Touring In: British Columbia (Lower Mainland)

Craft: Author

Genre: Junior Fiction, YA Fiction, Teen Fiction

Ideal Audience Size: 30-60 (one or two classes)

Maximum Audience Size: 100 (or three classes)

Grades: Grades 5-8

Special Equipment:  Projector and access to PowerPoint



Shortlisted for the 2014 White Pine Award
Shortlisted for the 2014 Stellar Award

Presentation Information

My 2017 release, Pop Quiz revolves around a group of young actors on a popular television ‘dramedy’ of the same name. When writing the book, I drew on seven years of personal experience working in the world of film and television production. My CCBW presentation uses one experience in particular as a springboard into a fun and interactive discussion of story structure.

In 2003, I was awarded a “Bridge Award,” grant from CBC and Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation. The Bridge Award is intended to take young professionals in the film and television industry, and give them the opportunity to write and produce a broadcast length television program. My proposal was for a 22 minute stop-motion animated short film, “A Cape Breton Ghost Story,” that would draw on the ghost stories and legends that were a backdrop to my childhood in Cape Breton, as well as my interest and professional experience in animation.

For four years I worked tirelessly to bring my vision to the screen. Acting as writer, director, production designer and voice actor, and drawing on the goodwill of my friends, family and many talented colleagues, I finally managed to complete the film, and in April of 2007 it had its first public screening at the Viewfinders International Film Festival for Children, in Halifax. Sitting in a packed and darkened theatre, I watched my film with an audience for a first time, and for the better part of a half hour I sat transfixed as scenes and images that had originated in my head flashed, bright and beautiful, across the screen. Then the movie ended and the lights came up.

Reaction was… polite, at best.

After all those years of work, the many hours of building and painting elaborate miniature sets, painstakingly moving puppets across imaginary landscapes, and working with actors and music composers to finesse the final product, my movie simply didn’t resonate with its audience. Eventually I came to understand the simple reason that my film fell flat. The story, in a nutshell, just didn’t work.

In my presentation for Canadian Children’s Book Week, I will use clips and images from my visually attractive, but ill-fated filmmaking experience, as well as numerous examples from children’s and YA literature, to talk about the fundamental importance of a great story. I will detail how the lessons I learned when my movie failed to resonate with its audience, followed me into the world of writing novels for young readers. I will talk about how an audience – of readers as much as viewers – responds to character, motivation, and plot, and how these basic elements of good story can hook the imagination when assembled and polished in just the right way.

Using powerpoint, handouts, and audience interaction, I will ultimately call on the students to help me create a brand new story on the spot – a unique tale for every class. It’s an experience in which I expect to learn as much as they do.

NOTE: I am also prepared to give a different presentation to GSA’s and other LGBTQ focused youth groups on my experiences as a queer author, the history and importance of LGBTQ representation in young adult literature, and some of the challenges and opportunities inherent in writing for and about LGBTQ readers and characters. I have given these sorts of presentations in the past, and would love the opportunity to visit other groups of this sort while on the tour.


Book List

A Giant Man from a Tiny Town
Nimbus Publishing, October 2018)

Pop Quiz
(Orca Book Publishers, 2017)

Big Time
(Orca Book Publishers, 2014)

Totally Unrelated
(Orca Book Publishers, 2013)

Tag Along
(Orca Book Publishers, 2013)

Way to Go

(Orca Book Publishers, 2012)



Tom Ryan is the author of several books for young readers. He has been nominated for the White Pine Award, the Stellar Award and the Hackmatack Award, and two of his books were Junior Library Guild selections. His young adult novels, Way to Go and Tag Along, were chosen for the ALA Rainbow List, in 2013 and 2014. He was a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow in Young Adult Fiction. For more information, visit

In Tom’s own words: I was born and raised in Inverness, Nova Scotia. It’s a very small town on the western coast of beautiful Cape Breton Island, and just about the best place on earth to grow up.

I started making up stories before I could even read or write, and I never really stopped. Like many people, I’ve had my share of interesting jobs – from washing dishes in a restaurant (an experience which found its way into my first book, Way to Go) to working on children’s TV shows (which formed the basis for my most recent novel, Pop Quiz) – but nothing makes me as happy as writing books and meeting readers.

I currently have about as many projects in progress as I do unread books stacked up beside my bed – which is to say, a lot!

I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia with my husband Andrew and our awesome dog, Wheeler. The three of us are always on the lookout for our next adventure. Whatever it is, I’ll be bringing my notebook!



Way to Go

  • Shortlisted for the 2013 White Pine Award
  • 2013 ALA Rainbow List selection
  • 2013 YALSA Quick Pick

Tag Along

  • Shortlisted for the 2014 Stellar Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2014 White Pine Award
  • 2013 OLA Best Bets Honourable Mention
  • 2014 ALA Rainbow List selection
  • 2013 Resource Links “The Year’s Best” selection
  • 2014 CCBC Best Books selection

Totally Unrelated

  • Shortlisted for the 2015 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award
  • 2013 Junior Library Guild selection
  • 2014 CCBC Best Books selection

Big Time

  • 2014 Junior Library Guild selection
  • 2014 CCBC Best Books selection



“Tom Ryan was fantastic! He was friendly, accessible, and the kids loved him!”

—Hackmatack Coordinator

“The children were very engaged by the talk and happily volunteered their own writerly projects and ideas. One child even hugged him at the end!”

—Head of Children’s Services, Fredericton Public Libraryˆ

 “It is worth noting that Mr. Ryan quickly established a positive rapport with the students in my classroom. Many of my students commented on how much they enjoyed Mr. Ryan’s presentation, and several were quite inspired by Mr. Ryan’s enthusiasm for books and writing.”

—High School English teacher