Hello, CLASC Folks, and Happy March!
It’s finally here: the interview we’ve been hinting about since late 2016, with Susin Nielsen! Susin Nielsen has written for TV and now writes funny, engaging books for middle grade and YA, with attention-grabbing titles like Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom, and (her latest) Optimists Die First. She has given us a lovely interview and some photos, which we now share with you.
You did a lot of writing for TV and now write for middle grade and YA readers. Has writing across such different genres had a noticeable influence on your writing? What are some challenges or benefits unique to this kind of scope?
I think writing for TV impacted my novel writing in significant ways, and mostly for the better. First of all, TV writing taught me discipline. You’re on tight deadlines and you often have to churn out a lot of pages. I don’t “churn out” when I’m writing my novels, but I am able to get my bum in the seat. I don’t wait for the muse to strike. TV also taught me how to write snappy dialogue, and it taught me how to recognize flab and cut it out. It taught me good pacing, and how to build to decent chapter endings that will hopefully want the reader to turn the page. It taught me a lot about structure, even though the novels are very different in their scope. However I really had to learn how to be more descriptive in my novels! That was something TV writing didn’t teach me.
Should every writer try to write in this way (at least once), or should most limit themselves to their chosen scope?
I really think that’s up to the individual writer. I wrote my first novel because I was tired of the ups and downs of the TV racket, and being at the mercy of broadcast executives. I told myself one day, “You’re a writer – so write something just for you!” And that became Word Nerd. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. A lot of novelists are challenging themselves in different ways with each book; if they don’t have a longing to try a whole different arena, that is fine.
What’s the most bizarre fanmail you’ve received? How about the sweetest or most memorable?
Maybe I’ll describe my favourite anti-fan letter. I got it from an Ontario student who read Word Nerd for her Red Maple reading club. She was outraged at some of the content and language. She used a lot of capital letters, including, near the beginning: “First off I would like to say: GARBAGE IN GARBAGE OUT!!!!” Then she proceeded to list every word in the book that she thought was inappropriate. It took two full pages. She said she didn’t finish the book but I think she must have, as her list went pretty much to the final page. I wrote her back. I told her I was pleased she shared her point of view, and wasn’t it wonderful that we lived in a country where we had freedom of expression. I admired her for taking the time to write to me.
As for the sweetest or most memorable: I do get a lot of kids writing to tell me how my books have affected them in positive ways, or made them feel less alone. Those mean a lot to me. But possibly my favourite is a sweet little letter that helps keep me humble. It says: “I liked your books and your wrighting but why did you wright the books like that insted of action.”
It hangs on my office wall.
Do you have a library story that you would like to share with us? As a library user or a visiting author?
When I was a young girl, a Bookmobile used to park near our house once a week. I loved going to that bookmobile! But once I had an overdue book. My mom gave me the dime to pay the fine. I was absolutely terrified, sure that the librarian was going to yell at me. So I walked up, mounted one step … then placed the book, with the dime on top, on the next step and hoofed it out of there. I never went back because I was sure I’d be in big trouble – from then on I had to go to the downtown library in London, Ont.
Do you have a favorite library? What do you like about it?
Right now my favourite library is the Lethbridge Public Library (downtown). I was just there last week and did an evening talk to a full room of avid readers. It was such a joy to see the level of interest in reading, and authors, in that town. And Elisabeth the librarian is a gem (as are all librarians as far as I can tell).
Actually, if you want to know two more of my favourite librarians, they are Gianna Mazzolin and Elizabeth Galli, both from Toronto. They both went to Lake Como Italy on vacation (separately) and, NOT SET UP BY ME, each tried to deliver a copy of “Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom” to George himself. Gianna knocked on the door and left it with the housekeeper who answered. Elizabeth went around back, and had her husband chuck it over the big stone wall at the back of the house, into George’s back yard.
Who is your favorite children’s author or illustrator? Do they share similarities with your own style, or do you like them for being completely different from you?
Well, hands-down the author/illustrator I’d pick would be Maurice Sendak. I’m not sure we have anything in common; he is a league above almost everyone. “Where The Wild Things Are” is a perfect book. I also loved loved loved “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh when I was a girl. I re-read it a couple of years ago when the anniversary edition came out, and was blown away both a) that it held up and b) that I had been hugely influenced by her and hadn’t even realized it. Violet in Dear George has a lot of Harriet’s qualities, including not being very nice some of the time.
Could you share some of your favorite titles, or some titles you are enjoying at the moment?
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Alice, I Think trilogy by Susan Juby
The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
More recent in middle grade/YA: I loved The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner,
Beware that Girl by Teresa Toten and I got a sneak preview of Allan Stratton’s new novel, “The Way Back Home.”
In the adult realm I recently loved Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, I love anything by Junot Diaz, and I adored The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I read all the time.
Do you have a favorite format for reading? i.e. on paper, by using e-readers, on multipurpose devices such as smartphones or tablets, or by listening to audiobooks?
Paper all the way. I do have an iPad which is great for when I travel because I feel anxious if I don’t have at least five books with me.
We liked how varied the covers were of your books; do you have a personal favorite or a cover that you had some level of participation in the design of?
I never really participate in the design, although they do let me have a chance to give feedback once they’ve sent the preferred cover. My favourite cover so far is probably “We Are All Made of Molecules.” It is a book that anyone can pick up, boy, girl, adult … it doesn’t scream “this is for under 16 only.”
Related to that, many of your titles have been translated into European languages like French, Italian, Dutch, etc. Only The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen was translated into a non-European language (Korean). How did that come about, and have you had a huge response from Korea?
Ha! No, not a huge response from Korea, at least, not that I know of. My Canadian publisher (Tundra) has world rights minus the US, and they have a foreign rights division (the Cooke Agency) that actively tries to sell translation rights. I hope I keep building in foreign markets. I think right now I’ve probably done best in France, Belgium and Italy.
Also, with we are all made of molecules, we noticed it was translated into both French Canadian and French (which we thought was charming). Could you tell us a bit more about that? Was there a request from one or the other language group, or did it just happen?
I’m lucky that I have both a French and a French Canadian publisher. French Canadian is different enough from French that they prefer to have their own edition. I have fantastic translators in France and Quebec, Valerie le Plouhinec and Rachel Martinez.
What are your thoughts on Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize? Do you think it could mean a children’s author might win the Nobel Prize one day?
To be honest, I think some particularly pushy person on the Nobel committee really, really wanted to meet Bob Dylan (that didn’t work out too well). I thought it was a strange choice. He has a lot of other awards he can win, and there are authors around the world who deserve that award. And no, I don’t honestly see a children’s author winning that award any time soon … but never say never – I certainly think there are some who would be deserving!
Do you have any comment on last weeks Women’s March? Did you take part, did any of the speeches have a strong effect on you?
I was unable to make it to the march, and I feel like I missed out on a slice of history, I really do. I was so blown away and delighted at seeing the crowds around the world. My own mother marched in Toronto – I am so proud of her. It was amazing to see how we, everyday people, can make a statement, and hopefully make a difference. My favourite sign from the march was, “Grab a Book Instead.”
Thank you so much for answering all our questions! This is our final question: who do you think we should contact next for an interview? Any special reason why?
So many people I could think of! Susan Juby, Linda Bailey, Allan Stratton, Arthur Slade, Teresa Toten – those are the names that immediately come to mind. All fantastic writers.
Thank you so much, Susin!
As February the 14th draws closer, we at CLASC have been pondering the things we love, from Canadian Children’s Book Publishers to the Parent-Child Mother Goose program.
So this post is for you, this is our homemade valentine (we even made cookies, so anyone who is close, feel free to have a baked good and a beverage with us :D)
We are listing some books and songs and things we love and we hope you will continue this conversation below with comments on the books, felts or finger-plays that we should have listed 😀
To start, here is a book that Inti found touching, sweet and perfect for Valentines Day:
Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink by Diane de Groat
Touching story of a boy who learns that even if someone has hurt your feelings, making a poem to hurt them back is a poor choice. Sweet and (spoiler) it ends with cookies 😀
Yo te amo, yo te amo
All day long I’ll sing this little song to you.
Yo te amo, yo te amo
Darling I love you! (feel free to say a loved ones name instead of darling :D)
Skidamarink a-dink, a-dink,
I love you. (2x)
I love you in the morning,
And in the afternoon;
I love you in the evening,
And underneath the moon.
Oh, skidamarink a-dink, a-dink,
I love you.(Lyrics are from the Wikipedia entry, “Skidamarink,” which is the version Saeyong grew up with)
Hello, CLASC folks!
Today we present a review with something new: Inti and Saeyong will give their personal opinions and impressions as part of the review. This grew naturally from the review process, in which we two discuss the title and come to a consensus about the writing, illustrations, etc. We hope that by providing our different approaches and tastes, it will add more depth to our reviews. Our title for review today is Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp (Peachtree Publishers, 2016).
What children’s librarian would not immediately have their attention caught by a book that begins with the sentence, “I do NOT like to read!”? Madeline Finn, who does not even like to read the menus on ice-cream trucks, does not get any star stickers at school; instead, she gets heart stickers that say, “keep trying.” After she wishes for her very own star, though, Madeline meets a special friend at her library: Bonnie, the dog who listens quietly and patiently to Madeline as she reads aloud, and never corrects her mistakes. Together with Bonnie, Madeline learns not to let her mistakes get her down, and to persevere.
We were charmed by this 2016 title from Lisa Papp, which she based on an actual program at her local library. There is much anecdotal evidence for anxious or struggling readers improving their performance and feeling more comfortable when reading to a friendly dog, rather than with a friendly human; many libraries and animal shelters collaborate to run similar programs across North America and in the UK. The illustrations are sweet, the pace of the writing is measured and calm. A warm and uplifting read.
Inti Thinks: This is a lovely title, but Inti wishes there was more diversity in the illustrations. He counts one Asian woman (the elementary school teacher) and one black[African American? is the setting USA?] student.
Saeyong Thinks: The funny thing is, the style of the illustration, in which the eyes and noses of characters are not strongly emphasized, and the way Madeline and her mother dress and style their hair, actually made Saeyong think for a moment that Madeline’s mom was East Asian and Madeline was of mixed ethnicity. Not that it matters in terms of the story, but having such a chord of familiarity struck through the visuals (whether it was intended by the creator or not; probably not) reminds her again how important it is to see ourselves in the stories we access. She appreciates that this book skillfully managed to be sweet without becoming saccharine.
 We thought some folks might be interested in whether there have been studies on the effects of children reading with animals. There have mostly been studies of children with autism, anxiety, or learning disorders who may benefit from therapy dogs. Here is one article that provides a sort of general review and is very recent:
Children Reading to Dogs: A Systematic Review of the Literature by Sophie Susannah Hall , Nancy R. Gee, and Daniel Simon Mills.
Hello, CLASC folks!
We hope you had a lovely holidays, and that 2017 is going beautifully well for you. As we mentioned in our last post of 2016, we spent our holidays looking up books and rhymes about snow and the winter; surprisingly, the Vancouver area this winter actually did have enough snow to justify songs about snowmen and penguins.
We have a longer post about some copyright musings we had while researching the credits for the rhyme we wanted to share with you; before it goes up, though, we wanted to wish you all a very Happy New Year!
See you all again soon,
Your CLASC moderators
Hello CLASC folks,
This is the darkest time of the year, but the time when the Northern Lights, and indeed all lights, shine brightest — Happy Holidays to all of those who create and nurture the dreams and hopes of our future generations of Canada!
For our final post of 2016, we wanted to reflect on some of CLASC’s happiest moments of the past year, and share things we’re excited about for the future.
Important Happy Event 1: Retirement party of Judith Saltman, Canadian children’s literature expert of experts
Judi’s retirement party was not only a joyful celebration of her achievements and an extraordinary coming together of children’s authors, illustrators, scholars, librarians, teachers, etc.; it was also the beginning of a new era, in which we look forward to seeing all of Judi’s (many, many) influences grow into wonderful new things.
Important Happy Event 2: Richard Van Camp interview
Not only was Richard Van Camp a thoughtful, humorous and obliging interviewee with beautiful thoughts to share, but he was also the very first of what we hope will be an unending succession of Canadian creators interviewed by CLASC. Look out – we’ve got an exciting someone lined up for Interview No. 2!
Important Happy Event 3: The existence of CLASC and CLASC Folks
While we might be stating the obvious, we are really happy and grateful that CLASC exists as a network for folks interested in Canadian children’s services.
Important Happy Event 4: The existence of Jbrary and other storytime resources
This is something we are grateful for in our everyday activities: the existence of great practical resources for children’s services.
Future Important Happy Event 1: Interview with……?
We have another Very Exciting Person to interview lined up for 2017, and we are looking forward to sharing with you. Hint: TV, International, and George Clooney!
Future Important Happy Event 2 : Summer Reading 2017
Yes, it is a little early, but we’re very excited about Summer Reading events in 2017. Here in BC the Summer Reading Club theme is “Walk on the Wild Side” and will focus on the outdoors and nature. The Summer Reading club artist is Darlene Gait, an Aboriginal artist (Esquimalt Nation) from Victoria, BC. The TD Summer Reading Club theme is “Canada” in honor of Canada’s 150th birthday.
Wow, that was a happy post. In the next few weeks, your CLASC moderators will be taking time off to play in the snow, re-read Stella, Queen of the Snow, The Snow Queen, The Dark is Rising, The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and other midwinter-themed children’s titles, and do our best to memorize snow-themed rhymes and fingerplays. We look forward to posting again in 2017 and wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanzaa, and a wonderful New Year!
Your CLASC Moderators,
Inti Dewey and Saeyong Kim
Hello, CLASC Folks!
Being Canadian librarians, we support humanitarian activities worldwide. We were grateful that we received this Message from IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People, and after we added our names we felt it was good to post this, so that those who agree will have the opportunity to add their names to the petition as well. You will see the email in English below, plus a link to the form for adding your name.
Your CLASC Moderators
For a number of years IBBY has been supporting a small children’s library on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. Our members have donated books with no words – the Silent Books – that have been used on the island by the children arriving as refugees. The books have also toured different venues around the world.
Over these years the library has been temporary, but nevertheless been of huge benefit to the local young people and to the young people arriving by sea. Now is the time to urge the local municipality to follow up on their promise to open the official IBBY Library on Lampedusa.
IBBY Italia has written an open letter to the Mayor urging her to make the library official. They have also asked us to distribute the letter to all friends and members of IBBY. The letter in English and French is attached. Please read and share the letter. Linked to the letter is a petition: right now there are 768 signatures!
To add your name and support please use the link at the bottom of the letter, this link will take you to the Italian version. At the end of the letter in Italian is the petition to the Mayor. Just put your name and position (this is voluntary), and submit by clicking the SUBMIT button.
With a stable environment the children from the refugee camps will be able to visit the library more often and thus benefit from the wonderful books available to them. To quote from a recent volunteer on the island: …together with five young migrants from Senegal and Gambia we found ourselves in a story about being alone, and lost and found and found again … who offered their imaginations and empathy to make something very wondrous happen.
Sign today and make a difference.
International Board on Books for Young People
Visit IBBY on Facebook and Twitter @IBBYINT
This is the link that seems to work better:
Hello, CLASC Folks!
Do you enjoy poetry? Have you tried poetry for children? While the genre recalls bouncy nonsense rhymes like those of Shel Silverstein, there are also quiet, introspective works that you can recommend to persons of any age. Today we review one such title:
When Green Becomes Tomatoes
Text by Julie Fogliano, Illustrated by Julie Morstad. Roaring Book Press, 2016.
-gouache and pencil crayon illustrations; quiet, gentle, and vibrant, with wide open spaces throughout.
A touching and inspirational book of poems for the toddler, the grandparent, and anyone in between. Canadian Julie Morstad has created such lovely evocative works as How to, Singing Away the Dark, This is Sadie, and When You Were Small, among many others. This time she uses her mastery to combine nature, childhood, and the passing of time, gouache and pencil crayon illustrations dancing in tandem with Julie Fogliano’s distilled text to create images to make any adult nostalgic for childhood and any child enthralled by the connection of youth, innocence and nature.
The book begins and ends on the same day, march 20, being the first of Spring. We’re intentionally leaving the first poem for you to enjoy unspoiled. The second poem, march 22, tells of spring bursting through the snow of winter; of rain and more, of blooming flowers, of a child’s magical ability to command Nature to change for their happiness. As the pages turn, the book shifts to summer, in a gorgeous full spread of the night sky filled with stars, travels through the colorful glories of autumn, and continues through winter, when the beauty of snow and the cocoon of winter transform the mundane items of summer and warmth, now old and decrepit, into beauty and wonder:
rusted and peeling
the old green bike
is suddenly beautiful
with snow on top
Having traversed through the hobbit-like comforts of warm sweaters and a cozy firelit living room, the penultimate poem returns to spring and references the developing mind of a child that accepts that time should not stand still, but open itself to the things to come.