monique polak

Monique Polak's Books

Nov
25

QWF Awards Night

My book The Middle of Everywhere, which is set in Nunavik (did I tell you I'm heading back there on Tuesday morning?!) did not win the 2010 QWF Prize for Children's and YA Fiction. The prize went to a delightful book called Rough Magic by Montreal author Caryl Cude Mullin. That is Caryl at the centre of today's pic. I know her book is delightful because I'm reading it. It's a fantasy inspired by Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Also up for the award was Catherine Austen (she's wearing the black and white checkered dress) for her wonderful book Walking Backward. I encourage you to read both these books.

After the awards gala on Tuesday night, several friends came up to me and offered their condolences. But I explained -- and I really meant it -- that I was honoured that The Middle of Everywhere was nominated for this prize and honoured, too, to be in such fine company!

It's normal and probably healthy, too, to feel competitive. But one thing I do believe: there is endless room for talent. I also believe that by supporting talent in others we nurture our own. Well, that's more than enough wisdom from me for one day, isn't it? Time now to get back to my latest manuscript!

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Nov
22

This Afternoon at Beaconsfield High

I'm just back at my desk after today's visit to Beaconsfield High School, where I worked with Miss Cochrane's Grades Seven and Nine classes. I've visited BHS before, and I've come to have a lot of admiration for Miss Cochrane, who really gives her all to her students.

This morning, another local YA writer, my friend Lori Weber. worked with some of the same students. So, in a way, I had an extra challenge: keeping the students interested in the second half of their day (just when they were getting sluggish and when they had already met a writer. I mean, how many writers can people handle in a day?!).

I'll be frank here: A few of the students exhibited body language that was less than ideal -- using each other as human pillows and nudging their neighbours. I have to admit I found that a little frustrating. But the atmosphere changed dramatically when we started discussing my book The Middle of Everywhere. Many of the students had read the book and had really good questions about it. One wanted to know if I'd ever seen a polar bear (no!), and someone else wanted to know if the part about a guy's getting his finger chopped off was true (also no). Another student seemed to know more than I do about polar bears. He said their fur is transparent and the skin underneath the fur gives them their whitish-yellow colour. Very cool. (Too bad I didn't meet this young polar bear expert while I was working on the book.)

Anyway, I must say that the students' questions showed how smart they are, and how carefully they read -- and especially that they think about things. And in my own way, of course, I'm glad my book got them thinking. I should also say there were several young people whose body language was "right on" -- I felt as if I could see their brains working... thinking about how stories work and considering where to go and whom to talk to in order to find exciting, inspiring and perhaps even funny stories. (By the way, the student in today's pic is NOT SLEEPING -- she was doing a writing exercise that involved closing her eyes in order to access an old memory!)

So special thanks go out today to the students at BHS who listened attentively, who asked good questions, who think about things -- and to Miss Cochrane for being so wise and kind.

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Nov
19

Return Visit to James Lyng

Talk about body language! Have a look at today's pic -- that's Cedric, a student at James Lyng High School here in Montreal, who was hiding under his T-shirt during the first part of my visit today. (But I noticed that once I got to talking about writing, and especially about my book What World Is Left, Cedric emerged from under his T-shirt! Besides, he had an excuse -- he told me he was cold.)

Anyway, I'm always telling students how I feel the air is"thick with stories." Well, it certainly is at James Lyng. I worked with three groups of students, all of whom are taught by Mrs. Bourne. One student told me that Mrs. Bourne is "like a second mother to us."

So here's a few bits and pieces from my day: A student named Derrick responded to an exercise I gave about retrieving a memory by writing a short paragraph about coming up empty. I suggested he might turn it into a poem -- I had the strong feeling that Derrick has a poetic soul -- and you know what? He wrote something lovely, and very moving.

I told the students that like working out, writing requires constant practice. Then a student named Amber explained how she plays football with her brothers every single day. I thought that was a great example, and I imagine Amber plays a pretty good game of football! Amber, keep working on the writing, too. Slowly, you need to build your skills and endurance -- just like with football!

Matthew wrote a fine descriptive paragraph set during World War II. Lahteisha understood immediately when I said my stories start with a little bit of something true -- I knew it from her eyes and also because she said, "then you expand on it." Which is exactly what I do: start with something true, then let it expand in my mind by asking myself the question, "What if?"

And Ashley Tibbo, what can I say? Your writing showed me that you are a writer. Not to mention that you have a perfect writing name. I can already imagine it on a book cover!

Have a great weekend all of you. This was a special week for me -- in which I got to meet many special inspiring young people at Beurling and at James Lyng. Get started on the stories that matter most to you!

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Nov
18

Day Three at Beurling Academy & My First Visit du Salon du Livre

Hey, those people in today's pic don't go to Beurling Academy!! Sorry for confusing you, dear blog readers. Those are two interesting people I met last night at Salon du Livre here in Montreal. But I'll tell you about that in the second half of today's blog entry. First, you probably want to know how Day Three at Beurling went.

The answer is: very well. Even those students who were less than focused yesterday were on track today. Usually, when I do school visits, I only spend a day working at a school, so having three days at Beurling really gave me the feeling I miss most about having my own class: a real sense of connection.

This morning, I worked with two Ethics classes, as well as an English and Creative Writing class. For the ethics discussion, I focused on my novel What World Is Left which I hope raises some important ethical questions like: What are we willing to do to stay alive? Is anyone perfectly good or perfectly evil?

And I'm still pondering the issue that Tamara raised on my first day at Beurling: Is it somehow selfish of us to want to hear other people's stories, especially their painful private stories? It's a great question and one that would probably take way more than a book to answer. I do think, though, that people have a need to share their stories (even the painful private ones) and that listening to these stories, with respect and an open heart, is a kind of gift we can give to others. And of course, their stories are a gift to us.

So thanks to all of you at Beurling Academy for making me feel so welcome. Thanks to the students, to Miss Debi and to librarian Helene Bourguigon. You guys are amazing!

Now I want to tell you a little about last night's visit to Salon du Livre. I was invited by the publishing company Courte Echelle, which is bringing out my novel On the Game in French in February. Merveilleux, n'est-ce-pas?! I found out exciting news -- that the French title of the book will be Poupée. And though I didn't know anyone in the room, I resisted my urge to flee (you see -- even naturally outgoing people like me sometimes get shy!!), and met some really fun people. In the pic at the top of today'  blog entry, you, too, can meet illustrator Guillaume Maccabée and translator Amy-Lou Lafontaine. Guillaume is the illustrator of the popular Emo series. Amy-Lou's most recent translation is of the novel Mammouth Académie, tome 4.

And because I'm naturally curious (and always thinking of you, dear blog readers), I asked Guillaume a little about how he works. He told me that before he starts to draw, he takes deep breaths. "It opens a channel in me," he said. He also told me that he thinks, "a word is worth a thousand pictures!" ... Guillaume, if you're reading this, you will be pleased to know that this morning when I worked with the Creative Writing class at Beurling, I had them do some deep breathing before their writing exercise. Hopefully, your trick helped open up their channels, too!

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Nov
17

Day Two: Beurling Academy

Hello again, blog readers. Today, I am back at my desk after an action-packed second day at Beurling Academy in Verdun.

Meet Vicky (that's her in today's pic). Vicky is in Miss Debi's Grade 11 Creative Writing class and she and some of her classmates stayed behind after my session to chat a little more about the world of writing.

But first, I worked with Miss Debi's Grade 10 English class -- a group I also saw yesterday and will meet again tomorrow. It isn't right for teachers (or authors!!) to have favourites, but I have to say these kids are stealing my heart. Even Bradley who was facing away from me AGAIN today -- despite all my encouraging advice to him yesterday about eye contact!! I forgot to tell you how yesterday, Bradley shared a very interesting observation about men's behavior in bathrooms (something I have been unable to research personally on account of my being a woman!) -- Bradley says there is what he calls "a two stall rule,"  meaning that when men pee, they tend to try and leave an open stall between them. That's what I call insider information and books need lots of insider info!!

A student named Ashley in the Creative Writing group struck me as intriguing. I noticed several unusual things about her: her socks were wet (she'd stepped in a puddle on the way to school); her socks did not match (one had rainbow stripes, the other had blue stripes); she has a snakebite piercing under her lip; and she had blue marker markings all over one arm (from a "marker fight" yesterday). When we got to chatting, Ashley explained that those unmatched socks are actually lucky socks -- and that she is -- here comes the most interesting part -- a grappler. (Which is like a wrestler.)

I don't know about you, but I love the word "grappling." I'm a grappler, too, only I don't grapple other people's bodies! I grapple with ideas.

This wouldn't be an honest entry if I told you that everything went super well today at Beurling. There was a small group of students in the Creative Writing class who were, let's say, a little less than focused. I call this kind of behavior "resistant." And you know what it means to me? Not that these young people aren't interested in learning about writing -- but that they must have some seriously interesting and important stories of their own to share. Only they're resistant. So here's my challenge to all of you, today: may you be brave enough to find and tell your stories!!

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Nov
16

Greetings From Beurling Academy

Hey, blog readers! Today, I am writing to you from the library at Beurling Academy in Verdun. I'll be here the next three days doing workshops with the school's Grades 10 and 11 students. So far, if I may say so myself, things are going super well! That may be because some of the students here already know quite a bit about the Holocaust, the subject of my book What World Is Left. They have been studying the Holocaust in their Ethics classes. Last week, Ethics teacher Miss Debi took some of her students to the Montreal Holocaust Centre where they actually had the opportunity to meet and interview survivors.

I was telling my first group this morning how important details are to story telling. Details bring a story alive, but too many details can bog a story down and make your reader lose interest. So it's a question of finding the right balance. By way of example, I pointed out a few details I had observed by looking at my audience. A student named Bradley was the only one in the group who had his back to me. When I got him to turn around, Bradley admitted something interesting: that he dislikes making eye contact. This led us to a little discussion about eye contact and its importance (I told Bradley he is more likely to be stopped at the border if he doesn't make eye contact with the border patrol officer!). Anyway, Bradley happens to have very kind eyes, and when he did look at me, it was great! I also observed a student named Tamara (that is Tamara in today's pic, wearing a white shirt) who was scratching her paper with her pen. In all my years of working with students, I had never noticed this sort of scratching before -- and so I immediately wrote it down in my notes. As I told the students, I am always looking for young people to "people" my stories. So, who knows? Maybe Bradley and Tamara will turn up (names changed, of course!) in an upcoming book!

At recess, Tamara re-appeared and she told me a little about her visit to the Montreal Holocaust Centre last week. Tamara had mixed feelings about interviewing a survivor. She wanted to know more, but felt a little bad about her curiosity.... guilty, I guess. I told Tamara that her response shows remarkable sophistication and sensitivity. Perhaps here, too, as in including details in a story, the trick is to find the right balance. Curiosity is vital, but we also want to tread gently when we ask difficult questions. So special thanks to the students I've met so far for being so open with me. Thanks to Miss Debi, and to librarian Helene Bourguignon (she is also in today's pic) for arranging this week's visit. Oh, and I nearly forgot to tell you two fun coincidences. A student here named Netta had already heard me before -- a couple of years ago when I visited her school in New Carlisle in the Gaspe! (Hope I didn't say too many of the same things, Netta!) And a Beurling math teacher named Mr. Swiderski popped by to say hi, too. He was my student at Marianopolis in 1995!! (I love coincidences.) ... Have a great day wherever you are!

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Nov
10

Two Miss Fr├ęchettes At One School?

How you may ask can there be two -- count them, two! -- Miss Fréchettes at Shawinigan High School? How confusing for the students!! And to make matters even MORE confusing, the two Miss Fréchettes are identical twins!! (That is them in today's pic.)

Thank goodness that yesterday they were wearing their hair in different styles. Otherwise, photographer Monique Dykstra and I, who were at the school helping students work on their chapter in this year's edition of Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live, would have been unable to tell the Miss Fréchettes apart. That is Cloann Fréchette with her hair down, and Marilou Fréchette with her hair piled on top of her head.

So, I was thinking... wouldn't it make a great story to have two identical twin sisters teaching in the same school? Imagine the possibilities for fun -- and trouble (two essential ingredients in a good story!!).

One more thing... before I get back to work on my newest book project... Monique Dykstra was shooting photos at the school yesterday when she turned to me and said, "What I'm trying to do with pictures is not be so afraid. When you're afraid, you don't try something new -- you just want the picture to work. Fear drowns out instinct." Of course, I thought that what she said was so smart that I grabbed my pen and wrote it down. So today, I'm wishing you -- and me, and Monique D, courage to try new things when you (or we) tell stories using words and photographs!!

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Nov
10

The Moniques Go to Shawinigan

Today, photographer Monique Dykstra and I are spending the day at Shawinigan School, where we are working with Miss Fréchette's wonderful Grade Two class. That means I am sitting in a very small chair writing this blog entry (luckily I am a small person!). This morning, Monique D talked about how photography works, and I talked about how I get ideas for my books. Then, somehow, we got to talking about memories. And as if by magic, that became the students' topic for their chapter in this year's Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live.

I think many of us tend to associate memories with older people. But we learned this morning that even students who are eight years old have lots of memories -- happy ones, embarrassing ones, and sad ones. Also, many of the students here have parents who also went to Shawinigan School, and it will be interesting for the kids to interview their parents about these memories.

Now the vote for a topic was close -- the students were also very interested in writing about the animals of Shawinigan. They have seen squirrels, deer and sometimes even moose. Some of their parents trap animals or go hunting. But we have a solution: the students can also write about their memories that have to do with animals, especially animals they may have seen at school or through their classroom window.

Right now, Monique D is with the kids working in a computer room upstairs. Later today, the Moniques head back to Montreal -- full of memories of our fun trip to Quebec City and Shawinigan.

A word of explanation about today's pic. Miss Fréchette has 21 students -- well, there are 20 plus Lili (Lili is the little redhead sitting on her best friend's lap).

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Nov
09

The Moniques Climb Everest

Okay, so we aren’t really climbing Mount Everest — I was just trying to come up with a catchy title for today’s blog entry. Photographer Monique Dykstra (that's her in today's pic, getting ready to photograph the class) and I are at Everest Elementary School in Quebec City, working with Shelley Longney’s Grades 5 & 6 students. They are certainly a bright and lively group, with lots to say and lots of fun ideas. We had several votes until the students agreed on a topic for their chapter in this year’s edition of Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live. Now you must be eager to know what topic won the vote, right?

I’m trying to build suspense….

Okay, here goes!!

Once every six school days, all the students at Everest walk around the baseball field across the street from the school. The administration keeps count of the number of kilometers covered — and the goal is for the school to “reach” the pinnacle of Mount Everest (or at least the first base camp).  It’s a way to encourage fitness and friendships. And that’s what the students want to write about, and this project is all about giving students a voice so they can express their thoughts and feelings about what community means to them.

I took some notes during Monique D’s photo workshop this morning. (I’m always learning new things when I hang out with photographers.) She told the students that curves (for instance a curving road) can contribute to a nice composition in a photo, and that cloudy days are usually better for taking photos than sunny days (too much glare).

Earlier this morning, I talked a little about how I get ideas for my books. I was telling the students here that a couple of years ago, I got a book idea from a class I was working with on that year’s Quebec Roots project. (The kids at that school were famous for misbehaving on a Montreal bus called the 121 Express… and I ended up writing a book called 121 Express). A student here named Jimmy called out, “For real?” I thought that was great… because it’s a big question… all of us who make things (that means writers and photographers and cooks and gardeners)… are inspired by reality, but then we use our imaginations. And who knows where our imaginations will take us?

Right now, I’m looking out the window of Miss Longney’s class — I can see the baseball field… and I’m imagining what it would look like with all the Everest students out on their walk. If they succeed with their chapter (and I’m sure they will), they’ll take us readers out on a walk around the world, too!!

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Nov
06

Still Flying From My Trip to Inukjuak

I'm back at my desk in Montreal, but in my head I'm still FLYING from my trip to Inukjuak, Nunavik this week. I met so many interesting young people and heard so many AMAZING stories. The young people I met hunt for caribou and seal; I told them I HUNT FOR STORIES. And that's why I'm flying. I feel full of stories!

During my visit, I interviewed two survivors of the High Arctic Relocation. Both Alacie, who's now 83, and Markoosie, who's 69, were sent by boat from Inukjuak  to Resolute Bay in the High Arctic. They were told that there were many animals to hunt at Resolute, but that wasn't the case. Instead, they suffered terrible hardships. And many of the survivors of this relocation have not spoken much about their experience. I felt very very privileged to hear their stories. I had a lot of help, of course. A very special young lady who speaks perfect Inuktitut even though she is only 10, and neither of her parents are Inuit, helped me translate Alacie's words. So I send a hug to Sarah A for her assistance. And a wonderful young man named Paulusie organized my meeting with Markoosie. Monkey hats off to you, Paulusie! (I say monkey hats because Paulusie wears a very cool monkey hat!)

Some students from Inukjuak have already written to me. (One of them is in today's pic. The teacher to my left is Crystal, whom I mentioned in my last blog entry.) I am so pleased to hear from you, and to learn that perhaps a little of what I told you about writing stories will stay with you. You guys have a big responsibility: to listen to the stories in the world around you and to share them with the rest of us.

And remember, for those of you who come to college in Montreal -- spaghetti dinner at my house!!

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Nov
03

Checking in From Inukjuak

Hello world! I'm writing to you today from Innalik School in Inukjuak, a town on the Hudson Bay in Nunavik. Right now, I'm in Room 220 using a teacher named Crystal's computer. At lunch, I worked on a computer in the staff room and from the window, I looked out on the bay. There's no snow yet on the ground here, but the air has that crisp feeling it gets before the snow comes.

Let me tell you about some of my happiest moments so far.... When I first arrived at the school yesterday, I worked with a group of Grade Three students who happened to be in the school library. I showed them my journal and explained how I write three pages in it every single day. I asked the students (they speak mostly Inuktitut, so they had a translator with them) if they wanted to be writers one day, too. No one answered, but one student named Linette suddenly straightened her shoulders, so I knew that meant yes! I told her she needs to write every day, too, and suggested she might use a smaller notebook than the one I use (that way she could fill the pages more quickly!)

After my morning session today with Inga's class, a student named Samwillie stayed to chat. So did a student named Victor, who'd actually written a moving piece for me about dealing with a troublesome situation. (I told the students that TROUBLE is an essential ingredient in stories, but recommended they try to stay out of trouble, if at all possible!!). Then, just now, in Crystal's class, I worked with several students who seem to really enjoy writing. Bailey expressed her feelings on the page, saying: "I write every day. Writing sometimes hurts, but sometimes it's worth it." I thought that that showed Bailey has a lot of courage, another thing we writers seem to need in order to tell our stories. And another very special person I met is Jennifer, who LOVES READING. And writing!! (Way to go, Jennifer!) Crystal (Jennifer's teacher) just told me that Jennifer is always asking for new books to read. In our workshop today, Jennifer started work on a story told from her grandmother's point of view. I told the students that it can be very satisfying to tell the story of someone we love a lot -- and someone who's survived hardship. 

So that's my news for today. I'm off now to do some exploring around town. I hear there's a library that's not part of the school. My plan is to find it and bring over one of my books. I'll be back  "South" (meaning Montreal!) on Friday night... so I should have lots of news for you by then!

P.S.: A little explanation about today's pic: It's the first photo I shot in Inukjuak, when I met those Grade 3 students. The young man at the left is Simeone, who translated what I had to say into Inuktitut; the woman at the top right is Nunga, the school librarian.

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Nov
01

Hello from St. Willibrord School

Hello, hello, blog readers. I'm writing to you today from St. Willibrord School in Chateauguay. I'm here today with photographer Joel Silverstein and we're working with students in Miss Small's Writing Club. These students (all girls in grades 4 to 6) are amazing. THEY LOVE TO WRITE!! And right now, it's lunch, and they're out snapping pics.

This morning, I did a little writing workshop and then Joel took over. He led an interesting discussion about the links between writing and photography. As Joel said, "Both are trying to get somebody somewhere." He advised students to take lots and lots of photos: "Take pics of what interests you. Take pics of what you don't understand. Take pics of what you do understand. Take pics of everything!" He also told the students they have some advantages over older photographers: "You see truths some of us may have dismissed." This thinking, Joel told me later, was inspired by Ernst Haas, one of the founders of the famous Magnum Photos.

Soon, we're going to try and get the students to FOCUS (another link between writing and photography!) on the topic they'll explore through words and pictures in their chapter of this year's Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live. But so far, I'd say we're off to a fun and fruitful start!!

... me again, writing from home now. Just to report that our group is coming quite close to FOCUSING on a topic. And because I know you're eager to know what it is, here's how it looks, so far -- the girls want to explore how St. Willibrord brings together students from two communities: those who live in Chateauguay and those who are part of the Mohawk community in Kahnawake. Joel and I agree that we can't wait to see the stories this group comes up with using both words and photographs! Great work today, young women members of the St. Willibrord Writing Club -- and three cheers for your super smart and sensitive teacher Miss Small!

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Oct
28

Bumper Crop of New Kids' Books from Montreal Authors

Last night was a Fall Harvest get-together for Yes Oui CANSCAIP! -- a Montreal-based organization of writers, illustrators and performers for kids. Five local authors and two local illustrators did a sort of "show and tell" about their latest books. And of course, I was in the audience, taking notes for you, dear blog readers.

Jennifer Lloyd, author of the picture book Ella's Umbrellas, teaches kindergarten on the West Island. She said she was inspired to write her Ella book when, after her grandmother's death, she was cleaning out a closet at her grandmother's home and discovered it was full of umbrellas. She wondered what one person could possibly want with so many umbrellas.

Alan Silberberg spoke about his new novel Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. He told us that the book is a kind of fictionalized account of what life was like for him as a young boy following his mother's death.

And picture book author Nancy Gow (her first book is called Ten Big Toes and a Prince's Nose) says the idea for her book came to her when she was taking a nap. As those of you who've been in my classes can imagine, I loved when Nancy said that since I'm a great believer in the hypnagogic state (that's the period between sleep and waking)... like Nancy, I've found it a great time for coming up with ideas.

Thanks, as always, to Carol-Ann Hoyte for organizing yesterday's soirée.

Okay then, I've got no time for naps today. I'm off to McGill to do a little research for my latest book project. Have a good day wherever you are! Did I mention I'm heading up to Inukjuak next week?! It's a town in Nunavik, Quebec -- and I'm getting excited about this next northern adventure!

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Oct
25

Whirlwind Day in Ottawa

Hello, hello blog readers! I'm just back from a whirlwind day in Ottawa. This morning, I did a talk for Grades 5 and 6 students at Severn Public School. Those kids were dynamite! When I advised students to learn their grandparents' secrets, Alexandria told me she knows everything about her grandmother -- except her age. (I thought that was pretty funny!) A student named John demonstrated that he really thinks like a writer. I told the students how in my book Junkyard Dog, the owner of a guard dog decides to get rid of his dog in a cruel way. Without telling you too much (I don't want to spoil the book for you!), the owner arranges things so that another person will be responsible for the dog's sad end. John said: "Imagine how that person would feel!" EXACTLY THE KIND OF QUESTION A WRITER NEEDS TO ASK!! (That's because writing requires us to get into other people's heads!)

Both my talks today were organized by Jessica Roy of the Ottawa Public Library. Thanks, Jessica, for the invite (and the company). Thanks also to Severn P.S. teacher Jody Fillion who decided her students needed to meet me!!

After lunch, I headed to the Ottawa Public Library's Beaverbrook branch. There, I was welcomed by librarian Patricia Skarzynski. And soon, I was working with a very lively group -- Miss Riddell's Grade 12 English class at Earl of March High School (conveniently located across from the library!). Plus there were two younger students in the group (Elizabeth and Simi), both of whom are being home-schooled, and were there with their mums, which I thought was really fun (being a fan of mums and a mum  myself!).

In today's pic, you see me with (from left to right) Stef, Ben, and next to me, Elizabeth. I had an hour with my second group and though I moved with my usual speed, I found they were able to keep up and follow my sometimes zany thoughts. Though I did forget to tell them how I get some of my best writing ideas in the SHOWER. (Ben promised he'd tell that to the rest of the class when he sees them next. Don't forget, Ben!)

After that presentation, there was time for an informal chat (over Timbits). A student named Reegan told me that her friend Christine "is good at writing, but she doesn't think so." I told Christine that that sounds like a description of a real writer, too. I think it's helpful NOT to think we're the best writers ever... that humility brings us back to the page every day so that we can continue to practice our craft and hopefully continue to improve and get closer to achieving our goal -- transforming our thoughts and feelings about what matters most into words!

So, here's to all my new friends in Ottawa. Happy reading and writing to all of you. And remember, stay out of trouble -- but if trouble has come your way, well then, USE IT IN A STORY. Thanks for a great day!!

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Oct
20

Visit to Wonderland -- Akiva School in Montreal

You may know that my favourite book of all time is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (it was the subject of my Master's thesis at university)... that helps explain why I had such a fun morning today -- I got to talk about Alice with a group of wonderful Grade 5 & 6 students at Akiva School in Westmount, Quebec. The entire school is reading Alice and they've decorated their building with Alice pictures and posters and paraphernalia. In today's pic, I'm with Jennifer Fraenkel, the school's director of academics, who coordinated the project -- with a great deal of assistance, of course, from the teachers, the administration and the students. Check out Jennifer's mad hatter's hat and the tea party exhibit!

For me, the best part was working with the students. They were so smart and well prepared! I told them they were able to answer some questions that my own CEGEP-aged students would have had trouble with! Such as: Where was Lewis Carroll born? (A student named Rebecca knew the answer to this one: Cheshire, England, which helps explain the appearance of the Cheshire Cat in Carroll's book) and What was Lewis Carroll's real name? (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -- a student named Shai got the middle name, and a student named Michael knew the rest). Then when I was reciting the poem "Jabberwocky," a student named Jon helped me out when I lost my place. Thanks for that, Jon!

I must say I had a good chuckle when a student named Naomi asked if I had written the Alice books. (No, but do I ever wish I had!!) Emma wanted to know if I was Carroll's daughter. (Nope to that one, too!)

I only had about an hour with the students... and truth is, when it comes to talking about Alice, I could go on forever. But here's what I asked the students to remember: that the book's theme of growth is also an important theme in our lives. No matter our age, we continue to grow -- inside and out. I also told them to keep reading, that reading brings solace when we need it (not to mention new information and experiences) and that Wonderland cannot be found on a map -- that's because I think Wonderland's in all of us, available all the time through our imaginations and that no matter our age, we need to exercise our imaginations as much and as often as possible. So make sure you get to Wonderland soon. Have fun learning and growing!

Special thanks to Tina Roth for bringing me to Akiva; to Jennifer, for getting things organized; and to librarian Janice Camlot for letting us use the library. Akiva students, you sure are smart and energetic! Maybe I'll get to teach some of you at Marianopolis in a few years. Hey, you'd be wiz-es in my Alice class!

 

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Oct
18

More Adventures Coming Soon!

I have the great good fortune to be participating again this year in Quebec Roots, an educational program sponsored by the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation. As part of the project, teams of writers and photographers will visit a total of 10 schools in the province in order to help students produce a chapter in this year's Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live.

Today was the first of two orientation sessions and I met some of the teachers I'll be working with. Photographer Monique Dykstra and I will be traveling to Quebec City and Shawinigan to work at Everest Elementary School and Shawinigan High. Closer to home, photographer Joel Silverstein and I will work with students at St. Willibrord Elementary in Chateauguay. My biggest (and furthest) trip will be with photographer Thomas Kneubuhler when we go to Sautjuit Schoool in Kangirsuk, Nunavik.

One of the other writers working on the project this year is Winnipeg-born poet Gillian Sze. Last year, Gillian's poetry collection, Fish Bones, was a finalist for the Quebec Writers' Federation First Book Prize. Today, I had a chance to chat with Gillian. She was telling me about her work with at-risk teens, and how important it is for the young writers she works with to feel they can trust her. I really loved how Gillian expressed her thoughts, telling me: "Walls don't write." (You can tell from that line that Gillian is a poet, can't you?) Anyway, that's what I'm thinking about this afternoon... how writing takes a certain openness. If your feelings get too walled up inside, you've got to find a way to take down those walls. For me, it's always been writing.

  2622 Hits
Oct
15

Nice News Sometimes Comes Just When You Need It...

Have you ever noticed that nice news sometimes comes just when you need it?

It's been a challenging week. My mum (wonderful woman whom some of you have had the good fortune of meeting -- she's the subject of my novel What World Is Left and has occasionally come to do talks with me) has been pretty sick. She was hospitalized earlier this week, but thank goodness, she was released yesterday... so things were already looking up. (Note to young readers here: APPRECIATE your mum and dad, if you are lucky enough to have them. Sure they sometimes drive us crazy, but no matter what, we love them, right?!)

Anyway... on to the other nice news. I just happened to be reading the Montreal Gazette this morning and guess what I found out? My most recent novel The Middle of Everywhere has been nominated for the 2010 Quebec Writers' Federation Prize for Children's and Young Adult Literature.

Last year, when What World Is Left was nominated for the prize, I knew in advance... so when I was reading the article, I was already half-grumpy, thinking for sure I  hadn't made the shortlist and anticipating a little grumpiness this morning. But then I scanned the story and my eyes landed on my name. So, all this to say, sometimes nice news comes at just the right time in just the right way. Hope there's nice news coming your way, too. Life sure is a mix of things, isn't it?

 

  2489 Hits
Oct
13

World Watches Dramatic Rescue Story

You probably know that at this very moment, the world is in the middle of a dramatic rescue -- 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped in the San José Mine for 69 days -- are being lifted up to the ground one at a time in a tiny capsule. Though I haven't been watching the rescue on TV (too busy reading and writing!!), I have been following the STORY closely in the newspaper and on-line. This morning, when I read an account of the rescue in the Montreal Gazette, I wept.

Which got me thinking about what makes a great story (one of my favourite things to think about). If you've met me, you know I'm always saying how stories need TROUBLE and these miners certainly had their share of trouble. But their story is also about tremendous courage and about the bonds that can develop between us. Apparently one of the miners had a great sense of humour; another one proposed, from underground, to his girlfriend; another looked after his fellow miners' medical needs.

And, not surprisingly, there's already talk of a book. When they were first trapped, the miners kept a kind of diary. (I really love that part of the story, too.) Another interesting issue that's getting a lot of media attention is how the miners will fare when they return to real life. They'll be famous and rich, but it's likely they will also face major adjustment difficulties.

I don't know about you, but I AM HOOKED ON STORIES. And you know what else? STORIES ARE EVERYWHERE!!!

  2393 Hits
Oct
05

Visitor to My Own School!

This afternoon, I visited my friend Sabine Walser's English 103 class at Marianopolis College here in Montreal. Ms. Walser invited me in to talk to students about writing book reviews. I told them everything I know about the book review business -- how book reviewers need to read every word of a book, how they should take careful notes and keep track of their responses, how they should express a forceful opinion early on in their review and support their major points with quotes from the book. Anyway, the students had many good questions -- and best of all for me, they got me back in the mood to be a teacher!! (I'll be back at Marianopolis full-time in January.)

On another note, I wanted to talk a little today about coincidences. You may remember that I wrote about a student named Mary, who lived in Akulivik, Nunavik, and who died unexpectedly early this summer. Mary was a star student involved in the Quebec Roots program -- which is how I got to meet her. I wrote a note to Mary's mum in Nunavik, expressing my condolences. Last week, I was visiting a friend at the Montreal General Hospital and I saw two Inuit women. I said hello to them in Inuktitut. (My Inuktitut isn't very good.) Something about one of the women's faces made me keep talking to her. She told me she was from Akulivik; I said I knew Mary -- and guess what? IT WAS MARY'S MUM!!! Guess what else? She's coming here for supper tonight. I think some coincidences are more than just coincidences -- and this was one.

 

  2907 Hits
Oct
04

Happy Day at Mother Teresa Middle School

It's been a while since I've been in a classroom -- and now I realize how much I've missed it!

I had the pleasure of spending most of my day with students at Mother Teresa Middle School in Laval, Quebec. First, I worked with teacher Monic Farrell's Music class. I must say they were a lively bunch (you'll see some of them in today's pic) and they helped get me energized for the rest of the day. Only two of the students said they had an interest in becoming writers, but hopefully, I convinced a few others in the group to consider the writing life. A student named Manny wanted to know how I handle writer's block. I told him that mercifully, it doesn't happen to me very much, but if I do feel blocked, I JUST KEEP WRITING. Even if it is only to say, "gee this is tough. I'm getting discouraged." In other words, I'd write through the block. We talked a little about determination and a student named Dylan gave me a look that told me he knows all about determination. Later, Dylan told me his dream is to become a chef. I told him that'd make great stories -- so maybe he can be a chef who writes on the side.

I spent the rest of the day with Miss Farrell's accelerated learners. I don't think I've ever worked with such a keen group of young writers. Several came in at lunch to share their work with me and to get some feedback. Angel is working on a werewolf story; Alexis is more interested in the place where fiction and non-fiction meet. I told both of them their work looks promising, full of energy and fun, but that they both need to really get to know their main characters. In case you're reading this entry, Angel and Alexis, a good exercise to learn more about your main character is to write down 50 questions (whatever comes to mind -- favourite food, religion, kind of house he or she lives in...) and then work out the answers. We writers need to know all we can about our characters. 

Miss Farrell is doing some super work with her students. They are keeping writers' notebooks, critiquing each other's work, and rewriting. Way to go, Miss Farrell and your students! Thanks for inviting me to Mother Teresa today. Special thanks, too, to principal Mrs. Villalta who attended part of my workshop; to Joan Wasserman, the super English consultant for the Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board; and to Mr. Bilodeau, who was videotaping the visit.

  2893 Hits
Sep
30

Quick Trip to Missouri

You must be wondering how I managed to get to Missouri this morning and be back in time for lunch in Montreal! That's because I did a Skype visit with Emily Edger's class at Lewis and Clark Middle School in Jefferson City, Missouri.

I must say the students were super well-prepared! They had loads of good questions for me. Kelly wanted to know if I shared my writing while it was in process. (My answer was yes, but I am very careful about whom I show it to. My first readers have to be kind and smart and honest. Also, I rely heavily on my editor's input during the process.) Morgan wanted to know if I ever get distracted. I answered by holding up my cup of tea (that was my third cup this morning), but I explained that during my frequent tea-making and tea-drinking breaks, I am still thinking about my manuscript.

It was a short Skype session and frankly, I'm sorry it's over so soon. (I think I'm missing having a class of my own!!) In case any of you from L&C Middle School are reading today's entry, I want to know whether you are big fans of the explorers Lewis and Clark. I bet there are many great stories about the famous pair. Do you guys know any of those stories? Thanks to all of you for the fun morning -- and to Miss Edger for making it happen and preparing you so well!

  2549 Hits
Sep
29

The Trick to Writing Historical Fiction

Just so you know, dear blog reader, I am ALWAYS thinking of you. Even during business meetings. Yesterday, I was having a business meeting with Sarah Harvey, my editor at Orca Books. Sarah always says many smart things, but when she said this one thing about the trick to writing historical fiction, I thought to myself WRITE THAT DOWN SO I CAN USE IT ON THE BLOG!!

Here's what Sarah said: "The trick with historical fiction is to make the characters live in both these worlds." You're going to need a little context now. The two worlds Sarah meant are the historical world the author is trying to capture in her (or his) story, and the world contemporary teens live in today. 

I thought that line was simple, but oh-so-smart. And because I'm hard at work on another historical YA fiction, that's exactly my challenge: getting my characters to live in two worlds.

Hope things in your world are going okay today.

  2529 Hits
Sep
26

"Your Heart Can Only Be Broken Open"

Why, good morning, blog readers! I heard this wonderful line yesterday on CBC radio: "Your heart can only be broken open." It's something that poet-musician Kinnie Star's mum once told her. For me, it means that something huge and wonderful can come from a broken heart.

Kinnie is the author of a collection called How I Learned to Run. During the CBC interview, she talked a little about what writing means to her. She said, "All we're going to have eventually is our stories." That line really resonated with me, too, because though I do like material things, I like stories even more! And I know how important it is to preserve and share them.

I'm back in Montreal and it feels good to be here at my desk. I've written two food stories based on our trip to France and Spain, and I'll let you know when they come out in our paper.

In the mean time, if you've got an achy heart -- and believe me, I've had one (many times!!) -- perhaps you'll take a little comfort in knowing that aches and breaks can lead to a new open-ness. And you know what else? Writers need open hearts in order to imagine what their characters are going through. So, in the end, your own aches and breaks may not only open your heart, but make you a better writer, too!

  1231 Hits
Sep
20

Musea Guggenheim Bilbao

Hello again, dear blog readers! Today, I'm writing to you from Toulouse, France's "pink city." We drove here yesterday from Bilbao, Spain, where we visited the Musea Guggenheim Bilbao. The titanium-covered museum was designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. We did an audio-tour of the museum and thinking ahead to this blog entry, I took some notes.

In an interview, Gehry said that for him, designing a building is "like feeling your way in the dark." I LOVE THAT LINE because that's what writing fiction feels like to me, too. I also enjoyed learning that in some ways, Gehry returns to his childhood when he comes up with his ideas. When he was a child growing up in Toronto, he spent a lot of time with his grandmother, who encouraged him to make little buildings out of cardboard and other materials. Gehry's grandmother used to buy fresh carp at the market and kept the carp in her bathtub before cooking it up for dinner. Gehry says fish continue to inspire him: "The fish shape got me into moving freely." The titanium exterior of the Musea Guggenheim Bilbao really does look like fish scales. When I'm back at my own computer in Montreal, I promise to post a picture.

In the mean time, I have a question for you: which of your own childhood memories can you tap into and use in a creative way?

  2709 Hits
Sep
16

Trouble Makes a Good Story

I'm always telling my students that trouble makes for a good story. A story that has no trouble in it is ... well ... boring.

Of course, the irony is that we don't want trouble to happen to US (only to the characters in our stories)!! But, alas, there's no avoiding trouble, is there?

We had some trouble this week in Barcelona. Our rental car was broken into. Two of the car windows were smashed and because we had one suitcase stashed in the trunk, the thieves got that, too. We lost our warm clothes and I lost my souvenirs! We had to file a police report and get a new rental car... but we're both fine and of course, we've got STORIES to tell about our experience. Today, we leave Barcelona (a gorgeous city, despite the banditos) and head for San Sebastian. Adios for now, amigos!

  2431 Hits
Sep
13

Hola from Barcelona

Remind me never to complain about rewrites again! Yesterday, we visited Barcelona's most famous church, the Sagrada Familia. Renowned Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi spent the last TWELVE years of his life working almost exclusively on the church. He knew that the work would never be completed during his lifetime and in fact, to this day, work on the church continues. It sure is magnificent, though! Instead of pillars, there are these huge structures that look like tree trunks, and when you look up at the ceiling, it's covered in yellow leafy flowers. In a strange way, you have the feeling you are in a forest, not a church!

On another note, my journalistic urges have kicked in again. This morning, we are going to La Boqueria, Barcelona's famous food market... and I've hatched a plan to interview vendors there and ask them for tapas recipes. Now it's true that I speak hardly any Spanish... but don't think that's going to stop me!!! I wish you a buenos dias wherever you are.

  2527 Hits
Sep
09

An Afternoon with Salvador Dali

Okay, the title of today's blog entry is a little misleading since Salvador Dali died in 1989, so I couldn't really have spent yesterday afternoon with him. On the other hand, we did get to visit the home he shared with his wife Gala in Port Lligat, just outside Cadaques where we are now staying. (Have I mentioned that I'm writing to you from Spain?)

It's not that I believe in ghosts... but somehow the Dalis felt very present during our visit. And oddly, so did my grandparents... now you really must be thinking that I am losing my marbles during this holiday. Like Dali, my opa (the Dutch word for grandfather) was an artist... and the home he shared with my oma (Dutch for grandfather) in Plandome, New York, had something of the feel of the house we visited yesterday.

Dali was a Surrealist, more interested in some ways in dreams than in reality. When you first walk into the house, you are greeted by a huge stuffed bear, several necklaces draped around his neck. Now Opa and Oma's house didn't have a stuffed bear in their entrance way. What the houses had in common was a sense of beauty and order -- and playfulness. My favourite example from the Dali home: in the room adjoining the bedroom, the Dalis hung a large mirror in a special spot so that in the morning, they'd wake up to the sun rising in their bedroom. 

... When, earlier this summer, I flew from Paris home to Montreal, I sat next to a gentleman from Mauritius, we got into a very good conversation... the sort of conversation it's sometimes easier to have with a complete stranger. Well, this gentleman told me how, in his view, life is about moments, and you have to hold on tight to the special ones, make them last. I think maybe that is what Dali and his wife were doing... I like to imagine them waking up with the sun.... That's it for today's blog entry. May you find (or perhaps, like the Dalis, create) your moments!

  2742 Hits
Sep
07

Photojournalism Exhibit in Perpignan

Yesterday, we went to the nearby town of Perpignan to see the interntional photojournalism exhibit running there until September 12.

In my last blog entry, I quoted Anne, an art historian here

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  2605 Hits
Sep
03

Have You Ever Heard of the Fauves?

Hello hello from Collioures, France, birthplace of the Fauve art movement. It's a beautiful little town and I'm writing to you from a table that looks out on the Mediterranean Sea. Not a bad

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  2360 Hits
Aug
30

Busy Brain

I haven't told you, but I've been a little cranky the last few days -- that's because I was supposed to be working on an outline for my next book. Only, I kept getting stuck. But you know

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  2517 Hits
Aug
27

Draft Four!

Just in case you think writing's easy... today's entry is meant to set you straight. This week, I spent most of my days working on DRAFT NUMBER FOUR of Miracleville, my novel due out

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  2523 Hits
Aug
23

Back to School, but not for me!

It's back to school today for Montreal CEGEP (college) students and teachers. Normally, that would mean me -- only I'm on sabbatical again this semester so that I can continue work on another

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  2331 Hits
Aug
18

The Up-Side of Living in a High Tech World

There are plenty of things I don't like about being in a high-tech world: the way a certain man I love never goes anywhere without his Blackberry; the way a certain girl I love sometimes text messages

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  2205 Hits
Aug
15

79-Year-Old Judge Enjoying My New Ms.

In case you're wondering "Ms." stands for "manuscript." And the 79-year-old judge is my dad! My dad (I generally call him "Pa") reads a ton -- but mostly just newspapers

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  2569 Hits
Aug
09

Problem Solving

"Writing is problem solving." That's what my friend, author and journalist Joel Yanofsky , told my students

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  2377 Hits
Aug
05

De Retour!!

After a week in France, I'm thinking in French! So I'm back from a wonderful whirlwind holiday -- and back at my computer, sipping green tea and gearing up for a day of writing.

I was

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  2529 Hits
Jul
28

Goeje Dag from Amsterdam

Goeje dag means hello in Dutch. I am writing to you today from Amsterdam. And tonight I leave for Nice -- and cooking school.

I just met with Samantha Haywood, a literary agent based here. I

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  2441 Hits
Jul
21

Thinking About Voyages

I'm off this afternoon -- to Holland, then on to France. In all, I'll be away two weeks, which means I may not be blogging with my usual regularity (it all depends on how difficult it is for

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  2324 Hits
Jul
16

The Pleasure of Starting to Read a New Book

You know the feeling I'm talking about... you crack open a book, you start reading, and within seconds, you know it's GONNA BE WONDERFUL. Now, that's what I call pleasure.

I've

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  2127 Hits
Jul
13

What Do You Do Before You Start to Write?

I don't know about you, but I do a whole bunch of things before I settle down to write. Here's what I've done this morning: Got up, wrote in journal (I recommend this as a loosening-the

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  2030 Hits
Jul
08

Advice From Tom Rachman and Woody Allen

Now that the revision of Miracleville is with my editor, I could be relaxing... only I'm not very good at that!! Instead, I've drummed up some journalism work. I'm doing two stories for

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  2302 Hits
Jun
29

Revision Time

I'm working on the first major revision of my manuscript Miracleville. It's due on Monday at lunchtime and I'm trying to give it a real push this week. Some moments, I think it

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  2276 Hits
Jun
23

Louis Sachar Comes to Dinner

YA author Louis Sachar -- best known for his book Holes -- had dinner at our house last night.

So in today's blog entry. I will answer your burning questions!

What did he

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  2115 Hits
Jun
20

Meet Louis Sachar! (I Did!!)

Oh, what a wonderful afternoon!! That's Louis Sachar with me in today's pic. Louis is the author of many YA books including Holes, which was made into a movie by Disney. I LOVED THAT

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  3276 Hits
Jun
16

Double Trouble!!

DSC_9734.jpgIMG_3131.jpgThis seems to be my week for hanging out with twins! In today's pics, you'll meet two pairs of

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  3045 Hits
Jun
15

Report from Hebrew Academy

Yesterday, I did the last of three creative writing workshops at Hebrew Academy here in Montreal.

I've been working with a group of six lively and bright 11-year-old girls. Because I wanted

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  2316 Hits
Jun
12

Saturday Afternoon On-line Chat

I spent a fun afternoon with some bright young readers from across Canada -- all without leaving my comfy chair here in Montreal.

That's all thanks to Teenrc

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  2262 Hits
Jun
11

Meet Scaredy Squirrel's Creator

This week, I got to interview Quebec picture book author and illustrator Mélanie Watt. (I'm doing a profile of her for the Continue reading

  3042 Hits
Jun
09

In Memoriam: Mary Qinuajuak

Today, I want to tell you about a very special person named Mary Qinuajuak. Photographer Thomas Kneubuhler and I met Mary in December 2009, when we traveled to Akulivik, an Inuit community in Nunavik

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  2367 Hits
Jun
07

YES Artists' Conference & Workshop 2 at Hebrew Academy

I spent the morning at the 10th Annual YES Artists' Conference, where I participated on a panel called "Creation and Inspiration: How They Made It!" Our moderator was Andy Nulman, president

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  2008 Hits
Jun
04

Hippity Hoppity Happy Writer

I was just in my car thinking how I'm feeling like a hippity hoppity happy writer. I think those words only when I'm feeling most happy. And the reason I'm HHH (see, I won't make you

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  1993 Hits
Jun
01

Cooking Up a Story

Yesterday, I did the first of three writing workshops at Hebrew Academy here in Montreal. I'm working with six Grade Five students -- all girls, and all eager to write! In my one-hour session,

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  2263 Hits
May
31

Feeling Dutch

I'm feeling Dutch these days. Could be because I keep making Dutch friends! It's also because I spent yesterday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic

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  2286 Hits
May
30

Two Conferences in One Weekend!

I'm just home from participating in a conference run by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic Studies, and though I'd like to tell you about it, I'm going to do a

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  2146 Hits
May
27

Audio Interview

Today, I'm scheduled to do an audio interview for a website called TeachingBooks. They're located in Madison, Wisconsin, and through their website

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  2300 Hits
May
25

The Shadow Self

You may or may not know I review self-help books for the Montreal Gazette. A side-effect is that I can get a little unbearable when someone has a problem -- I'm always recommending books

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  1981 Hits
May
20

Snail Mail

These days, most readers contact authors over the Internet... but yesterday, I actually received two old-fashioned snail mail letters. Both are from students at Hadley Junior School in Glen Ellyn,

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  2215 Hits
May
19

Moving to a New Rhythm

The new rhythm I'm moving to is a SLOWER one. That's because my marking is nearly all done (just two late assignments left)... and I'm back at my desk most of the day. It's nice not

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  2277 Hits
May
18

Upcoming Children's Writing Conference

The bad news is that picture book author and illustrator Mélanie Watt is out of town and my interview with her has been postponed till June. The good news is I have a wide-open day, with lots

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  1923 Hits
May
17

I Used to Think Taking Pictures Was Easy...

I used to think that compared to writing, taking pictures was easy! Until, that is, I started hanging out with photographers.

Monique Dykstra is one of those photographers. We have worked together

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  2005 Hits
May
13

Louis Sachar Coming to Montreal This Summer

I was excited to learn that children's author Louis Sachar will be coming to read in Montreal this summer. You may know Sachar's YA book, Holes, which is one of my all-time favourites

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  1894 Hits
May
10

Proud Teacher Clucks

I think perhaps most of all, we teachers need to teach our students to be independent. That's why when students come to see me for help with their writing, I make a point of NOT doing all the work

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  2207 Hits
May
06

Got Talent? Then Use It!

IMG_1414.jpgIn today's pic, you'll meet my "Writing for Children" class. Our semester ends

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  1933 Hits
May
02

Inside and Outside

IMG_212121.jpgToday's pic is the OUTSIDE of our house. I wanted to show off our spring garden -- still

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  614 Hits
Apr
28

All Oprah All the Time

Why, you may be wondering, is my mind on Oprah Winfrey, host of the world's most popular talk show? It's because I'm reviewing Kitty Kelley's recently released unauthorized bio of Oprah

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  2274 Hits
Apr
25

Days 3 & 4: Blue Met

It's Sunday morning, and my desk need some serious tidying. That's because it's covered with notes I took during the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, which comes to an end today. Yesterday

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  2041 Hits
Apr
23

Day 3: Blue Metropolis

I'm home, taking a little breather between Blue Met events. I did another student writing workshop this morning and this afternoon at five, I'm on a CBC panel called "The Human Face of

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  2159 Hits
Apr
22

Day 2: Blue Met

I really shouldn't be writing this blog entry! That's because in exactly 20 minutes from now, 20 dinner guests are due to arrive here! They're all friends involved in the Quebec Roots project

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  2145 Hits
Apr
21

Day One: Blue Met

IMG_12121212121.jpgIt's Day One of the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival here in Montreal  --

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  2355 Hits
Apr
19

New Friends at Macdonald High School

IMG_1010101.jpgHello hello, dear blog readers! I'm just in from a long, but happy day. I started at Marianopolis

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  2290 Hits
Apr
17

I Love Sheree Fitch

Today, I did something I haven't done for ages -- I took a class instead of giving one! I did a one-day workshop with Nova Scotia children's writer Sheree Fitch. Sheree called

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  2468 Hits
Apr
16

"The More You Can Learn the Better"

IMG_9999.jpgThat's what a student named Shaugn told me this morning. I was back at Vanier College, again because I was participating in the Kleinmann Family Foundation 17th Annual Cegep Symposium on the Holocaust and Genocide.

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  2029 Hits
Apr
14

The Gift of Listening

Okay, so I'll admit it: I am not always the best listener (maybe because I do so much talking!!). But it's a skill I am working on.

Today, I was at Vanier College as part of the school

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  2532 Hits
Apr
08

Writing Lessons from a Photo Editor

IMG_77777.jpgI  know what you're thinking -- what could a photo editor have to teach us about writing?

Well, you'd better keep reading, because today, Marcos Townsend, photo editor at The

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  2253 Hits
Apr
07

YA Writer Lori Weber Pays a Return Visit to Marianopolis

My friend, local YA writer Lori Weber, came to work with my Writing for Children class this morning at Marianopolis College. Lori is the author of five novels for young adults, the most recent of which

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  2386 Hits
Apr
06

Time to Breathe!!

During the most hectic days of the semester, I sometimes feel like I don't have time to breathe. But this week isn't like that. Ahhhh... it feels good. I used the long weekend to do this &#

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  2049 Hits
Mar
31

Helping Students Gear Up for Trip to Nunavik

IMG_666666.jpgI spent part of this afternoon at Royal West Academy in Montreal West. It was a special visit

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  2376 Hits
Mar
30

Another Visit to Beaconsfield High

IMG_55555.jpgHello hello dear blog readers,

I've posted a pic from this morning's whirlwind visit to Beaconsfield

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  2401 Hits
Mar
29

Passing On My Opa's Advice

This morning, in my Writing for Children class, I passed on some advice I got long ago from my opa (the Dutch word for grandfather). I had just handed back some terrific assignments (I'd asked

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  2129 Hits
Mar
24

Handsome Editor Visits My Journalism Class

Now why, you may be wondering, would a happily married woman like myself notice that an editor who was visiting her Journalism class is handsome? Don't worry -- he's my husband!

My husband

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  2084 Hits
Mar
23

Hello Nebraska!

IMG_4444.jpgAdmittedly, today's photo is not very good. I took it at my friend Viva's house yesterday

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  2352 Hits
Mar
19

"All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy"

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" -- that's an old expression used in James Joyce's gorgeous short story "Araby." The line popped into my head when I

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  2610 Hits
Mar
17

Correcting Frenzy!

If you're wondering where I've been, the answer is on the living room couch, CORRECTING ESSAYS. My fingers are getting sore from all the writing -- that's a bad sign for my students since

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  520 Hits
Mar
11

Just So You Know...

Just So You Know it isn't only singing in the morning that makes me happy (though today is the perfect day for that old song, "Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day!" --

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  1996 Hits
Mar
10

I Have an Awful Voice

I have an awful voice, but I love to sing! When my daughter still lived at home, she'd beg me to stop... and my husband does the same.

This morning, the students in my Writing for Children

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  2052 Hits
Mar
08

Uh Oh, Beautiful Weather in Indiana!

IMG_333.jpgNow you may be wondering why beautiful weather in Indiana would cause me to go, "Uh oh!"

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  4186 Hits
Mar
07

March Break Coming to an End... and a Lovely Book

Hello out there, So if you're like me, your March break is nearly over. I have to be back in my classroom tomorrow morning at 8:15. All I can say is YIKES. Not because I don't want to see my

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  1739 Hits
Mar
02

Special Day with Another Gang of Talented Young Authors

Hello, hello, it's me again (well, who else would it be? It's my blog after all!),

So I'm just back from the final day of this year's Young Authors' Conference in Montreal

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  2066 Hits
Mar
01

Report from the Young Authors' Conference

IMG_22222.jpgI'm just home from a happy day at the Young Authors' Conference here in Montreal. It'

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  2407 Hits
Feb
28

Super-Conference!

IMG_1111111111.jpgSo I'm just back from Toronto, where I attended the Ontario Library Association's

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  2517 Hits
Feb
24

Writers Share their Writing Secrets

Even when I was growing up and getting published was just a dream, I always loved reading what writers had to say about writing. I remember hoping that if I paid careful enough attention, I'd figure

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  2491 Hits
Feb
22

Can You Spell

IMG_111111.jpg"Theriatrics" was the word that won Christopher Scarvelis the Canwest Canspell Regional Spelling Bee here in Montreal yesterday.

Scarvelis, 13, goes to Loyola High School -- and let

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  2157 Hits
Feb
18

A Story That Made My Arms Get Cold

The way I know if a story feels amazing to me is that my arms get cold  when I hear it (or tell  it). Just ask my students -- they've been there in class when this has happened to me.

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  1836 Hits
Feb
15

Trouble -- in a Story -- is a Fine Thing

If you've read my books or been in one of my classes, you'll know by now that I have an unnatural interest in trouble. Not in my own life, of course, but in my stories! (And for those of us

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  1966 Hits
Feb
13

Thinking About Reviews

You write a book and if you're lucky enough, like me, to find a publisher, you send it off into the world... and then, people read it and respond.

I know of one author -- short-listed for

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  2110 Hits
Feb
12

Meet Neale McDevitt

Yesterday, Montreal journalist and short story writer Neale McDevitt came to do a talk at Marianopolis College and also

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  2402 Hits
Feb
08

Work and Play... and an Upcoming Conference

This morning, in my "Writing for Children" class at Marianopolis College, I was trying to explain a tricky concept. The students are beginning work on the texts for their own picture books

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  1798 Hits
Feb
05

A Visit with our Friends at Tukisiniarvik School

Photographer Thomas Kneubuhler and I spent this morning with our friends at Tukisiniarvik School in Akulivik, Nunavik. Now how did we manage to

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  2092 Hits
Feb
03

Courage

I've been thinking a lot lately about courage. Maybe because the man in the room next to my mom's at the rehab centre has had an arm and a leg amputated on account of his cancer, yet he still

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  2198 Hits
Feb
02

Proud Teacher Checks In

One of the courses I'm teaching this semester at Marianopolis College is Print Journalism. This week, students had to write a letter to the editor.

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