here is that you’ll learn how you like working. You’ll learn what techniques work for you at every stage in the process. And, at the end, you’ll have a finished thing. You can stop calling yourself an “aspiring writer,” and start just calling yourself a “writer.”
2) When you’re receiving advice, know that no advice is absolutely correct. “Starting small” worked for me, but 1000-page projects have worked for other people. If anyone tells you, “I know the correct way to do something, and my way is the only way to success,” take that advice with a grain of salt. That way worked for them, but you may be able to find a different path.

For the touring creators, Book Week involves a lot of travelling. What one book and one other item are your travel essentials?

Noise-cancelling headphones. I only just got a pair, and I don’t know how I lived without them. Have you heard of these things? They are a miracle, they are magical, they are descended upon us bathed in holy light, they are Noise-Cancelling Headphones. As for books, I have a few library holds on some Terry Pratchett titles that I hope come through before I have to leave. If not, a good friend lent me his copy of Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, and I loved the last thing he lent me (Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five). Maybe some Jane Austen, too. I want to re-read Northanger Abbey.

What are you most excited for about Book Week? Is there anything you’re nervous about?

I once did a presentation to a group of middle-schoolers, and they all seemed 100% tuned-out. Gum-smacking, leg-kicking, head-on-desk bored. As I was presenting, I felt awful. This was a waste of time for all of us. None of these kids cared. And then, at the end, as I was miserably winding up the power lead for my laptop, a small boy approached me and said, in a quiet, sweet voice, “Thank you for your talk. You’ve really inspired me to keep drawing and writing.” That’s what I’m excited for. Did he go on to keep drawing and writing? I don’t know. But he said it without any external prompting and with such earnestness that I choose to believe him.

As for nervous things? Ehh, I’m a bad traveller, so I’m nervous to find out how much sleep I’ll lose during the week. I’m also generally nervous about talking to younger audiences. I remember presentations I saw in high school. Everything kids experience is so much more heightened than when they’ll be older. You get old and time starts whipping by so fast your hair falls out. When you’re a kid, though, an entire adult’s lifetime can pass in the space of an afternoon. I want to make sure I make the best of it.

What was your favourite book as a child? Why?

Calvin & Hobbes, in general. I honestly don’t know why. Looking back, it’s a real chicken-and-the-egg type situation: I don’t know if I liked Calvin & Hobbes because it matched my tastes, or if my tastes are what they are because of Calvin & Hobbes. Either way, that little comic strip means a lot to me.

How can teachers use your books in the classroom?

If you throw them fast and land the spine on your target just right, you might be able to knock a kid silly.

Otherwise, there are a whole bunch of more scholarly uses. One of my favourites is exploring the simple idea of “a place used to be called this, now it’s called that.” The first book is set in Istanbul, which (as the song tells us) was Constantinople. It’s the topic of Political Geography, I guess. That simple idea blew my mind: that place-names were not permanent, and it opened up a whole world of critical thinking: that so many of the things we take for immutable fact are, in truth, the whimsical choices of a bunch of grumpy men sitting in wood-panelled rooms.

In Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, I talk about reputation and how it might be weighed against friendship. In The Pillar of Hercules, a major thread of the story concerns fame and public shaming, and what more timely topic of discussion could there be? And, of course, the books can serve as a starting point for discussing the Peninsular War, Napoleon, the French Revolution, archaeology, the theft of cultural artefacts, and the idea of a “untrustworthy narrator.” I’m hoping to put together some educational materials along these lines, just as soon as I get a spare minute. If any educators wish to reach out to express interest and/or make requests, I’m at info@tonycliff.com.

 

Find out more about Tony Cliff through his official website and through the Book Week website here.


Check bookweek.ca each day this week for more interviews!