Showing posts with label Caroline Pignat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Caroline Pignat. Show all posts

September 07, 2018


Written by Caroline Pignat
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
All ages
June 2018 

When Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale, powerhouses in word and art, come together, you know that the result will be powerful and extraordinary and Poetree is.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
From germinating seed to young shoot and sapling and then flowering and fruiting and more seeds, Caroline Pignat shares intimate glimpses of trees and their communities through the four seasons. For each season, a two-line verse introduces the life activity portrayed. Spring is introduced with...
A sleeping seed begins to grow
     shoots and roots in the ground below. (pg. 2)
Spring is thus announced and given life with acrostic poems about seeds germinating and the onset of roots and shoots, and leaves and flowers. Summer has us feeling the breeze and the rain, and witnessing the promise of a nest (beautifully described as "nature's nursery") and the activity of a variety of insects.  Fall takes us to the bounty of harvest, particularly apples, and the changing colours and falling of leaves. 
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
Though you might be forgiven for expecting the book to end with Winter, which is advanced with...
Beneath a blanket, frosty white,
     the old tree sleeps long winter's night. (pg. 22)
and poems about snow, bareness, exposed rings of fallen trees and snow, it is not the end of Poetree. Caroline Pignat, in her infinite wisdom and artist's eye, knows that ...
Somehow each ending is not the
Scatters new beginnings.
(pg. 31)
I hope Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale will forgive my tardiness in reviewing their elegant book of verse and artistry but I think that Poetree shouldn't be lost in summer reviews when teachers are not necessarily purchasing books for classroom and school libraries. Poetree needs to be in all libraries for lessons on the seasons and acrostic poetry and life cycles in nature and for evoking the beauty of our enduring and fragile environment.

Caroline Pignat has the poet's sensibilities and command of words to convey content and feeling without the verbiage. I recommend any of her books, but particularly her Governor General award-winning YA novel in free verse and my favourite, The Gospel Truth (Red Deer Press, 2014), to relish further the finesse she demonstrates in Poetree. Pairing her verse with the art of award-winning François Thisdale is inspired.  François Thisdale, whose art illustrated picture books including The Stamp Collector (by Jennifer Lanthier, from Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2012) and Missing Nimâmâ (by Melanie Florence, from Clockwise Press, 2015), combines drawing and digital images to produce evocative scenes of fresh landscapes and micro views and underground perspectives. It's inspiriting to see how insignificant humans are–a lone man is occasionally seen in the background–to the unfolding of life in the natural world.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
A masterful exploration of arboreal life from beginning to end and to new again through the four seasons, Poetree sustains the reader with verse and art as dramatically as the earth does our natural world.

June 05, 2018

Caroline Pignat speaks at Ottawa Children's Literature Roundtable (Ottawa)

Caroline Pignat

author of

multiple award-winning books

 Egghead (Red Deer Press, 2007)
Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008)
Wild Geese (Red Deer Press, 2010)
Timber Wolf (Red Deer Press, 2011)
Unspeakable (Razorbill, 2014)
The Gospel Truth (Red Deer Press, 2014)
Shooter (Razorbill, 2016)

including two Governor General's Literature Awards 
for Children's Text

will speak 


The Ottawa Children's Literature Roundtable


The Power of Story


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

7 p.m.

Ottawa Public Library- Sunnyside Branch
1049 Bank Street
Ottawa, ON

June 03, 2016


by Caroline Pignat
Razorbill Canada
320 pp.
Ages 12+
May 2016
Reviewed from advance reader’s copy

A whole lot can happen in one hour.  Ask those who tell Shooter’s story: Alice, Isabelle, Hogan, Noah, and Xander.  From the initial school lockdown at St. Francis Xavier High School which brings the five students barricaded together in a boys’ washroom to its dramatic, life-altering climax as the clock reads down to 00:00:00, Shooter is an unforgettable, heart-stopping story of heroes, written, read and made.
"This is real life. Not everything has a story."
Alice smiles. "But every person does."

I guess she’s right.  We all have one–even if it’s one we’d rather forget. (pg. 86)
There’s Hogan King, a hulking senior notorious for what he did to his older brother and who feels he is deservingly beyond redemption.  There’s Alice, another senior, who is an incredible writer–accepted to UBC’s prestigious Creative Writing Program–who prefers her position of invisibility which allows her to read life and care for her older autistic brother Noah. Uber-popular, egocentric and high-achieving Student Council President and go-to person for everything St. F-X, Isabelle Parks has her own issues, revealed in text messages with BFF Bri who is locked down in the office. And finally, there is the socially awkward Xander Watt, shooter of film images, who writes about himself as,
I think too much sometimes,
blurt the wrong things often, and
feel confused, always.”
(pg. 48)
How these seeemingly incongruent characters come together, and together they do come, in a complex plot of action, angst, and deliverance makes Shooter the extraordinary story that it is.  And story-telling, or rather writing, is a key foundation for Shooter.  With several of the students classmates in Writer’s Craft, it’s not surprising that elements of writing–plot, hero’s journey, characters’ fatal flaws, resolution–become part of the story. (Caroline Pignat is herself a high-school teacher of Writer’s Craft.  Lucky students.)

I can’t possibly reveal the itricacies of the story and the role of each character in its resolution.  But suffice it to say, Caroline Pignat’s brilliant writing immerses the reader in the terror of a school in genuine lockdown and the anxiety of relating to those whose differences make you uncomfortable.  Beyond the drama, and there is much, Shooter is a story of empowerment, taken and accepted and relinquished, and a formidable tale told by one of Canada’s greatest writers.

October 13, 2015

Q & A with author Caroline Pignat: 2015 Governor General Literary Award finalist

Last week, the Canada Council for the Arts announced the finalists for the 2015 Governor General Literary Awards.  Amongst the many worthy nominees is Caroline Pignat for her recent book, The Gospel Truth.  Interestingly, Caroline Pignat has already won the GG for children's book text, in 2009 for Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008).

The Gospel Truth, which I reviewed on January 13, 2015 (review here) is a staggering achievement for a book of youngCanLit, both in its content and its form, and I now have the honour of interviewing author Caroline Pignat about her book.

Photo by Angela Flemming

HK:  What was the germ of an idea that had you focusing your story on the life of a young slave woman in Virginia in the mid-1800s?

CP:  To be honest, it started as a sequel to finish up my Irish series. Kit told her story in Greener Grass and Wild Geese, and then Jack told his in Timber Wolf. So I figured Annie, the third and youngest Byrne orphan, needed a chance to tell hers. She was five when we last read about her. To make her at least fifteen, meant setting her story in 1858 and I just Googled “Canadian history 1850s.”

The facts fascinated me, particularly those about the Fugitive Slave Act and the influx of people escaping from slavery to Canada. After researching the Underground Railroad and the role of abolitionists, I pitched Annie’s story to Red Deer Press and they offered me a contract.

I began writing it in the alternating voices of Annie and a house slave named Phoebe. But I soon realized that I didn’t care about Annie and I was skimming through her parts to get to Phoebe’s. Though mute, Phoebe had much, much more to say. Her voice felt stronger. Richer. Much more engaging. I knew then, that this wasn’t Annie’s book, it was Phoebe’s.

HK:  The Gospel Truth is written in free verse and an astounding accomplishment for your first foray into that form.  But I believe your writing is so well suited for free verse as you are able to use words both sparingly and powerfully.  What made you choose this form for The Gospel Truth?

CP:  In the beginning, I wrote my chapters in prose, alternating POV between Annie and Phoebe. Because of the research I’d done to tune in to Phoebe, she had a very distinct voice. Sparse. Simple, but wise. Figurative. I had previously written free verse for the voice of Will, the bullied character in my first novel, Egghead. I loved the form and was keen to try it for an entire novel, but none of my books since seemed to be a good fit. When Phoebe spoke, I realized that her diction, syntax, and the symbolic way she saw her world truly was poetic. She was speaking in free verse, but I was writing it in prose at first. Switching to free verse was liberating, it felt like cleaning away all the clutter and getting right to the heart of her. Many early poems came word for word from those first draft chapters.

HK:  Writing The Gospel Truth in six different voices–Phoebe, Master, Miss Tessa, Doctor Bergman, Bea the housekeeper and Shad another slave–must have been challenging because they are so unique.  How were you able to keep their voices distinctive and still find the means for them to experience the commonalities of life on a plantation in 1858? And how difficult was it to get the voices right, with dialects of the slaves and people of the region of which you wrote?

CP:  Egghead is told in three voices; the Greener Grass series is told in Kit and Jack’s voices; Ellie is narrating Unspeakable, but I also included Jim’s journal entries; and my upcoming novel, Shooter (Penguin, May 2016) is in the voices of five students in a lockdown. I love seeing a common experience through different perspectives. I love figuring out what filters flavour each character’s interpretation of that reality. But writing in multiple POV means treating each one of those narrators as a main character. It means knowing them intimately and developing them completely so they appear distinct, authentic, and believable.

My research informed my characters’ attitudes, experiences, and perceptions. I read many biographies and autobiographies of abolitionists as well as those by enslaved people like Josiah Henson, Harriet Jacobs, and Solomon Northrop. But what helped me really tune in to their voices --  particularly those of Phoebe, Shad, and Bea -- was reading transcribed slave narratives, like those in Unchained Memories. Those vivid descriptions of slave life, their turns of phrase (“and that’s the Gospel truth”), and their varied experiences and resilient spirits affected me deeply and inspired my characters.

HK:  There is a lot of self-deception going on in The Gospel Truth.  Whether it’s the bird playing dead–“That bird just so scared of what it, it gotta go pretending what isn’t” (pg. 18)–or Will telling his brother Shad that “being blind to what is, don’t make it false” (pg. 87), it’s all about self-protection.  How important do you think this is amongst your characters and for people in general when dealing with challenges?

CP:  I think we grow into our truth. We discover it and accept it, as we are ready. Self-deception can be a kind self-protection, for a time, it may be necessary, but if we stay there, in denial, we are as trapped as that bird in the cage.

Parts of this journey for Phoebe are the baby steps she takes: to learn her letters; to steal a notebook; to meet with Bergman; to help Will escape. With every choice, she moves one step closer to discovering, accepting, and eventually speaking her truth.

HK:  Secrets play a tremendous role in The Gospel Truth and in fiction in general.  And Phoebe makes a very insightful declaration about secrets in the book.
Every one carry secrets inside,
but once they spilled
there ain’t no taking them back.
And just like blood,
Everyone that secret touches 
be stained.” (pg. 167)
What do you think is more difficult to write about: the keeping of secrets or the telling of secrets?

CP:  Secrets are powerful. Though dangerous in real life -- they’re fabulous in fiction. A juicy secret can drive character motive, stir fear, and raise tension. It complicates relationships because a secret weakens integrity, arouses suspicion, and undermines trust.

In multiple POV, secrets bring even more to the story because now the reader knows not only the secret, but who is in on it, and what is at stake. Usually, the longer a character tries keep a secret, its telling becomes even more difficult and destructive. If a plot includes a secret, I try to make the most of the scene where it’s revealed.

HK: I know that you are an accomplished writer of historical fiction, having already won a Governor General Literary Award for Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008) among many other book awards, and I anticipate more such volumes in the future.  But, will you consider writing more novels in free verse–please, please, please!–whether it be historical fiction or not? In fact, do you have any plans or works in progress or set for publication already that follow that format?

CP:  I love writing free verse -- and I’m so encouraged by how The Gospel Truth is being received. Because free verse is so sparse, it forces me to focus on that one meaningful moment. It makes me notice and highlight what really matters. Where first person is like being in someone’s head --  free verse is like being in their heart. It’s raw, honest, and intense. I would love to write another novel in free verse -- assuming I find a character whose voice is best expressed in that form.

As I wrote The Gospel Truth, I realized this story was really about Phoebe’s inner journey to choose freedom. It was fascinating to watch her slowly progress beyond her fear and come to that moment of decision. Will she risk everything and leave all she has ever known?

Though I had researched the URR for the outer journey, it didn’t belong in this novel. Maybe it deserves a sequel --  but I’m still discerning that one.

HK:  I often ask this question of authors and I would love to know your take on it: Would you rather produce one book of extraordinary importance that becomes a classic but one to which all your writing is forever compared, or would you prefer to author many different books for different audiences and which could not be compared to each other?

CP:  Hmmm. Tough question, Helen!

Do I want to live in the shadow of one super-fantastic book... or in productive obscurity? As a one-hit wonder... or as muzak?


In which one of these scenarios am I on a beach in Cuba?

When I think product, yes, I would LOVE to create a book of extraordinary importance. But when I think process, I would HATE to believe that I had peaked as a writer. I need to try new things. I need to feel inspired and excited about my next work-in-progress. Comparison only leads to creative constipation.

So, I’d choose to author many books for different audiences. Besides, classic or not, I believe that each book is extraordinarily important to someone.

And sometimes that someone is just me.

HK:  If there is anything else that you would like to share with readers of CanLit for LittleCanadians about The Gospel Truth, your nomination for another Governor General Literary Award, or your writing, please fee free to do so.  We’d really love to know more!

CP:  You’ll find links to excerpts, reviews, and research materials on my website:

Right now, I’m working on a Study Guide for The Gospel Truth. It should be available for free download in early November. Great for book club discussion, as a Novel Study Unit, or as a resource for Black History Month in February.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Many thanks 
to the generous Caroline Pignat 
for sharing her writing, with much honesty and humour, 
to children's book publicist Winston Stilwell 
for arranging this Q & A.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •


There is a giveaway, yes GIVEAWAY, starting today October 13, for one of 10 free SIGNED copies of The Gospel Truth on Goodreads, so it's a perfect chance to get your own copy, if you don't have it yet.  In addition to being named a finalist for the 2015 Governor General's Literary Award, The Gospel Truth is also a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award, the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, and the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People and is an honour book for the CLA Young Adult Book of the Year Award!  The giveaway is open to readers in the US and Canada.

So enter now for your chance to win one of ten SIGNED copies of The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat.

January 13, 2015

The Gospel Truth

by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press
328 pp.
Ages 12+
October, 2014

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all
                             ~Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson would not have written this poem yet but her words would still ring true for an enslaved young woman named Phoebe on a Virginian tobacco plantation in 1858. Phoebe is attuned to listen to the birds for their messages of hope and freedom, while keeping her own song quiet, having stopped speaking since her mother Ruthie was sold by Master Arnold Duncan ten years earlier.  And though she doesn't speak, Phoebe is chosen to accompany Doctor Ross Bergman, a guest at the plantation, and Miss Tessa, the marriageable daughter of Master Duncan, when he visits the plantation from Canada to study the birds of Virginia.

Taken under the wing of Bea, the housekeeper, and given to Miss Tessa as her personal maid, Phoebe understands well enough what is expected of her but also what she needs to do for herself, including learning to read so that she may find her Momma.
Cause a slave can't have words.
Or hope. 
But I do. 
I got both,
buried deep in the hollow part of me. (pg. 36)
However, not everyone feels as Phoebe does, including Shad, the young slave who has feelings for her. Though the younger brother of a powerful slave who has runaway three times, Shad is still convinced the best recourse is obedience to Master Duncan, and it is this attitude that threatens everything for Phoebe.

Told in free verse and in six voices (Phoebe, Master, Miss Tessa, Doctor Bergman, Bea, and Shad), The Gospel Truth tells more than just of the life of slaves on a tobacco plantation in the mid-19th century.  It speaks of a change coming, of those who see it and those who don't, and those who risked so much to be part of that change–love, security, family, life–sometimes even without choice.  Every voice that speaks from Caroline Pignat's pen is clear and resounds with every word spoken or not.  

The power of Caroline Pignat's words would compel me to cite so much of her text. She has the gift for novel in verse, not simply writing prose in verse form.  Just as a good novelist doesn't tell everything, allowing the reader to interpret, surmise and read into the text, a great writer of novel in verse tells even more in fewer words.  Pamela Porter, Martine Leavitt and now Caroline Pignat.  As for the story, think The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill in free verse for younger readers and with more soul.  A perfect bundle of story, voice and form–that's The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat.

October 12, 2014

The Gospel Truth: Book launch (Ottawa)

Governor General Literary Award-winning author
Caroline Pignat

is launching her latest book

The Gospel Truth

Red Deer Press
328 pp.
Ages 12+
Released October 1, 2014

A novel in verse, The Gospel Truth takes the reader to a tobacco plantation in 1858 Virginia, and shares the interactions and perspectives of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher.

Caroline Pignat


the All Saints Christmas Craft Fair
All Saints Catholic High School
5115 Kanata Avenue
Kanata (Ottawa), Ontario

from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

to purchase The Gospel Truth
do some Christmas shopping, and 
support a great cause.

to the Christmas Craft Fair
with over 150 vendors
$1 or a canned good

Proceeds from sales of The Gospel Truth
will be going towards
a school, Todo los Santos,
sponsored by All Saints DR Experience Team and the All Saints community. 

May 19, 2014

Unspeakable: Book Launch (Kanata)


Caroline Pignat

author of historical fiction
Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008)
Wild Geese (Red Deer Press, 2010)
Timber Wolf (Red Deer Press, 2011)

for the launch of her newest young adult novel

Razorbill Canada
288 pp.
Ages 12+

Saturday, May 31, 2014

2-5 p.m.


D'arcy McGee's
655 Terry Fox Dr.
 Kanata, Ontario

 Featuring a reading by the author, books for sale, and  live music. 

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The following information about Unspeakable comes from Caroline Pignat's website at
"Working as a stewardess aboard the Empress of Ireland allows Ellie Ryan to forget about why she has been banished from the family home, why her great aunt ultimately had to find her this job. On her second voyage, Ellie finds herself drawn to the solitary fire stoker who stands by the ship's rail late at night, often writing in a journal."

"Based on the true story of the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland in May 1914, a disaster that lost more passengers' lives than Titanic, Unspeakable will be published in time to mark the 100th anniversary of this tragedy. "

February 16, 2012

Timber Wolf

by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press
206 pp.
Ages 11-14

Waking in the snow, numbed by pain and cold, the young narrator of Timber Wolf comes to the violent realization that he knows neither his name, what has happened nor where he's from.
"Homeless.  Nameless.  Hopeless.  Yet, try as I might, nothing comes to mind but the fat flakes drifting down from the endless winter black." (pg. 3)
Although his recollections return slowly and intermittently, it is the first, that of his father, Da, teaching him to carve wood with a knife, that has him hopeful of family searching for him.  While he awaits his rescue, he does his best to find shelter and food.  Two key events occur which set the stage for the young man's journey back to himself.  First, he has a frightening but companionable encounter with a wolf who continues to help him throughout his ordeal.  Second, when the young man retrieves a snared rabbit, which he shares with the wolf, he meets a young Anishnaabeg, Mahingan, who saves his life.

Under the care and guidance of Mahingan's Grandfather Wawatie, the young man regains his health and strength, and learns some of the Anishnaabeg ways.  But, Mahingan's relentless anger compels him to abandon the young man when they come across a logging camp shanty.  The memories unleashed by the shanty bring the young man closer to his story but they also reveal that he is responsible for harming others.  As he continues to search for his life, he encounters his companion wolf, a bear and a frightening trapper with his own memory issues.

While the narrator will not determine his own name until page 171, his identity has been introduced in the first two books by Caroline Pignat: Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008) and Wild Geese (Red Deer Press, 2010).  In Greener Grass, the 2009 winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Text, we are introduced to Kit Byrne's family (Mam, Da, brother Jack, little sister Annie) who have endured the hardships of farming in 1800's Ireland.  With the famine and subsequent starvation and evictions, Kit and most of her family, as well as her friend Mick, escape to Canada, hopeful of a better life.  This background information is not necessary to appreciate the story of Timber Wolf, which capably works as a stand-alone text, but the connections revealed in the books are important.  Readers who have not enjoyed Greener Grass and Wild Geese are encouraged to partake in these fine reads, even after reading Timber Wolf.

In Timber Wolf, Caroline Pignat's emphasis on the characters within an accurate, historical context draws the readers in, effectively bringing fear, despair, and hope to the foreground. The challenges of survival without solid memories that could provide a foundation for endurance and success are overwhelming and powerfully told in Caroline Pignat's rich writing.  Her imagery ("They pull his full form up onto the log where he flops like a load of wet laundry"; pg. 77) and perspicacity (Grandfather Wawatie's assertion that "even the tiniest hole left too long will eventually destroy the whole boat"; pg. 192) provide the beauty for this adventure story.  Although Caroline Pignat, in the interview notes at the conclusion of the book, does not confirm whether there will be additional books related to the Byrnes, I will look forward to another book to enlighten me historically and emotionally, as all three of these books have.