Tag Archives: children’s literature

Interview with Shane Peacock


author picture of Shane PeacockShane Peacock was born in a place that doesn’t exist … the city of Port Arthur, Ontario. He grew up in Kapuskasing, Ontario, then earned a Bachelor’s degree (Honours) in English and History from Trent University, and a Master’s degree in Literature from the University of Toronto. Shane worked as a labourer for Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, a wilderness bush sprayer for Ontario Hydro, and a box mover for a university bookstore. But ever since childhood, his mind was on other things: on extraordinary people and events, on personalities who made legends of their lives, on what motivated them, and what made others accept supporting roles. He set out to write about such individuals, some real, some invented, and others so eccentric that they seemed to be a combination of both. Because he writes about unusual subjects, his research methods have, at times, been out of the ordinary too. He has learned the arts of tight-rope walking, silent killing, trapeze flying, and sumo eating, all in the service of his art. Shane and his wife, journalist Sophie Kneisel, live with their three children on a small farm near Cobourg, Ontario, where he continues to search for and imagine larger-than life characters. In his spare time he enjoys playing hockey, reading, and walking the wire, pretending that he is the hero in each story.

Shauna Kosoris: You are most well-known for your Boy Sherlock Holmes series.  What inspired you to write about a young Holmes?

Shane Peacock: The Boy Sherlock Holmes series grew from an idea for a novel about racism and prejudice, and the need for the opposite of those two horrible things, justice. There was no one named Sherlock Holmes in the first draft of the first novel. It was a story about a brilliant half-Jewish boy in Victorian London, plagued by racist tormentors in school, who ends up being implicated in a murder and must find the villain. It wasn’t until someone suggested that my character could actually be Sherlock Holmes that I re-constructed the novel to make it about him. That allowed it to grow in both its appeal and complexity.

That most certainly would allow the story to grow in interesting ways.  More recently, you were involved in the Seven series; how did you get involved in that?

Eric Walters asked me to be involved in the Seven Series. We had been friends and colleagues for a while, and when he came up with his brilliant idea of a series written by seven different novelists, with novels all with the same starting point (a grandfather’s dying wish that his seven grandson’s attempt the seven amazing things on his bucket list), I thought it would be fascinating to be part of it, almost like a writing exercise.

That does sound like fun!  Did you choose to write Adam Murphy’s stories in the Seven Series/Sequels/Prequels?

I most definitely chose to write Adam Murphy’s stories in the Seven Series/Sequels/Prequels. Eric simply gave the other six authors the premise of the series and then we all created our characters and took them where we wanted them to go. One of the many strengths of this triple series is the uniqueness of each novelist’s creations in their respective novels.

Your new series, The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim, centers around a very sensitive character who suffers from night terrors.  Did you plan for your protagonist, Edgar Brim, to have this sleep disorder?

The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim was always meant to be a book about fear and, in particular, a story about a boy who suffers from a sort of anxiety disorder (though it certainly wasn’t called that in his day). I added the sleep disorder known as “sleep paralysis” or “the hag phenomenon” to his character, a terrifying ailment that most certainly still plagues people when they wake up suddenly and cannot move. Some people, over the centuries, report some sort of presence in the room with them, often a sort of hag or witch who is sitting on their chest, paralyzing them, squeezing the breath out of them. Edgar Brim struggles with this throughout my horror trilogy.

Both your Boy Sherlock Holmes series and your new series about Edgar Brim are set in the Victorian era.  Why does the Victorian era/Gothic period appeal to you so much?

I think the Victorian period appeals to me so much because it occurred after photography had been invented but before moving film, so we can see images of people and places and buildings and machinery from that time, but they sit or stand there, ghostly and immovable. I am fascinated by the idea of making it move in my novels, of animating that fascinating historical period, especially in London. I am also a huge Charles Dickens fan … that will do it to you!

In the middle of working on all of these series, you’ve also written a children’s picture book.  Why did you decide to write a picture book about Vincent van Gogh?

As is often the case with artists of all genres, I didn’t choose to write a picture book about Vincent van Gogh as much as it chose me. I had written a short story about him long ago that Karen Li, a brilliant editor at Owlkids Books, learned about and asked if I might consider turning into a picture book. I am an admirer of Van Gogh, of his genius, his individuality and courage, and an enemy of bullying, so I put those two things together in “The Artist and Me” and told what turned out to be a unique picture book that has, thankfully, met with great critical acclaim.

All of your books to date have been aimed at younger audiences, both young adult and children.  Why do you like writing for these younger age groups?

Actually, my first book, The Great Farini, was for adults, all my plays, documentaries, journalism and even a novel I am working on now, are for adults.

Whoops, that’s my mistake.

But I do enjoy writing for the younger audiences. It is definitely fun to be anywhere from six to eighteen again. And it is also intriguing to tell stories that are challenging, as all YA literature is if you try to get it right – to stay on plot, make your work exciting, AND make it say something and be structurally and stylistically interesting.

It is often commented that my books are like adult novels for kids.

So what are you working on now?

I am writing the second novel in the Edgar Brim trilogy, entitled Monster, as well as a new picture book, and the adult novel. I also have an idea for a Teen romance (a very different sort of one) and am developing a strange new YA series.

Wow, you’re very busy – good luck with everything!  Finally, let’s talk a bit about reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I think the aforementioned Charles Dickens may have been the greatest influence on me. My father actually read us Oliver Twist and other Dickens works when we were pretty young and I was absolutely enchanted by the characters and the worlds I encountered. I am also a big fan of The Little Prince, which is prominent in each of my novels in the Seven Series, Sequels and Prequels.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Well, everyone should read Shakespeare. I know he is difficult for young people, but he is undoubtedly the greatest writer who ever lived and his stories are absolutely alive. They are magical. But Dickens is close behind.

And what are you currently reading?

I have been reading a lot of classic Horror stories for The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim, lots of Frankenstein, Dracula, Poe, and I recently read an amazing novel called Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which is 1,100 pages long and very complicated but also rewarding. At this moment, I’m part way into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The Fault in Our Stars, which I’ve somehow avoided for a while, is up next.

cover picture of Edgar Brim


Interview with Jean E. Pendziwol


Author Picture of Jean E. PendziwolJean E. Pendziwol is the award-winning author of eight published children’s books.  Her debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins; her latest children’s book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will also be published in 2017 by Groundwood Books. You can find her online at http://www.jeanependziwol.com/.

Shauna Kosoris: Your writing career began with the publication of the picture book No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which was published in 1999.  What inspired you to write this book?

Jean E. Pendziwol: My writing career actually began a few years before that. Prior to having kids, and continuing on a casual basis after they were born, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I researched, wrote, photographed and did editorial coordination. Having young children re-exposed me to children’s books, and in particular, picture books. I love the format – the partnering of images and text, the challenge of working within a limited number of words, and, especially at that time, the ability to hold a story completely in my head before I even put pen to paper.  No Dragons for Tea was inspired by my daughter.  At that time, she was extremely afraid of fires, and more so, by fire alarms. I was concerned that she didn’t have the necessary tools to respond in an emergency situation and searched out resources. What I found were a number of books about fire safety that were all either didactic or frightening. With the help of our local fire prevention officer, Brian Berringer, I came up with the idea for the book. I was thrilled when Kids Can Press wanted to publish it! I was fortunate in that it was timely, relevant, accessible and engaging and it carried an important message.

I love that it spawned a whole series of engaging safety stories for children, too!  Right now you’ve published eight picture books, with another one tentatively scheduled for release next year.  What is the appeal of writing for children?

I love the challenge of writing picture books. There is a misconception that because the stories are short and for children that writing them is a simple task. It’s actually one of the hardest genres to get published in, which I fortunately didn’t know at the time I headed down that path. Several of my picture books are poems, and while written for children, have a universal appeal. Once Upon a Northern Night in particular has touched many people.  I love that my stories speak to people in an intimate way. And because I value and respect children, I want to create something for them that is valuable and respectful.

What’s the hardest thing for you when writing a picture book?

There are so many audiences to keep in mind. The audience for the story is a child, but it also needs to speak to the adult who will be making the decision to buy or borrow the book. Picture books are most often read out loud, and read many times over, and as a writer, these are things I need to consider.

Your debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, is due out next summer.  What made you switch your focus from writing children’s books?

I haven’t. I love and will always love writing for children; this is just another branch of the same writing tree. When I first started working on The Light Keeper’s Daughters, I intended for it to be for middle grade or young adult readers.  But as the characters began to take shape on the page and the themes and plot evolved, it settled into a story more suited to an adult audience. I was also at a point in my life where I was able to devote time to a more involved, lengthy writing process necessary for a novel-length story.

Has it been hard switching from writing for children to writing for adults?

For me, writing is always a learning process. Skills applicable to children’s writing are also important for adult writing; keeping the audience in mind; respecting the reader; ensuring that the voice remains consistent; and keeping the pace appropriate. I think my tendency to be a concise writer has served me well in my work for children and that has carried over to my writing for adults as well.

What can you tell me about your new novel?

The Light Keeper’s Daughters features two fascinating women, Elizabeth, who is elderly, blind and living in a senior’s home, and Morgan, a teenager completing community service hours for spray-painting graffiti. They are drawn together after the discovery of journals penned by Elizabeth’s father when he served at Porphyry Island as lighthouse keeper nearly sixty years ago. As they decipher the musty words, they realize they are connected through Elizabeth’s enigmatic twin sister, Emily, their lives shaped by the harsh Lake Superior environment and the secrets kept by a family for a lifetime.

I look forward to reading it next year!  So what are you working on now?

I’ve got a few projects on the go, some for children and some for adults… This, that and another thing. 🙂

Fair enough.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I grew up sailing on Lake Superior, so had plenty of time for reading. Interestingly, I never envisioned myself being a novelist, although I always loved to write. Some of my favorite books included the Mary Stewart series about Merlin and King Arthur (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills), Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M Auel), Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Ken Follet. As a young child, I read Enid Blyton, and had A.A. Milne read to me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think that’s a difficult question – readers are so diverse, which is wonderful. Not everyone likes the same kind of book. Some of my favorites (other than the ones noted above) include To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield), Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), Skellig (David Almond) and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls. Oh, and Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) – pure genius in my opinion.

And what are you currently reading?

I just finished The Illegal (Lawrence Hill), I’m reading Fifteen Dogs (Andre Alexis), and have Amy Jones’ We’re All in This Together on the list.  I’m also re-reading some of my favorite middle grade books, looking at them from the perspective of a writer, including The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls), and Holes (Louis Sachar). And, of course, Because of Winn Dixie.

Cover Picture of Once Upon a Northern Night

Shakespeare as Graphic Novels



Classics Illustrated MacbethShakespeare continues to appear in new and usual ways and one of the newest  formats is the appearance of traditional and manga style graphic novels, though the plays have appeared in illustrated editions for hundreds of years. Copies of the plays were illustrated in both adult and children’s editions and proved particularly popular with the Victorian middle class. There was another surge of popularity during the depression and following the Second World War. Classics illustrated which operated between 1941 to 1971 in it’s incarnation did brisk business selling over 200 million copies.

manga shakespeareAs illustrated novels again rise in popularity, its not surprising that Shakespeare has found a whole new audience. graphic shakespeareShakespeare Manga publishes the plays in a manga format and from it’s own advertising claims the works will appeal to  “manga fans and kids that find Shakespeare intimidating”.  A number of companies offer graphic novels in English, including No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels and Shakespeare Graphics but there is also a large market for Shakespeare graphic novels in none English speaking editions, especially in Japan.

midsummer nights dream

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier (August, September 1914) by Barroux, translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone


lineoffire2This book’s origins are quite remarkable. It began when a French artist named Barroux noticed some garbage being thrown out on a Paris street and stopped because he saw some old magazines and had been looking for some to cut up for a project. Among the debris he also found a medal and an old diary. It turned out to be over 100 years old and had belonged to a French man who had been conscripted into World War 1. The name was too faded to read anymore, but the words were quite amazing and they inspired the artist to create the images which would illustrate the unknown soldier’s words.

The result was a graphic novel unlike most novels or true-life accounts of war. Because the diarist was writing for himself the story is told in a very matter-of-fact and unedited manner. The reader views the story just as it unfolds for the teller, and it is not a grand drama, but rather, the personal view of an infantry soldier recounting what he sees, hears and feels as he moves through the early days of the war.

caverne 7-2

It begins when France declares war and continues until early September in 1914. Then, it abruptly stops. By that time, the reader is captivated and wants to know what happens next, but it must remain a mystery because that is all there is to the diary. Instead, he includes the lyrics of some of the songs of the day and we are left to speculate what became of the person we have gotten to know.

In his diary, he writes about the initial enthusiasm of his fellow servicemen, of long treks and journeys, his aching feet, some of the people he befriends, life in the trenches and also in the hospital where he is taken at one point. He writes of the countryside, his inner thoughts and seeing courage in battle.

carnet esquisses 2-2

Barroux illustrates every page of the diary using acrylic paint and a thick black grease pencil that he obtained from his butcher. He had to spray the pages to keep the grease lines from smudging and the result is a yellowish patina which suits the 100 year old story well. The drawings are semi-realistic with a slight cartoonish element which preserves a bit of the mystery of the diary-writer’s identity. He is “any-man” fighting for his country and wondering what will happen next.   Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse and many other fine books, wrote the introduction for Line of Fire and stated: “We need the voice of a witness to tell the unadulterated truth. We have it in this remarkable book.” I couldn’t agree more and recommend this unique book to anyone aged 12 and older.

caverne 2

Angela Meady is Head of Children’s & Youth Services for the Thunder Bay Public Library.

Interview with Scott Butcher


IMG_0361 Scott Butcher is the author of An Eagle’s Heart and The Fairly Stillwart Chronicles.  Born in Australia to Canadian parents, Butcher spent much of his younger years travelling between the two countries.  Upon completing school, he lived in Australia for 33 years before moving with his wife and three children to Canada in 2009.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your first book, An Eagle’s Heart?

Scott Butcher: I was inspired by our time here in Thunder Bay. We had come from Australia where there is lots of colourful birdlife, but when we first came here we lived in a new part of the city. It had no trees and the only birds we saw were crows and seagulls, very boring. Then we moved out to the edge of town where there were lots of trees, and quite a few more bird species for us to discover.

The problem with the new subdivision had been that without enough cover the crows and seagulls killed the other birds. When we lived in an area with trees, there was protective cover for the smaller birds, but we also had bald eagles going past our window fairly regularly, and other raptors. An Eagle’s Heart was born from watching the birds around the area. It tells the story of the survival of little birds near town areas dominated by crows and seagulls, but the birds are given human-like characteristics. So, for instance, the crows are spiteful and murderous, bent on revenge for the death of one of their own. A robin portrays loyalty; a merlin falcon desperately tries to get by in the harshness of the northern climate; a chickadee is cast into a terrible role from which he emerges with an eagle’s heart. It’s an adventure story for adults and kids alike.

SK: The birds in An Eagle’s Heart speak very respectfully, rather like how the North American natives and settlers spoke to one another.  Why did you decide to make the birds speak in this way?  

SB: We visit old Fort William from time to time. I was impressed with the accents of the actors there. The diction was very precise, and they spoke very formally. I decided that that was the way the raptors in my book should speak to each other. Raptors have formidable weapons in their claws and beaks, they command respect. Therefore, they needed to address each other in a respectful manner.

SK: How did you to go from writing about birds to writing about pixies for your Fairly Stillwart Chronicles?

SB: Ah, well, I have daughters. Stillwart is the type of story I used to make up for them. I made her up for a weekly fast fiction competition. She was just a snarky little thing that ran the ticket booth for a Fairy Cinema. But I liked Stillwart so I made another short story about her and all of a sudden I had two chapters for a book. Then I had a small book – a novella really. And then there were six novella, a series.

SK: Where did your idea that pixies and fairies are two sides of the same coin come from?

SB: My idea? Isn’t that just the way it is? I’m sure pixies and fairies have always been linked together. The later books in the series explore this relationship in more detail. The story of how they came to form two sides of a leaf (because pixies and fairies have no use for coins) one side dark but strong, the other side light but happy, is explained a little more in the later books of the series. In my new series, The Magic Sisters, there is also a scene where the first pixies and fairies are created. So all is eventually revealed.

SK: Is Stillwart’s affinity for animals a pixie thing?  Or is that specific of Stillwart?

SB: I think that’s a Stillwart thing, she lives alone as the only pixie amongst an enclave of fairies. But even amongst pixies she would be unusual. I think it comes about because she was a loner, she didn’t relate that well to the fairies she lived amongst, but she could relate to the animals, they became her friends.

SK: What can you tell me about The Dreams of Aine’s Bloods, which you have listed as a work in progress on your site?

SB: Well, I’m sorry to say that I’ve changed the title to The Bloodline of the Faerie Queen.  In Irish mythology Aine is actually the name of a Faerie Queen, but not many people know that, so I had to provide a more descriptive title.

This one I’ve been researching for a long time. It’s based on ancient Irish mythology, particularly from a book called Lebor Gabála Érenn or The Book of the Taking of Ireland, which was a book put together by medieval Irish monks (no, really) who were collecting a history of Ireland from folklore. It will probably be a while before I complete it, but some of the earlier chapters are on Wattpad for people to view for free, see http://www.wattpad.com/story/23592018-the-bloodline-of-the-faerie-queen

The Bloodline is set at the end of the Bronze Age, but in the tradition of a true epic fantasy it has several plot lines in different periods of time, including “an Gorta Mór” the time of the Irish potato famines, the 1920s, and present day. The present day scenes are more urban fantasy. It’s a complex tale of murder, mystery and revenge, but fantasy readers like complex story lines. Not a kids tale at all.

SK: What’s next after the Fairly Stillwart Chronicles and The Bloodline of the Faerie Queen are finished?

SB: The Fairly Stillwart Chronicles are now complete. Hooray! There are six books in the series. The other three will come out early in the New Year and will be sold as a group of three by Morning Rain Publishing. I’ve temporarily placed the fourth book, Tory Blithe and the St John’s Pixie (yes, it’s set in Newfoundland) for free viewing on Wattpad, see http://www.wattpad.com/story/23340914-the-fairly-stillwart-chronicles-tory-blithe-and

I’ve already begun a sequel series, but it’s a bit darker, written for a slightly older (young teen) audience. It’s the Magic Sisters series. The Magic Sisters are introduced in the Stillwart books, but their story is one of servitude to the Morrigan, the banshee queen and caller of death. For seven years they are enthralled to her. For seven years they must do her bidding. An early draft of the first few chapters of the first book is on Wattpad, see http://www.wattpad.com/story/26793907-book-1-of-the-magic-sisters-the-morr%C3%ADgan

SK: To finish up, let’s talk about the books you like.  What book or author inspired you to write?

SB: Oh, that’s hard to remember. I started writing when I was a teenager, over thirty years ago. I used to write for the school newspaper in middle school. I remember reading Jules Verne and C.S. Lewis books when I was younger, but many others. I think my thoughts were just captured in a tide of imagination. I’ve lived a fairly stressful life, and to balance that I escape to worlds of imagination. It’s like they say, work isn’t enough to feed the soul. Everybody needs more in their lives, for me, books are part of that more.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

SB: No, people have different experiences, they need different things as their lives progress. There is no one book that fits all things for all people. But I do think that people should read. I’ve certainly read many books that have given me pause for thought and have influenced my thinking. In particular I think it’s important to read to your children. There are few things more gratifying than that. I’ve read many books to my kids, including the Harry Potter series, which I much enjoyed. But more than that, reading to your kids brings you together as parent and child in a special way, it helps build bonds that will last throughout lifetimes.

SK: So what are you currently reading?

SB: Too much, I do a lot of editing for others, it spreads me pretty thin at times. I’ve just finished The Willow Branch by Lela Markham, which I read as a beta reader and very much enjoyed. It’s now available on Amazon. Likewise Liminal Lights by J. M.Bogart. Many of the books I read are by independent publishers, so are less well known, but many are still extremely good. Seeing Magic by Laura Emmons is another I’ve enjoyed recently, again available on Amazon.


Interview with Karen Autio


Karen-Autio-Author Karen Autio grew up in Nipigon, Ontario.  She began writing and illustrating stories as a child.  Her love of words continued as she grew up; along with being an author, she is also an editor and calligrapher.  Karen likes to collect objects with stories; it is this love that inspired Karen to write her historical trilogy which began with Second Watch.  You can come and meet Karen at the Waverley Library on October 9th; she will be sharing the final book of her trilogy, Sabotage, with us there.

Shauna Kosoris: Second Watch, the first book in your trilogy, was inspired by your grandmother giving you a silver spoon.  Her friend claimed that spoon had been on the Titanic.  How did that story lead to a trilogy of books?

Karen Autio: I wrote Second Watch thinking it was a standalone book. Shortly before it was released, my publisher asked me what other book ideas I had. That’s when I first realized I wasn’t ready to stop writing my characters’ stories. My grandmother, while quarantined in a tuberculosis sanatorium, wrote letters to her baby, my mother. This personal family story inspired the continuation of the Mäki family’s journey in my second book, Saara’s Passage. Then in my research for writing Saara’s Passage, I discovered that what I thought was a tall tale I’d heard growing up in Nipigon was actually true. There really were German spies at work in my hometown in 1915 plotting to destroy the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge. This was irresistible fodder for more research and then writing the third book in the trilogy, Sabotage.

SK: Have you found out the spoon’s actual history?  

KA: Yes—and it’s completely different from what I expected! Come to one of my presentations and I’ll explain.

SK: I’ll have to stop by when you’re at Waverley this October!  Second Watch deals with the Empress of Ireland tragedy.  What was the most interesting fact you discovered about the ship while researching for the book?

KA: The first passengers I learned about who were on the final voyage of the Empress of Ireland were Hilma Kivistö and her two children, from Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay). They were relatives of my grandmother’s friend from whom she’d received the silver spoon. Hilma was Finnish, and as I researched the Empress, I learned of several other Finnish passengers from Port Arthur and Fort William. Eventually I discovered a website listing 91 passengers involved in the shipwreck who were destined for Finland—all of whom were travelling in Third Class.

What amazed me was their survival rate. Of the 91, 21 were rescued—23%. This was a higher percentage than all of Third Class, and even all of Second Class (both were 19%). I attribute this to their Finnish sisu— strength, drive, and perseverance.

SK: Wow, that’s quite amazing.  So the second book in the trilogy, Saara’s Passage, deals with growing up during difficult times: Saara must deal with tuberculosis in her family, the growing threat of WW1, and her Post-Traumatic Stress from the Empress of Ireland.  Was it difficult to weave all three of these issues together into your narrative?

KA: Yes, there was definitely a lot to hold in my mind and consistently apply in the writing. As I researched, I immersed myself in the time period and imagined myself as Saara dealing with all of these challenges. The most difficult part of writing Saara’s Passage was the personal connection, thinking about my grandmother experiencing being quarantined in the Toronto sanatorium for months on end, and then in a separate building at home in Nipigon. To imagine the reality of her being able to see her infant (my mother) from a distance, but have no contact with her, was heart wrenching.

SK: What can you tell me about the third book, Sabotage, which came out last fall?

KA: Sabotage deals with spies, sabotage, enemy aliens, and internment in Canada during the First World War. My trilogy tells the adventures and mishaps of the Finnish-immigrant Sabotage coverMäki family living in Port Arthur in 1914-15. 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.

Finding out that the plot to destroy the Nipigon River railway bridge was actually true inspired me to hunt for more information about wartime sabotage in Canada. What I learned astounded me. I turned my research into this adventure novel in which the courage and wits of siblings Saara and John Mäki are put to the test. 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.

Sabotage was:

  •         a 2014 Arthur Ellis Award finalist for Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book Finalist
  •         shortlisted for the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award
  •         listed by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as a “Best Book for Children”

SK: How much time did you spend researching the books of your trilogy?

KA: Years! Several years! I never have the freedom to research solidly, so it’s piecemeal and therefore difficult to tally the time.

SK: What are you working on now that your trilogy is finished?

KA: When I’m not busy copy editing fiction or non-fiction manuscripts for other writers as a freelance editor, I’m working on my next books. I’m excited that my first picture book, called Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, has been accepted for publication by Sono Nis Press. It explores the history of where I live in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., in a unique way. I have the incredible opportunity to collaborate on this project with the illustrator, Loraine Kemp, of Kelowna. I’m also in the process of researching local history for a novel set in early Kelowna.

SK: Congratulations, that’s very exciting!  Thinking of history, you’ve said that you like collecting objects with stories.  What’s your favourite object that you’ve collected so far?

KA: One of my favourites is the Finnish-style wooden rocking chair that my great-grandfather built in 1939. He made it as a gift for his daughter, my grandmother who gave me the silver spoon. The rocking chair then belonged to my mother for several years before she passed it on to me. Its extra-long runners make for an exciting ride! As a child, I loved to rock it to its limits at Mummu’s house (which always made her nervous, despite trusting her father’s craftsmanship).

SK: How did growing up in Nipigon affect you?

KA: In Nipigon, I was surrounded by Finlanders! My grandparents shared their Finnish heritage with me by teaching me to bake coffee bread (pulla) and making sure we had plenty of pickerel and a hot sauna during summers at the lake. Growing up on the northern shore of Lake Superior instilled in me a love of water and now my favourite activities are walking or cycling along Mission Creek and getting out on Okanagan Lake in our canoe.

SK: I’d like to finish up by asking you some questions about what you read.  Is there a book or author that inspired you to write?

KA: I can’t pick only one! Going way back, I have fond memories of the Dr. Seuss Beginner’s Dictionary that played an important role in turning me into a lover of words. Julie Lawson’s historical novel Goldstone about Swedish immigrants in the early 1900s in British Columbia was an inspirational model for me as I was writing Second Watch.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

KA: I’ve given this a lot of thought, but haven’t come up with a single book or author. Everyone is so diverse, with unique interests. The important thing is to read regularly and read Finnish Rocking Chairwidely. A book I would highly recommend for writers—one that I frequently reread—is Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen.

SK: Finally, what are you currently reading?

KA: In a recent online author interview, I was asked to think back to my childhood to recall a particular author who was a favourite. My answer was Rosemary Sutcliff. Her historical novels drew me into their time periods and brought history to life. As a result, I’m currently reading her book The Mark of the Horse Lord.

Interview with Jessica Young (Author of “My Blue is Happy”)


IMG_6122Jessica Young grew up in Thunder Bay.  After she had her first child she became inspired to write picture books.  My Blue is Happy is her first book, with more coming in 2015.  Jessica will be visiting the Waverley Library on July 24th.  Children are invited to meet Jessica to explore how colours make them feel; they’re welcome to wear their favourite colour.

Shauna Kosoris: My Blue is Happy is such a cute book.  What inspired you to write it?

Jessica Young: The story took a while to evolve. But I think I started it around 2008 – at least that’s the earliest version I can find. I’ve always been really affected by colours. After I started teaching art, I remember looking at paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period and thinking about blues music and how things like that colour people’s perceptions of blue. I wondered how a child might react to finding out other people’s views of her favourite colour. I wish I could remember the moment the title came to me, because that was really the beginning of the story.

SK: Are the friends and family of the main character based off of your own family (and their thoughts about colours)?  

JY: The idea of blue being happy came to me first, and my blue is generally happy, although my ideas about colour change depending on the variation of the colour and what day it is! For the rest of the book, I wrote many versions of each colour, with different associations and images. Then I chose certain ones and revised to create a sequence that fit into the course of the main character’s day. I also tried to pick versions of each colour that would add variety and contrast to the text and provide an opportunity for interest in the images.

SK: What was the hardest part of writing My Blue is Happy?

JY: The theme of the book is so basic and conceptual, there were a lot of different directions I could have taken it — and did — before settling on the final structure. I got many suggestions about revising it, and they varied widely. It’s only three hundred and something words, but it took a long time to write and to revise. (I counted eighty-nine saved versions, but there were many more changes that I didn’t save.)

SK: The direction you chose seems to have really resonated with people.  I see that My Blue is Happy won the 2014 Marion Vannett Ridgway Award, which recognizes books by debut authors.  What was it like to win that award?

JY: I was thrilled and amazed to learn that My Blue won the Ridgway Award. It’s an incredible feeling to have your book recognized in such a way, to feel like someone noticed all your work even though it appears simple and almost inevitable in its final form. There have been some fantastic debut books this year and wonderful winners in previous years, and I was really honored to be in such company. It also made a number of lists, and that’s been fantastic as well.

MY BLUE cover final

SK: My Blue is Happy was illustrated by Catia Chien.  What was it like working with her?

JY: As in most cases with picture book writers and illustrators, I didn’t work directly with her, but it was really amazing to see the book come together, the images working in partnership with the text. She has a really ethereal, atmospheric quality to her work, which I love.

SK: Can you tell me anything about Spy Guy, which is due out in 2015?

JY: Spy Guy — the Not-So-Secret Agent is the story of a boy who’s not a very good spy but who doesn’t give up in his search for the secret to spying. I’ve recently seen the final illustrations by Charles Santoso, who lives in Australia, and I’m really excited about them.

SK: How do you choose or find your illustrators?

JY: Typically, with picture books, the publishing house buys the text then pairs it with an illustrator according to what they envision for the book. Sometimes the author is involved in that process, to varying degrees. For all of my books, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to share my vision as well as some input. I’ve also had amazing teams working on them, including the editors, who worked with me on the texts, and art directors, who found the illustrators and worked with them to bring the texts to life. The illustrators I’ve been paired with have really taken my texts to another level with their fantastic images. I have several more books coming up, and I can’t wait to see them in their final forms!

SK: So what are you working on now?

JY: Right now I’m working on a chapter book series called Finley Flowers, about a creative girl and her friends. The first two books, Finley Flowers — Original Recipe and Finley Flowers — Nature Calls, are also due out next spring, and the next two will come out in the fall of 2015.

SK:  Next year’s going to be a very exciting year for you!  I’d like to finish off with a couple of questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

JY: I think that every book I’ve ever enjoyed or have been touched by has probably inspired me to write on some level. But some from my childhood that I particularly loved and that have stuck with me are: a Helen Oxenbury-illustrated version of The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear; Ferdinand; a lot of Sendak, especially the Nutshell Library stories; George and Martha; a lot of Shel Silverstein; Crictor; a Lisbeth Zwerger-illustrated version of The Gift of the Magi; Island of the Blue Dolphins; The Secret Garden; A Wrinkle in Time; Tuck Everlasting; and the Narnia series. A little more recently, after I had my first child, a book called On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier inspired me to try to put some ideas into a story. That was my first real attempt at writing.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

JY: Such a hard question! I think everyone should read the books they’re drawn to, and there are so many great ones to choose from. I know that sounds evasive, but I really think it’s true. There are a great number of quality books being published at all age levels, and certain ones will call to certain readers and will become personal “windows and mirrors” for them to view the world around them and reflect on themselves. Librarians, teachers, and booksellers are wonderful resources for getting the right books into the right hands.

SK: That’s very true.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

JY: I don’t get a chance to read many books for adults, but right now I’m partway through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. As far as books for young people, I recently read We Were Liars, a young adult novel by E. Lockhart, and I’m constantly reading picture books. Recent ones include My Teacher is a Monster — No, I Am Not by Peter Brown, Maple by Lori Nichols, Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (and illustrated by the amazing Christian Robinson), and The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara.