Joyce laughingHow did you get started in children’s books?

I’m a freelance journalist, and I’ve always done a lot of writing for magazines and newspapers. But when my son was born I began reading more and more children’s books—and I began to think about writing one, myself. I was doing research about how kids learn to read and I was intrigued by the notion that if kids can “touch and feel the letters,” (kinesthetic learning) – that can help some kids learn to read. And I wondered, what if a child could make “things” from letters, things that came to life? And that’s exactly what happens to Gabby, in my first picture book. After that, I was fortunate to meet some people at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, who also believed in that concept and thought it would make a good book.

What (or who) inspires your writing or art?

I think kids are very inspirational. There’s this whole other world that kids are part of, quite separate from the world we adults inhabit. I get really inspired by watching kids’ interactions and how they relate to one another. My son is really into baseball, and I’ve watched him and his teammates over many years—that’s what inspired my first novel, Tagged Out. Just seeing how the kids react, on and off the field. It’s so interesting—the way they talk to each other, what captures their attention and imagination. As adults we begin to lose that as we grow up, so it’s fun to go back into that world and write about it.

What was your favourite book as a child? Why?

My favourite book, which I read over and over again, is Finches’ Fabulous Furnace. It’s about a family whose house sat on a live volcano. It was this family with a fascinating secret; the way the author, Roger Drury, wrote it, was funny and accessible and just really drew me in. I have never forgotten that book.

I also read all the Enid Blyton books and the Scott Corbett books I could get my hands on when I was little. I was always the kid who left the library with a huge stack of books and then went home and just devoured them—and came back the next day for another stack!

How can teachers use your books in the classroom?

I have written teachers’ guides for Gabby and Tagged Out, which teachers can download for free from my website (, and I hope they do! Gabby has lots of applications in terms of “text-to-real-life” reading concepts, since she literally puts letters into words that become things. There are a lot of off-shoot activities that teachers can do with that concept, and some of them are in the last two pages of the book, which has literacy activities and games.

For Tagged Out, I think the big learning tool is “inclusiveness.” It’s a story about a team that is faced with a new kid who is different—he’s gay—which is something they have very little experience with. It’s new to them… meanwhile, the concept of *not* being accepted is quite new to the kid who’s gay. From his perspective, he’s wondering why these kids are sort of being jerks toward him and why they have a problem with that side of him. And the whole story is about all of them navigating this situation and learning. There are lots of applications in real life, in our social circles, where we’re faced with someone who is a bit different from our experience. So teachers can use Tagged Out to explore that, not just in terms of being gay, but just in terms of understanding and acceptance, in general. And of course, there’s a ton of baseball in Tagged Out, so it’s great for kids who also love sports, as well.

What are you looking forward to most during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week?

I’m looking forward to meeting the students and the teachers! I always learn so much from the people I meet during school presentations. Also, I’ve been to Alberta before, but it was a long time ago, so I’m looking forward to seeing the province and meeting the kids. I can’t wait! I’m taking a train to Edmonton, which is a two-day trip, so I’m sort of giving myself a “writers’ retreat” on the way out and the way home. It will give me a chance to see the countryside from the observation car and do some writing, before I jump into the Book Week activities. And during the week, I’m also going to try to meet as many booksellers as I can. They’re the ones who are making the recommendations to kids and parents—and if I can meet some of them, and chat about books—well, that is definitely something to look forward to. See you in Alberta, everyone!

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