Posts Tagged ‘Canadian author’

Introducing Judy Hilgemann, author/illustrator of The Great Grizzlies Go Home

Posted on July 9th, 2020 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts profiles author Judy Hilgemann.

Judy Hilgemann has always lived in coastal British Columbia. She grew up on northern Vancouver Island, studied and lived in various Canadian cities, then settled on Haida Gwaii. She paints in watercolour, acrylic, and encaustic.

The rugged west coast wilderness, the local character of coastal communities, and the details of the natural world, are her inspirations. Whenever possible, she creates plein-air watercolour paintings in nature, and then works up larger paintings from the studies, back in her studio.

Be sure to visit Judy Hilgemann’s website to view some of her illustrations, including murals for BC Children’s Hospital and for the Haida Gwaii Literacy Poster Project.

Follow Judy on Twitter @judyh615

Judy’s first illustrated children’s book, “B is for Basketball”, was published in the spring of 2011 and has since been used as a “Welcome To
Kindergarten” book across Canada
. Her latest book is “The Great Grizzlie Go Home”, a picture book about a true event, published by Harbour Publishing in April 2020.

The Great Grizzles Go Home is illustrated by Judy Hilgemann

Who do you think should read The Great Grizzlies Go Home? What are you most proud of? 

All ages! Am most proud of the illustrations.

The Great Grizzlies Go Home at

The Great Grizzlies Go Home at

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

It was a bit difficult to get my first “trade” fiction publication. There are just so many great ideas and authors and illustrators out there – must be very hard for publishers to chose between them all. One of the encouraging things I was told, was not to give up too soon – that sometimes the book idea you are attempting is just not right for the publisher you approach. So keep trying many different publishers.

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?

During my childhood I loved Maurice Sendak picture books the most. I loved the magical realism, the way humans interacted with animals, and the zany imaginative characters.

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?

When I was a very small child (6) I knew I wanted to be an artist. By the time I was 10 or 12 I was illustrating books for myself as I read them, making little sketches of the images that the stories put in my head. My parents encouraged me all along, as did my friends and teachers. When I was 15, I worked for a potter, as a studio-helper. One day I overheard her describing me as having “talent dripping from her fingertips”. I have never forgotten that phrase, and I have striven to honour this gift ever since.

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 in many other jobs along the way, but drawing, painting, and illustrating have always been my main goal. Graphic Design was an obvious choice for first-year college, although I learned it was hard to find enough work in small northern places in that field. So I got a teaching degree which would allow me to work almost anywhere. Then life and family happened, and it’s been a wonderful blur and mix of all those things ever since.

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

I would choose to dine at the home of turn-of-the-century Swedish artist, Carl Larsson because I love his work, his mastery of composition, the way he incorporated his children into his paintings, and also because I would love to go to Sweden where I have ancestors to visit!

Introducing Sari Cooper, author of The Horse of the River

Posted on July 2nd, 2020 by Carolyn Hart

Dr. Sari Cooper authored The Horse of the River
Photo credit – Marley Gillian Eisen

Sari Cooper is a doctor and writer. She has lived in Canada all her life except for an 18- month stint in Australia. She spends most of her time working as a Family Physician and looking after her own family. But she always loved writing and was able to bring her passion to life after being inspired to write The Horse of the River. The inspiration came after a horseback riding and rafting retreat while on vacation in New Zealand. There she learned about natural horsemanship and had some harrowing experiences while rafting. She currently lives in Victoria, BC.

Author website

Author Instagram account

Author Facebook page

Sari Cooper’s first published book is The Horse of the River. It is a children’s horseback riding adventure, published by Harbour Publishing.

The Horse of the River by Sari Cooper is published by Harbour Publishing

Who do you think should read The Horse of the River? What are you most proud of?

The natural audience for this book is children ages 8-12 who like adventure. But it would be enjoyable for anyone who likes middle-school-age fiction. I am most proud of the strong positive female lead, and the themes of friendship and resiliency. I also think it’s got some pretty humorous moments.

The Horse of the River: A Camp Canyon Falls Adventure (Camp Canyon Falls) at

The Horse of the River: A Camp Canyon Falls Adventure (Camp Canyon Falls) at

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

Yes, it was close to 7 years from the time of completion to the time of publication. If you get rejections from all the large publishing houses, seek out the smaller ones that might have a space for a new unknown author with a story that aligns with their values. Ask people to read and provide feedback. Listen without defensiveness. Don’t be afraid to rewrite. It almost always gets better.

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 where I am comfortable. Sometimes on the couch, on my bed, in my office chair. Where it’s quiet and usually when no one else is home. Writing is my side line. My work as a physician keeps me very busy, as does my family. So I grab pieces of time to write when I can. It isn’t a routine for me. It happens when I’m inspired and excited about it.

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

I genuinely get a rush when I hear from a reader that they enjoyed the book. I love hearing that they couldn’t put it down at a specific part, or when they tell me a small detail they enjoyed, which often happens to be one of my own favourite parts. When I hear from someone in my target audience I try to connect with them when appropriate. I was reviewed by a 10-year-old reader who liked the book and I sent her a signed bookmark and some stickers and a personal message through the magazine where the review was published. It was my first review from a reader in my target audience who didn’t know me personally. I would have to say my greatest pleasure as an author is simply hearing that kids are reading and enjoying my book.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an author?

TIME!! And distraction. Because I have a career other than writing which is both challenging and fulfilling, I often will choose downtime at the end of the day or on days off. But I’ve been more energized lately and am working to carve out time to write more.

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 work as a Family Physician in Victoria, British Columbia. It’s busy and challenging work. It allows me to connect with people and it has taught me a lot about character and compassion. I suppose it informs my writing quite a bit.

Introducing Young Adult Fiction Author Emma Smith

Posted on June 18th, 2020 by Carolyn Hart

Emma Smith, Young Adult Fiction Author

It is our pleasure to introduce young adult fiction author, Emma Smith. She is the author of Fate of the Emerald Fae.

Emma hasn’t released her first book just yet but she is hoping it will be released by the end of August. It’s called Fate of the Emerald Fae. It’s a young adult fantasy novel.

Emma is a 19-year-old university student who currently lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She is planning on becoming a high school English teacher while continuing her writing. Her love of reading and writing stems from years and years of her mother reading aloud to her. Eventually, Emma read novels independently and aspired to write one herself. Featured is a photo of Emma, her boyfriend, and her dog!

You can connect with Emma on her Facebook page and on Instagram. At the present time, Emma is self-published.

Fate of the Emerald Fae by Emma Smith

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

My book should be something teenagers and even adults will want to read. It’s not necessarily just a young adult book. I’m really proud of the world and magic system I’ve created in this novel and I’m hoping it becomes a world that someone can get sucked into just like the many other worlds that other authors have created.

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? OR Who is your favourite author now? Why do you connect with this particular author and his/her work?

Growing up, there were so many authors that I loved to read but one that stuck with me most, like many other people, was Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. I remember being completely sucked into the series and loving it so much. To this day, I collect Harry Potter merchandise and this past November I was able to finally visit Universal Studios where the Wizarding World is! Being able to connect with characters like Hermione and Luna in the stories made the books relatable for young people and aspiring authors like myself.

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

Writing has always been a hobby of mine. I’ve always loved creating worlds and new characters, it just never completely developed until the last few years or so. Teaching creative writing as well as writing as an author has always been my dream. My parents, as well as my friends, family members, and boyfriend, have always supported me so much in my dreams of becoming an author and I am so grateful to have so many people excited about my book release!

What are the biggest challenges of being an author?

The biggest challenge for me as an author has been coming up with unique ideas. Having read so many books, it can be difficult to try to create completely unique ideas from the hundreds of other novels out there in the world. Motivation to actually write has also been a struggle, as writer’s block is a very real thing! 

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

Seeing as Fate of the Emerald Fae is being released electronically, I have an adequate amount of experience with releasing ebooks. It’s a fairly simple process through amazon and I’ve actually enjoyed the process so far. Feedback from beta readers has been good and releasing books through Amazon is a very good way to release a novel like this! Especially for new authors looking to start off small.

Fate of the Emerald Fae (Epacia Academy Book 1) at

Fate of the Emerald Fae at

5 Terrific Picture Books About Children Having Problems Learning to Read

Posted on July 19th, 2019 by Carolyn Hart

5 Picture Books About Characters Having Trouble Learning to Read

If you are supporting a child who is having difficulty learning to read, these are picture books that share an encouraging message. Reading well involves learning a variety of strategies and practising them with increasingly difficult text. For a child who has difficulty with letter recognition, dyslexia, phonemic awareness or comprehension, reading can be a terrible struggle. Hearing about the experiences of other children can be a help.

Here, we share five picture books that will be helpful for children who are having trouble learning to read.

“Learning to read and read well is already hard enough: it takes years of practice to make knowledge of reading automatic, transparent and fluid. When children practice reading in a context that’s kind– with books they love, teachers who understand reading, and systems devised to make a hard thing easier — they’re more inclined to practice, remember, make sense of, get better at, and love reading.”

Nancie Atwell in The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers

5 Terrific Picture Books About Children Having Problems Learning to Read Click To Tweet

I Don't Like to Ready by Nancy CarlsonI Don’t Like to Read! written and illustrate by Nancy Carlson
Picture book about Having Trouble Learning to Read published by Puffin

Henry likes first grade but he does not like reading. He avoids it at school and at home. One day, his teacher asks him what the problem is and he confides. His teacher offers extra help and before too long, when a babysitter is not available to read aloud to Henry and his sibling, Henry takes over, reading with increasing confidence and emerges with a love of reading at home and at school.

Ms Carson’s illustrations are a highlight of this engaging picture book. Henry’s body language, especially as a non-reader, is a terrific addition to her delightful story.

Level of Reading Intervention – Resource teacher at school, extra practice at home
Reason for reading difficulty (if any identified) – N/A

I Don’t Like to Read! at

I Don’t Like to Read! at

Lily and the Mixed Up Letters is a story about difficulty learning to readLily and the Mixed Up Letters written by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Fance Brassard
Picture Book about Having Trouble Learning to Read published by Tundra Books

Lily enjoys school and especially opportunities to create art. Unfortunately, grade two is not as much fun as kindergarten and grade one were. Reading aloud is especially worrisome for Lily and, when her teacher announces Parent Day will include having each student read out loud, Lily confides her lack of confidence reading to her mom,

I can’t do it,” she sobs. “I can’t read my page on Parent Day. It’s too hard. All the other kids can read their pages, but I can’t read mine.”

Lily’s mom is empathetic and requests that she receive extra help at school. Her teacher assigns a peer Reading Buddy and Lily also practices at home. By Parent Day, Lily is ready for the challenge.

Level of Reading Intervention – Peer reading buddy at school, extra practice at home
Reason for reading difficulty (if any identified) – N/A

Lily and the Mixed-Up Letters at

Lily and the Mixed-Up Letters at

Children's books about learning disabilities, Miss Little's Gift
Miss Little’s Gift written by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Jim Burke
Autobiographical Picture Book about Living with ADHD and Difficulty Learning to Read published by Candlewick Press

Douglas is in grade two and he doesn’t like having to sit still. He interrupts his teacher; he has problems with reading and on the playground. He is very resistant to staying after school in order to get extra help with reading but Miss Little is firm and determined. She finds a book to match his interests, she encourages him and she gives him just enough help. Miss Little’s Gift is a celebration of the difference a wonderful, caring teacher can make.

Level of Reading Intervention – extra time with a classroom teacher
Reason for reading difficulty (if any identified) – ADHD in Author’s Note

Miss Little’s Gift at

Miss Little’s Gift at

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader BehindMiss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind written by Judy Finchler and Kevin O’Malley and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
Picture book about a reluctant reader and a persistent teacher published by Bloomsbury USA

In Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind, we meet a student who is able to read but simply does not like reading. He much prefers playing video games with his friend. His very determined book-loving teacher spends the entire school year trying to find a book that will captivate him. One by one she wins over his classmates but it is not until the year is almost over that she finds the key to unlocking a love of reading and books.

This picture book would be a good read-aloud at the start of a school year, especially for teachers and librarians who have an extensive classroom library and a very good knowledge of books that will appeal to hard-to-reach students.

We also suggest reading our series, Journey of a Reluctant Reader

Level of Reading Intervention – Classroom teacher
Reason for reading difficulty (if any identified) – Reluctant reader

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind at

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind at

Thank You, Storytime Standouts looks at picture books about children having difficulty learning to read including Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia PolaccoThank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Picture book about Having Trouble Learning to Read published by The Penguin Group

Thank you, Mr. Falker is an autobiographical picture book about Ms. Polacco’s difficulty learning to read and the help she finally received in grade five. A detailed, thoughtful story for older children, Thank you, Mr. Falker explains that Trisha grew up in a family that loved reading and treasured books. After the loss of her grandparents, she moved to California with her mother and her brother. Trisha hoped it would be a fresh start and that reading would be easier but her struggles persisted and before too long she was being teased by bullies.

it is not until Trisha is in fifth grade, with a teacher who is new to the school, that the bullying is called out and Trisha receives extra instruction.

We’re going to change all that, girl. You’re going to read – I promise you that.”

This picture book is best-suited older children and highlights the fact that some children can hide their difficulties with reading for quite some time.

Level of Reading Intervention – Classroom teacher and reading resource teacher
Reason for reading difficulty (if any identified) -N/A

Thank You, Mr. Falker at

Thank You, Mr. Falker at

The Girl Who Hated Books

An animated short from the National Film Board of Canada introduces us to Meena, a young girl who hates books.

We also wrote about Storytime Standouts writes about I Hate BooksI Hate Books by Kate Walker


Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don't) is a picture book about a girl who is reluctant to read.

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) written by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Michael Emberley

Picture book about a reluctant reader published by Alfred A. Knopf

Booklovers will be enchanted by Miss Brooks and her enthusiasm for sharing picture books with her class. Missy doesn’t share the librarian’s enthusiasm for reading or for her book-related costumes.

” All year long, Miss Brooks reads us books. Books about dragons and Pilgrims and presidents. Books about love and leprechauns. Groundhogs, even! It’s vexing.”

It is not until Book Week that Missy decides that she wants to read a book that includes warts. Missy’s mom suggests Shrek and soon Missy and her mom have created an ogre costume and she is ready to present the story to her class.

Rich vocabulary and fun illustrations make this a great read aloud choice for kindergarten and early primary-age children.

Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) at

Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) at

Storytime Standouts shares Hooray for Reading Day!

Hooray for Reading Day! written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Arthur Howard

Picture Book about a (grade 1) child’s anxiety about reading aloud published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Jessica has other worries that have been explored in Stop Drop and Roll (A Book about Fire Safety) and 100th Day Worries.

In Hooray for Reading Day! Jessica already feels self-conscious when reading aloud in front of her classmates, her fears worsen when Mr. Martin announces plans for a parent event at school that will require her to wear a costume and read aloud in front of parents.

Anyone who feels anxious about reading aloud or public speaking will understand Jessica’s worries. Meanwhile, her mom and dad are enthusiastic and reassuring about the performance and offer to help with a costume.

When Jessica can’t sleep, she decides to practice her reading with Wiggles, the family dog listening. She discovers, to her delight, that reading to Wiggles is easy and that it helps her to become more successful and confident with her reading.

Hooray for Reading Day! is skillfully illustrated by Arthur Howard (Mr. Putter & Tabby Pour the Tea, Hoodwinked) and, apart from sharing a positive message about learning to read, the book presents an opportunity to discuss emotions and teasing. It would be a good pick to share at the start of the school year or whenever children need encouragement with reading.

Hooray for Reading Day! (Jessica Worries) at

Hooray for Reading Day at

Picture Books About Worries and Fears

Posted on June 24th, 2018 by Carolyn Hart

Explore these picture books with children who have worries and fears.

Help your child learn to manage worries and fears with these picture books

Some children deal with new experiences and people with relative ease. For other children, there are reasons to worry about meeting new people, trying unfamiliar activities and beginning school. Anxious children may anticipate all sorts of dreadful outcomes that parents, caregivers and teachers don’t even consider. They may anticipate problems and focus on them, certain that outcomes will be unpleasant or even dangerous.

Enjoying these picture books together will provide opportunities for children to watch as a picture book character successfully overcomes fear and worry and manages a first day in a new classroom, sleeping in a dark room or listening to a thunderstorm.

Picture books for children who have worries and fears including David and the Worry BeastDavid and the Worry Beast written by Anne Marie Guanci and illustrated by Caroline Attia
Bibliotherapy about anxiety published by New Horizon Press

David and the Worry Beast was written especially to help children cope with anxiety. David’s worry beast causes him to worry when he plays basketball, when he’s at home and when he is at school. His anxiety grows and grows until he learns specific steps to cope with his worries. In addition to providing tips for children, the authors also have suggestions for parents.

David and the Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety at

David and the Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope With Anxiety at

Franklin's Blanket is a picture book about a child's security objectFranklin’s Blanket written by Paulette Bourgeois and illustrated by Brenda Clark
Picture book about a security object published by Kids Can Press

When Franklin’s favorite blue blanket goes missing just before bedtime, he is distressed and has trouble settling down to sleep. Franklin tries to remember where it might be. The following day, Franklin visits his friends and discovers that they also have comfort objects that help them to manage challenging situations.

Franklin’s Blanket features familiar characters and offers gentle reassurance about managing emotions, including fear, with a Teddy Bear or a cozy blanket.

Franklin’s Blanket at

Franklin’s Blanket at

Storytime Standouts looks at Noni is Nervous, a picture book about dealing with fears and worries surrounding starting school.Noni Is Nervous Written by Heather Hartt-Sussman and illustrated by Genevieve Cote
Picture book about managing fears, especially with starting school published by Tundra Books

There are things that make Noni feel anxious, including her relationship with a friend and world events. When we meet Noni, she is particularly concerned about starting school. Her family members reassure her that all will be well but Noni likes the comfort of home and being near to her mama.

Noni imagines all sorts of things that could go wrong at school and is relieved when she doesn’t get lost, her teacher isn’t a monster and she is able to open her juice box.

Noni Is Nervous will comfort children who are contemplating a new experience. Suitable for boys and girls aged four and up, the cheerful illustrations depict a racially diverse classroom and enhance readers’ understanding of the emotions that Noni is experiencing.

Noni Is Nervous at

Noni Is Nervous At

The I'M NOT SCARED Book can help children deal with fears and worries.The I’m Not Scared Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr
Picture book about dealing with worries and fears published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Todd Parr writes about and illustrates several typical childhood fears including fear of the dark, of dogs, of starting school and of getting lost. Illustrations show both boys and girls (and a bear) in a state of being afraid, encouraging readers to take a closer look and gain understanding.

Bright, bold illustrations are well-suited to a small group read aloud. Children are shown with a variety of skin colors including blue and purple.

A good choice for a preschool or kindergarten classroom.

The I’M NOT SCARED Book at

The I’M NOT SCARED Book at

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears is a story that can be used to explore themes of worries and fearsLittle Mouse’s Big Book of Fears written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
Award-Winning picture book about fears published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Little Mouse draws, writes and creates collages to express fear. A fascinating and engaging format that includes cutouts, a foldout, a flap to lift and nibbled pages, Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears is a relatively dark picture book that is best-suited to older children (aged 5 or 6 and up). Winner of the 2008 Kate Greenaway Medal for distinguished illustration, this is an inspiring book that could be used to encourage young readers to express emotions through artwork and writing.

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears at

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears at

Wemberly Worried is a picture book that can help children deal with fears and worries.Wemberly Worried written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Picture book about worries and fears published by Greenwillow Books

Wemberly is a little mouse with big worries. All day long, she finds reasons to worry at home and away from home. Her family tells her not to worry but that is easier said than done. When it is time to start school, Wemberly’s fears seem to multiply. She worries all the way to school.

Fortunately, Wemberly’s new teacher introduces her to Jewel. Jewel has not joined all the other mice, she is standing off to one side, observing. Before too long, Wemberly and Jewel are sitting together and Wemberly’s worries have subsided.

Wemberly Worried is a thoughtful, reassuring story that will provide reassurance to young mice (and children!) who are concerned about starting school. illustrated thoughtfully, not only are skin tones (hair color) diverse, Mr. Henkes also includes a young mouse who uses a wheelchair.

Wemberly Worried at

Wemberly Worried at

Picture Books About Worries and Fears are a great resource at home and in classrooms.

Halloween-Theme Picture Books and Free Printables for Kids!

Posted on October 23rd, 2016 by Carolyn Hart

Celebrate Halloween with our free homeschool, preschool and kindergarten printables and book suggestions

Halloween-Theme Stories and Printables for Homeschool and Classroom

As the days grow shorter and cooler weather arrives in the Northern Hemisphere, October is a wonderful month to share a variety of Halloween-theme picture books with children. Halloween is also a great time to enjoy concept books with children and more than one of our featured books highlights counting.

Here are some of our favorite stories exploring themes of friendship, tolerance, learning about others while trick or treating, wearing costumes and enjoying the fun of Halloween.

Scroll down for our free Halloween-theme printables for children

Storytime Standouts recommends Halloween picture book A Very Brave WitchA Very Brave Witch written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Harry Bliss
Halloween-theme picture book published by Simon & Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books

A Very Brave Witch is the tale of a green-skinned, broomstick-flying, costume-loving witch. She thinks she knows all about humans and decides that Halloween night is the perfect opportunity to take a closer look. After a flying mishap, she meets three, costumed human trick-or-treaters including one girl who is dressed up as a witch. Together, the pair manages to shatter stereotypes as they discover friendship and celebrate Halloween together.

Young readers will enjoy investigating a recently-decorated haunted house and collection of costumes. The witches’ fear of humans is good fun.

Well-suited for a group read-aloud, the colorful watercolor illustrations nicely match the tone of the story.

Suitable for preschool and older

Scare Factor = 1

A Very Brave Witch at

A Very Brave Witch at

Storytime Standouts recommends Halloween picture book A Creepy Countdown by Charlotte Huck and Jos. A. SmithA Creepy Countdown written by Charlotte Huck and Jos. A. Smith
Halloween-theme picture book published by Harper Trophy

Beautifully detailed, dark and creepy illustrations are a highlight of this Halloween-theme counting book. The rhyming text includes alliteration and guides readers as they count from one to ten and back down to one.

Five furry bats hanging upside down
Six skinny witches flying through the town

Recommended for children aged 5 and up. Illustrations are well-suited to a group setting and could be used to inspire young artists to work primarily in black.

Scare Factor = 2

A Creepy Countdown at

A Creepy Countdown at

Storytime Standouts recommends Halloween picture book Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for HalloweenScaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt
Halloween-theme picture book published by Kids Can Press

Scaredy Squirrel is a fun series of picture books written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt. In Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween, Scaredy has put together eight short chapters featuring panels with maps, lists, illustrations and diagrams intended to keep trick or treaters safe and happy. Best-suited to independent readers or a one-on-one read aloud, this is a fun book with rich vocabulary and detailed, engaging illustrations. Not great for a large group setting, this will be a very satisfying “chapter book” for a child in grade one or two and will produce lots of giggles when read by a parent to a child.

Scare Factor = 1

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies at

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies at

Storytime Standouts looks at Halloween-theme picture books including Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O'ConnellTen Timid Ghosts written and illustrated by Jennifer O’Connell
Halloween-theme counting book published by Cartwheel Books, an imprint of Scholastic

When a moving truck pulls up to a haunted house, the ten resident ghosts watch nervously. Before too long, a green-skinned witch is scaring the ghosts with a skeleton, a bat and various costumes. Ms. O’Connell provides fun clues for readers to notice including buttons that look like eyes, white face powder and a roll of toilet paper.

The repetitive, rhyming text adds to the fun in this counting book. Young children will love finding the ghosts in each of the illustrations.

Scare Factor = 1

Ten Timid Ghosts at

Ten Timid Ghosts at

Storytime Standouts looks at Halloween-theme picture books including Trick or Treat by Bill Martin and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Paul MeiselTrick or Treat written by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Paul Meisel
Halloween-theme picture book published by Aladdin Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster

It’s Halloween night and time to trick or treat in a ten-story apartment building. A young, wide-eyed boy goes from floor to floor, meeting all sorts of costumed neighbors with wonderful names like Wiggle Waggle and Limbler Lamber. When the boy reaches the top floor, Merlin answers the door and waves his magic wand and tells the boy that everything is “WackBards“, sending the boy back to each apartment for Belly Jeans and “Twicorice Lists

Great use of alliteration and wordplay along with colorful, fun illustrations make this an excellent read-aloud for kindergarten and older children. In a classroom setting, children could have fun illustrating a favorite candy WackBards.

Scare Factor = 1

Trick or Treat? at

Trick or Treat? at

Storytime Standouts shares free Halloween printables including pumpkin-theme interlined printing paper

Free Printable Halloween Theme Learning Resources for Kids

image of PDF icon  Writing paper for kids - Witch Hat

Halloween, Witch theme interlined paper for beginning writers.

image of PDF icon  Writing paper for kids - Pumpkin

Fall theme interlined paper with pumpkins for beginning writers.

image of PDF icon  Halloween Picture Dictionary

Free printable Halloween picture dictionary for readers and writers in kindergarten and grade one.

Storytime Standouts shares free Halloween printables including a picture dictionary, chants, writing paper and song

image of PDF icon  Five Little Ghosts

Use as an action chant or a felt board story

image of PDF icon  Five Little Pumpkins

Use as a action chant or a felt board story

image of PDF icon  The Wheels on the Halloween Bus

image of PDF icon  Halloween Crossword Puzzle

image of PDF icon  Halloween Word Search

Storytime Standouts Looks at a New Picture Book: The Hockey Song

Posted on October 9th, 2016 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts looks at The Hockey Song by Stompin' Tom Connors, published by Greystone BooksThe Hockey Song written by Stompin’ Tom Connors and illustrated by Gary Clement
Hockey-Theme Picture Book published by Greystone Books

OH! The good ol’ Hockey game, is the best game you can name.
And the best game you can name, is the good ol’ Hockey game.

An outdoor game of pick up hockey is the setting for this fun, energetic tribute to Stompin’ Tom Connors’ widely known anthem. The well-lit rink is in a city and it glistens beneath the stars on a wintry evening. It feels as though it would be the centerpiece of a community, drawing players from far and wide for a casual, drop in game.

Engaging illustrations show us the game from ice level and above, depicting players from various races who are young and old, petite and burly and male and female. It is fun to see more than one multi-generational family group; moms and dads enjoying the game with their children.

The game begins with just two players on the ice but soon swells and, by the end of the song, the rink is crowded with enthusiastic hockey players. Some wear familiar NHL-style jerseys while others are dressed less traditionally. Some wear hockey helmets and others have toques, headphones, pony tales and stocking caps. Young readers will enjoy playing eye spy and noticing all sorts of interesting details about the dozens of players who finish the game.

Very good fun for children aged four and up. The Hockey Song would be a great gift for a hockey-loving grandparent to share with a newcomer to the game.

The Hockey Song at

The Hockey Song at

Meet Children’s Book Author Illustrator Loraine Kemp

Posted on November 20th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Meet Illustrator Loraine KempLoraine Kemp, born in Kelowna, B.C., grew up loving the outdoors on acreage with her horses. Her other favorite pastime was reading fantasy novels. After she graduated from high school, she took two years of Fine Arts. Later, she married an amazing man and had two sons. When her two sons were growing up, she discovered her passion for reading and telling children’s stories. Her sons have grown, but her passion remains.

Many writing courses later, her writing accomplishments include being selected by jury twice to attend the Literary Arts Program (Children’s Writing) of the British Columbia Festival of the Arts. Her short stories also won first place in the following contests: The Willamette Writers Society conference contest in Portland; Byline Magazine contest; Bard’s Ink Writing Contest; and The World Guild’s 2013 Fresh Ink writing contest.

Loraine has written two juvenile novels, and her children’s fantasy Orion’s Sword, won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ 2013 Genesis Contest.

Other accomplishments include illustrating three books. One of them called Tabasco the Saucy Raccoon, was written by Lyn Hancock and published by Sono Nis Press. She toured to schools and libraries with the Lyn doing illustrating workshops and presentations. The other two books will be published by Webb Publishing. Loraine has just been commissioned to illustrate a picture book called Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, written by good friend, Karen Autio, and published by Sono Nis Press. She now continues to write and illustrate, and enjoys giving illustrating presentations to schools.

Loraine is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Canscaip, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

Illustrator website

Illustrator Facebook page

Twitter Account @loraine_kemp

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

Tabasco the Saucy Raccoon written by Lyn Hancock and illustrated by Loraine KempTabasco the Saucy Raccoon is my latest published children’s book, aimed at kids, 9 – 12 years of age. It is a true story about a raccoon that was taken around by author Lyn Hancock on her writing tours. The crazy escapades Tabasco gets into will entertain kids of all ages. I am most proud of the fact the I engaged a whole school in the process of illustrating the book. I used Ann McClymont Elementary in Kelowna, B.C. as my home base for all my illustrations. I used the kids, teachers, secretary, principal and the vice principal as my models for the book. I had a blast and so did my models!

Tabasco the Saucy Raccoon at

Tabasco the Saucy Raccoon at

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 schools and do illustrating workshops for now. When I’m published as a writer, I will do both writing and illustrating workshops. I have gone on book tours to B.C., and Ontario and had wonderful times with the author as we toured together to libraries and schools. Now I do them by myself, although in 2016 when my book Growing up in Wild Horse Canyon is published I will again tour with an author, Karen Autio, doing presentations and workshops. In my workshops, I entertain kids by demonstrating my drawing techniques when I draw popular animated characters. I also invite them to display their work on my website. I take copies of their drawings or ask them to send me more. They love to see their work and others on my website. There are many very talented kids out there!! Have a look on my website. You will be astounded!! I also engage on twitter, and would love to see more kids!

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

I derive the greatest pleasure when I engage the kids in the classrooms with my drawings and show them that they too can draw as I walk them through simple and fun drawings. Their presents of pictures they drew are my treasures!! My greatest pleasures of being an author is escaping into my fantasy worlds and playing with my characters on paper!

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

My biggest challenge is that I love both illustrating and writing and it is hard to be away from either for any period of time. Although both take a lot of time. I feel like I’m being split down the middle when I have to decide which to do in a day!

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

I would dine with Kenneth Oppel. He writes such amazing stories and has such a great imagination, that I would love to know him better!

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

Yes I do library and school presentations. I do presentations right now on illustrating to elementary and middle schools, but when my book is published, I will do both presentations and workshops for both as well. My topic for illustrating is discovering details around you, and incorporating them into your drawings. I show them how to use special techniques to be better drawers. I would be happy to go anywhere, although I live in B.C. Canada.

Anywhere but Here – written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts writes about #YAlit Anywhere But Here by Tanya Lloyd KyiAnywhere But Here written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Young Adult Fiction published by Simon and Schuster

I feel compelled to share some aspects of my personal life before I write about Anywhere but Here. I was attending university and living with my folks when my mom died four days prior to surgery that had been scheduled to repair a heart valve. It was shocking and devastating and, without a doubt, the most difficult experience of my life.

Weeks later, my dad began dating. When I say ‘weeks,’ I mean less than three months later. While still grieving the sudden loss of my mom and feeling as though my life had been turned upside down, I was watching as my dad began a relationship with a woman he would eventually marry. Dad’s second marriage was an enduring one. To be honest, I am not sure which of his marriages was longer: he celebrated twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries twice.

Anywhere but Here is the story of a young man, still in high school, who is coping with the loss of his mom. Cole finds life in a small town stifling. He is eager to finish high school and make a break from his acquaintances, friends and family. He has ended a two year relationship with a girlfriend and finds her behavior and that of some classmates confusing. His family life is in ruins. Cole’s dad drinks heavily and meets an exotic dancer. Before long, she is pregnant and Cole’s dad explains that she will be moving into the family home along with her young daughter.

With the encouragement of a school guidance counselor, Cole considers enrolling in a post secondary cinematography program. As part of his application, his must create a short film. It is while filming that Cole examines his community and gains perspective.

Beautifully written, Anywhere but Here accurately depicts the turmoil and confusion that occur when one parent dies and the surviving parent enters into a new relationship – especially when the surviving child(ren) are young adults. I especially liked the authenticity of Cole’s voice and the relationships between Cole and his guidance counselor, his mom’s former nurse and his classmates. This is a novel that begs for a sequel and I very much look forward to reading it.

Anywhere But Here at

Anywhere But Here at

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3

Posted on October 1st, 2014 by Jody

Storytime Standouts guest contributor @1prncs writes about Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3 written by Catherine Egan
Young Adult fiction published by Coteau Books

Read our interview with Catherine Egan

The lengthy title of Catherine Egan’s third book, The Last Days of Tian Di: Bone, Fog, Ash, and Star, alludes to the depth and complexity that is wrapped up within the story. Like the characters of this book, I felt myself immersed in unfamiliar, amazing worlds, pulled back and forth between them by the common thread: Eliza. A story of friendship, loyalty, strength, and finding the truth, Egan isn’t afraid to make her characters suffer to reach reward. In fact, it is understood and stated that “there is loss and gain with every act”. I think what was most powerful, for me, was the way this book echos life. There are consequences to every action and we do the very best we can at the time, but then we must go from there, from the result of our decisions. It is a heavy burden on the main character’s shoulders, knowing that the choices she makes will lead to her own heavy heart. But I think it is an important message for readers, particularly the young adult ones who are, in some ways, facing a similar journey. At the age of sixteen, they are making choices that feel right at the time, but have long term consequences that need to be weighed and judged. Sometimes, life really is choosing the lesser of two evils and this is a lesson that Eliza faces constantly.

In this third book of her series, Catherine Egan pulls the reader in with intense action right from the start. When Eliza’s friend, Charlie, becomes the victim of an assassination attempt, just as she’s trying to tell him she has feelings for him that go beyond friendship, the reader is immediately hooked. Aside from the action, the magical realism, the vivid imagery that drops you right inside of the book, the characters are connectable.

I realized within the first chapter that I was drawn in because when the first major event happens, I literally gasped out loud. At that point I thought, wow, I already care about the characters and I can totally see the scene. As a writer and a reader, I know that this is not an easy combination to present on the page. From there, Egan takes us on a journey to save her friend that is met with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Like the title, the story seemed to always have one more tangent. Whether you’re thinking that they cannot possibly escape the next vicious attack or they are finally safe, the reader is constantly surprised. The term magical realism is an interesting one to me: if done poorly, you can distance yourself from the book because it’s fantasy and you know that everything is okay. If done properly, as Egan has done, you can forget that transforming, shape-shifting, and spell-binding aren’t a possibility. I saw the characters as regular teenagers– Eliza with too much responsibility on her young shoulders, Nell with the exam she desperately wanted to ace, and Charlie with the youthful irritation of someone stuck in a situation they cannot control.

Even in the magical, there is a sense of the real: the faeries’ overall disdain of humans, the faery mother who can’t abide by her son, Jalo helping a human because he’s in love with her, the oracle grandmother, saved by the ancients, who shares her knowledge in riddles, the fight for power between the Mancers, and each character trying to choose between good and evil, trying to find their way out of a situation that is bigger than themselves.Through it all, we are reminded, as are the characters, that best laid plans often go astray and the things we truly believe we want and need in life are not necessarily what we end up getting. Accepting that and moving forward anyway is not easy, but it can be done, as Eliza shows us.

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di Book 3 at

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3 at

Meet Children’s Book Author and Illustrator Ruth Ohi

Posted on September 4th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Meet Author illustrator Ruth Ohi (photo by AnnieT)Ruth Ohi is the illustrator of over 50 children’s picture books (17 of which she is also the author). She lives in Toronto, Canada and is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Her books have been selected for the Pennsylvania Centre for the Book’s “Bakers’ Dozen”, the Canadian Toy Testing Council’s “Great Books”, the Ontario Library Association’s “Best Bets” and the Toronto Public Library’s “First & Best”. They have been shortlisted for awards such as the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book, Amelia Francis Howard-Gibbons, Shining Willow, Blue Spruce and Rainforest of Reading awards.

Ruth Ohi’s Facebook page
Ruth Ohi’s website URL
Instagram: @RuthOhi

Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend created by Ruth OhiMs. Ohi’s latest published children’s book is Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend (Scholastic Canada/Sept 2014)
Social Issues/Friendship
Social Issues/Emotions and Feelings

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it?

My hope would be that “Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend”(Fall 2014/Scholastic Canada) could be enjoyed by anyone who is a friend, would like a friend or wishes to be a friend. Fox and Squirrel’s first story, Fox and Squirrel (Scholastic Canada, Fall 2013) showed that despite their differences, the two could find enough in common to be friends. Their second story came from looking out my studio window and admiring how squirrels could hang out in the highest, teeniest tree branches and thinking, “Hm, Fox couldn’t go there.” And I wondered what if Squirrel met someone else way up high and forgot all about Fox for awhile and how that would make Fox feel.

Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend at

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?

For chapter books it was Lois Darling of the Beverley Cleary original releases. She drew Ramona and Beezus in a way that was so satisfying for me. I very much empathized with Ramona about apples and marshmallows. For picture books, there are too many to list. I think the combination of artists like Leo Lionni, Maurice Sendak, Ezra Jack Keats, Dr. Suess and Robert McCloskey resonated with me because their words and pictures made me want to linger on the pages. They made me care about their characters.

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?Storytime Standouts looks at Shh! My Brother's Napping by Ruth Ohi

Making stories with pictures has always been incredibly satisfying and I’ve always loved picture books, but it wasn’t until university that I seriously considered art as a career. It just took a little while for me to realize it could be an actual full time job! My family was amazingly supportive and that was huge for me. It still is. My sister, Deb (who writes and illustrates under the name of Debbie Ridpath-Ohi) is my guru for all things internet. Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend is dedicated to my first Great Nephew, Ian who is truly a bundle of joy.

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 do have a website where I post preliminary work sketches, my portfolio, and news that made me happy. It’s also where you can find a listing of my upcoming public events, info about booking visits, activity sheets and everything you will ever need to know about my books. Hm, except where to buy them, what their ISBNs are…okay, my website needs work! I’ve also just joined Instagram where I’ll be posting personal illustration and story projects.

Oh, and I’ve made two booktrailers for “Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend”! The first is only 21 seconds and is the result of my experimenting with stop motion photography. The Second is 56 seconds and includes a snippet of a live drawing demo. I’m the one filming the live demo—it’s truly tricky drawing and taping at the same time! Both trailers can be found on my website and YouTube.

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

Just doing the work—writing, revising, scribbling, painting. Finding the perfect balance between the words and the drawings. But I honestly don’t think a picture book really comes into being until a reader finds it. Seeing or hearing about someone who enjoys the book—that’s an incredible source of pleasure for me.

Seeing students use my books or brainstorming tips for their own stories and pictures is super awesome. One of the greatest letters I’ve ever received was after a presentation from a young child, which read:
“Now I love to right.”

Clara and the Bossy by Ruth OhiIf 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?

In the summers, as a teen, I’ve worked as a florist, a daycamp counselor, a city special events co-ordinator. As an adult I’ve been fortunate enough to illustrate and write full time. If I wasn’t an author/illustrator, I’d very much love to work with young people in the creative arts.

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

I have enjoyed presenting to many schools, libraries, conferences and family festivals across Canada. It’s definitely one of my favourite aspects of this job—sharing words and pictures with adults and kids. And my presentations are easily adapted to suit any age group.I'd Know You Anywhere

Presentations typically include a digital slideshow demonstrating where I get my ideas from. I show character sketches, storyboards and how I draw to brainstorm new ideas. Also included are Q&A, some original artwork and an interactive drawing demonstration. The last 10-15 minutes may be a hands on workshop where participants are very keen to try a brainstorming activity that I tailor especially for that audience. I enjoy speaking one on one to as many as possible about their work during this time. Typically a school or library visit is 45-60 minutes. A maximum audience size of 120 works well for JK/SK through Grade 8. Numbers may increase for older audiences.

Shh! My Brother’s Napping is a highlight of 2014

Posted on September 2nd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts looks at Shh! My Brother's Napping by Ruth OhiShh! My Brother’s Napping written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
Picture book published by North Winds Press An Imprint of Scholastic Canada

Read our interview with Ruth Ohi

My two children were born about 2 1/2 years apart. My older boy was always a great sleeper – he slept through the night from six weeks and had very regular naps. My second son was a completely different story. It took months and months before he slept through the night and naps were never easy and rarely of a predictable duration. Sometimes he slept for thirty minutes, sometimes he slept for two hours. Sleep was an on-going challenge and source of frustration to his weary parents. Given my experience with children napping, I was intrigued to read Shh! My Brother’s Napping.

Ruth Ohi’s picture book Shh! My Brother’s Napping is a highlight of 2014.

From cover to cover the characters ooze personality. Poor mama, she struggles through a rainstorm, carrying groceries and pushing a stroller. She holds her umbrella so it will protect her youngest child. Her older child is walking ahead, filled with energy and enthusiasm for the day. By the time the family arrives home, the baby is asleep in the stroller and his older brother warns readers that it is time to be quiet.Shh! My Brother's Napping spread

Shh! My brother’s napping.
He really needs his sleep.
He was grumbly as a grouch,
and now lies in a heap.

What follows is a charming tale of mama’s wish to prolong the nap as long as possible despite older brother’s play. Children and adults will be charmed by the illustrations and will laugh at the older brother’s lack of sensitivity – he’d like to play some makeshift drums and paint his brother’s face.

Featuring many great opportunities for youngsters to infer and make predictions, Shh! My Brother’s Napping, will be thoroughly enjoyed by parents. It would be a great gift for those who are celebrating the arrival of a second, third or fourth child.

Free Shh! My Brother’s Napping printables from Scholastic Canada

Shh! My Brother’s Napping at

Shh! My Brother’s Napping at

Meet Christian teen fiction author Laura Thomas

Posted on August 29th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts introduces Laura Thomas AuthorLaura is married to her high school sweetheart, has three wonderful children, and an adorable English bulldog. Born and raised in England and Wales, she immigrated to Canada in her mid-twenties, and now lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, where her authoring dreams have become a reality.

After completing thirteen years of homeschooling her children, she is now able to focus on writing, and treasures the privilege of sharing her heart in the form of her published Christian teen fiction novels Tears to Dancing (2012) and Tears of a Princess (2013), numerous short stories and articles published in children’s magazines and online, her recently published marriage book Pearls for the Bride, and on her blog. Laura’s strongest desire is to provide wholesome reading for children, challenging books for teens, and encouragement as well as entertainment for her adult readers.

Twitter account: @Laura_Thomas_
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?

Tears of a Princess by Laura ThomasMy latest published children’s book is a Christian teen fiction novel, Tears of a Princess. It was published last year as the sequel to Tears to Dancing, and I’m currently finishing the third book in the series, Tears, Fears and Fame. As you might guess from the titles, these books are rather emotionally charged! They are written for female readers aged eleven-plus, and press into some topical issues for teen girls, always offering hope amidst challenges and tragedies. I have thoroughly enjoyed creating believable, vulnerable characters, and have been incredibly encouraged by readers requesting sequels— that’s the best complement!

Tears Of A Princess at

Tears of A Princess at

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?

As a child, I was a total bookworm, and my favorite book was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. She brought the characters of all four sisters to life, and I particularly resonated with this, as I am one of four girls! Even though I had no grand illusions of being an author back then, and I was more of a reader than a writer, there was something incredibly inspirational about the sister Jo. In the story when Jo’s book was finally published, Alcott showed all her readers (especially girls!) that we should never underestimate ourselves, and that we can accomplish even our widest dreams. I am proof of that, as being an author was my pie-in-the-sky, all-out crazy dream!

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

I have never met an author who found it easy getting their first book published. I started out writing short stories for children’s magazines, and the rejection was unbearable at first. In time, I learnt to develop a slightly thicker skin, and practiced the art of sending a story off and forgetting about it, rather than constantly fretting over it. My first novel took several attempts until it found my current publisher, Dancing With Bear Publishing. I can’t begin to explain how excited I was to receive an acceptance email— I had to re-read it several times, as I was so used to reading the rejections, and I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing for way too long! I still have numerous manuscripts out with potential publishers— picture books, middle grade, even Christian romantic suspense. Originally, I desperately wanted to be a Beatrix Potter clone and write purely adorable picture books, but here I am with teen fiction novels published. I would encourage aspiring writers to avoid boxing themselves into a specific genre— spread the net wide, don’t give up hope, and just keep writing.Tears to Dancing by Laura Thomas

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?

To be honest, I was not that child who wrote essays for fun and penned wannabe books at the age of seven. I adored reading, and somewhere deep inside I dreamed of writing a children’s picture book one day, but I buried that secret desire for many years. It wasn’t until 2006 when I was having a coffee date with my husband, that I exposed my secret dream. He urged me to start the ball rolling right away (even though I was homeschooling my kids and volunteering and had zero spare time), so I enrolled with the Institute of Children’s Literature to take a correspondence course. I knew right away I had found my sweet spot, and haven’t looked back since. My husband has been my encourager, supporter, and number one fan every step of the way, and thanks to him I have been able to pursue my passion. What a guy!

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?

If you watched me working on a book, you would probably be amazed at how bad my typing is! I am painfully slow for a “real writer”, but I always say it’s the speed my brain churns out the words, so it works perfectly for me! I like to work at my desk in my study, which is the only room where I can enjoy some hot pink accents (I live with all boys!) I start a novel with a chapter outline before diving into the actual writing, and I enjoy having some visual inspiration on Pinterest. Once I have written the whole story, I go back and revise and edit and add chunks and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make sense— a somewhat painful yet rewarding process. Lastly, I send it off and wait to see if anyone else thinks it’s wonderful and worth publishing.

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

Being an author is rather surreal. Weird hours, poor income, wild imagination. But that moment you see your name on a shiny book cover containing words you wrote— it’s absolutely priceless. All writing is a joy to me. I love writing for little children, curious middle graders, searching teens, and for adults like myself journeying through life. I love that I can share my faith in written form, to weave it into novels or mold it into good morals in a young child’s short story, or encourage readers in my blog. A writer’s life is an unpredictable, exciting, sometimes tumultuous privilege, and I intend to live it to the fullest for as long as I am able.

Do you do school or library presentations?

I gave a school presentation with Raise A Reader, where I presented my first book Tears to Dancing, described my writing journey, and held a Q & A session with grade 5’s. I have also held book-signing events in various locations in the Okanagan Valley, B.C. but would be willing to go further afield.

Score with this Young Adult Mystery: Breakaway by Michael Betcherman

Posted on August 20th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts writes about young adult mystery: Breakaway by Michael BetchermanBreakaway written by Michael Betcherman
Young adult mystery published by Razorbill an imprint of Penguin Canada

Read our interview with Michael Betcherman

Those of you who visit our website regularly will know that I am a mother to two teenage boys and that one of my sons is a hockey player. Very often friends will comment about the challenges of encouraging teenage boys to read. We’ve been fortunate with our boys, they both enjoy reading and are good readers. Unfortunately, for some kids, it is not so easy. I often wonder if some reluctant readers simply have not found a book that matches their interests.

Last month, while on holiday, I had an opportunity to read Michael Betcherman’s first mystery novel: Breakaway. It was a finalist for the 2013 John Spray Mystery Award.

Set in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Breakaway tells the story of a 16 year old Midget hockey player whose father is wrongly convicted of murder. Nick Macklin’s dad (a former professional hockey player) has been convicted for killing another former NHL player who once viciously cross-checked him in the head. and ended his playing career.

Nick is devastated by his father’s conviction and is determined to uncover the truth but it is not an easy job. Nick’s anger and disappointment with his dad’s conviction results in problems at school, the loss of good friends and his involvement with minor hockey.

He remembered something his mother once told him. “Tragedy is part of life. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. The trick in life is get as much joy as you can.” As long as dad was in jail, tragedy would be part of his life.

Bit by bit, as time passes, Nick begins to recover from the shock of his dad’s conviction. He starts to focus more on his schoolwork, he becomes more social and he resumes playing hockey but his obsession with investigating the crime and finding the murderer does not falter.

Young adults, especially those who play hockey will enjoy Breakaway’s hockey theme. The book references NHL, WHL and minor hockey teams, rinks and the dynamics of playing a sport at high level. At the heart, this is a story of loyalty and determination as Nick Macklin remains steadfast in his determination to uncover the truth.

Recommended for youth aged 14 and up.

Note: This book has been published with two different covers. The cover shown above is the American cover. This photo features the Canadian cover (adjacent to a rather nice pool).Breakaway by Michael Betcherman poolside

Breakaway at

Breakaway at

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

Sabotage at

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

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

Willow Finds a Way at

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 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

Willow’s Whispers at

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 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

The Comic Book War at

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 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

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.

Wonderful Canadian Picture Books to Read to Your Child

Posted on June 28th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books

I couldn’t possibly create a list of Top Ten Canadian Picture Books or Even Favorite Canadian Picture Books – there are far too many wonderful Canadian picture books to consider.

For this list, I selected great Canadian picture books for a read aloud setting – perhaps circle time in a classroom or storytime in a library. All of the authors are Canadian. In a couple of instances the illustrators are not.

Many of these authors and illustrators have created several wonderful books for children. We invite you to use this list as an introduction to wonderful Canadian Picture Books

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including Bearcub and MamaBearcub and Mama written by Sharon Jennings and illustrated by Mélanie Watt
Canadian Picture Book about the relationship between mother and child published by Kids Can Press

Rich, warm, luminous illustrations enhance the story of a young cub and his mama. As the cub grows, he gains independence and gets separated from his loving, supportive and encouraging mother. Thankfully, he remembers the lessons she taught him and returns, through a snowstorm, to their cave. When he awakens in the morning, she is right there beside him. A lovely and reassuring story, best suited for preschool children.

Bearcub and Mama at

Bearcub and Mama at

Also by Mélanie Watt – Scaredy Squirrel and Chester’s Masterpiece. Also by Sharon Jennings – No Monsters Here

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including The Blue Hippopotamus
The Blue Hippopotamus – written by Phoebe Gilman and illustrated by Joanne Fitgerald
Canadian picture book published by Scholastic Canada

A finalist for the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Awards, The Blue Hippopotamus is the story of a little hippo who falls in love with the Pharoah’s daughter. When he comes to the sad realization that the young girl will not love a hippo, he seeks the help of a magician and is changed into a clay toy. His love for the girl endures for many years and, when he observes her loneliness as a young woman, he unselfishly wishes for her happiness. His generosity is magically rewarded and he is once again transformed.

Blue Hippopotamus at

Blue Hippopotamus at

Also by Phoebe Gilman – Jillian Jiggs and Something From Nothing. Also by Joanne Fitzgerald – Yum! Yum!!: Delicious Nursery Rhymes

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including Ella  May and the Wishing StoneElla May and the Wishing Stone written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Geneviève Côté
Canadian picture book about friendship, problem solving published by Tundra Books

While on a trip to the beach, Ella May is fortunate to find an extra special stone – a stone that has a white line all around it. Certain that her extra special stone has the power to grant wishes, Ella May decides that her first wish should be to show the stone to all of her friends. Before long, Ella May’s friends have gathered ’round her, hoping to touch the magical stone. When Ella May refuses to let them hold it, they decide to find their own special stones. Although the children find all sorts of interesting stones, none is equal to Ella May’s.

  • “You’re not nice,” Manuel said. He put his stone in his pocket and tromped down the sidewalk to his own house.
  • Ella May watched him go, “Hey,” she said, “I wanted Manuel to go home and he did. Thank you again, wishing stone.”

Unable to find their own wishing stones, Ella’s friends come up with a creative but short-lived solution to the problem. Unfortunately, nothing resolves the conflict amongst the children; Ella May wants to be the only person with a wishing stone and she wants to keep her friends. The other children are resentful of the stone and of Ella May.

When Ella May finally realizes that having a wishing stone is not nearly as special as having friends, the stage is set for a happy and imaginative solution that reunites the group.

A great choice for children aged four and up, Ella May and the Wishing Stone is a (32 page) story that invites readers to think about what it means to be a friend, how best to share treasured items and imaginative ways to solve problems.

Note – illustrations and children’s names depict a racially diverse group of friends.

Ella May and the Wishing Stone at

Ella May and the Wishing Stone at

Also by Cary Fagan – Book of Big Brothers and My New Shirt. Also by Geneviève Côté – What Elephant?

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including The Hockey TreeThe Hockey Tree written by David Ward and illustrated by Brian Deines
Canadian picture book published by Scholastic Canada

This is a favourite wintertime picture book that beautifully captures a Canadian winter day. Set in Saskatchewan, Owen and Holly are excited because Humboldt Lake has finally frozen over and it is a perfect morning for a spirited game of pond hockey. The two children are excited to drive to the lake with their dad and before long their skates are laced and the three are laughing and playing together. Unfortunately, just as the family starts to talk about taking a break and enjoying a mug of steaming hot chocolate, Holly smacks at the puck and it flies across the frozen lake and into an ice fishing hole.

The children are terribly disappointed that they’ve lost their puck and assume that the game will have to end. Dad is not quite so willing to concede. He helps Owen and Holly to find a fallen poplar tree near the lake. Once a suitable tree is found, dad saws a piece from the trunk to create a wooden puck and the hockey game resumes.

Brian Deines’ luminous illustrations include icy cold winter scenes that are made warm by his depiction of the joy of playing a favourite sport with friends and family.

A lovely book to share with young children, this is one of my favourite wintertime picture books.

The Hockey Tree at

The Hockey Tree at

Also by David Ward – One Hockey Night. Also by Brian Deines – Camping and Bear on the Train

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including I Want My Hat BackI Want My Hat Back written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Canadian Picture Book published by Candlewick Press

Poor Bear, he has lost his pointy, red hat. He searches the forest, politely asking, “Have you seen my hat?” He meets Fox, Frog, Rabbit, Turtle, and Snake. None has seen his hat. Bear is bereft and despondent. He frets that his hat is gone forever.

When Deer finally asks, “What does your hat look like?” Bear remembers something important.

Picture book, I Want My Hat Back is a breath of fresh air with a hint of mystery and a touch of revenge.

Best suited to older readers, adults and children (aged five and up) will thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to “read between the lines” and enjoy Klassen’s gallows humor.

Would I read it to a group of three year olds? “Maybe not.” Would I read it to a group of jaded six year olds who think they know all there is to know about picture books? “You betcha!”

Storytime kit from Candlewick Press – includes I Want My Hat Back activities.

I Want My Hat Back at

I Want My Hat Back at

Also by Jon Klassen – This is Not My Hat and Cat’s Night Out

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including The Imaginary GardenThe Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Canadian Picture Book published by Kids Can Press

Theo is blessed to have a very special relationship with her grandfather, Poppa. When Poppa moves into an apartment, they decide to create an imaginary garden on his balcony. The first Saturday of spring is marked by the arrival of a giant, blank canvas. Before long, Poppa and Theo have created a long stone wall and beautiful blue sky. Soon they have added beautiful spring flowers to their masterpiece. When Poppa leaves for a holiday, Theo worries about tending their special garden by herself. With gentleness and love, Poppa assures her that she will know what will nurture their imaginary garden. This lovely picture book would be a great gift for a special Grandpa.

The Imaginary Garden at

The Imaginary Garden at

Also by Andrew Larsen – In the Tree House

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including The Paper Bag Princess The Paperbag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Canadian picture book published by Annick Press

Princess Elizabeth is betrothed to Prince Ronald when a large dragon destroys her kingdom, including all of her clothing. Wearing nothing but a paper bag, the very resourceful Princess Elizabeth sets out to rescue her fiancé. When Elizabeth finds the dragon’s cave, she challenges the dragon to prove that he can burn up five forests with just one firey breath. The flattered dragon not only burns up forests, he also flies around the world until exhausted.

Once the dragon is well and truly asleep, Elizabeth finds Prince Ronald who is not nearly as grateful as he ought to be. He is unimpressed with her hair and unimpressed with her clothing and he’d rather she looked like a princess.

A delightful story that depicts the princess as rescuer and the prince as a shallow ingrate, The Paperbag Princess is a great resource for exploring stereotypes.

The Paper Bag Princess at

The Paper Bag Princess at

Also by Robert Munsch – Love You Forever, We Share Everything and many other books. Also by Michael Matchenko – Mortimer and I Have to Go!

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including Picture a TreePicture a Tree – written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
Canadian picture book published by North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada

Marvelous Plasticine illustrations may initially distract young readers from the thought-provoking text in Picture a Tree. Using a combination of Plasticine and paint, Ms. Reid has created beautiful, richly detailed images of trees and the variety of people living, working and playing near them.

Readers are encouraged to notice how trees, whether enormous or freshly planted, change through the year, how various creatures dwell in trees and how the life cycle of a tree can be viewed metaphorically. A variety of perspectives are also shown as Ms. Reid illustrates shadows of trees, more than one reflection and the view from above a forest of trees.

You may see a drawing on the sky. A game of dress-up. The first drops of colour then all the art supplies at once.

Simply beautiful, Picture a Tree is sure to inspire young artists and encourage environmental awareness. It is suitable for children aged four and up.

Picture a Tree at

Picture a Tree at

Also by Barbara Reid – The Subway Mouse, The Night Before Christmas, Perfect Snow, Sing a Song of Mother Goose

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including Pink by Nan Gregory and Luc MelandsonPink – written by Nan Gregory and illustrated by Luc Melanson
Canadian Picture book published by Groundwood Books

We’ve all seen them, “The Pinks,” Vivi calls them, but not out loud. Every day at school they parade their glory – from hair bows to tippy toes, every shade of perfect pink.”

Poor Vivi would love to be just like “The Pinks.” Her rather ordinary world is not at all pink. She lives, with her blue collar parents and her baby brother, in a brown working class world that leaves her yearning. Her parents are not unaware of her desire to be a “Pink,” they have had their share of disappointments but they have found ways to accept and live within their means.

One day, when Vivi is running an errand for her mom, she discovers the ultimate pink treasure. She sees a beautiful doll, dressed in a cascading pink bridal gown. It is displayed prominently in the window of an exclusive neighbourhood shop. Vivi feels she must have it so she does chores and small jobs all winter to earn money. She saves and saves in order to buy the beautiful doll. She is certain that having the spectacular doll will enable her to live like the wealthy “Pink” girls she sees at school.

Pink is a marvelous story that is both poignant and thoughtful. Vivi wants so much to be a “Pink” and her young heart is filled to bursting with desire for the doll. When Vivi witnesses one of the “Pinks” leaving the store with “her” doll, she is heartbroken but ultimately enriched by the experience.

It would have been so easy to create a magical happy ending and have Vivi’s world become a pink one. Thankfully, Ms. Gregory understands that life is not always fair and that if we take time to look, beauty (and especially pink) is all around us. When sharing this thoughtful story with a child, be sure to take note of Mr. Melanson’s illustrations and especially his masterful depictions of Vivi’s emotions.

Very highly recommended, for children four and up.

Pink at

Pink at

Also by Nan Gregory – How Smudge Came Also by Luc Melanson – Book of Big Brothers

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including The Pirates of Captain McKeeThe Pirates of Captain McKee! written by Julie Lawson and illustrated by Werner Zimmermann
Canadian Picture Book published by Scholastic Canada

Originally published as Whatever You Do, Don’t Go Near that Canoe, The Pirates of Captain McKee is a rollicking adventure story that will have broad appeal to young children, especially those who love pirates.

A nominee for The 1996 Canada Council for the Arts Governor General’s Literacy Award for illustration, The Pirates of Captain McKee tells the story of two children, a brother and sister, who are warned not to go near a canoe. The warning, given by Captain Kelsey McKee, is accompanied by a wink so the children are undeterred. They don lifejackets and climb into the canoe. Before long they find themselves well away from the dock.

Through fast-running currents, through slow-rolling tides,
Far into the fading light,
Through sun flecks and sunset, through dusk’s purple haze,
The canoe sped into the night.

Although returning to the safety of home seems a great idea, the children are not in control. The magical canoe is deciding their course. Just before dawn, the canoe and the children approach a pirate ship at anchor and many, many intimidating pirates onshore. The pirates recognize the canoe and decide to teach the children a lesson. Frightened about their predicament, the children fear the worst until they notice a “marvellous smell… There’s marshmallows roasting round here!”

Gorgeous illustrations and delightful rhyming text make this a wonderful read aloud for children aged four and up.

The Pirates of Captain McKee at

The Pirates of Captain McKee at

Also by Julie Lawson – The Klondike Cat, Emma and the Silk Train Also by Werner Zimmerman – Pippin the Christmas Pig and Snow Day

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including Stella Fairy of the ForestStella, Fairy of the Forest – written & illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Canadian Picture book published by Groundwood Books

Marie-Louise Gay’s picture books about Sam and Stella are marvelous. This, their third adventure, begins when Sam asks Stella about fairies. Stella knows just where to find some. She leads Sam on a pleasant walk through gorgeous meadows, across a sparkling stream and into a magical forest.

This Stella and Sam story is truly lovely especially in its treatment of the siblings’ relationship. Sam, who is nervous, clearly looks up to his confident older sister and Stella is more than happy to share her knowledge of the outdoors and all things magical with her younger brother.

Ms. Gay’s distinctive illustrations have a luminous quality, particularly her depictions of the delightful red-head heroine, Stella. Don’t miss it!

32 pages and suitable for children aged three and up. Stella, Fairy of the Forest is well- suited to circle time and could be used as part of a preschool or kindergarten Family or Forest theme.

Marie Louise Gay’s website includes printable stickers, colouring sheets, posters and bookmarks

Stella, Fairy of the Forest at

Stella, Fairy of the Forest at

Also by Marie-Louise Gay – On My Island and Caramba

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including A Sack Full of FeathersA Sack Full of Feathers
Written by Debby Waldman and illustrated by Cindy Revell
Canadian Picture Book published by Orca Book Publishers

Young Yankel is a storyteller. He overhears bits of news at his father’s store and excitedly shares the gossip throughout the village.

One day a wise rabbi gives Yankel a job; he is to put one feather on each doorstep in the village. Puzzled, Yankel willingly distributes the feathers even as gusts of wind send some flying.

When the rabbi subsequently asks Yankel to collect all the feathers and return them to the sack, Yankel comes to understand the danger of gossip.

A delightful folktale is retold in A Sack Full of Feathers with engaging illustrations and warmth.

A Sack Full of Feathers at

Sack Full of Feathers at

Also by Debby Waldman and Cindy Revell – Clever Rachel

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including Timmerman was HereTimmerman Was Here written by Colleen Sydor and illustrated by Nicolas Debon
Canadian Picture Book published by Tundra Books

Timmerman Was Here is written from the perspective of a young girl. We share her nervousness as a stranger arrives at her home. The stranger moves into a bedroom, recently vacated by the girl’s grandfather who has gone to live in a residence for seniors. The young girl is not happy about the stranger’s arrival but as she watches and interacts with him, she discovers a gentle heart. When the stranger is discovered walking the neighbourhood at night (with a spade and a burlap sack), gossip abounds. The neighbours speculate that he could be a bank robber or responsible for the death of a cat.

Timmerman Was Here is a lovely, thought-provoking picture book that encourages the reader to rethink assumptions and stereotypes. Highly recommended.

Suggested for children 4 – 8

Timmerman Was Here at

Timmerman Was Here at

Also by Nicolas Debon A Brave Soldier and Thing-Thing

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including Under a Prairie SkyUnder a Prairie Sky written by Anne Laurel Carter and illustrated by Alan and Lea Daniel
Canadian picture book published by Orca Book Publishers

Under a Prairie Sky features detailed, striking watercolour illustrations and the equally dramatic text. A terrific Canadian picture book read aloud for four and five year olds, Under a Prairie Sky is the story of a farm boy who aspires to be a RCMP Officer when he grows up. While harvesting wheat with his father, he is sent to find his younger brother before a storm arrives at the farm. Knowing that this is a job that will demand the detective skills of a Mounted Police Officer, he quickly changes his clothes, dons a Stetson and mounts his trusty black horse. He follows young Will’s trail through the fields and into the wild, taking in flora and fauna native to the Canadian prairies.

Under a Prairie Sky at

Under a Prairie Sky at

Also from Anne Laurel Carter – The F Team and Tall in the Saddle Also from Alan and Lea Daniel – The Best Figure Skater in the Whold Wide World

Storytime Standouts Looks at Wonderful Canadian Picture Books including You're Mean Lily JeanYou’re Mean, Lily Jean written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Canadian Picture Book published by North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada

You’re Mean, Lily Jean tells the story of a new girl who moves into the neighbourhood. Lily Jean is the same age as Sandy and is domineering and a braggart. She joins Sandy and her younger sister Carly for a couple of playdates. Lily Jean does not want Carly to be a part of their imaginary games and each time the three girls play together, Lily Jean dictates what they will play and how they will play. She gives the younger sister, Carly, the less desirable “parts” in their imaginary world. Lily Jean and Sandy are the king and queen, Carly is told to be the dog. Lily and Sandy are cowgirls, Carly is told to be the cow. “She did not want to moo or eat grass, but Lily Jean said she had to if she wanted to play. So she did.”

Lily Jean’s smug appearance and Carly’s bitter disappointment are depicted beautifully by Ms. Denton. Readers will cheer for Carly when Sandy decides she would prefer to play with her younger sister than with an overbearing bully.

You’re Mean Lily Jean is best suited to children four and up. It offers many opportunities for children to consider each girl’s perspective and ways to resolve difficult social situations.

You’re Mean, Lily Jean at

You’re Mean, Lily Jean at

Also from Frieda Wishinsky – Oonga Boonga, Give Maggie a Chance and Please, Louise!

Wonderful Canadian Picture Books

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

Face-Off at

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

Breakaway at

Breakaway at

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.

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