Touring In: Ontario

Craft: Author

Genre: Picture Books, Beginning Readers, Early Chapter Books, Junior Fiction, Young Adult, Teen, Hi-Lo

Ideal Audience Size: 30-100

Maximum Audience Size: 100-120

Grades: Kindergarten-Grade 12

Special Equipment: Table for props and books, and a microphone if the audience or venue is large. Overhead projector for PowerPoint presentation, if possible.


Finalist for the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award
Shortlisted for the 2017 Rainforest of Reading Award

Presentation Information

Valuing Yourself and Your World!  (JK to Grade 1 or 2)

Alison’s picture book What Matters explores how small actions can have big impacts, showing how each of us can make a difference in our world. While the focus is on recycling and environmental connections, other small acts (like smiles and hugs) are important for community-building too! They all go towards making our world a better place. Alison’s other picture books, Gerbil, Uncurled (about a gerbil who sleeps differently than the other gerbils in her busy cage) and Spare Dog Parts (about a very loving, oddly-assembled mutt) steer the discussion to children valuing their own unique gifts and celebrating their differences. This session’s activities include magic tricks, props, brainstorming, showing the amazing switcheroo that happens with a bag of recyclables (plastic bottles can be turned into t-shirts? Carpet?), and singing a special song that we make up together.

Curriculum links: The importance of healthy, caring communities; belonging and contributing; resilience; personal well-being; inclusion, diversity and valuing difference; innovative problem-solving in a group; sharing and showing respect for others; social justice and environment.

Writing:  Practice and Teamwork!  (Grades 2, 3, 4)

Do you play piano, soccer, hockey or video games? How about basketball, like the Gladiators in Alison’s book Kings of the Court? Practice makes you better, right? It’s exactly the same with writing! The more you write, the better you write. In this session, the students will play Alison’s famous YES OR NO? game to dispel some common misconceptions about writing, and a fun, interactive card game to show that story ideas can be found just about anywhere, organization makes writing way easier, the 3Ds (description, dialogue and detail) make stories come to life, and revising is not the miserable fun-sucker that kids sometimes think it is. And while writing can be solitary, Alison will show the extensive teamwork that goes into publishing a book.

Curriculum links: Using techniques such as outlines, humour, dialogue, vocabulary, detail and editing in storytelling; group brainstorming and problem-solving; sharing and showing respect for others; making connections; the creative process; planning and focus; communicating ideas.

Staying Alive:  Writing Survival Stories (Grades 4-6, adapted for Grades 7-9)

Could there be a topic more thrilling than survival? This popular session (which can be an interactive presentation or a writing workshop) is based on Alison’s novel Lost in the Backyard. It explores getting seriously lost, which involves action, setting, description, drama and often wet socks. Different disaster scenarios get our adrenalin going while we brainstorm survival uses for common backpack items, talk about wildlife encounters and make survival plans. The students steer the discussion in the rapid-fire “Pick a Card” game, revealing “code-words” for a variety of writing topics. In a fun, interactive way, we cover a lot of ground, including story ideas, research, planning, dialogue, description, detail, revision and even rejection.

Curriculum links: Resilience and personal strength; innovative approaches to challenges; using humour, dialogue, vocabulary, detail and editing in storytelling; planning and focus; group brainstorming and respect for the opinions of others; discovering connections with others.

Write Like There’s No Tomorrow (Grades 9-12, adults)

What are you waiting for? There’s no magical right time to write — jump in now. Because when you write, you not only get better at writing, you get more ideas. In this presentation, Alison makes the case for taking writing seriously as a crucial, practical tool for communication and personal well-being. In terms of story-writing, she encourages students to click themselves off the leash and mine their experiences by journaling, blurting and writing honest, really ugly first drafts. She shares how raw stories can be shaped, tugged and polished through useful elements like dialogue, atmosphere and description. Her YA novel Hit the Ground Running provides a good example of deep, substantive editing. She’ll also share the oh-so-glamorous path to publication, including editing, lots and lots of rejection (she’ll read some of her rejection letters), tapping into writing communities, and the necessity of hard work, perseverance and a pig-headed belief in your work.

Curriculum links: Communicating ideas; critical and creative thinking; audience and purposive writing; planning and focus; the writing toolbox; self-reliance and resilience; building space and time for creativity.

Picture This:  Writing Picture Books (adults)

Writing picture books is like ballet: it looks effortless, but you know the dancers’ feet are bloody stumps. – Laurent Linn (author/illustrator)

Many people feel they’ve got a picture book in them. Alison has long suspected that picture book writers lurk everywhere — amongst librarians, parents and teachers in particular. So you’ve got the great idea, now where do you go? In this practical session, Alison surveys the pros and cons of picture book writing (spoiler alert: the pros win!) and dissects the structure, format, pacing, language and word count of picture books. She also suggests dos and don’ts, highlights current thematic trends and markets, and gives practical submission tips including sample query letters. Who knows? Maybe that book you’re carrying around in your head will be the next Goodnight Moon or Love You Forever. And it’s time to let it out.


Book List

Kasey & Ivy (Orca Book Publishers, 2018)

Hit the Ground Running (Orca Book Publishers, 2017)

Kings of the Court (Orca Book Publishers, 2017)

What Matters (Orca Book Publishers, 2016)

Spare Dog Parts (Orca Book Publishers, 2016)

Beatrice More Moves In (Orca Book Publishers, 2015)

Gerbil, Uncurled (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015)

Lost in the Backyard (Orca Book Publishers, 2015)

On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk (Orca Book Publishers, 2014)

Poser (Orca Book Publishers, 2013)



Alison did a lot of studying and wandering before she became a writer. She got a degree in English literature, then in law, then went to England for a master’s degree (she loved the gardens, hated the rain). Learning to drive on the wrong side of the road was more intimidating than teaching university in Australia, and she’s also worked at a human rights centre, a court, and an NGO for people with disabilities. She stayed at home when her three children were young, and that’s when she started writing, sometimes in the bathroom, with the door locked. These days, she has more time to tell the stories of the characters that walk into her head.

Alison loves talking and laughing with children, and has given workshops and presentations at dozens of schools, libraries, young author conferences and festivals across the country. She pretends to be an adult on the board of the Young Alberta Book Society and volunteers with other literacy and writing organizations.

Alison is happy walking her dogs or riding her bike in the river valley, and enjoys reading actual newspapers, collecting rocks, playing with her two new kittens, and pawing through thrift shops. She is trying to break an annoying habit of telling people she “only paid TWO BUCKS for that!” She likes to travel, but can usually be found at her computer with a cup of tea, some chocolate and three loudly-snoring dogs by her side.



Hit the Ground Running

  • Finalist for the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award
  • Selected for the 2017 Junior Library Guild List

What Matters

  • Shortlisted for the 2017 R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature (Alberta Literary Awards)
  • Honorable Mention for the 2017 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (USA)
  • Starred Selection for the 2017 CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens List

Spare Dog Parts

  • Shortlisted for the 2017 Chocolate Lily Book Award
  • Listed as a 2017 Bank Street College of Education (USA) Best Children’s Books of the Year
  • Selected for the 2016 CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens List

Gerbil, Uncurled

  • Shortlisted for the 2017 Rainforest of Reading Award

Lost in the Backyard

  • Shortlisted for the 2016 Silver Birch Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2016 Red Cedar Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2016 Hackmatack Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2016 Diamond Willow Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2016-17 Surrey Schools’ Book of the Year
  • Selected for the Ottawa Public Library’s 2016-17 One Book, One School Project
  • Selected as a 2016 Ontario Library Association Best Bet
  • Young Adult Notable Book for the 2016 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (USA)


  • Shortlisted for the 2015 Red Cedar Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2015 Hackmatack Award

“The Late Show”

  • Winner of the 2009 Writers’ Union of Canada Writing for Children Award



“Thanks so much for your fantastic presentation! Your dynamic enthusiasm for writing is infectious and I’m sure you’ve inspired many budding authors today (including me!). Thank you for sharing your books, your insights and your passion!”

—Sian Vadnais, Mundare School (Mundare, AB)

“Alison offered an excellent interactive session. Alison is patient, respectful and enjoys meeting students of all ages. Her sessions were very informative and well planned and delivered. She encouraged the kids to keep reading, write and share their stories in order to grow and be proud of what they do and accomplish.”

—Sonia Doyon, Ottawa Public Library (Ottawa, ON)

“The teachers commented that she was great with all of the kids, and that her presentations were lively and engaging… Alison is very easy going, approachable and has a great sense of humor; making it a great environment for the kids to relax and ask their questions…A lot of the kids, when asked, thought she was amazing. Everyone was extremely impressed with the presentations and we are so very thankful to Alison for coming out to share her life and stories with us.”

—Young Alberta Book Society Taleblazers Festival 2016, evaluation by a host librarian

“Alison Hughes is excited about her writing and eager to share that enthusiasm with others. A warm and friendly speaker, she engages her audience with fun interactive activities and a relaxed reading style. She also welcomes all questions, which she answers openly, honestly, and with great advice for aspiring writers.”

—Jeff Mercer, South Shore Public Libraries

“Our grade 3 classes enjoyed visiting author, Alison Hughes very much!  She enthusiastically engaged her audience with a fun and interactive activity.  She exuded her love for writing and shared how she gets her inspiration.”

—Grade 3 teacher, Mount Pleasant School (Edmonton, AB)

“Alison was very engaging and comfortable working with the students.  They responded well to her… Alison was not only informative, but warm, funny and attentive to the students. My students loved Alison and greatly enjoyed their time with her.”

—Donna Ainslie-O’Connor, Grade 3 Teacher, Brookwood School (Spruce Grove, AB)