Archive for the ‘Beyond the Dust Jacket – Children’s Book Author and Illustrator Interviews’ Category

Meet Middle Grade Historical Fiction Author Karen Autio

Posted on August 15th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts interviews author Karen AutioAfter growing up horse-crazy and book-loving in Nipigon, Ontario, Canada, Karen Autio now lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, only a little less horse-crazy and far more book-loving. Karen graduated from the University of Waterloo and worked as a software developer for several years, then decided to pursue her long held dream of writing for children. She signed up for a “Writing Fiction for Children” course at the local college, joined a writers’ group, and began writing—and re-writing—her stories.



Karen is the author of a trilogy of historical novels for readers ages 10 and up: Second Watch, Saara’s Passage, and Sabotage. She loves to interact with students, sharing her journey to becoming an author and her passion for research and the resulting “jigsaw puzzle” of transforming historical facts into a fascinating story.

Author website

Author Facebook page

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Sabotage by Karen AutioSabotage, enemy aliens, paranoia, and German spies… in Canada? Sabotage is the third book in my trilogy of Canadian historical novels for young readers (all standalone reads) in which the courage and wits of siblings Saara and John Mäki are put to the test. The trilogy tells the adventures and mishaps of this Finnish-immigrant family living in Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay), Ontario, in 1914-15. From travelling on the palatial but doomed Empress of Ireland steamship, to tuberculosis sanatoriums, to the compelling untold stories of the home front in Canada during the First World War, these books bring history to life. Readers discover both how much has changed since the early 1900s and what remains timeless, such as fickle friends, new-immigrant experiences, the struggle to do the right thing, and family dynamics.

Sabotage is suitable for any age of reader from grade 4 up and is of equal interest to boys and girls. Partly that’s due to the story being told by both Saara and her younger brother John, in alternating chapters. I’m delighted that through doing research I learned the truth behind what I thought was a made-up story I’d heard growing up in Nipigon, Ontario. There actually were German agents at work in my hometown in 1915 plotting to destroy the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge.

Sabotage is a 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book Finalist and is shortlisted for the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award.

Sabotage at Amazon.com

Sabotage at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

Rosemary Sutcliff. Her historical novels drew me into their time periods. The characters and settings seemed so real, I felt like I was living the story. After immersing myself in one of her books for several chapters, I’d look around me, puzzled. Where am I? In particular I remember enjoying The Eagle of The Ninth and The Lantern Bearers. I’m not surprised that her writing resonated with me because of how historical fiction has become my favourite genre to read and write.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?Second Watch by Karen Autio

Two experiences come to mind. At a recent presentation to elementary school students in an Ottawa public library, the majority of them had read my book Second Watch in which my characters are involved in the Empress of Ireland shipwreck. After my presentation, a boy handed me a piece of paper. He’d been so affected by the story and the tragedy, that he’d written and illustrated a poem for me about the Empress of Ireland. What a special gift.

The other experience resulted from my presentation in a school where I did a reading from Second Watch. Afterward, the librarian told me a student who hated reading informed her he just had to get my book and read it. A couple of weeks later I received an email from the librarian saying the boy’s attitude had changed from hating reading to “I can read this!” What an honour to have been part of that transformation.

How do you stay connected with your readers?

I have a website and an author Facebook page where I regularly post information relevant to children’s book publishing and writing, my book news, and photos from my book tours. I’ve had the privilege of going on several book tours, in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario. I love meeting readers whether at school or library presentations or at signings in bookstores or at book clubs. My grade 5 student editors for Saara’s Passage became friends with me on Facebook and I still keep in touch with them that way (both just graduated from high school). Whenever a reader emails me, I’m happy to reply.

What are the joys of being an author? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?

There is certainly joy and satisfaction in the writing, but I’d say my greatest pleasure as an author is to hear from readers about how they’ve connected with my characters and stories. One of my favourite emails from a young reader included her describing my books as “real page turners” and then sharing her response to my character Saara: “I think we would be friends if she was real.” Also, it’s such a delight whenever my books and presentations inspire writers of all ages and get kids reading who were reluctant or infrequent readers.

If you weren’t an author, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?

As a kid, my future dream job alternated between children’s book illustrator and jockey! Although I still enjoy drawing, writing has become my passion. And before entering high school I’d already grown too tall to be a jockey. For several years I worked as a software developer, and since 2004 when I’m not busy writing I’m editing other writers’ manuscripts as a freelance copyeditor.

Saara's Passage by Karen AutioDo you do school or library presentations?

I welcome the opportunity to present to intermediate students in schools and libraries across Canada. I love sharing my passion for researching history and writing historical fiction, and talking about the writing process. During my 60-minute interactive presentation, I:
• engage students in Canadian history with a lively, visually appealing presentation
• spark enthusiasm for writing
• focus on the immigrant experience with curricular tie-ins
• read a brief excerpt from one of my books
• reveal how family stories inspired me to write novels
• unravel the process of publishing and book design
• include time for students to ask questions

Teacher resources are available for all of my historical novels and can be downloaded from my website. For more information, please visit www.karenautio.com/SchoolVisits.html
and www.facebook.com/KarenAutioAuthor

Meet Children’s Book Author Lana Button

Posted on August 7th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts interviews author Lana ButtonLana Button is a children’s author, freelance writer and early childhood educator. She has enjoyed working with young children for over twenty five years. As a freelance writer, Lana has contributed to national magazines including Today’s Parent and Parents Canada. But Lana’s passion is picture books! Her first picture book, Willow’s Whispers (Kids Can Press, 2010) was nominated for a Blue Spruce Award, and a Shining Willow Award. Both the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and the Bank Street Children’s Book Committee listed it as a ‘Best Book for Kids’. It was also listed as an Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities IBBY winner.



Lana’s picture book, Willow Finds a Way (Kids Can Press, 2012) was a Blue Spruce Award finalist, a Canadian Children’s Book Centre “Best Book” and was listed on Publisher’s Weekly’s ‘Bullying Resources: A Selected Listing’. Most recently, Willow Finds a Way has been shortlisted for the Rainforest of Reading Award.

Twitter account @LanaButton
Author Facebook Page
Author Website

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Lana Button's Picture Book Willow Finds a WayWillow Finds a Way is the second book about Willow, who is the quietest child in the class. The story, which is intended for children from pre-k through primary grades, begins when Kristabelle comes to class with a list of all the children invited to her birthday party. Everyone is invited! But in order to stay on Kristabelle’s birthday list, the children must follow her every command. Willow struggles to find a way to stand up for her friends and speak up to Kristabelle. In the end Willow discovers that actions sometimes speak louder than words!

I am so very proud that Willow Finds a Way has been recognized as an anti-bullying book. Although the terms ‘bullying’ and ‘bystander’ are never used within the story, it was my hope that it would spark this type of conversation!

Read our post about Willow Finds a Way

Willow Finds a Way at Amazon.com

Willow Finds a Way at Amazon.ca

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

I submitted and resubmitted my Willow’s Whispers manuscript for 6 years before finding an editor who was willing to work with me. So my strongest word of advice is- Don’t give up! And also keep in mind that ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no forever’ it just means ‘no, for right now’.Lana Button's picture book Willow's Whispers

I recommend to any aspiring author struggling to get that story published to find ways to get other material published, whether that be a short story in a children’s magazine or a freelance article for a magazine or local newspaper. Editors are more likely to take a chance on you if you’ve been published elsewhere before.

Writing groups and organizations can also be very helpful. I found lots of inspiration and great practical advice from the CAINSCAIP organization (check them out at www.canscaip.org) when I first started out and I still look forward to their terrific Packaging Your Imagination Workshop in Toronto every fall.

Read our post about Willow’s Whispers

Willow’s Whispers at Amazon.com

Willow’s Whispers at Amazon.ca

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?

The best feedback I’ve had from my books have been conversations children have had with each other! After hearing Willow Finds a Way, a group of girls were overheard in the playground making a pact that they would be “Willows” and not be “Kristabelles”.

And at a different school a young girl nudged in front of another girl so she could be first in line. A third little girl was overheard saying, “Hey, don’t push in front of her! She hasn’t had a turn to be line leader yet. Don’t be a ‘Kristabelle’!”

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?

I visit children and read my books whenever the opportunity presents itself! It is one of my greatest joys!! I have visited many bookstores and libraries, and jump at the chance to visit classrooms. Scheduling weekday classroom visits has been a challenge lately, as I am currently in my own kindergarten classroom as an Early Childhood Educator, but I have made room for a few visits each school year, and have scheduled evening visits during school ‘open houses’. My favorite is when we schedule a ‘pajama party’ evening where everyone (including myself!) comes to school with pajamas and cuddly toys and we gather in the library for a story time chat!

I schedule book tours during the summer months whenever possible, and have toured throughout Ontario, into the Maritime Provinces and in different parts of the United States. I also love connecting with students and teachers through Facebook and Twitter.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?

To be able to read my story aloud to a child is my greatest accomplishment. To know that the stories have inspired others is my greatest joy! I have been so fortunate to talk with children, parents and teachers who share their experiences regarding their personal challenges in finding their own voice, or helping a child find their voice. To hear that Willow has given others inspiration to dig a little deeper, take a brave breath, and speak out for themselves has filled me with overwhelming joy!

If you could dine with any author/illustrator (alive or dead), who would you choose and why?

I have been so very fortunate to actually meet some of my favorite Canadian children’s authors over the past few years. I found myself completely tongue tied when coming face-to-face with Paulette Bourgeois (author of the Franklin series) and was totally awestruck when trying to discuss the weather with the incredible Barbara Reid!

If I could dine with any author, it would probably be Maurice Sendak, as his Where the Wild Things Are is my all-time favorite picture book. I’d love to hear all about how he came up with such incredible characters and how he managed to create such a rich and vivid story with so few words!

Do you do school or library presentations? If so, please briefly describe topics/ geographical limitations.

I love doing presentations!! During my 45-minute presentation I discuss the unique writing process involved in creating a picture book. I read both books and discuss the importance of speaking up and speaking out. Both books are strongly based on empathy and self-assurance and I open us discussion around ‘the bully’, ‘the bullied’, and ‘the bystander’. I live in Southern Ontario (Canada), but have presented across Ontario and into the Maritime provinces. You can contact me through my website for more information.

Meet Children’s Book Author Karen Scheuer

Posted on July 24th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Meet Author Karen ScheuerKaren Scheuer is a wife, mother, and teacher. She lives in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and has been married to her high-school sweetheart for 29 years. The author and her husband have a 23-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son. She enjoys calligraphy, knitting, making jewelry, traveling, reading, and never turns down an offer to dine out. She currently teaches second grade in the Council Rock School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Karen knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was four years old. When she was in high school, she wrote her first children’s book. She hopes to publish that book someday too. She has been teaching elementary-aged children for 25 years.

Twitter account @KarenScheuer1

Facebook page

Author Website

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

A Bug and a Wish by Karen ScheuerMy book is about teasing and bullying. Here is the summary:

When Tyler is teased by the other boys, his good friend, Danae, encourages him to give the boys A Bug and a Wish. When Tyler finds a ladybug and a dandelion seed, he is convinced that this is what Danae means. As his friend helps him learn the true meaning of her advice, Tyler soon discovers the solution to his problem.

This book teaches kids to use the “bug and a wish concept.” This subject is dear to my heart because bullying affects how children view themselves. When they view themselves poorly, it can then affect their schoolwork and home life. I hope my book, A Bug and a Wish, will help children stand up for themselves, and encourage bystanders to get involved. It’s a great read aloud for teachers to get their students to discuss this subject. It’s also a good book to read at the beginning of the school year.

A Bug and a Wish at Amazon.com

A Bug and a Wish at Amazon.ca

When did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?

I actually wrote my first children’s book in high school when I was in a “future educator” class. I am hoping to publish that book next. My husband, Bob, has encouraged me and supported me, and he is the one who suggested I should publish the book I wrote in high school, next.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?

The students in my class knew I was in the process of publishing a book this school year. I would update them when I received the illustrations, or when the cover was ready, etc. When I finally brought the finished book into school, I started to read it to them. I showed them the dedication page, and asked what authors put on that page. (I was trying to present the book as a teaching lesson). The students were all wide-eyed, but one student just put his hands on his cheeks, and excitedly screamed, “Just read it already!” It was so cute.

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?

Since this is my first children’s book, I haven’t gone on book tours yet, but I definitely want to. I did my first ever Meet and Greet book signing at a Book shop in Peddler’s Village, Bucks County, PA, on June 14th, and I was very excited. I have a Facebook page dedicated to my book, and people have posted photos of kids reading the book, and one of my friends even posted a photo of tea towels she sewed for my book signing.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?

Something unbelievable happened with my book. My son and daughter’s names are the names of the characters in the book. In the story, Tyler finds a ladybug, and puts it in his pocket because he thinks this is what Danae means by “A bug”. The day AFTER my son, Tyler, read the book, a ladybug landed on his hand! This has never happened to him in his life. He quickly took a photo of it, and sent it to me. I actually thought it was a “God thing,” and I that it was so cool!

Do you do school or library presentations? If so, please briefly describe topics/ geographical limitations.

I would LOVE to do school library presentations, but I am currently a classroom teacher, so I cannot do that at this time. My goal is to retire from teaching in a couple years, have two published books, and then travel to schools to read my books to kids! I would definitely be interested in doing library presentations in the summer months. I live in Bucks County, PA.

The Name of your publisher Strategic Book Publishers

Meet Children’s Book Novelist Jacqueline Guest

Posted on July 17th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts interviews author Jacqueline Guest Jacqueline Guest is an international award winning author with eighteen published novels. She has presented across Canada and in the United States to audiences of all ages including the University of Calgary; Manitoba Association of Teachers of English; Alberta Association of Library Technicians; MASC Conference Ottawa; University of Victoria; Cultural Diversity Institute North Central Teachers Association; Young Alberta Book Society; Wordsworth Writing Camp; Dreamcatcher Aboriginal Conferences; Saskatoon Reading Council Teachers Conference; Batoche Historical Site; the Edmonton Young Offenders Centre; Mamawenig; Back to Batoche Days; Fort Calgary’s Metis Cultural Festival, the American Indian Library Association, plus a host of other conferences and engagements. Jacqueline is the current Creator in Residence for the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. She has been Writer in Residence for the Marigold Library System and is the proud recipient of the 2013 Indspire Award for the Arts. With her experience in writing, editing, promotion, touring and the business aspects of being a writer, Jacqueline feels sharing her expertise can help new authors achieve their goals faster and with better results.

Twitter account @JacquelineGuest

Author website

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

The Comic Book War by Jacqueline GuestThe Comic Book War is a great novel for readers of all ages. It tells the story of how one teenaged boy discovers a cosmic link between his comic book superheroes and his three brothers fighting overseas in WW2. It all starts when a meteorite falls from space in front of his eyes and he is able to find it…

This novel will make you believe in ‘What if?’, the biggest question in the universe. What if cosmic links do exist? What if we are all connected? What if we can tap into those connections to protect our loved ones?

This story is more than a coming of age novel, it shows us how we all cope with stress in different ways.

The Comic Book War at Amazon.com

The Comic Book War at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

Mark Twain was, is and always will be my favorite author. I have many other stars on my book shelves too numerous to mention, but Twain’s stories continue to entertain and resonate with me even after all these years.

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

First books are always hard, but don’t give up! Learning to write at a professional level is just like learning how to perform an athletic event at an Olympic level – it takes years of practice and dedication to achieve your goal, but it is so worth it. We will always need new books to inspire and entertain, and new writers coming up now will provide those wonderful books.

Outcasts of River Falls by Jacqueline GuestWhen did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?

I have always wanted to be a writer, but was afraid to say it out loud when I was growing up in case I was ridiculed. After all, published authors don’t come from a small village like Turner Valley, Alberta, they come from New York, or Toronto, or Vancouver- big cities with fancy schools. Well, I’m here to tell you, authors do come from small towns everywhere and you don’t need an agent or fancy letters after your name. You just have to believe- and be willing to pay your dues.

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing / illustrating process look like?

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. It is hours of grueling practice, then many more hours honing your skills, and finally putting all that practice to work as you sit in front of your computer for hours on end, creating a world where not only your characters can live, but your readers too. I sit for long hours writing, oblivious to everything around me, eating chips with one hand while the other hand juggles a cup of tea as I pound on the keys. It’s not magic, it’s hard work. 😉

I call the room where I write a ‘Scriptorium’, (I even have a sign on the door!). People who have 9-5 jobs work in an ‘office’; a writer doesn’t have such nice tidy hours, which is why I like ‘scriptorium’ better.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?Rink Rivals by Jacqueline Guest

One of the coolest experiences I have had was working at a First Nation’s school when a young boy in Grade 5 came up to me and told me he read Rink Rivals, a hockey novel about twin boys who scrap on the ice and off. I said that was great, and he became excited, telling me he read all the pages, right to the end and he was going to read another book now and that it was the first book he had ever read in his entire life! That was the ultimate compliment.

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?

I love travelling to share my excitement about reading with students everywhere. To see a student’s excitement when they tell me about one of my books that they are reading and how the characters are so real, the adventure so exciting and the story so compelling, now, that’s worth the time, expense, long hours and effort. I wish I was better at social media and keeping my website up to date, but I’m not a tech type, and if anyone out there would like to work on my website for me, let me know!!!

If you weren’t an author / illustrator, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?

I have worked every job under the sun to support my writing habit: house cleaner, retail clerk, waitress, day care worker, core analyst in the oil industry and about a million more jobs I shudder to remember. I know how fortunate I am to have this dream job of being a writer.

If you could dine with any author/illustrator (alive or dead), who would you choose and why?

I would pay to dine with Mark Twain. Not only handsome, but the most talented writer ever!

Does music play a part in your writing/illustrating? If so, what sort of music do you connect with your work?

When I write, it has to be absolutely quiet. No music, no TV, no distractions. (I even shut the chimes off on my wall clock because it was driving me nuts!)

Do you do school or library presentations?

I travel extensively to schools and libraries everywhere. I recently was at two schools in Tanzania while there volunteering to teach an adult writing class. I have various presentations geared to tandem with curriculums. Here’s some information:

Belle of Batoche by Jacqueline GuestThe Era of the Fur Trade explores Canada’s past with a session that includes over fifty artifacts such as beaver pelts, bone fishing hooks, horn sewing needles, plus we learn the uses of the Metis Sash, and the laws for the buffalo hunt. It is very interactive with students from the audience assisting me as we paddle down the river with our canoe laden with furs or demonstrating how old fashioned aboriginal toys worked. Belle of Batoche and Outcasts of River Falls are great companion reads for this session.

Dinosaurs! This is geared for students in Kindergarten and grade one/two who dig dinosaurs. The PPT session includes fossils of bones, trees, dino poop and an actual dinosaur egg and comes complete with a coloring handout.

Ghost Messages: A Voyage with the Author, a sixty minute PPT session, tandems with my novel Ghost Messages and deals with laying the transatlantic cable in 1865,an event which changed the world for all time because it changed the way we communicate. Those texters in the audience need to know how this communication explosion we live in today started. Students see an actual piece of the first transatlantic cable, plus students can win a prize by decoding and answering a secret Morse Code question.

The Comic Book War: WW2, Meteorites and Comic Book Superheroes involves my new novel The Comic Book War. Students learn about the home front war effort including savings stamps, rationing, victory gardens and a host of other helpful facts. Plus, we explore the possibility that we are all connected on a cosmic level. Could a meteorite found by our hero connect comic book super heroes here in Canada with three soldiers fighting overseas? ‘What if?’ the most powerful question in the universe!

Jacqueline Guest’s books are published by Coteau Books, Orca Book Publishers and James Lorimer and Company. She also works with Scholastic, Pearson Canada and Rubicon for short stories and levelled reading.

Meet Children’s Book Author Aldo Fynn

Posted on July 10th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Aldo Fynn enjoys writing wacky, fantastical stories. Prince Iggy and the Kingdom of Naysayer is his debut novel. It’s the first book in the Adventures of Prince Iggy Series. He’s also written two wacky, laugh-out-loud picture books. He lives under his desk and promises he won’t come out until Book 3 in the series is complete. Which is a shame because his desk is based in Los Angeles, where it’s sunny and 70 degrees most of the year.

Twitter account – @AldoFynn

Facebook page

Author Website

Prince Iggy and the Kingdom of Naysayer written by Aldo FynnTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Prince Iggy and the Kingdom of Naysayer is an over the top-fantasy adventure where a lost-now-found prince learns that believing in himself pays off when battling evil bullies. It’s a quirky and fast paced story with 30+ black and white illustrations ideal for middle grade readers (ages 8+) and adults looking for a different kind of hero.

Prince Iggy and the Kingdom of Naysayer (The Adventures of Prince Iggy) at Amazon.com

Prince Iggy and the Kingdom of Naysayer (The Adventures of Prince Iggy) at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

Mark Twain. Because he’s one of literature’s greatest humorist.

What are the biggest challenges of being an author / illustrator?

Staying focused and finishing the work.

Have any of your books been published electronically? If so, what was that process like? What sort of feedback have you had from readers?Waldo Battles the Fly by Aldo Fynn

All my books have actually been published electronically first. Since I’ve partnered with a small-indie press, we decided that going digital first would enable the books to get to readers more quickly. BOA Press has internal resources to produce the digital format whereas as print production required working with third parties. The feedback I have received on the e-book format and illustrations has been very positive. Some of my readers still rely on print so we planned for that once digital was completed. There is something special about holding a book in your hands with your name on the cover.

If you could dine with any author/illustrator (alive or dead), who would you choose and why?

Again Mark Twain because his life was as colorful as his books.

Does music play a part in your writing/illustrating? If so, what sort of music do you connect with your work?

Music is a big part of my life. I listen to music everyday before and after I start a writing session. I listen to everything from classical to electronica to jazz.

Meet Children’s Book Author Elizabeth MacLeod

Posted on July 3rd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Author Elizabeth MacLeodElizabeth MacLeod is one nosy author, which is why she loves writing non-fiction. She’s very curious about why people do what they do, and she likes sharing with kids the amazing facts and secrets she uncovers.





As a kid in Thornhill, Ontario, the idea of being a writer never crossed her mind — she figured most authors were already dead and they definitely weren’t Canadian. Besides, it was science that interested her.

But writing was already part of her life. After dinner on school nights, she and her two brothers would trudge up to their rooms, close their doors and start to do their homework — or so their parents thought. A few minutes later, a piece of paper would come sliding under her door. One of her brothers had drawn a picture, usually of some weird creature.

She really couldn’t draw (she still can’t!), so the only way she could respond was to write a short story, often about a mad scientist or space alien. she’d slip the story under her brother’s door and — well, not a lot of homework got done.

At university, she studied sciences — there was hardly any writing involved at all. After she graduated she had a number of jobs, but none of them had anything to do with writing. She wanted to be an author but she was too scared to admit it to anyone, especially herself. However, one day she gathered up her courage, phoned a newspaper and sold an article she’d written. Wow!

Soon after this she attended a publishing workshop in Banff, Alberta, which led her to a job as an editor at OWL magazine. After a few years she switched to book publishing and became an editor at Kids Can Press. Meanwhile, in her spare time she began writing non-fiction books for kids. Then she became a part-time editor and writer. Now she’s a full-time writer, working for a number of different publishers.

One of the things she especially likes about writing for kids is that she gets to investigate so many interesting topics. She’s written articles or books on subjects such as weird breeds of dogs, Marie Curie, hoaxes, the northern lights and many, many more. Did you know that some dinosaurs were as small as chickens? Or that Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, got tired of having his work interrupted by his invention?

She’s written many biographies about such people as Helen Keller, Albert Einstein and Samuel de Champlain. One of her favourite things is discovering how inventors and writers come up with their ideas. She’s written a series of biographies for readers ages 6 to 8, and one for kids aged 8 to 12.

More recently she’s written about royalty, and the mysteries and crimes that surround them. Monarchy has always fascinated her. She loves going behind the scenes with monarchs from Cleopatra to Dracula to find out just what they would do to hold onto power or protect their families. These books have also let her research forensic techniques, ranging from DNA testing to crime-scene procedures.

Secrets Underground North Americas Buried Past written by Elizabeth MacLeodTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Secrets Underground: North America’s Buried Past is for readers age 10 and up. This is a great book for anyone who likes spine-tingling mysteries and eerie surprises! I think kids will be amazed to read about these buried secrets, including the top-secret equipment that lies deep below Grand Central Terminal in New York City and the network of abandoned tunnels below Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

The book also tells about the ships that were abandoned in San Francisco harbor during the Gold Rush. I travelled to the city and found numerous plaques and displays about the forgotten, buried ships. Many people who lived in San Francisco knew nothing about the ships but I’m proud of the fact that I was able to track them down.

Secrets Underground: North America’s Buried Past at Amazon,com

Secrets Underground: North America’s Buried Past at Amazon.ca

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

I’ve had a different writing career from most other writers. I started as an editor at OWL Magazine, so I was on the inside of the publishing world from the beginning. The first few books I published were books that publishers asked me to write.

It can be really tough to get a publisher to accept a book proposal so I’d suggest aspiring authors prepare themselves as much as possible. Colleges and universities offer great writing courses, and so do organizations such as CANSCAIP and SCBWI. These are wonderful opportunities to meet other writers, have your proposal assessed by an expert and improve your writing.

I think it’s important for all authors, aspiring and published, to remember to never give up. If you really believe in a book idea but a publisher turns it down, revise the proposal as necessary, then send it out to another publisher. From being on the inside of the publishing world, I know there are lots of reasons why one publisher will turn down a book idea that will work very well for another publisher.

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing / illustrating process look like?

I work at a large desk with a keyboard and good-sized computer monitor. I’ve got piles of papers and books, as well as a ceramic vase full of pens, a pewter pot holding paper clips, a grapefruit-scented candle (I read somewhere it helps with creativity) and a few other bits and pieces.

But you probably wouldn’t notice any of these things because you’d likely be focusing on our cat Cosimo. While I work, he’s usually stretched out under my desk lamp. Even on the hottest summer day, he seems to like the warmth!

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?

In my presentations, I ask a lot of questions, so you’d think I’d be used to receiving some amazing answers, but kids always surprise me. I was talking once about the biographies I’ve written and telling kids about magician Harry Houdini. One boy shot up his hand and offered to share a magic trick with the group. How could I say no?The Kids Book of Canada at War by Elizabeth MacLeod

I also wrote The Kids Book of Canada at War, so I talk to students about John McCrae (author of the poem In Flanders Fields) and other brave Canadians who served in World War I and II (including my dad). I often get teary-eyed when I think of their courage and kids usually notice this. I wish I weren’t quite so emotional, but then the kids always want to share their stories about relatives who served in wartime. I guess I help them form a connection that makes them proud.

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?

I’ve taken part in a number of book tours, in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and throughout the Maritimes. I write about such interesting people and topics, so I love sharing the incredible facts I’ve uncovered. I visit classrooms, libraries and bookstores and have also done interviews on radio and television.

If you could dine with any author/illustrator (alive or dead), who would you choose and why?

I’d choose Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books. I still re-read those books and I’ve written two biographies about her. Maud (as she liked to be called) had a tough life, so I’d ask her where she found her inspiration. I’d also like to know if she’s surprised that Anne is still so popular, what Maud thinks of all the books written about her and how she feels about Anne’s incredible fame in Japan.

Do you do school or library presentations? If so, please briefly describe topics/ geographical limitations.

I’ve written a series of biographies for first readers as well as a series for 8 to 12 year olds. So I can bring some of the world’s most incredible people to life for kids of many different ages. Kids are drawn into the wonderful stories about these well-known personalities with the many photos and artifacts that I use to illustrate my talks. I ask questions, request opinions, involve students in activities, etc.

Bunny the Brave War Horse by Elizabeth MacLeodFor students up to grade 2 or 3, I can also speak about my latest picture book, Bunny the Brave War Horse (Kids Can Press). This is a World War I story and is based on a real horse and rider. I can talk about the war as well as about horses; I also discuss World War II and show artifacts that belong to my father, who was a navigator with Bomber Command in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

As well, for older students I can look at the mysteries of history and how we’ve used modern technology to solve many of them. Using images and artifacts from my books Secrets Underground, Bones Never Lie and Royal Murder, I look at historic events and show why they matter, how they affect us today and how we can learn more about them. I also explore the forensic techniques used to solve crimes and mysteries and encourage kids to consider how to use deductive reasoning and other investigative methods in their own lives.

I’ve worked as an in-house editor, so as part of my presentation, I can also talk about the publishing process, from initial idea to final book. I discuss the team of people needed to produce a book, and again show artifacts to illustrate the various steps and to involve the audience.

As well, I have given many presentations to adults. One of my most popular talks is about how to get your children’s book published, including writing the best query letters, avoiding first-timers’ mistakes, etc. Since I have worked as an in-house editor, I can provide the view point of both an insider and a freelancer. I’ve also given presentations to many teachers and librarians about why biographies are important (for instance, they’re fun, they make history come alive, they can boost self-esteem and more) and how to interest children in biographies. I can provide handouts to participants for both of these talks.

I live in Toronto and I’m very willing to discuss travelling with anyone who would like me to speak in their classroom or library.

Meet Author Crystal Vaagen author of Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero

Posted on June 26th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts' Interview with Author Crystal VaagenCrystal Vaagen is an educator and author of the children’s book, Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero. In her free time, she likes to read French poetry, go on nature hikes, and bake cookies. Her latest project includes writing the second book in the Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero series which will be published this year.





Twitter account: @robbiezero
Facebook page:
Website URL

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?
Robbie Zero Supergirl Hero written by Crystal VaagenMy latest published book is Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero. It’s an anti-bullying book and the first published book in the “Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero” series. The book is about a girl, Robbie Zero, who gets constantly picked on by a classmate named Tommy, but when Tommy needs help, it is Robbie Zero who ends up saving the day. It’s a book about turning situations that are negative into something positive and about empowerment. It also delves into the psychology of why some people are bullies. Children of all ages should read it and as well as their parents. It is important to start a conversation about issues that children face at school. What I am most proud of is when my book is read to children in classrooms and they can relate with the characters. I’m also pleased when I hear people tell me how much it meant to read it to their families and how it started a discussion that might not have otherwise taken place.

Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero at Amazon.com

Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favorite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?
I have a few authors/illustrators that resonated with me. Peggy Parish (author of Amelia Bedelia) was a favorite in my youth. I always thought her stories were funny because of the constant play on words (i.e. draw the draperies where the phrase was taken literally by Amelia). Looking back, her books were very well-written. Misunderstandings are a part of everyday life and her books allow her readers to get involved, something I try to create with “Robbie Zero” books. One illustrator/writer who I have always admired is Charles Schulz. I’d have to say he’s my all-time favorite. I connected with his work because the themes were adult like, characters didn’t have to talk to make a statement, and there were no adults ever shown, to my knowledge, in any of his comic strips.

When did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?
The first time I ever wrote anything was in 2nd grade. I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Fields, who allowed us to create. She basically told us that we could put on plays for the class when our work was finished. Inspired, I went home and wrote a small play, grabbed a few classmates to help with the characters, and we put on a fabulous play. I thanked her recently for allowing us to use our imagination, when I happened to met her some 30+ years later.

I wrote my first book when I was nine years old, which I thought was fun. It’s still sitting in a box somewhere. It was about the Lewis and Clark expedition because I was fascinated by how two people could change the face of the nation. It was a small book. In my high school years, I wrote for the school newspaper. After I graduated high school, I ran into my journalism teacher and told her how imperative it is in the real world to know how to write and communicate effectively. She asked me to come back and speak to her class. I never did for some reason. I wish I would have. I kept my writing on the backburner, writing mostly poetry, but decided that there needs to more morally themed children’s books available.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?
I have donated Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero to a few schools, especially when I find out that they have limited access and cannot afford them. There was one school in Mobile, AL that received my book. A 5th grade teacher read it to her class and said that some students in her class “wanted to cry because they felt bad” for one of the characters. I didn’t know how to react. The topic of bullying is touchy, but it needs to be discussed. I felt like the story reached her kids, but felt bad that they wanted to cry. It IS a feel good book, after all.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?
I like to share my experiences to help others. When you go through things in life, sometimes you wonder, “Why me? Why is this happening?” But when you look back, you realize that it was a lesson learned. This is what I hope to bring to my books, not to necessarily prevent someone from experiencing the issue, but to help them overcome the issue.

Have any of your books been published electronically? If so, what was that process like? What sort of feedback have you had from readers?
Yes, Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero has been published electronically. The process was easy. Before even writing the book, I watched a video on how to publish it via Amazon, and basically taught myself everything else on other publishing pages. When you have the curiosity to learn, you can do almost anything. The feedback I have received from readers and fans is great. Most people find it easy to download a book on their ipad, iphone or pc. I have been asked by a few people to print my books because there are those who like to actually hold a book. It is something I am still considering, but the demand is not as high as it is for books published digitally, it seems. We’ll see.

Meet Author Illustrator Alisha M. Risen-Kent

Posted on June 20th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Author Illustrator Alisha M Risen-KentAlisha M. Risen-Kent is working toward her BA of Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. She lives at home with her four children and cat in Texas where she loves working in her garden. Her passions are reading, writing, drawing, and photography and she often creates the artwork for her books.





She is an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons© and she comes up with most of her story ideas from the campaigns she plays in. She also loves Renaissance festivals where she can dress up as the characters she creates. She’s an advocate for conservation efforts, volunteering where she can to help rehabilitate injured animals and she donates to good causes. She is also strong in her faith and she believes that God has a plan for everything.

Author Twitter Account @Skydancer792007
Facebook page
Website

Timber's Gambit by Alisha M. Risen-KentTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?
My latest book is about a grey wolf named Timber who decides to leave his pack and find one of his own. On his journey his meets friends, and foes, including an annoying coyote who becomes a priceless friend, an old badger that keeps him from starving, and a she-wolf who completes his pack. During his journey he faces many challenges, including human hunters. After being shot, he is rescued by wolf conservationist who eventually returns him home. While this book, as well as the rest in the Nature’s Guardians series is targeted at children 8-12, readers of all ages can enjoy this coming of age story. Each book contains a section on conservation that talks about where I gathered my information, the current plight of endangered species, such as the American grey wolf, and how readers can help. I have several things I am proud of: One, the illustrations; Two, how I was able to capture the true essence of the wolf while allowing children to “be” the wolf; and Three, the connections I made while doing my research, such as the Wolf Conservation Center.

Timber’s Gambit: A Nature’s Guardian Novel: Book Two at Amazon.com

Timber’s Gambit: A Nature’s Guardian Novel: Book Two at Amazon.ca

When did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the moment I could read. Despite the odds, and my family and friends discouraging me, I persevered. I wanted to tell stories and did so whether they had publishing potential or not. In fact, most of my short stories can be found for free on websites like FictionPress.com and DevianArt. Many people have inspired me along the way, to include friends (mostly D&D partners or fellow writers from DeviantArt) and published writers, like Margaret Weis and Stephenie Meyer.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?
Children are the most interesting people on the planet. They are like sponges that soak up everything around them. When I read to children, I accompany the story with a collectible plush, a wolf in Timber’s case. Children’s eyes light up when they see that animal and are able to associate it with the story. I remember at my first book signing, I had a two year old sitting in the audience. At the time, I was reading my first book, Haji’s Fight for Freedom, and I had a plush falcon that made noise when you squeezed it. That little boy took the falcon and squeezed it the entire time. In the end, I let him keep it.Haji's Flight for Freedom by Alisha M. Risen-Kent

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?
I stay connected with my readers in several ways. One: most of them are local. Two: A have a website a website and social media site. I’m also very active on DeviantArt and FictionPress. Three: I make donations for every child who buys a collection set and, since I keep their information, I am able to inform them when new books are available. I also have book signings and readings at schools and libraries.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?
My biggest enjoyment of being a writer/illustrator is the joy I bring to readers of all ages. That’s why I submit most of my writing on free sites. In my Nature’s Guardians series, it is my goal to do what I can to help conservationist protect our wildlife. My greatest pleasure is being able to make those donations.

What are the biggest challenges of being an author / illustrator?
My biggest challenge is finding a publisher or agent. Because of the importance of my topic, I didn’t want to wait to find someone willing to publish my book. However, I am still on the lookout while bringing my books to the most readers I can.

Meet Author and Painter Claudine Gueh Yanting

Posted on June 12th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


An interview with Claudine Gueh YantingClaudine Gueh writes about children stumbling into the circus at night, rowing out into thrashing streams, and transforming into sea monsters, none of which has physically happened to her. She appreciates characters and stories with layers, written lyrically with a down-to-earth tone. Her favorite children’s literature authors include Karen Hesse and Sharon Creech.

Claudine’s works have been called “gloriously bittersweet,” “brilliantly creative,” and which show “the power of a child’s heart.” They have received 5-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, and Little Orchid’s Sea Monster Trouble has also been nominated for the Global Ebook Award.

Besides writing and painting, Claudine tutors Korean and Singaporean kids, and blogs about children’s books over at her small, warm house ~ CarryUsOff Books.





Twitter account – @CarryUsOffBooks
Facebook page
Author Website

Little Orchid's Sea Monster Trouble by Claudine Gueh YantingTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Little Orchid’s Sea Monster Trouble is a middle-grade story about a girl trying to prove to her Ma that she hasn’t been spouting nonsense – that the Giant Cuttlefish really exists. Yet when she finally meets the giant face-to-face, Little Orchid isn’t brave enough to save it from being killed for dinner. That night, she finds boils all over her body, and her fingers stretched into creature-like arms. With an unexpected storm approaching, and without a proper goodbye to her family, Little Orchid must now leave home and start a new life as the Giant Cuttlefish …

I think mothers should read this. I think daughters should also read it. I hope all children who secretly think they aren’t brave enough, and those who secretly wish they are, will read this, and discover surprising things about themselves.

I’m very proud of how the story has turned out, how Little Orchid’s voice has remained authentic. And I’m proud to include the three paintings (and the cover) I’ve done for this ebook.

Little Orchid’s Sea Monster Trouble at Amazon.com

Little Orchid’s Sea Monster Trouble at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

My sisters and I always had an Enid Blyton book around. It was that sense of imagination and the permission to go on grand adventures and meeting kind or nasty creatures that kept us hooked. We would talk about the stories and play-pretend ~ from fantasy stories to her boarding school series. Enid Blyton played a great part in our childhood!

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?

I have a website and a blog featuring picture books, middle-grade fiction and picture-quote inspirations, so those two are my main connections with readers. Social media platforms like Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook have also been relatively effective for staying in touch with followers and welcoming potential readers. I recently wrapped up a children’s book giveaway hop and that was refreshing. As for book tours and classroom visits, I haven’t tried them.My Clearest Me by Claudine Gueh Yanting

What are the joys of being an author? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?

The joy ~ I get to do something I truly love, and this lifetime hasn’t been wasted. The biggest joy is in telling the stories as honestly as I can and hearing how they have stirred something in readers. My greatest pleasure has, for long, been from stories (books, films and recollections from family).

If you weren’t an author, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?

Besides being a writer, I am a private tutor in Singapore. I teach English to local and Korean kids. If I weren’t any of those, I’d like to be a detective seeking justice for children. (Yea, I’m a bit of a crime show-fan.)

Does music play a part in your writing/illustrating? If so, what sort of music do you connect with your work?

Oh yes, I love having a bit of music around when I write or paint. It’s either contemporary piano pieces or acoustic folk music.

Meet Young Adult Fiction Author Michael Betcherman

Posted on June 5th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts introduces author Michael BetchermanMichael Betcherman is an award-winning author and screenwriter. He has numerous writing credits in both dramatic and documentary television, including several episodes of the popular CBC drama, Street Legal. He is also the author/creator of The Daughters of Freya and Suzanne, two groundbreaking online novels that were highly praised by numerous publications, including The Globe and Mail and The (U.K.) Guardian.

Michael has written two young adult mystery novels, Breakaway and Face-Off, both published by Penguin Canada. Breakaway was short-listed for the John Spray Mystery Award.




Author Facebook page
Author Twitter account @MBetcherman

Tell us about your latest published book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

My latest book is Face-Off, a Young Adult mystery published this February.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Storytime Standouts profiles Michael Betcherman, the author of Faceoff17 year-old Alex Petrovic came to Canada with his mother when he was an infant, after his father was murdered during a civil war in their home country in Eastern Europe.
He is playing goal for Team B.C. in an international hockey tournament against a team from the old country. After the game, he shakes hands with the opposing goalie, Stefan Divac, and finds himself staring at his identical double. His heart tells him Stefan is his brother but his brain tells him that can’t be – until his mother sees Stefan, and faints dead away.

Stefan had been with the boys’ father when he was murdered, and all these years Alex’s mother believed he was dead as well. Only now does she find out that he was rescued and raised by another family.

All his life, Alex has felt a part of him was missing, and when Stefan comes to live with him and his mother in Vancouver in order to pursue his hockey career, it seems like a fairy tale come true – until sibling rivalry rears its ugly head. When Stefan proves to be a better goalie than Alex, Alex’s life goes off the rails.

As Alex struggles with his personal demons, he and his brother get caught up in a mystery involving the two war criminals from their home country who were responsible for tearing their family apart.

I think the book has wide appeal. Although the background is hockey, readers don’t have to be hockey fans to enjoy it. There’s a very strong female character, Lara, who is Alex’s love interest, and a competitive kick boxer who plays a major role in the mystery. She is feisty and fearless and funny, and reminds me of my daughter. She’s probably the character I’d most want to hang out with.

Face-Off at Amazon.com

Face-Off at Amazon.ca

Michael’s first book, Breakaway was a finalist for the 2012 John Spray Mystery AwardBreakaway by Michael Betcherman

Breakaway at Amazon.com

Breakaway at Amazon.ca

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

I was extraordinarily lucky with my first YA novel, Breakaway. Everything came together relatively easily – if one discounts the time and effort it took to actually write the book, and the years I spent honing my craft.

Once the book was finished, I decided to look for an agent. That can be difficult these days – many agents aren’t accepting new clients – but the first agent I contacted agreed to represent me. She sent the book to five of the top publishers in Canada and a couple of months later Penguin offered me a two-book deal. I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

I’ve got three pieces of advice for aspiring authors:
Number one: Make sure your book is as good as you can possibly make it before you send it out it into the world. Agents and publishers will only look at it once. I think it’s helpful to have friends and colleagues whose opinions you respect read the book before you submit it anywhere, but keep in mind this cautionary note from Neil Gaiman: “When people tell you that something in the book doesn’t work for them, they are usually right. When they tell you how to fix it, they are always wrong.”

Number two: Write about something that touches you, something you care about. Our emotions are what make us unique. If you write about something you feel strongly about, you will write something that’s powerful and that will move your audience.

Number three: Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. I wish I’d learned that lesson a lot earlier in life.

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing process look like?

I work at home most of the time but that can get isolating, so I often go to a neighbourhood cafe for a couple of hours in the afternoon for a change of scenery – and to reassure myself that I’m not alone in the universe. In either place I alternate between staring off into space and tapping away on my laptop. Fortunately, as my writing process has evolved, I’m increasingly doing more of the latter than the former.

Everybody has to find the process that works best for them. Basically what I try to do is get the first draft out as quickly as possible, and then trust the creative process, trust that my imagination will find solutions for the problems that inevitably arise.

When I first started writing, I tried to have the whole story worked out before I started in on the actual manuscript. That’s probably because I’m a bit of a control freak. But it didn’t take long to realize that didn’t work. Everything would inevitably change once I started writing the manuscript which meant that I was wasting a lot of time trying to work things out in advance.

The main reason was that my characters hadn’t taken shape yet. Writers often say that at some point their characters take over, as if they were real individuals with wills of their own. I wouldn’t put it this way but what does happen, or at least what happens for me, is that as soon as I put my characters in a specific situation, it gives my imagination something concrete to think about, and I come up with all sorts of possibilities that I could never come up with when I was thinking about the story more abstractly.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with teens. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?

Last year I did a book signing at a boys’ hockey tournament. Getting boys to read is a real problem, and the parents were generally keener about the book than their sons. One man dragged his son over to the table. After I told them what the book was about, the father turned to his son and asked, somewhat plaintively, “Do you think you’d read this?” The boy thought it over for a few moments. “I’d start it,” he said finally, “but I wouldn’t finish it.”

Cracked me right up, but it underlines how difficult it is get boys to read. (By the way, the boy’s dad bought the book for him. I never did find out if he finished it.)

What are the biggest challenges of being an author / illustrator?

This may sound strange, but I think one of the biggest challenges is to write a compelling synopsis for your book. You may have written the greatest book in the world but an agent or a publisher won’t even read it unless they’re captivated by the synopsis. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to write. You have to distill your manuscript into a few short paragraphs that convey the plot, the main characters, the conflicts and the themes. I spent eight hours working on a ten-sentence synopsis for Breakaway. It was the most useful eight hours I ever spent. The agent I sent it to got right back to me, said she found the synopsis intriguing and that she had put my manuscript at the top of her reading pile.

If you weren’t an author, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?

I always wanted to be a writer, but I came to it rather circuitously. I started out my working career as an entertainment lawyer and eventually became a consultant to the CBC series, Street Legal. Through that connection, I got the opportunity to write an episode of the show. The producer liked it, and hired me to several more, which gave me the encouragement I needed to give up law and write full-time.

I spent many years writing for television. I also wrote a couple of screenplays and two online novels. I had never thought about writing for young adults, but one day a few years ago I woke up with the idea that became Breakaway – a story about a boy whose father has been wrongly convicted of murder. I sat down and wrote 15 pages in less than an hour, something that had never happened to me before but which told me I was onto a good thing.

I love writing for this age group. It’s not about flowery language or description which I’ve never been keen on, it’s about telling a good story about characters people will care about.

Do you do school or library presentations?

I enjoy doing presentations at schools. I like to talk about writing, and the writing process, based on my personal experience, so the best fit for me is a senior grade (11 or 12) writing class where the students are interested in becoming writers.

I live in Toronto (Canada), so that’s the most convenient locale but would be prepared to go elsewhere.

Meet Author Frieda Wishinsky

Posted on May 29th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Frieda Wishinsky AuthorFrieda Wishinsky is the author of over sixty books. She writes picture books, chapter books, novels and non-fiction and is the author of the popular Canadian Flyer Adventures. Her books have been translated into many languages and have been nominated or won many awards internationally. JENNIFER JONES WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE won three English Children’s Choice awards and PLEASE, LOUISE! won the prestigious Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. EACH ONE SPECIAL was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award (Text) in 1998. Frieda loves speaking to kids and adults about the writing process and the joy of reading.





Author website
Author Facebook page

Ms. Wishinky’s latest book is A HISTORY OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING, non-fiction for grades 3 and up. She co-wrote it with Elizabeth MacLeod.
Published by Kids Can Press

A History of Just About Everything by Frieda Wishinsky and Elizabeth MacLeodTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

My latest book, A HISTORY OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING was the biggest project I ever worked on and I didn’t even write it alone. Elizabeth MacLeod and I co-wrote the book and luckily we had an excellent editor, Val Wyatt who helped us organize our huge topic. I think our approach is a dynamic way of presenting history. We show how everything is linked and how events from the past ripple forward. We wrote the book in a conversational, easy-to-understand and fast-paced style. Both kids and adults tell us they enjoy the book (and learn a lot along the way).

A History of Just About Everything at Amazon.com

A History of Just About Everything at Amazon.ca

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing / illustrating process look like?

I love writing in coffee shops. Maybe that’s because I grew up in New York City and like the hum and buzz behind me as I write. I also write at home in my office overlooking tall evergreens but I’m most creative when I’m out. I write by hand with a pencil (hooray for erasers) and then transfer the text to the computer. I revise by hand and then it’s back to the computer. I like to get feedback for my work and ask wise, honest yet supportive readers for their comments. Then I listen to what they say. I may not use everything, or change everything but I listen.Please, Louise! written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Marie Louise Gay

What are the joys of being an author? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?

I love hearing, reading and making up stories. Stories keep us connected to each other, help us through tough times and let us know that we’re not alone. I enjoy writing in many genres, although I especially love picture books. It’s an exciting challenge to say so much in so few words. I believe that the best picture books are for readers of any age. (I read picture books all the time)

I also believe that non-fiction should be presented as a story. After all, history is the story of everyone’s past.

I have fun visiting schools, meeting teachers and librarians and my fellow authors. Book people are wonderful!

Have any of your books been published electronically? If so, what was that process like? What sort of feedback have you had from readers?

You're Mean, Lily Jean written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Kady MacDonald DentonA bunch of my books have been published electronically, especially my Orca titles. I find I still sell way more books the old fashioned paper way. Maybe it’s the genre I write in. I don’t know.

If you could dine with any author/illustrator (alive or dead), who would you choose and why?

Top of my list would be my dear friend, Phoebe Gilman. I wish she were here to talk to and share work with again. I miss her. She always had insightful yet supportive comments. And I would have loved to meet William Steig. I love that he began writing kids books late in life. His writing and art are funny and so “true”.

Our reviews of some of Ms. Wishinky’s books:
Canadian Flyer Adventure Series
You’re Mean, Lily JeanCanadian Flyer -  Beware Pirates Frieda Wishinsky

Do you do school or library presentations?

I do many school, library and conference presentations all over Canada and beyond. I love sharing writing ideas and books with kids and adults. My background in teaching and educational writing has been invaluable in connecting with kids, teachers and the curriculum. My talks are lively, interactive and curriculum-linked.
I’ve also taught writing workshops and courses for kids and adults and offer one-to-one manuscript evaluations.

Meet Author and Storyteller Joan Marie Galat

Posted on May 22nd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts introduces Joan Marie Galat author and storytellerAlthough she started making books at the age of nine, Joan Marie Galat wasn’t published until the age of 12, when she became a paid weekly newspaper columnist. Today she is an award-winning and best selling author.

Joan shares her love of the stars in the Dot to Dot in the Sky series, which combines the science of the night sky with the ancient myths that give constellations and planets their names. Her first title, Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories in the Stars, became a best seller within six weeks of its release.

Joan’s books for children explore astronomy, ancient myths and legends, light pollution, history, and nature. She writes fiction and non-fiction, including two books for Scholastic classified as “info-fiction fantasy story.” A prolific writer for all ages and relentless promoter of reading, Joan loves to use storytelling to connect with audiences. A highlight in her career involved presenting Korean translations of her books at an international book fair in Seoul.

Joan operates MoonDot Media, a communications business offering writing and editing solutions in broadcast, print, and multi-media. She is the contributing editor of a quarterly magazine called The Advocate. Her freelance jobs have encompassed writing radio and video scripts, an Internet cartoon, exhibit text, speechwriting, and much more.


Author Website
Author Facebook page
Author/Storyteller Twitter Account @joanmariegalat

The Discovery of Longitude Joan Marie GalatTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?
My most recently published children’s book is The Discovery of Longitude, illustrated by Wes Lowe.

The story explores human struggle—something anyone can relate to. It offers all the elements of a great story: a challenge, hero, and conflict, followed by justice. Discovering how to measure longitude changed the world, in part because it created time zones. I’m proud to have taken a complicated subject and made it understandable and interesting to young readers.

The Discovery of Longitude is a picture book, intended for ages five and up. However, its story will interest anyone unfamiliar with the dangers of ocean travel before people knew how to determine their east-west location at sea.

The Discovery of Longitude at Amazon.com

The Discovery of Longitude at Amazon.ca

I’m excited to share that I have a number of new titles scheduled for release in 2014 and 2015:
Dark Matters—Nature’s reaction to light pollution (Red Deer Press)
Branching Out: How trees are part of our world (Owlkids)
Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories of the Aurora (Whitecap Books)
Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories of the Sun (Whitecap Books)
Cloud to Cloud in the Sky, Weather Science and Mythology from Around the World (Whitecap Books)

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

It took several years to get my first book published. When Dot to Dot in the Sky—Stories in the Stars was released, I was enormously pleased. The path to publishing taught me that it’s not enough to have interesting, well-expressed ideas. It’s also necessary to understand how the publishing industry operates.

I applied myself to understanding the needs of publishers and that helped me. Today I teach a workshop to aspiring authors called The Business of Getting Published. I also offer one-on-one consulting (virtual or in-person) to help people realize their writing goals.Dod to Dot Stories in the Stars Joan Marie Galat

My advice to aspiring authors:

1. Read current books in the genre you wish to be published. Analyze why award-winning titles are effective.
2. Remember that writing is about rewriting. Never submit your first draft.
3. Take rejection in stride and persevere. You only need to find one editor who likes your idea.

When did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?

I wanted to be an author since first falling in love with stories as a young child. Because I liked books so much, I wanted to make my own. At age 12, I was lucky to become a weekly newspaper columnist. I thank my father for always taking me to the library and my mother who is a fine proofreader. She surely saved me from having my early errors become public!

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?

Sharing my books with children is an extremely rewarding part of this career. Young children are unfailingly honest, so it means everything when they tell you they like your books. After a recent astronomy presentation at an elementary school, a child came up afterwards to look at my books, and said, “This is the best day ever!”

School and library presentations

Joan Marie Galat offers school and library presentations, writing workshops, and residencies, including virtual presentations via Skype. She’s willing to travel to any location, budget permitting. Please contact her (see above) about funding possibilities.

Dot to Dot in the Sky Literacy
– Author presentations that build reading and writing skills

When it comes to helping students find the joy in reading and writing, the sky’s the limit for astronomy author, Joan Marie Galat. In a lively presentation that blends facts, storytelling, and writing tips, Joan launches reluctant readers into books.

Students of all ages find it hard to resist the lure of astronaut food, exploding stars, and black holes—topics that fascinate kids. Joan also intrigues young writers with ancient myths and her story of becoming a paid columnist at age 12. By the end of the presentation kids will be heading to the library to take out books.

Meet Author Illustrator Patricia Storms

Posted on May 15th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts Profile of Patricia StormsPatricia Storms is an award-winning editorial cartoonist and author/illustrator of children’s books and humour books. Her cartoons have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers including Reader’s Digest, The Town Crier, The National Post, The London Times, The London Evening Standard, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Canadian Notes and Queries. Her newest picture book, Never Let You Go (Scholastic Canada, 2013) has been described as “profound” with “exuberant illustrations”, and has been published in numerous languages. She lives in Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two fat cats in a cozy old house full to the brim with books.




Author website
Author Facebook page
Author/illustrator Twitter Account: @stormsy

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Storytime Standouts looks at Never Let You Go by Patricia StormsMy latest picture book is Never Let You Go, written and illustrated by myself, published by Scholastic Canada. A description of the book:
“ In this warm, funny book, an adorable penguin learns that Mom or Dad “will never let you go.” Safely assured by the steadfast love of a parent, the little penguin can begin to explore its world bit by bit — draw a picture, chase the stars, even throw a tantrum — secure in the knowledge that a doting parent is always waiting in the wings.

Tender but never cloying, Never Let You Go gives a great, warm hug, followed by an encouraging pat as it sets up young readers to take their first big steps on the path to growing up. This story is destined to be a favourite read-aloud for parents and children alike, as the simple but powerful message of enduring love and support is one little readers will take to heart.”

I think everyone should read it! I know young ones enjoy the bright funny pictures (and who can resist a cute purple penguin?); I also know that adults are very drawn to the story because it makes them think of their relationship with their child or grandchild. I’m quite proud of this book because it’s the first time I really ‘opened up my heart’ so to speak, in my professional work. I’m also very please with how the art turned out. I pushed myself to improve my colours, and I tried some new techniques, and I think it worked out quite well!

Read what Storytime Standouts said about Never Let You Go and see a video of Patricia sharing the book.

Never Let You Go at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

I was probably most drawn to Maurice Sendak, but not ‘Where the Wild things Are’. I was totally in love with his Nustshell LibraryChicken Soup with Rice, One was Johnny, Alligators All Around and Pierre. The stories are very well-written and clever. And the art is so rich and warm. As an adult, I’ve discovered the early work of Sendak (titles like A Hole is to Dig, Kenny’s Window, The Moon Jumpers, Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present and Charlotte and the White Horse). I am totally in love with this period of his career. Dare I say it? I think his early work is much more appealing than Where the Wild Things Are.

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?
If I really think about it, it wasn’t that difficult for me initially getting published. I entered this bizarre world at a time when the internet & blogging was new. I was far too scared to show my art to an art director in person (who likes rejection? Nobody). It was much easier to just put one’s art online and get rejected in a less direct way. Fortunately for me, various art directors liked my work, and I was quite busy doing a variety of illustration – magazine gags, greeting cards, editorial cartoons, book cover illustration and yes, children’s book illustration.

Patricia Storms illustrated (humor book) Good Granny Bad GrannyI would suggest to aspiring authors/illustrators to persist, persist, persist. Work hard at figuring out who you are and what you like. Be careful who you listen to regarding your dreams. If you are near people who are mocking your desires, or being very harsh & cruel regarding your work, get away from them. Constructive criticism is worthwhile, but stay away from those who maliciously cut you down.

When did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?
The Pirate and the Penguin by Patricia StormsI had wanted to write & illustrate books ever since I was a teenager. But I had no clue back then how to make it a profession, and I struggled a great deal with confidence issues. When I was in my early 20s I was fortunate to encounter a very kind cartoonist by the name of Steven Toth who really encouraged me and helped me on my creative path. I’ll be forever grateful to him.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?
Well, with my latest book, Never Let You Go, it’s not the response of children that has surprised me – it’s the response of adults. On numerous occasions when I’ve watched various adults read Never Let You Go for the first time, they have started to cry. Last year I put one of my pieces from the book (the page with the Southern Lights, known as Aurora Australis) in an art show, and I actually witnessed someone crying, just from looking at my art! I’ve never had that sort of response from my art before. It’s quite an odd and humbling feeling, I must say.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?
Creating something that comes from inside me, and seeing it become a real live book is a pretty amazing feeling, I must say. It does feel really great to be in alone in a room and drawing. It also feels pretty wonderful to see people young & not-so-young enjoying my books – seeing them laugh, ask questions, cry, and also seeing young kids being inspired to their own art once they encounter my books.

Do you do school or library presentations?
Yes, I do school presentations. I can present grades K-12. For Kindergarten I keep things simple – half hour session showing how to draw animals using basic shapes like circles, squares, triangles. I can also do a slide presentation of my new book, Never Let You Go, and then show the little ones how to draw penguins. Grades 1-5 I do an interactive ‘Create a Character’ gig, getting audience to give me ideas on how to draw eyes, nose, hair, etc for a character. After character is made I create a short story for the group to illustrate, introducing them to concepts like characters, setting & action. Grades 4-8 I do a slide presentation of my work, focusing mainly on creating a book cover for a publisher. Near the end of the presentation I provide the group with ideas for creating their own book cover. For grades 9-12 I present a picture book writing workshop, discussing trends in picture book publishing, and then near the end of the workshop I present some short writing exercise for the class to work on.

Meet Children’s Book Author Margriet Ruurs

Posted on May 8th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Margriet Ruurs Author Profile StorytimeStandouts.com
Margriet Ruurs lives on Salt Spring Island (in British Columbia) and is the author of 30 books for children. With a Master of Education degree from Simon Fraser University, she teaches writing workshops at elementary schools across North America. Recipient of the Presidential Award for Reading & Technology of the International Reading Association, she has conducted writing workshops in Lahore, Pakistan and author visits to International Schools around the world.




Margriet writes a regular column for Canadian Teacher Magazine, as well as freelance articles for Reading Today, the magazine of IRA.

She is a popular speaker at conferences, including many State Reading Conferences, National Service Learning Conference, East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools, IRA National and Regional Conferences, Vancouver International Writers’ Festival and others. She conducts school visits throughout the school year, sharing her love of reading and writing with thousands of students and teachers. “I love to use my imagination,” she says, “but also to research and write nonfiction books.”

Emmas Eggs written by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by Barbara Spurll Several of her books have won awards, including the Storytellers World Award Honor Title for Emma’s Eggs and short listings for the Mr. Christie Award of Excellence, the Shining Willow and the Chocolate Lily, Blue Spruce, Utah Information Book Award and National Crown Award. My Librarian is a Camel was awarded Teacher’s Choice Award and named IRA’s Notable Book for Global Awareness.My Librarian is a Camel Margriet Ruurs

Many of Margriet’s books reflect her interest in the natural environment: A Mountain Alphabet, When We Go Camping, Wild Babies, Logan’s Lake and In My Backyard. She also likes humour as shown in Virtual Maniac, Silly & Serious Poems for Kids and Ms. Bee’s Magical Bookcase.

Margriet currently runs Between The Covers, a booklovers’ B & B on Salt Spring Island where the rooms are full of books. She also initiated and manages Kidswwwrite Magazine, an online magazine in which she publishes stories and poems written by kids. The ezine is used by young authors all over the world. In June, Margriet will be receiving an Honorary Fellowship of Okanagan University College for her work on this popular website.

Author website
Author Facebook Page
Author Twitter Account: @margrietruurs

Amazing Animals written by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by W. Allan HancockTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?
Amazing Animals is a fun and interesting picture book for curious kids. It is full of mind blowing facts that made me say ‘wow’! I used all those wow factors to encourage kids to appreciate nature, and to conduct their own research into amazing animals. I love the art work done by Allan Hancock, whose paintings almost look like photos. I’m proud of the research I had to do to find so many interesting tidbits.

Amazing Animals: The Remarkable Things That Creatures Do at Amazon.com

Amazing Animals: The Remarkable Things That Creatures Do at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?
I grew up in The Netherlands and immigrated to Canada as an adult, so I grew up on very different books. Many North American books don’t work in Europe when translated, and visa versa. I find it interesting how different books reflect different cultures. I grew up on the writing of Dutch author Annie M. G. Schmidt. Every child in Holland knew her name and her work. She wrote beautiful novels, but also hilarious picture books and engaging poetry. Her work was performed on radio and TV as musicals, movies, and TV shows. We sang her songs and quoted her stories. What intrigued me, even as a young child, was her power with words. I was enthralled with the fact that she could get us all to recite the same poems or sing the same words. I marveled at her play with language, puns, double meanings and the magic which she wove into her writing. She was so versatile. Roll into one our Canadian Robert Munsch, Pierre Berton and Leonard Cohen and you would get close to her skills. I loved her humor, her wicked way with words and her skills as a storyteller.

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?
I was so lucky in getting my first books published. The very first one was when I still lived in The Netherlands. I was working in a primate center, raising baby chimpanzees. Of course, their photos were adorable and the stories were interesting. I put them together and my very first book was accepted by the very first publisher to whom I showed it. Then I immigrated to Canada and had to learn speaking and writing in English. I lived in the Yukon when my own two children were growing up. I wrote a funny story for them about a purple cat called Fireweed. Again, the first Canadian publisher to whom I showed the story, decided to publish it. I had two books!

After that it got harder and I had my first rejections.

Now I have 30 books and realize that each one has to be able to stand on its own legs. Each one is still a challenge, none a given to be accepted. I am excited about my two upcoming books with Kids Can Press: one about Families Around the World, the next about Schooldays Around the World. Doing a lot of traveling, these global stories are close to my heart.

And I am especially excited about my new book with Pajama Press: A Brush Full of Colour will be the picture book biography of Canadian painter Ted Harrison. When we lived in the Yukon, Ted was a good friend and my children ‘painted’ with him. I am thrilled that I was able to write his interesting story. It promises to be a beautiful book.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?
I conduct many author visits to schools around the world. I enjoy sharing my books but also stories on how I get ideas and how kids can be inspired to write their own stories and poems. Often I see that this works as an eye opener for kids. They realize that they can write about simple things and their own experiences. It’s fun to see how they get ideas to create their own stories. I also love talking to parents, who often don’t realize the importance of modeling the joy of reading and reading aloud to children even if those are old enough to read by themselves. I am passionate about the importance f promoting reading and sharing books with children. But having shared my books for many years, with thousands of kids, my biggest thrill is reading books with my own 2 and 4 year old grandsons. They devour books and it was very cool to see them select my stories as some of their favorites! A whole new reason to keep writing!

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from? and what are the biggest challenges of being an author / illustrator?
I love being a storyteller on paper. I like to use my imagination to dream up stories, but I also love researching any topic in which I am interested. To tell you the truth, I think that I am still a kid at heart: curious and always saying ‘what if..’. I love the variety and being able to stay home to write. But I also love the days when I get to travel and talk to children in Ladysmith or Toronto or Shanghai.

At the same time, what I like most about being a writer is also what poses the biggest challenges: being able to afford being a writer because royalties don’t pay the bills. So I do lots of school visits and conference presentations in order to be able to stay home and write at other times. It is hard to be disciplined and to write all the time. I do a lot of rewriting and editing while I travel. And I have to make sure that I spend enough time at working on my writing when I really want to be outside, working in the garden or playing with my grandsons!

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