Showing posts with label author. Show all posts
Showing posts with label author. Show all posts

September 16, 2019

The Starlight Claim: Q & A with author Tim Wynne-Jones

 The Starlight Claim
Written by Tim Wynne-Jones
Candlewick Press
240 pp.
Ages 13+
September 2019

On September 10, 2019,  Tim Wynne-Jones's newest YA thriller, The Starlight Claim, was released and I reviewed it here on CanLit for LittleCanadians.

As the book will launch over the next few weeks here in Ontario including tonight in Toronto, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Tim Wynne-Jones about his book.

Enjoy the writing revelations Tim Wynne-Jones shares with us here about The Starlight Claim.

HK:  The Starlight Claim is an action-packed novel that includes characters from your earlier book The Maestro. However, rather than following The Maestro’s protagonist Burl, you chose to focus on Nate, Burl’s sixteen-year-old son. Why choose to make The Starlight Claim an intergenerational sequel?

TWJ:  A great question and one that made me laugh. For years readers have asked me what happened to Burl, since I leave it kind of hazy at the end of The Maestro. They also often want to know what happened to Burl’s evil dad. Mostly, they hope something awful! So what took me so long to write a sequel? Life – that’s what. Anyway, by the time I finally got around to writing this book, it had been twenty-four years – long enough for Burl to have a sixteen-year-old of his own. And I couldn’t resist letting Nate (named after the Maestro, himself, of course) brave his way up to Ghost Lake, alone. 

HK:  The Maestro was published in 1995. How difficult was it to write a sequel over 20 years after the original book? Were there some obstacles that you found impossible to overcome?

TWJ:  Some books are harder to write than others, taking two or three years. This book was the other kind. I was SO happy to return to the same magical setting as The Maestro, with the added dimension of making it late winter. This story not only addresses what happened to Burl and his dreadful father but also looks at a true story about my own “Ghost Lake” and the ramifications of a haunting tragedy. It was a dream to write, full of built-in conflict and very high stakes.

HK:  At its heart, The Starlight Claim is all about conflict: conflict within, as Nate struggles with his guilt over a friend’s death; conflict with others, as he eludes criminals and grapples with family dramas; and conflict with a landscape of epic beauty and unyielding hurdles.  Surprisingly, though Nate is dealing with all those tensions, he is an amazingly grounded young man. He is smart enough to accept fear but keeps his head and more than survives.  How did you conceive of him, especially knowing where his father came from?

TWJ:  Well, first of all, thank you for your kind words. Luckily, Nate is his father’s son and if you know Burl, you know what a resourceful soul he was, even as a kid. And Nate has all the savvy and inner strength of his father. And I do have to add, here, that he’s modeled on a good friend who has been kind enough to let me fictionalize his own story. Make no mistake, this is a work of fiction, but Nate’s grounded personality is very much a reflection of a real person. The person I’d most want to have handy if I was ship wrecked on a deserted island!  

HK:  While Nate is very much in the present, dealing with nefarious characters in a remote setting, struggling for his own survival, the past is everywhere.  It’s in the history of the camp, in his knowledge of his grandfather and in his memories of his friend Dodge.  What does The Starlight Claim tell us about the role of the past in the now and perhaps in the future?

TWJ:  The past is always with us. And I think never more so than when we lose someone that matters a great deal to us. Especially if you have to grapple with the fear of your own complicity, real or imagined, in the tragedy. It seems fitting, somehow, that as Nate travels up to the lake, burdened by a sorrow even heavier than the pack on his back, he should venture into the world of the past, so to speak, where his grandfather lurks. He says at one point, while he’s on the train heading up to the family camp that he’s travelling backward through his father’s history, stop by stop. So you’ve put your finger on an underlying theme.   

HK:  Japheth Starlight advised Burl in The Maestro that “You made the mess–you clean it up. That’s the way you become master of your own destiny” and it seems all the men in Burl’s family demonstrated that they learned this lesson to various degrees, even the repugnant Calvin Crow. How do you think Cal finally recognized this wisdom?

TWJ:  When readers talk to me about Calvin Crow they just about growl. That makes me so happy; the truth is -- I think any writer will tell you – writing the “bad guy” is so much more interesting than writing any other character. Cal is my “favourite” bad guy! That said, he’s human. Aren’t we all! So, I needed to find what made him tick. There is nothing so shallow as a bad guy who is just plain bad. We are all motivated by things that happen in our lives. There was something of this in a monologue of Cal’s in The Maestro and I wanted to expand upon it. I think that novels are often about redemption. I wanted to give him another chance.

HK:  As the story progresses, the reader realizes Dodge, the friend whose death Nate is  haunted by, is not the person Nate has held him up to be in his memory.  Moreover, Cal has his own issues with how he remembers things with his own son. What do their stories tell us about the capacity for memory to reflect something other than reality?

TWJ:  These are profound questions, Helen, thank you. One of the fondest wishes any writer can have is that the reader who cares to dig deep will find things to think about. I will defer to the wonderful English writer, Aidan Chambers, who has said this: “My personal conviction is that we are not changed by our experience, as common wisdom has it. What changes us are the stories we tell about our experience…” This is important: it’s not that we “make up stories” about our lives and therefore fictionalize them – another word for lying! It’s more to the point that we shape the experience into something tellable. We all do it. Have you ever had the experience of telling someone a family story within earshot of a sibling, who immediately jumps in and says, “That’s not the way it happened!”? That’s what I’m talking about; we see the world from our point of view. The delight of being a writer is imagining all kinds of points of view. 

HK:  The Maestro was a middle grade novel written for young readers ages 11 and older whereas The Starlight Claim is recommended for a slightly older audience, 13+. What in this new book prompted the publisher to propose that The Starlight Claim is more appropriate for a YA audience?

TWJ:  I’m not privy to that kind of decision-making, but I would guess it’s the addition of hardened and violent criminals to the mix. I think that any eleven-year-old who loves adventure stories will love this book – I sure would have when I was that age. And to be frank, they’ve probably seen a lot worse characters, in movies that get a PG rating. 

HK:  I could see continuing Burl and Nate’s stories, perhaps Burl’s after The Maestro but before The Starlight Claim, and both of their stories after The Starlight Claim. Would you consider this and why or why not?

TWJ:  Hmm, that’s a good question, as well. I’d have to say it’s unlikely, at this point. I don’t naturally steer toward sequels. That said, I’ve written two trilogies in my life: The “Zoom” picture books and my Rex Zero middle grade novels. They lent themselves really well to follow-ups. It took me twenty-five years to write a sequel to The Maestro. Maybe in another twenty-five years… But I never say never.

Many thanks to Tim Wynne-Jones
for again gracing CanLit for LittleCanadians with an interview
and providing insights into his newest novel and its writing.

Thank you also to publicist Winston Stilwell
for facilitating this endeavour.


Best wishes to Tim Wynne-Jones on The Starlight Claim,
a story that I'm sure will capture all readers,
whether fans of thrillers or YA or great literature of any genre.

(And don't forget tonight's launch in Toronto and also in Kingston and Ottawa. Sadly Perth's was yesterday. Details here.)

June 27, 2018

The Ruinous Sweep: Q & A with author Tim Wynne-Jones, plus giveaway

The Ruinous Sweep
Written by Tim Wynne-Jones
Candlewick Press
400 pp.
Ages 14+
June 2018

Yesterday, I reviewed Tim Wynne-Jones's latest young adult thriller, The Ruinous Sweep.  Today, as part of a blog tour, I have the pleasure of posting a Q & A with the author about his book.

(Be sure to read to the end for details about a special giveaway.)


HK:  Much of The Ruinous Sweep reflects Dante’s Divine Comedy, from the title to Bee who mirrors Beatrice, keeper of divine knowledge, to the deadly sins including lust, anger and treachery, and the Inferno beasts of a lion and a leopard.  Was the initial premise for The Ruinous Sweep always based on Divine Comedy or was it secondary to the scary incident you mention in your Acknowledgements? 

TWJ: Wow! Somebody knows their Dante. The answer to your question is the latter of the two proposed. I didn’t think about Dante at all until I was a couple of chapters in. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the mysterious, moon-wet landscape Donovan found himself lost within, dazed and confused, was reminiscent of a very famous 14th Century epic poem. So, I started reading that classic again to see what my protagonist was likely to run into. For a brief moment I thought he’d follow Dante’s entire journey, but pretty soon it became obvious that twenty-first century Donovan had his own demons to vanquish and the two wanderers parted company. But it sure gave me a lift in the early going to fall back on that amazing story. Fiction, even when it seems unique and entirely new, usually builds, in one way or another, on what has gone before. There’s nothing new under the sun. Or under the moon, for that matter.

HK:  Do you believe readers need to have a background understanding of Divine Comedy to appreciate the fullness of the story of The Ruinous Sweep or do you hope The Ruinous Sweep will lead them to check out Dante’s epic work?

TWJ: Not at all. I think everybody knows a little something about that random, transitional world between worlds, where nothing quite makes sense but there is this pervasive, suspenseful feeling that at any moment anything might happen and everything will change for the better or worse! We’ve all experienced it, if only in our dreams.

HK:  For much of the book, the story is told in two voices: that of Donovan who is confused about what has happened and what is happening, and his girlfriend Bee as she deals with the aftermath of a horrifying night.  Usually when told in the voices of boyfriend and girlfriend, their perspectives come together in the end but not in The Ruinous Sweep.  Instead their perspectives become untangled when the mystery is solved.  Why did you keep the two separate for much of the book rather than blend them into a strong couple working together, even if separated by circumstances? (I don’t want to spoil the ending by giving away too much.)

TWJ: In the first draft, I wrote all of Donovan’s story first. It’s weird, because while I was locked into his story I couldn’t really see or imagine Bee. I only knew he was desperate to reach her and that, one way or another, she would be there for him. Then one of my sons sent me a video of the composer Ludovico Einaudi playing I Giorni (The Days) with the violinist Daniel Hope in a club in Stockholm. And there she was, Beatrice, all in shadows, just over the pianist’s shoulder.  (See the video here at She looks kind of distracted as if she’s only half there or the sad and beautiful music is reminding her of something or someone. A journey all her own.

HK:  While many assume that the adage of actions having consequences usually refers to negative actions, like getting angry or dealing in criminal activity, some positive actions, like trying to not hurt someone’s feelings or to protect someone from potential harm, can also have dire consequences.  Is this something you believe needs to be recognized or was it merely an unintentional message in The Ruinous Sweep?

TWJ: This is such a great question. What I love about writing is that, for me, it’s always a learning experience. I never set out to write a book I know the ending of; I never write a book with an agenda; I set out to discover what effect will result from this or that cause. For example, Hamlet’s father’s ghost tells his son who murdered him. Go. It worked pretty well for Shakespeare. Once I start that ball rolling, all sorts of issues come up but I can only understand them in the context of my characters and what they are going through. Their motivation rules. I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Of course I do, but I try really, really hard not to make them mules for some message I might have to pass along. I set them loose in trying times and watch and learn. Sometimes I just have to shake my head at what they get up to, but then I turn the jets up higher, increase the stakes, and put them in even worse jeopardy. That’s how I come to learn what the story is really about. I often don’t know the theme of one of my novels until I read the reviews. Which might explain why I got such lousy marks in high school English.

HK:  There is a character in The Ruinous Sweep who has a unique ability to communicate with those at death’s door.  Do you believe in mediums and have you ever had a reading from one?

TWJ: I’m not sure what I think. I guess I’d have to waffle and say I definitely don’t not believe in mediums. Dante was led on his journey through Hell by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil. Donovan Turner gets himself a crusty farmer lady with a heart of gold named Jilly. There are just some trips you can’t make alone.

HK:  One thing I appreciate in your writing, whether middle grade or young adult, is that you give young readers much credibility.  You “talk up” to them, recognizing that their stories do not need to be simple for them to be understand.  How do you find the right balance of writing for youth without writing down to them?

TWJ: When I was a teenager I read adult books; there really wasn’t a genre that was labelled “young adult.” But in any case, I’ve always thought that if you’re reading a book that pulls you in, featuring characters you really care about, caught up in truly intriguing situations, you’ll figure out whatever you need to figure out in order to go along for the ride. I remember smiling when the Harry Potter books came out. There were all these experts who said adolescents couldn’t possibly read books that were that long. Hah! Rowling proved the “experts” wrong.  Kids who were so young they could barely even pick up The Order of the Phoenix read it in a weekend and remembered every significant detail. Honestly, I think young readers are often way better readers than adults, if they’re sufficiently engaged by the story. For one thing, their brains aren’t full of mortgages and back problems. I always tell my writing students not to ever underestimate a young reader. No spoon-feeding. No needless explaining. No sugar coating. Don’t dumb down the language. Feed a kid a delicious new word and let them figure out what it means from the context in which it’s used. All of us, adults and kids alike, skip over what we don’t quite grasp but if the journey is exciting enough, it doesn’t slow us down.

HK:  If there was one message which you’d like readers to take away from The Ruinous Sweep, what would it be?

TWJ: It may already be apparent that I don’t write messages into my books. But I know I learn things from writing them and I hope my reader learns stuff, too, although it might not be exactly what I learned. This journey began for me with a traumatic experience I needed to come to terms with. A violent experience that left me stunned and confused. As Sting says, “Nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could.” And I guess that song says at least one of the things I’d like my readers to understand: we must never forget how fragile we are. 

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Many thanks
to author Tim Wynne-Jones
for responding to some probing questions with his honest answers
to book publicist Winston Stilwell
for arranging this Q & A.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •



As part of the The Ruinous Sweep blog tour,  
Tim Wynne-Jones and his publicity team 
are offering an audio book of The Ruinous Sweep,
 read by the author himself.

Residents of Canada and the U.S. 
who would like to enter to win the audio book
just need to leave a comment below
(before noon (EST) on July 3, 2018) 
explaining why you'd like to listen to the audio book
of The Ruinous Sweep.
We'll do a random draw (using a random number generator)
and notify the winner via reply to their comment.

We look forward to reading your comments below.

May 29, 2018

Pulse Point: Q & A with author Colleen Nelson

Written by Colleen Nelson with Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (Great Plains Publications)
192 pp.
Ages 12-15
May 2018

Yesterday I reviewed Colleen Nelson's newest YA novel, Pulse Point, which she wrote with Nancy Chappell-Pollack.  Today Colleen Nelson with input from Nancy Chappell-Pollack answers a few of my questions about the book, their writing process and the future for Pulse Point.

HK:  Pulse Point is totally unlike any YA novel you have written to date both in genre and in its collaborative authorship, and I’d really love to delve into this.  First, how did you come to write the novel with your sister and what did you find most challenging as well as most advantageous about writing Pulse Point as part of a team?

CN:  Pulse Point began as an idea that Nancy had for a screenplay. Her background is in screenwriting and theatre, so we pitched it to a screen writing contest. I wrote the ‘treatment’ which is a type of synopsis used in the television/movie industry. We didn’t win, but the idea was too good to let go. Nancy and I were both invested in the idea, so we decided to work on it together.

One of the challenges writers face is the isolation factor. For hours every day, I sit in a room by myself and tap away on my laptop. Sometimes writing feels like a very slow, uphill slog and what’s worse, I have no idea if what I’m writing is any good! It was motivating to send Nancy a chapter and get her feedback on it. She knew the characters as well as I did and knew the direction of the story. We collaborated on every aspect of the book, even though I did the bulk of the writing.

As for the genre, writing dystopian wasn’t as different from realistic YA as you’d expect. Pulse Point might have a different setting and the characters face unusual challenges, but they still have to be relatable. Just like in realistic fiction, Kaia had to deal with conflicts with friends, family and figuring out who she is. We tried to remember it is the characters, not their dystopian world, driving the story.

HK:  Second, have you always wanted to write speculative fiction or did the idea for Pulse Point originate with your sister Nancy Chappell-Pollack?

CN:  The idea was Nancy’s. It started with a ‘what if’. What if a pulse point, implanted in a finger and meant to control a person’s life, suddenly malfunctions? How would they react to this sudden freedom? Other than continuing on with Kaia’s story, I don’t have any plans to write other speculative fiction.

HK:  Speaking of speculative fiction, do you consider Pulse Point more science fiction or dystopian, and why?

CN:  Nancy and I talked about this and decided that it’s more dystopian than sci-fi. We wanted to create an alternate version of our world where climate change has made it impossible to live outside, or so Kaia thinks. I think in dystopian, a writer can play with politics and economics and world building in a different way than in science fiction. 

HK:  The scientists who created the City under a dome seemed to have good intentions after global warming brought disaster after disaster to their world.  But, like the saying goes about good intentions, their decisions about the nature of the City including who should be allowed in and how relationships are structured, seem to be discriminatory and harmful.  What message did you want readers to get about this new world?

CN:  The scientific minds that created the City were concerned with saving a species. They were intervening with natural selection, or maybe speeding it along, by only selecting people with disease- and ‘defect’-free genetics. We were thinking of a couple of things when we wrote Pulse Point. The first is the Spartan society where weak newborns were left to die because the city-state wanted to raise only the strongest soldiers (and have mothers who would breed the strongest soldiers). The second was the lack of humanity that a purely scientific-based community would develop. In the same way that AI (read Erin Bow’s excellent Scorpion Rules for more on this topic!) uses reason, not empathy, to make decisions, the City relies on efficiency.

While the City’s decisions make sense at a practical level, they are harsh and inhumane. There is so much to discuss about the morality attached to embryonic testing and selection. You might have also noticed that there is no dance, art, religion or literature in the City. All of those things are considered unnecessary and a waste of resources. I’m really glad I don’t live there!

HK:  Because Kaia’s world within the City is very much dictated by genetic rankings in which features like blue eyes and birthmarks are considered defects, there is much discrimination.  Even Kaia expresses this disdain for her newly-discovered brother who is blind.  How difficult was it to have your characters express such negative thoughts and for you to write those ideas?

CN:  Kaia is a product of her environment, so her prejudices are a result of what she has been taught. The flipside is that the people she meets outside of the City do not have those same discriminatory ideas. The conflict that results lets Kaia grow to accept differences and see the value that everyone brings to a community.

HK:  Many young adults will be delighted to know that there is frisson of romance brewing under Pulse Point’s main plot.  But with Lev and Gideon both in the picture, Kaia may have some choices to make. Did you always intend to have a romance as a subplot in Pulse Point or did it develop as your story took shape?

CN:  The truth is, I hate writing romantic scenes. There’s nothing more cringey than a cheesy kissing scene with awkward dialogue. It can kill a story and put a damper on good writing. Nancy was the one who pushed for more romantic tension and the creation of a love triangle between Kaia, Lev and Gideon. Like with most things, Nancy’s instincts were correct and I agreed to write it.

This book went through so many drafts, characters and plots changed drastically with each one. The one thing that never changed was Kaia’s strength and determination as a female lead. We did not want her to be focused on her hunt for a mate, or a potential romance. We wanted this book to be accessible to male and female readers and to make sure the romance furthers the tension, but doesn’t make it seem that all female characters need a male-focused romance.

HK:  Readers will recognize that Kaia’s story is not over at the conclusion of Pulse Point. When you started writing Pulse Point, was it always your intention to have a sequel? What plans are there for publication of a sequel or sequels?

CN:  At first, we envisioned Pulse Point as a trilogy, but our editor suggested we make some significant changes to the ending. Those changes altered our original plan from three books to two. I’d love to write a second book and find out what happens to Kaia and Lev and the Prims. I think there’s more going on in the City than we know about and I hope it doesn’t take us another seven years to find out what it is! 

Thanks to Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack
for talking about Pulse Point with CanLit for LittleCanadians.  
It's always a pleasure to talk books with writers of wonderful stories 
and to learn about the creative process.


Check out other blog tour stops for more about Pulse Point

May 02, 2018

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book: Blog Tour Guest Post by author Alice Kuipers

This month sees the release of Alice Kuipers' newest children's book

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
 Written by Alice Kuipers
Illustrated by Diana Toledano
Chronicle Books
120 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2018


CanLit for LittleCanadians 
is pleased to be participating in the Blog Tour for the book's release

Today's guest post blog is from
author Alice Kuipers 
who shares with readers
about a free online course
she has created for children to get them writing.

Welcome Alice Kuipers!
Thank you for having me here today! I love all your book suggestions and you always give me great ideas for books to share with my kids.

In my new book, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, my main character loves to write. This got me thinking about making a course for young writers, one that they could do with their parents or on their own online. I filled the course with PDFs and downloadable movies, and hopefully lots of inspiration for up-and-coming writers to get their words on the page. Here’s a peek at one of the steps on Character, that I thought I could share with you today.

Your CHARACTERS are the people in your stories and poems. Here’s Polly Diamond!

Other characters in the book are her mom, her dad, and her sister Anna, who Polly turns into a BANANA!

As a super-star writer, you’re going to need to get to know your characters really well. And I’m going to show you how to do that!

I loved making the course—turns out I could talk and think about writing books all day long. I have a black piece of fabric from Fabricland here in my house which I hung up behind me (very high tech at this end!), so that the video content would be easy to watch, and tried to make the course as energetic and fun as possible. I thought of as many writing prompts as I could. Getting my four children to help out, I tested some of the ideas on them (mainly on the older two, who are eight and six, although my five year old surprised me with his storytelling!), and then, I sent everything over to Children’s Book Insider. I’ve been working with them for a number of years, and I’m the teacher for two of their courses: Chapter Book Blueprint, and Middle Grade and YA Blueprint. They put everything together and the FREE course for Super Star Writers is ready to go.

Sometimes, it’s easy to underestimate how brilliant kids are at telling stories—we have an innate ability, I think, to connect to stories, and I know from my work in classrooms and from hanging out with my own children that when I give just a few tips and hints, kids just love to make stories come alive (kind of how Polly makes stories ACTUALLY come alive in her magic book!)

Hopefully you and your children (or your class) enjoy the course—please let me know what I need to change or add to make it even more fun for the young writers in your life. And for those of you who enjoyed getting to know your characters, here are the first ten questions from the character worksheet for you to enjoy with the kids in your life.

You can try this with one character or with ALL of the characters in your stories!
Draw a picture of your character—like the picture of Polly Diamond!

Imagine you can sit down with your character and ask him or her questions.
Write the answers YOUR CHARACTER would say. For example, if I was interviewing Polly Diamond, I'd ask: “What is your name?” And she would answer, “My name is Polly Diamond.”
Question 1: What is your name?
Question 2: How old are you?
Question 3: What is your favorite thing to do?
Question 4: What do you do when you first wake up?
Question 5: What do you love to eat?
Question 6: Do you go to school? If yes, what grade are you in?
Question 7: Do you have any brothers or sisters? Can you describe them if you do?
Question 8: Tell me about your best friend.
Question 9: Do you have a secret?
Question 10: Have you ever been in trouble?

Here’s the link to the rest of the course:

Thank you so much for letting me share my ideas about writing with you.

Alice Kuipers

Many thanks 

to Alice Kuipers for introducing young readers
and their teachers and families
 to her new online writing course for children


to her publicist Susan Busse for arranging for this stop on the blog tour.

CanLit for LittleCanadians is always pleased to host Alice Kuipers 
whose books continue to inspire young Canadian readers 
and now get them writing too!


Be sure to check out the other stops on Alice Kuipers' blog tour for Polly Diamond and the Magic Book:

May 3: Book Time
May 7: Yoyomama
May 11: Savvy Mom

February 07, 2018

Sadia: Blog Tour Guest Post by author Colleen Nelson

Yesterday I reviewed Colleen Nelson's newest novel, Sadia, from Dundurn Press. I adore Colleen Nelson's novels for their variety of themes and strong characters with voices that resonate with all.  Today Colleen Nelson shares a few things you need to know about Sadia, so please join me in welcoming her.

Colleen Nelson

Hello CanLit for LittleCanadians!

My newest book, 


launches this month 
 I thought I’d share

  5 Things you didn’t know about Sadia.

1. I hear voices. Yep, that’s how all my books start. The character talks to me when I’m doing random things, like washing dishes or driving to work, and all of a sudden a whole story is spinning in my head. I liked Sadia as soon as I heard her talking in my head and even more once I made her into a basketball player.

2. I don’t play basketball. I’m not good at any sports except yoga (and I don’t think that counts as a sport). But my husband went to Gonzaga University and I’ve been forced to watch many of their games. My boys both like basketball, so I asked them for help when it came to the basketball scenes in the book.

3. I would love to do a project like ‘If You Give a Kid a Camera’. I’ve done versions of photography projects with my elementary students. If any teachers want to try it, reach out to me. I’d love to see what your students come up with. Photography is such a powerful way to communicate ideas. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

4. The original manuscript was called ‘The Brilliance of Bees’ (The old cover is still floating around in cyber space), but had to be changed because it didn’t really capture what the story was about. Mr. Letner used to be an entomophile, which is a lover of insects. I sprinkled facts about bees throughout the book, but ended up deleting them. There are a lot of similarities between bee hives and classrooms: bees are hard-working and cooperate, everyone has a job and no job is more or less important than another’s. I now have a lot of bee facts ‘buzzing’ in my head so maybe they will appear in another book.

5. Sadia was written because a student of mine requested books with Muslim characters. I couldn’t find any in our library except Deborah Ellis’ ‘Breadwinner’ series, which she’d read. I asked other Teacher-Librarians and our local book seller, but no one had any suggestions. About the same time, I came across an article about a team of Muslim girls who sewed their own basketball uniforms so they could play games. From that point on, the plot came quickly and Sadia was written in six weeks over summer holidays.

I hope you enjoyed discovering more about Sadia.

Thanks for having me on your blog!

~ author Colleen Nelson


It is always my pleasure to welcome Colleen Nelson
to CanLit for LittleCanadians
and to continue reviewing her stellar YA novels.

Support Canadian authors and #youngCanLit
by checking out Sadia and Colleen Nelson's other books

Sadia (Dundurn, 2018)
Blood Brothers (Dundurn, 2017)
Finding Hope (Dundurn, 2016)
250 Hours (Coteau, 2015)
The Fall (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2013)
Tori By Design (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2011)

May 03, 2017

The Bonaventure Adventures blog tour: Q & A with author Rachelle Delaney:

Written by Rachelle Delaney
Puffin Canada
288 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2017

Yesterday, middle grade youngCanLit writer Rachelle Delaney witnessed the somersaulting launch of her newest book, The Bonaventure Adventures.  Today, as part of Penguin Random House Canada's blog tour for The Bonaventure Adventures, I am pleased to present my interview with author Rachelle Delaney.

Author Rachelle Delaney
(Photo from author's website 

HK:  Having read your earlier middle-grade novel The Circus Dogs of Prague and knowing that the Bonaventure is a circus school, I’m struck by your ongoing interest in circuses.  How did this interest arise? And did you ever dream of being a circus performer yourself?

RD:  I’ve definitely been a bit obsessed with the circus for several years now. It began back in 2010, when I was teaching creative writing to some kids enrolled in circus classes. This struck me as such an interesting way to gain an appreciation for arts and sports and performing, all at once. So I started researching it as a potential setting for a novel, and I quickly learned about the National Circus School in Montreal, where young performers from around the world go to study the modern circus. I spent some time in Montreal, doing a bit of research and taking in contemporary circus shows, which were so incredibly different from the traditional shows I grew up with. And I fell in love with the modern circus scene, and with Montreal too (it’s pretty hard not to love Montreal). I’ve been back many times in the past five years; at one point I even had an Access Copyright Foundation grant to do circus research there. Tough job, I know. ☺

HK:  Your research into circus schools and circus performers must have been extensive as your writing demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of  the full array of circus skills.  How did you conduct your research? And did you conduct any personal research at a circus school in Montreal or here in Ontario?

RD:  Well, I’m glad it seems like my knowledge is extensive, because I still feel like there’s so much more to know about the circus world! Fortunately, the Bonaventure Circus School is a pretty quirky place—it’s nothing like the professional schools I learned about through my research. So that setting gave me some freedom to be creative.

I went about my research in three ways: reading everything I could, talking to any circus pros who would answer my questions, and—this is where it got scary—taking some circus arts classes myself. Now, I’m awfully uncoordinated and not at all acrobatic, but my teachers were patient. Natalie Parkinson of Toronto’s Hercinia Arts Collective was particularly great—she answered all my ridiculous questions while attempting to teach me acrobatics and aerials. I have no more skills than my main character Sebastian, but it was such a fun experience.

HK:  A theme of The Bonaventure Adventures is the duality of persons, sometimes to deceive but more often just to show different faces in different circumstances and with different people.  Audrey Pott, the clown teacher, suggests that “When you get to know your inner clown, you get to know the person you really are deep inside, not just the person you might sometimes pretend to be.  It can be soul-expanding.” (pg. 92) Do you think it’s a good idea to have two (or more) different personas to show the world or is it better to show all aspects of your personality to everyone?

RD:  Good question. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to have two or more personas to show the world, but I think a lot of people—adults especially—do exactly that. I suppose it’s a social survival strategy, and not a terrible one. But it takes courage to show up as your whole self. I know I’m still working on it.

HK:  I know that The Bonaventure Adventures is aptly tagged as “Harry Potter meets Cirque du Soleil” because three young people come together to navigate life in a circus school.  As with Harry Potter, do you foresee or have already planned sequels to The Bonaventure Adventures that would have Seb, Frankie and Banjo having more adventures at the school and in Montreal? If so, please let us know what and when we might expect them.

RD:  I’m one hundred and fifty percent open to writing a sequel or three about Seb, Frankie, and Banjo’s adventures in Montreal (and beyond). But as of right now, there are only plans for the one book.

HK:  AngΓ©lique Saint-Germain insists that the students “pursue perfection, practice at every opportunity” (pg. 78).  One student, Camille, even considers giving up sleep to practise.  Do you believe the adage that practice always makes perfect? (I think Seb might not agree with that completely although his somersaults did become passable.)

RD:  I do believe that practice is essential, and that if something (whether it’s writing or juggling swords) is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly for a long time. But I don’t think that practice necessarily leads to perfection, or that perfection is even the point. Striving for perfection, in my experience, can really suck the joy out of life. Also, practice without sleep is just an all-around bad idea, especially when acrobatics are involved.

HK:  We know that it’s important for young readers to see themselves in a book’s characters and I think all readers could see themselves in Seb or Frankie or Banjo.  Did you write them as a reflection of Harry, Hermione and Ron respectively (going back to the Harry Potter reference) or just young people who reveal multiple characteristics in temperament, strengths and weaknesses? 

RD:  You know, I didn’t even notice the Harry Potter parallel until someone else pointed it out recently! I can sort of see similarities between Seb and Harry, in that they’re both intelligent and introspective. But Frankie is this mysterious, hot-headed parkour expert, and Banjo is a timid slack-liner from a backwoods logging town, so I don’t see Ron and Hermione in them. But it’s not a bad comparison—I’m certainly not complaining.

What appeals to me about Seb, Frankie, and Banjo connects back to your question about hidden personas. Each one harbours secrets and aspects of themselves they feel like they can’t or shouldn’t show. And they help each other find a sense of belonging; when they’re together, they feel more whole.

HK:  If there is one theme or message that you would like middle-grade readers to take from The Bonaventure Adventures, what would it be and why?

RD:  I’ve been playing around with the theme of authenticity for a few years now, although I didn’t realize it until a writer friend recently pointed out that it’s a recurring theme in my writing. I’d love middle-grade readers to know that sometimes the things you’re passionate about can seem strange or even pointless to others. But those interests are not only valid but so very important, because they make you who you are.

Also, if I can add one more: fire-breathing should never be attempted on an empty stomach. I didn’t actually try this myself and I DEFINITELY don’t recommend anyone try it ever, but it was one of my favourite facts from my research. Apparently the pros recommend a bread and milk appetizer before breathing flames. Who knew!


Many thanks to Rachelle Delaney for answering my questions about The Bonaventure Adventures as well as to Vikki VanSickle, her publicist at Penguin Random House Canada (and an author in her own right) for arranging this blog tour stop.


Other Rachelle Delaney books

I encourage young readers to read The Bonaventure Adventures and, while crossing fingers for a possible book two, check out Rachelle Delaney's earlier middle grade books.  They are all bon adventures!
The Lost Souls series:
The Ship of Lost Souls (2009)
The Lost Souls of Island X (2010) (in US The Guardians of Island X)
The Hunt for the Panther (2013)

The Metro Dogs of Moscow (2013)
The Circus Dogs of Prague (2014)

April 11, 2017

Me (and) Me Blog Tour: Guest post by author Alice Kuipers

Today is the official release date for Alice Kuipers'
new young adult novel, Me (and) Me.  
Happy book birthday! 

Me (and) Me
Written by Alice Kuipers
HarperCollins Canada
288 pp.
Ages 14+
April 11, 2017


As part of the blog tour for Me (and) Me, Alice Kuipers is sharing with us a little bit about her experiences with writing YA novels and I am delighted to post that here. 

Why I Write YA Novels? 
By Alice Kuipers

When I was eighteen, I wrote a novel about a girl who split into two people. She didn’t know which life was the best for her to live. Me (and) Me, my fifth YA novel is about the same theme: the main character, Lark, has to make a decision between two lives. And she can’t. The book I wrote when I was eighteen was never published. In fact, it was never read by anyone else. But I loved writing it. I loved the way writing made me feel: calm and focused. So I started work on another book. This book, like the first, was planned for adult readers. Again the character was young and lost—her baby boy had drowned. Again the book didn’t work on the page. But, again, I loved writing it.

When I’d written four books like this, books that I loved but that didn’t seem to work on the page, I had a conversation with someone who’d read one of them. She said, have you ever thought about writing for younger readers. It was as if a light went on in my head (total clichΓ©, but I swear that’s what happened).
I didn’t know much about writing for young readers, but I had read a lot of books for teens and kids. And all my characters were young—they were at that place in their lives where they were becoming adults. They were making decisions that would forever mark them in their future lives. Writing about teenagers made me connect with the confused and frustrated teenager I’d been.

Everything lined up in my head after this reader made her comment. I quickly wrote a book for middle grade readers. It wasn’t good enough to be published, but it was the first book I’d written that I felt fully proud of: something about it worked. The book after that was called Life on the Refrigerator Door. It was about a teenager and her mother going through a terrible situation. This ended up being my first published novel—and weirdly, although I’d written it for teens, in many countries it was published as an adult novel. But I’ve always seen it as my first true YA book.

I’ve discovered that novels for young adult readers can be read by any age. But YA novels need to explore that moment of dramatic choice—when a teen takes the path that makes them the adult they are going to be. It took me many, many years and many books to figure out what sort of writer I was, and it took me four published YA novels to work out how to tell the story I began when I first attempted a novel. It seems to me that Me (and) Me is the original book I started trying to write when I was eighteen. The final version of this novel came alive when seventeen-year old Lark walked into my mind.

Lark, in the novel, eventually has to make a choice in her life. Just as making the choice to write YA led me to tell the stories that swirl around my head all the time.

For those of you who are writers yourselves, you can find the first of my online workshops free here or sign up to my free online writing course on my website. Hopefully these writing ideas help you find the writer you’re meant to be a whole lot more quickly than I did.

Many thanks to Alice Kuipers
for sharing her writing with us,
 in Me (and) Me and in this guest blog post,
 and for allowing us a glimpse into her world.

If you would like to connect with author Alice Kuipers or partake in her worthwhile writing course online, check out her various links here:

November 22, 2016

Illustrator Janet Wilson: Art Show and Sale (Eden Mills, ON)

Artist Janet Wilson

author and illustrator of numerous award-winning youngCanLit

will be holding an

  Art Show and Sale 

  Saturday, December 3, 2016 
  Sunday, December 4, 2016
 from 12 noon to 5 p.m.


home of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival
19 Cedar Street
Eden Mills, ON
N0B 1P0

This is a perfect opportunity to purchase Janet Wilson's breathtaking art (early Christmas gift?)

Preview of works available are posted at

October 12, 2016

Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me: Interview with author Philippa Dowding

Yesterday, I reviewed Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me here on CanLit for LittleCanadians.  

Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me
(The Night Flyer's Handbook, Book 2)
by Philippa Dowding
200 pp.
Ages 8-12
October 2016

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing author Philippa Dowding 
about Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me,  
the sequel to The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden (reviewed here)

Author Philippa Dowding

HK:  As in The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden, flying is the big thing that Gwendolyn and Everton have in common, both being Night Flyers.  Did the idea of your characters being able to fly come from your own dreams (after all, Dr. Parks suggests that may be the source) or some other basis?

PD: I did have amazingly clear dreams of flight as a child. They were so vivid and real, that I would wake up truly astonished that I didn’t actually fly around the neighbourhood in my sleep. There was a certain feeling of loss too, realizing it was just a dream. So perhaps creating a world where people actually can fly, was partly wish-fulfillment!

I’ve also always been fascinated with magic realism in literature. I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (where main characters fly with abandon), and studied the literary form in graduate school at about the same time. Something about magic existing alongside the everyday, without anyone explaining it or questioning it, really captured my imagination.

As a middle-grade writer, the metaphor of flight also seemed such a perfect way to explore change, life and death, adolescence on the cusp of adulthood: who are we, who are we to become, how does our community, our history, our family, shape who we will be? If we’re a teenager with infinite possibilities ahead of us, we can become anything. In my magic realism world, the lucky ones can choose to become Night Flyers.

HK:  Even though Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me is a light fantasy for middle grade readers, it does tackle some pretty difficult issues such as grief and anger management as well as child abuse.  How did you reconcile keeping the tone of the story light while looking into these issues?

PD:  All of us at some point face loss or grief, and some may also struggle with depression, isolation, abuse or know someone who does. A writer can’t shy away from that, not if she wants to be honest in her writing. I try to acknowledge that, try to explore what those issues might feel like, to bring some recognition or even clarity perhaps, without offering any simple answers, because there aren’t any.  When I write for kids, I try to explore the tough issues as an ally.

But it’s possible to touch on these issues and still maintain a lighter tone at the same time. For one thing, the immediacy of a first-person, present tense narrative is great, because there’s no lingering too long on the tough stuff. Humour helps too, even dark humour, and Gwendolyn is quite a funny kid. Also, adding a younger sibling (or two, in Gwen’s case), gets the character thinking about the world outside herself.

But this is also where the beauty of magic realism comes in: you can tackle the tough issues while still keeping magic and wonder in the world you’ve created.

HK: Having read "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L’Engle, a book introduced to Gwendolyn by Dr. Parks, I was struck by a number of similarities between it and your story.  There’s the issue of dark entities and helpful guardians; the role of younger siblings helping the main character see the positives in life; a missing father; and the strength of good to overcome evil.  What role did "A Wrinkle in Time" have in your writing of Everton Miles is Stranger than Me?

PD:  You caught my Easter egg! The family therapist in the story, Dr. Adam Parks, does offer "A Wrinkle in Time" to Gwendolyn, which she refuses because the flying centaur on the cover freaks her out: she’s already got enough flying mythical creatures in her life, thank you! He also offers Gwen "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" which she accepts.

I’m honoured at the comparison (and you’re the second person to make it), but the truth is kind of mundane. My old copy of "A Wrinkle in Time" has a fantastic illustration of a centaur flying through mountains on it, and I thought it would be fun to have Gwendolyn recoil from that image. She’s not quite ready to read a book about mythical creatures or children (without broomsticks) flying around.

Although the two books might make a great book comparison for someone, I put Madeleine L’Engle’s book into my story as a tip of the hat to a wonderful children’s fantasy classic, with a great cover.

HK:  Puberty is an awkward time, with self-awareness and first loves and friendships coming to the forefront, in addition to physical and emotional development. Learning you can fly can’t make that period of development any less challenging.  Everton Miles is Stranger than Me has an embedded message of reassurance that the coming of age, especially emotionally, can be precarious but survivable.  Is this a message that you planned to impart to middle grade readers or was it just fortuitous?

PD:  Very definitely! It’s part of the job as a middle-grade writer, I think, to offer a glimpse through the murk of puberty. You can’t solve everything as the writer, especially not if you want to be honest, but you can show a possible future where the murk thins a little. You can be the trusty friend with the lantern. Most of us do survive.

HK:  When I write, I try to get photos of my characters from magazines or online, just so that I have something to look at.  If you had to choose actors or people with whom readers would be familiar to be the models for Gwendolyn, Everton, Martin and Jez, who would they be?

PD:  This is a great question, and believe it or not, the hardest to answer! It was fun to think of matches for them, so here’s my answer…

Gwendolyn would be Canadian actor Ellen Page in “Juno”, for her strength and sense of humour.

Everton would be American Actor Tom Welling, as young Clark Kent from “Smallville.”  He’s handsome, gifted, kind, tough (and well, Superman), but he also behaves like a typical teenager.

Martin is American actor Josh Hutcherson, or Peeta Mellark from "The Hunger Games." He’s tough, loyal, good with a secret and eventually indispensable, a friend to the end.

Jez was the hardest to find a match for, but I finally came up with a combo: think actor Alexis Bledel as Lena in “Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants,” because of her sweetness. Or for a timeless BFF, perhaps lady-like but wise Charlotte Lucas, best friend to Elizabeth Bennett, in "Pride and Prejudice."

HK:  Mercy and forgiveness are two other concepts that sneak into Everton Miles is Stranger than Me but are really important ones in moving the story forward, especially for Gwendolyn.  How did you envision Gwendolyn coming to the realization that mercy and forgiveness are integral in making relationships work?

PD:  Another really great question, you’ve captured the essence of the book! Yes, forgiveness and mercy are constantly dancing together in the story, they weave their way into every relationship.

I wanted to explore the idea that forgiveness is not simple, nor is it a given, but a process. Does Gwendolyn forgive Martin for the Worst Kiss Ever? Yes. Does she forgive Mr. McGillies for “causing” her father’s death? Yes.  Does she forgive Abilith the Rogue for his obsession and abduction of her? No. But she does choose to be merciful toward him, a sign of her dawning maturity.

Tempered with time and experience, I think the forging of forgiveness and mercy, is what makes us into adults. And Everton Miles is Stranger than Me is after all, a story about growing up.

HK:  Without giving away a spoiler about an important revelation at the conclusion of Everton Miles is Stranger than Me, it’s obvious that there’s more story to tell for Gwendolyn and her friends and her family.  Do you have a next book planned out already (maybe even written) and what details (title, date of publication, story line, etc.) could you share with us?

PD:  I have been thinking about a possible storyline for Gwendolyn and her friends, which would involve moving out of the small town of Bass Creek, and possibly discovering other Night Flyers around the world. So the answer is, yes, I’ve been thinking about it and playing with possible storylines, and my publisher, Dundurn Press, would be happy to have another title in the series. But it’s just a shimmery, floaty idea at the moment!

Many thanks 
to author Philippa Dowding for taking the time from her writing to answer these few questions for CanLit for LittleCanadians
to publicist Jaclyn Hodsdon of Dundurn for facilitating this interview.

September 21, 2016

Weerdest Day Ever!: Interview with author Richard Scrimger

Today I'm please to present, 
as part of Orca Book Publishers' blog tour for
  the Seven Prequels

my interview with 

the author of 

Weerdest Day Ever!
by Richard Scrimger
Orca Book Publishers
216 pp.
Ages 9-12
September 2016

Richard Scrimger
(looking very dapper in a hat)

Many thanks to Orca Book Publishers' publicist Melissa Shirley for arranging this blog tour and to author Richard Scrimger for answering my questions about Weerdest Day Ever!, Bunny and the writing process.


HK: Of the seven grandsons in the Seven series, Seven Sequels and now Seven Prequels, Bunny is my favourite (please don’t tell the others).  I don’t know if it’s his humility or his special learning needs–perhaps as a teacher I really want to “help” him–but I am consistently drawn to him and his stories and am never disappointed.  How did you ever find Bunny’s voice?

RS: Bunny’s is one of my favorite of my voices.  For all the things he doesn’t know, he knows himself.  And that’s the coolest knowledge of all.  Bunny goes his own way.  He doesn’t ‘fit in’ well – and he is totally ok with that.  Kind of like me.


HK: As Bunny will attest, his spelling is not always the best.  As an author whose vocation it is to write well, how difficult was it to write as Bunny, spelling and grammatical mistakes and all?

RS: Writing and spelling are different things. I care about writing well.  That is my vocation. I really don’t care about spelling.  My mom would tie herself into knots about the subjunctive mood or the misuse of an apostrophe, but I don’t give a donut. Because I can spell, it’s a bit tricky to write like Bunny.  I have to put myself into his mindset.  Once there, I rite like him.  As you see. Problem is I hav trouble turning him off.  So a letter to a friend mite sound like Bunny and shed rite back: Are you feeling OK?  What’s wrong?


HK: Readers learn so much from the way characters see and interpret and react but perspective is key.  However, Bunny is very much prone to misinterpret circumstances. Right from the onset of Weerdest Day Ever! Bunny witnesses a re-enactment and believes he’s in the middle of a war.  To what do you attribute his frequent misinterpretation: his naivetΓ©, his inexperience, his gullibility, his benevolence, or something else entirely?

RS: On a human level, Bunny believes what people say. Whether that’s naivete or great wisdom is up to you.  In fact, nothing gives you away so clearly as the lie you tell.   Why are all my stories about people who don’t fit in? Why are they all funny? Why do they all have sadness or loss underneath the humour?  I am telling the truth while I am lying.  This is who I am.  In the same way, re-enactors are not really fighting, but the truth is that they are war-obsessed attention seekers playing dress up.  There is truth there.  And Bunny sees this truth – or some of it.


HK: Bunny may be a character in a book but, as I’ve read his stories, I’ve come to care what happens to him.  So, please tell me, what kind of a future do you foresee for him (and I’m not talking books here)?

RS: Bunny knows himself, and likes himself well enough. He gets along with his brother, makes new friends, and doesn’t mind risking his heart even though things don’t always work out.   In the long run, Bunny’s going to be fine. (Now if I could just believe that about myself!)


HK:  I’ve heard you and your collaborative team of Seven series authors discuss the writing process and how the series began.  It sounds very collegial.  Collaboration between two individuals can be tricky, balancing writing styles, egos and intent.  How do you manage it with a group of seven extraordinary writers, each with their own style and vision and probably egos as well?

RS: In fact all of us like each other and play off each other, and tours are a whole lot of fun.  This is good question to ask me specifically, because my and Ted Staunton’s books are probably the closest linked of any in the series.  The problem is to develop story lines that work together.  We want plots that dovetail but don’t give away each other’s endings. For the sequels, I wanted Bunny to be kidnapped. As soon as I said that Ted snapped his fingers and said, “And I know who kidnapped him!” The prequels are extra tightly linked since the brothers share a campsite for a couple days and keep just missing each other.  Ted’s and my plot conversations usually involve a bottle of something.  This conversation went from history to re-enactors to the War of 1812.  Then Ted smiled.  “I just saw Spencer in Laura Secord’s costume,” he said.  “Isn’t that funny,” I replied.  “Because I just saw Bunny as … “


HK:  Are the Seven Prequels the last of the Seven-based series or is there another in the plans?  Or do you anticipate any other multiple-author collaborations, similar to the Seven series books, with these same writers or others?

RS: As of now, there are no more ‘7’ plans. We’ll wait and see how this one does.  BUT it’s funny you should ask about other co-productions.  Ted and I were talking about how humour writing never gets a fair shake.  So we made some phone calls.  Scholastic jumped at our idea, and (drum roll!!) in two years Kevin Sylvester, Lesley Livingstone, Ted and I will put out 4 linked books starring teens with goofy superpowers.

Be sure to check out all the blog stops on the Seven Prequels tour, each highlighting one author:

Norah McClintock at Lost in a Great Book
Richard Scrimger here at CanLit for LittleCanadians
Eric Walters at Literary Treats
John Wilson at teenreads
Ted Staunton at Young Adult Books Central
Shane Peacock at MrsReadsBooks
Sigmund Brouwer at Lost in a Great Book


Read the Seven Prequels in any order you want. 
But you'll want to read them all!