Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers<br>La société canadienne des auteurs, illustrateurs et artistes pour enfants

NOTES from Past Meetings

To extend the content of our monthly Toronto meetings to our full membership across Canada, we provide notes from these meetings on our website.
  • Thursday, October 16, 2014 12:08 PM | Lena Coakley

    In our final post featuring 2014 Packaging Your Imagination speakers, we have a cornucopia of three very different book experts: Holly Kent, who will be speaking about social media, Ashley Spires, who will be speaking about graphic novels, and Susin Nielsen, who will be delivering our Claire Mackay memorial lecture entitled “Confessions of a Word Nerd.”

    Holly Kent is the Community Manager for the National Reading Campaign, a not for profit dedicated to making Canada a reading nation. Holly manages the NRC’s entire web presence, including the blog Readerly, two interactive websites, and several social media accounts. Previously, Holly created the social media strategies for Scholastic Canada and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

    Lena Coakley: The topic of your CANSCAIP presentation is: Social Media for Authors & Illustrators: Reaching Readers Online.  Can you give us a little taste of what you'll be talking about?  What are some tips or nuggets of wisdom you'll be sharing with PYI attendees?

    Holly Kent: Because I'm expecting a wide range of social media abilities, I'll start with a social networking bootcamp. I'm going walk attendees through all the online tools that authors and illustrators have at their disposal, from Facebook to Tumblr to the 49th Shelf. I'll also share some secret (and less than secret) tools to achieve social media goals, like gaining followers, driving traffic to your website, or meeting likeminded individuals. I anticipate a lot of specific questions about social media, so please don't be shy. If I don't know the answer to a question I'll find it - probably by asking my Facebook friends. 

    BC author, illustrator and cat enthusiast Ashley Spires is best known for her junior graphic novel series, Binky The Space Cat. She likes to make picture books too, namely 2014’s The Most Magnificent Thing and Edie’s Ensembles. Her work has won the Silver Birch Express, the Shining Willow and the Hackmatack awards.

    Lena: What about you, Ashley? What will you be sharing with PYI attendees?

    Ashley Spires: I notice that my presentation, The Accidental Graphic Novelist, is being billed as a writers workshop. That's quite humourous because I still don't totally consider myself a writer (thus the accidental part of the title.) I was, and will always be, an illustrator first. The world of graphic novels, where the words and the pictures are splitting the story-telling workload, is a perfect place for an excited illustrator/ hesitant writer to find a home. I'm going to talk a lot about that wonderful place where the pictures and the text overlap, because the real story exists in that crossover space. 

    Lena: How do you stay motivated? 

    Ashley: My trick to staying motivated may not be the healthiest, but it sure works. Basically, what I've accomplished thus far is never enough. I'm always wanting the next book to be better- whether that means that it sells better or earns more awards or I just plain think I did a better job than the last book. Maybe when I'm not so new to this career I will feel differently, but right now there is just so much to accomplish that I can't help but work, work, work! Which reminds me, I better get back to that painting...

    Susin Nielsen is the author of the best-selling novels Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom and the Governor General’s Award-winner, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Her new novel, We Are All Made of Molecules, will be published in Canada, the US and the UK in Spring 2015.

    Lena: Can you give us a little peek into what you’ll be sharing at PYI, Susin?

    Susin Nielsen: I'll be talking about my journey to becoming a writer, and along the way I -- an eleventh grade math dropout -- will also attempt to prove a mathematical equation. 

    Words of wisdom: Malcolm Gladwell says it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert at something. I think this is mostly true - except, I'm pretty sure I've done ten thousand hours of writing, and (sorry) it doesn't get easier. That said - I do believe that the more you write, the better you get at your craft - or at least, better at sniffing out what isn't working. 

    Lena: We’re all eagerly awaiting your next book.  Can you tell us about it?

    Susin:  My new novel is called We Are All Made of Molecules. It comes out in spring 2015, and will be published in Canada, the US and the UK simultaneously - which is a first for me. I have two narrators, one of whom appeared in a smaller role in Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom. It's about a blended family ... and loss, love and acceptance of differences. 

    Lena: Thanks you three!  See you on Saturday!

    There is LESS THAN ONE DAY left to sign up for PYI.  Registration closes at 11:59 tonight, Thursday the 16th. 

  • Monday, October 13, 2014 11:54 AM | Lena Coakley

    Thanks so much to Sylvia McNicoll for writing up Wednesday’s Ontario meeting, which did NOT take place in Toronto as per usual, but at the Art Gallery of Burlington, in the Fireside Lounge.


    President Bill Swan welcomed everyone to the first trial of having our Toronto meeting outside Toronto and deemed the venture a success with over 30 people attending. 

    Heather Rath, a long time writing member, made it to a meeting for the first time in 15 years, as well as Diane Matich, a Friend, Caroline Freibauer, a teacher/librarian from Assumption College in Brantford, and many more.


    PYI:  Lorna Poplak the co-director of Packaging Your Imagination listed five reasons to sign up for Packaging Your Imagination by the cutoff date Thursday, October 16.

    1) The amazing array of workshops. 

    2) The Industry Panel

    3) The Networking opportunities

    4) The All day Pitch Perfect on Sunday, October 19 both for authors and illustrators. The author spot is full, there are three spots for illustrators

    5) The art exhibition running untill October 17th, Monday to Friday  from 10 to 5 at Humber College, Lakeshore campus.  “Capturing Imagination: The Art of Storytelling” features illustrations from such stars as Sue Todd (illustrator of the beautiful woodcut above) Brenda Clark, Michael Marchenko, and Barbara Reid.  (It will also be on display at Inspire: the Toronto International Book Fair, November 13, 14, & 15th.

    Sign up today!


    Congratulations to CANSCAIP member, Lesley Choyce, (East Laurencetown, N.S.) who is a nominee for the Governor General’s Award for Jeremy Stone (Red Deer Press) a young adult novel written in free verse about a First Nations teenager finding his spirits.


    CANSCAIP friend since 2010, Nadia Hohn thanked CANSCAIP for its support and encouragement. The story she’s struggled with over the years, Malaika’s Costume, won the  Helen Issobel Sissons Canadian Children’s Award and will be published by Groundwood Books in 2016.  Nadia also wrote a feature  “Who Will Write Our Stories?” article for the Fall 2014 Issue of Canadian Children’s Book News.

    Lana Button signed a contract for another Willow picture book with Kids Can Press for 2016, tentatively entitled  Willow’s Picture Day Smile

    In April 2014, Ellen Jaffe worked with students at the Hamilton Hebrew Academy (grades 3-7) on a poetry and art project about the Holocaust, to help them understand and empathize with children of that time. Some of the students' poems and artwork will be published in the Hamilton Spectator's "OUR PULSE" page on Tuesday, Oct. 14.  This weekly section features work from students in the public and Catholic school boards and from private schools in the area.  Ellen and the teachers and principal at HHA were very impressed with the students' ability to connect with this painful time, and to express their feelings in writing and art.

    PROGRAM: The Mystery of Writing Mysteries for Kids with Liam O’Donnell

    Liam O’Donnell is an award-winning author, educator and literacy advocate. He has created over 35 graphic novels and books, including Max Finder Mysteries, Graphic Guide Adventures, and Geeked Out Mysteries. The first book in his upcoming series, Battle for Minecraft, will be published in November, and his new series, Tank & Fizz, comes out in Spring 2015. Liam teaches Grade 1 in Toronto, where he uses video games and other alternative sources of literacy to engage reluctant readers.

    (Liam and PYI co-coordinator, Lorna Poplak, chat after the meeting.)

    The Mystery Behind the Writer

    Liam O’Donnell admits to being empowered by a strange inner mantra:  “I don’t know.” When he first applied for the position of editor at Owl Magazine some 20 years ago, he was instead offered another opportunity: Could he take over the writing of ‘Mighty Mites' (originally written by Emily Hearns and illustrated by Mark Thurman)? With his media writing background, he seemed a natural. Despite having no clue about whether he could do it or not, he agreed, took the Mites into outer space and gave them superpowers. Many years later, when Owl editors felt 30 years of Mighty Mites had taken them everywhere they could possibly go, they asked if Liam had any other ideas.

    Writing the Mystery

    While inwardly chanting his mantra, outwardly he said, “Sure.” He asked the editors for the weekend to formulate his thoughts.  While he had no idea whether he could write a mystery, he knew he liked Encyclopedia Brown. What if he did something like that in comic-book form? Owl signed him on for three trial episodes of Max Finder which ended up continuing for another 12 years.  

    As Liam fumbled (his word) through 30 mysteries, he soon understood that each was a puzzle to be layered with truth, red herrings, suspects and alibis. Of course, says he, there is no murdering in middle-grade mysteries.  Theft, vandalism, sabotage, talent shows that end in disaster because things go  missing-these are the only possible crimes. Still they were fun to create, and he learned that adding elements of mystery to any genre is a great way to get a story going.

    Regarding writing series, he’s learned to involve a growing cast of characters in a central location. Tank and Fizz is his new series involving a troll and goblin who live under a mountain. In it, text and comics tell a kind of diesel-punk-noir detective story about a war between technology and wizards using magic and gadgets. The Case of the Slime Stampede will be out with Orca in the spring of 2015. 

    The Mystery of the Market

    Fast forward through some 35+ books, (Liam wrote System Shock in 2008 and many Max Finder Mystery novels).  A lack of consistent income made him take up teaching grade 1 five years ago. In the classroom he’s known for using alternative text, comic books, graphic novels and even video games to encourage literacy. He says that while in 1999, graphic novels were not condoned as quality reading materials for the schools, today they are actively pursued. Currently, video games enjoy that same mark of disdain.

    Just as he uses non-traditional avenues to get kids reading, he’s also pursuing “indie” publishing methods to get his books out there. He hates contracts (and the hit-and-miss route of pursuing them) and feels that the 25% industry standard royalty rate on ebooks is blatantly unfair. He began with Ganked, a story he intended as a 15,000 word Orca Soundings that somehow overflowed the box into a 25,000 word YA. Instead of hunting for someone to publish this stand-alone, he put on a publisher’s hat and hired editors and designers to help format the book. He says he’s never had so much fun in his life. He notes that life became too busy for him to properly market the work, and he intends to pay more attention to that aspect in the future.

    When he was approached by a book packager with an offer to write a 20,000-word Minecraft book in three weeks for $2,000, he instantly declined but recognized the potential of such a project. He decided to write and publish the novel on his own. This way he can put out a series before his young readers tire of the video game. Watch for Battle for Minecraft: Descent into Overworld.

    Liam loves the mystery of the new choices and opportunities and thinks CANSCAIP can potentially play a huge roll in assisting us all with these ventures.  Will his indie books succeed or will traditionally published books triumph and will both happily coincide? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.   As he says, this mantra charges him. “Not knowing can either fill you with fear or thrill you with opportunity.” It’s clear that Liam is thrilled.

    Our next meeting topic: WAR WRITING--details to follow
    Room 224, Northern District Library, 40 Orchard View Blvd., Toronto

    Parking: There are several Green P's within walking distance.
    Transit: Just north of the Eglinton subway stop on the Yonge line.

    Interested in starting a CANSCAIP meting in your community? Contact the office about help, seed money, and more.

    (Authors Anne Gray and Gillian Chan after the meeting.)
  • Monday, October 13, 2014 8:08 AM | Lena Coakley

    Today we're continuing our series of interviews with 2014 Packaging Your Imagination conference speakers with physicist turned poet turned YA fantasy author, Erin Bow

    Erin's first novel, Plain Kate, one of my favourite fantasies, received numerous honours, including the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. Her second novel, Sorrow's Knot, is nominated for the Monica Hughes award for Science Fiction and Fantasy and made the Kirkus Best Books of 2013 list. 

    Lena Coakley: Hi Erin! Thanks for stopping by the CANSCAIP blog. The topic of your presentation is: Details: How Little Things Bring Your Writing to Life.  Can you give us a little taste of what you'll be talking about?  What's one tip you'll be sharing with PYI attendees?

    Erin Bow: Details are a paradox: They are both the thing that bog readers down in boredom, and the thing that makes writing feel real and lively and moving.  This is a workshop about telling the difference between those two.  It’s about where to use details, which ones to use, and what effects to get out of them.

    I’ve got one really good concrete tip for you, that I adapted from something I heard from Hugh Cook.  It’s called the ladder of specificity.  For example you could describe a classroom floor as:

    The floor

    The linoleum floor

    The checkerboard linoleum floor

    The old, cracked floor, cheap in the seventies and cheaper now. 

    My quick advice is to match how high you go on the ladder to the emotional intensity of the scene.   People – and our characters -- notice things more in intense situations.  Say your character is entering a new classroom for the first time.  She’s had to transfer schools because her old boyfriend was killed by a werewolf and she was framed for it.  The HORROR.  Now everyone is staring at her, including the people she suspects are secret werewolves.  She looks down at the floor. 

    It’s a cracked linoleum floor, right?  Brown and maybe it used to be cream but now it’s kind of spoiled-milk yellow and one of the bad-milk squares is cracked off at the corner, and the triangle of untiled floor is black with sticky dirt. 

     Whereas the day before she was framed, it was just a floor. 

     What I’m saying is you don’t want an unremitting pile-up of specificity. That’s the kind of thing that makes readers scan ahead and hope for explosions. But you want to build an ebb and flow of specificity that matches the ebb and flow of the story.  A bunch of bottom of the ladder things will breeze by the stage business of the story.  A couple of third-step-of-the-ladder every couple of pages will keep the world seeming real.  Go to the top when you need an emotional punch. 

    Lena Coakley: Wow.  Thanks Erin. Now, I’d like to ask you a completely unrelated question, but, as a novel writer, one that’s close to me personally: How do you stay motivated?

    Erin Bow: My trouble is not staying motivated, it’s getting started.  I go to the office with lots of amazing ideas and I still end up wondering if maybe I should play solitaire for an hour or two. I have the willpower and attention span of a goldfish. So I have some systems. 

    First, I have an office.  I have a place that I go where I don’t (and can’t) do my dayjob.  Where I am not (and can’t be) a hands-on parent.  Where I can’t do the laundry.  I have set hours that I go there, and I go with my figurative writer hat on.  Second, I have rituals that key my tiny goldfish hindbrain that it’s time to write: I have a soundtrack and certain kind of tea and other, sillier things.  If I thought a literal hat would help I would totally get one. Third, I make I deal with myself that I’ll spend 15 minutes working on something small.  Often this is all I need to get going.  Finally, and this has been key to me, I give myself a sticker when I get 1000 words. 

    The stickers mark my good days with a wee ritual, and motivate me to at least TRY on days when writing sucks and I suck. They make a book seem more manageable -- 100 or so is a draft, which isn't an impossibly huge number -- and they help me keep track of what I did when.  But mostly , I do stickers because it’s amazing what my tiny goldfish brain will do for a sticker. Honestly, there are days when scrubbing the toilet sounds better than writing, but even on those days, I'll write for stickers.   

  • Tuesday, September 16, 2014 3:00 PM | Lena Coakley

    Today we're continuing our series of interviews with 2014 Packaging Your Imagination conference speakers with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of the picture books I'M BORED and NAKED (both written by Michael Ian Black) and of numerous Judy Blume covers.  Debbie has the most vibrant internet presence I know, so I am sure her PYI talk, Lightning Rods, Agents & Book Deals: Building Your Personal Brand will be chock full of useful information.  Lucky for us, she's agreed to give us a little preview.

    Lena: Can you give us a taste of what you'll be talking about at PYI?  What's one tip or nugget of wisdom you'll be sharing with attendees?

    Debbie: However you feel about the word "brand," everyone has a personal brand. You DO have control over it (yes, even the shy and introverted) and it can have a big effect on how successful you are in achieving your personal and professional goals. Some keys, I've found: Be authentic, find your niche and don't try to do everything. Come to my workshop and I'll explain more, including social media tips for those who aren't quite sure what to do with their social media.

     Lena: I’m a great fan of I’M BORED and NAKED.  Tell us about your next book.

    Debbie: I'm super-excited about my next book because it's also the very first children's book of which I'm author as well as illustrator. WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? is a picture book about a little boy named Spencer whose beloved books are mysteriously vanishing, one at a time. Who is taking them? Spencer needs to solve the mystery before his bookshelves are empty. WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? comes out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in May 2015.

    Lena: I love that premise! If you could offer one piece of advice to an aspiring author/illustrator, what would it be?

    Debbie: Don't try to do it on your own. If I could have given my younger self one piece advice, it would have been to start meeting other author/illustrators and attending conventions like Packaging Your Imagination much earlier. While it's possible to find publishing success on your own, the journey can be made easier and much more enjoyable if you can commiserate with, encourage and learn from others.

    Lena: Do you have a marketing strategy?  Could you tell us what's worked for you and what hasn't?

    Debbie: I believe that everyone needs to find a marketing strategy that works for them; there is no ONE right way to do it. My own marketing strategy (if you could call it that) developed because I wanted to avoid asking people to buy my book. So instead of doing that, I do what I can to make people interested in me and my work, so that when my new book DOES come out, they're already aware of it. If they want to buy the book, that's great. But if not (even the most avid bibliophiles have limited book-buying budgets), that's also fine. But in either case, I'm hoping that they might borrow it from the library or read it in the bookstore. And if they like it, maybe they'll let others know about it by word of mouth or social media.

    As for what's worked and what hasn't worked for me, I have no hard sales data thatconnects specific marketing strategies to sales. However, I do notice certain patterns with what people respond to via sharing or Likes on social media. 

    What's worked for me:

    Sharing my process, sharing my excitement about my own books  as well as other books. I've found that people respond most to when I add something personal. Including something visual (whether it's a book cover or especially a sketch or illustration) also gets more responses.

    What hasn't worked for me:

    Anything resembling direct marketing.

    Lena: I feel like I’ve watched your success happen before my eyes.  How have you grown as a writer/illustrator between your debut and your latest book?  What advice do you have for debut authors?

    Debbie: One thing I've learned: the angst NEVER ENDS, so it's important to enjoy every success, no matter how small. I used to think that getting my first book published was the ultimate goal. As soon as my first book got published, however, I realized that there was a whole new level of angst waiting with each book: What kind of reviews would the book get? Would there be ANY reviews? What would sales be like? How much promotion should I do? How would I juggle promotion and working on my next book? How do I keep from getting into a rut? and so on and so on.

    I still angst, of course, but I also try to enjoy the process and the journey.

    Another piece of advice: Don't get so caught up in promotion and marketing efforts that you forget to CREATE.

    Lena: I SO agree that the angst never ends, but I sometimes find it a bit demoralizing.  How do you stay motivated?

    Debbie: I make time to play (doodle and write for the fun of it) every day. I keep working on my craft, learning new techniques that I can't wait to try out.

    And as I said above, I attend events like Packaging Your Imagination where I can learn from others in the industry. I also surround myself with creative types who inspire me, or follow them online.

    Lena: How have you built an audience over time.  Any tips?

    Debbie: I'll be sharing many more tips in my PYI workshop, but here are just a few:

    Before diving into social media, figure out what you want to get out of it first. Too many authors and illustrators join Twitter just because they know their publishers want them to, but then get frustrated because they're not sure how to use it.

    Decide who your target audience is, and then post accordingly. Don't try to be everything to everyone. Pick your niche. How can you stand out? What are your strengths?

    Don't get obsessed with follower count. Therein lies madness and frustration. Focus on good content and non-spammy interaction.

    Give good karma and it will come back to you.

    Lena: That’s such perfect advice, Debbie, and if there’s anyone I know in the kidlit world who gives out good karma, it is you.  Thanks so much for dropping by the CANSCAIP blog.

    Follow Debbie on Twitter!

    Lightning Rods, Agents & Book Deals: Building Your Personal Brand

    (Professional Development, Beginner)

    Debbie will explain how an effective author or illustrator brand can give you a major edge in finding agents, landing book deals and marketing your work. She’ll also offer practical tips on how to find your own authentic brand as well as how to build it online.

    (Please note: this workshop will not be conducted in the tub.)

    CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination conference will be held on Saturday, October 18th in Toronto.


  • Thursday, September 11, 2014 4:16 PM | Lena Coakley

    Toronto CANSCAIP meetings started up again with a bang last night. Our guest was Groundwood Books publisher Sheila Barry, who spoke frankly about Writing and Publishing Books that Matter.

    Sheila brought out the stars, who were happy to see each other again after the summer break. Jean Little, Barbara Reid, Patricia Storms, Sylvia McNicoll, Andrea Wayne von Königslöw, Loris Lesynski, Vladyana Krykora and Jo Ellen Bogart were just some of the well-known children’s authors and illustrators who were in attendance.

    CANSCAIP President Bill Swan welcomed the group and introduced the Executive and Board members present, Holly Main (Membership), Erin Thomas (Programming), Jennifer Maruno (Programming), Cathy Rondina (VP), and yours truly, Lena Coakley, sitting at the back, taking these faithful notes.


    This is the time of year to sign up for a children’s writing course! Three were announced. Cathy Rondina will be teaching her Creating Non-Fiction for Children Course at George Brown, Ted Staunton will be teaching the George Brown Writing for Children I & II and Anne Laurel Carter will be teaching private courses in both novels and picture books


    Of the of 29 authors chosen to tour the country for Canadian Children's Book Week, 14 are CANSCAIP members. Click here for the full list.

    Nominees for the 2014 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards have been announced! Of those, over 50% CANSCAIP authors and illustrators.  Click here for the full list.


    A gorgeous crop of new creations were celebrated last night. 

    Janet Wilson showed us Severn and the Day She Silenced the World about Severn Suzuki’s speech at the 1992 Earth Summit.  Janet will be at the Eden Mills Festival this weekend!

    Elizabeth MacLeod showed off Bunny, the Brave War Horse, based on a true WWI story. 

    Heather Stamp presented Amelia and Me, a book about Amelia Earhart that's been shortlisted for a Red Cedar Book Award.

    Kari-Lynne Winters had two books: No-Matter-What Friend and Stinky Skunk Mel.  The latter was accepted in 2008 and is only just coming out now!

    Jennifer Maruno presented Totem, which Quill & Quire recently gave a starred review.

    Finally, our own Erin Thomas presented Forcing the Ace, a book about magic from Orca's new performing arts series, Limelights.


    CANSCAIP has a new administrative director, who was welcomed to her first meeting (in her new position) by a roaring crowd. 


    Helena pitched our upcoming, Packaging Your Imagination conference taking place Saturday, October 18th. Workshops by Erin Bow, Shelley Tanaka and Lesley Livingston are filling up fast, so if you are interested in those particular sessions, you’d better click this link. Like now.


    Helena also announced that CANSCAIP will have a booth at the Word on the Street festival and we need volunteers to help give out brochures and chat-up CANSCAIP. It’s a great way to get to know your fellow members and friends, so if you’re going to be there anyway, why not help out for a few hours? Call or Email Helena at the office for more information.


    Jennifer Maruno (glowing from that recent star in Quill and Quire) took the podium to announce that our next meeting in October will be an outreach meeting in Burlington, Ontario. This will help to serve some of our out-of-town members, but we hope that our Toronto people will make the effort to car-pool or Go Train as well. Further information will follow.

    Are you farther afield and burning with jealousy about our fabulous meetings? CANSCAIP offers seed money to groups who wish start meetings in their local area. If you are interested, please call or email the office for more information.

    PROGRAM: Sheila Barry on Writing and Publishing Books that Matter

    (Please note, this is a summery of our meeting and is not meant to represent a word-for-word transcription.)

    Jennifer then introduced Sheila Barry. Sheila worked at Kids Can Press before moving to Groundwood Books, where she became publisher in 2013 when founder, Patsy Aldana, retired. 

    Sheila said that she wanted to begin her talk with an apology. “I would hate for anyone to think from the title of my talk that I believe the only children’s books that matter are books on tough subjects like war.” She feels that all books for children are “books that matter,” and would not want to offend authors who write light-hearted works.

    “Books about soup!” whispered Loris Lesynski, who was sitting next to this recorder.

    Sheila’s talk was based on a piece she wrote for Freedom to Read week, and she hoped that we were all familiar with this event, which takes place in February. Freedom to Read celebrates and promotes the right of every child to read without impediment. Sheila was asked to write this piece because Groundwood is known for publishing books on difficult subjects. Just some of the subjects Groundwood has tackled are: pornography, genocide, prostitutes as lead characters, first nations children taken from their homes, and children hurt by war.

    “Part of Groundwood’s canon are books that some might consider inappropriate for children.”

    Sheila held up the book, The Composition, as an example of a classic Groundwood title. The book, by Antonio Skarmeta , is about a child under a repressive South American regime. “This sounds like the worst topic in the world for a children’s book,” she said, “but it is a beautiful book.” Sometimes books like this can be a tough sell to parents, but Groundwood relies on and is very grateful to libraries, often the place where a child would find a book like The Composition.

    “When publishing books for YA, you can talk about anything,” Sheila said, “but picture books are a different story. I always ask myself, ‘Would I read this to a child I know?’”

    Sheila then showed us the book, Good Night, Commander by Iranian author Ahmad Akbarpour. The book is about the aftermath of Iran-Iraq war and is the story about a child who has lost both his leg and his mother to the conflict. This is a touching book, which Sheila says she would read with a child. It’s power lies in its absolute fidelity to the things a child notices and the things a child thinks. She believes that some books should be read and discussed with an adult and hopes that they are. “There are expectations around context which we at Groundwood can’t control,” she said.

    Goodnight Commander was not a best seller, Sheila told us, but a book she was very proud to have it on Groundwood’s list.

    Sheila then went on to talk about submitting to Groundwood, telling us that the worst part of her job was saying no so often. They receive 1,500 submissions a year and publish 30. This means that for every yes, there are 49 nos. A phrase rejected authors and illustrators hear again and again is: “This project is not right for our list.” This is not a brush off. Most Canadian publishers have a notion of what their list is when taken as a whole. Look at their catalogues to get a sense of this. Groundwood does not consider genre fiction like fantasy or mysteries, even though Sheila is a big mystery fan. It’s just not what Groundwood does.

    When Sheila considers a submission, the first things she wants, before anything else, is an artistic creation. (We could talk for hours about what that means, she added.) She asks herself, is this literature? Groundwood is known for a standard of excellence in writing and illustration, which she considers before asking herself what message the book is sending. Will this book deliver a rich reading experience?

    Sheila had a lot to say about the issue of messages in children’s books. Every book on a difficult subject is a book with a message. In fact, any book is a book with a message. What Sheila does not want is a book that gives and easy solution to a complex problem. She gave the example of a hypothetical book on bullying: 

    A little girl is bullied. She, possibly with the help of a kind adult, comes up with a strategy. She implements this strategy and, suddenly, she has friends. In the end, she and her new friends ride their bikes to the ice cream store. 

    Sheila is not arguing that a bullied child shouldn’t have a strategy, but it does readers a terrible disservice when the problem is solved so easily. The book she wants is more inconclusive. Don’t wrap it all up.

    Of course, no child should feel more alone and more miserable than they did when they opened the book, but that doesn’t mean all problems must be solved. A child character must have arrived somewhere but not necessarily to a solution. The boy in Good Night, Commander learns that war is made up of victims like himself, but he does not draw conclusions about war that are beyond him. He makes a small step. When reading a story about siblings, no one thinks it’s the writer’s job to solve the “problem of siblings.” It’s the same with war or bullying or pain.

    Sarah Ellis’s new book, Ouside In, published this spring, is a good example of what Sheila is looking for. It’s book primarily about friendship, but one of the girls is effectively homeless. She has been abducted by a man who found her. To an adult this sounds terrible, but in the context of the book she is a heroic figure to the other girl who becomes her friend. What Sheila loved about the book is that it never delivers a moral judgement. The book’s goal is to tell a story about two girls who become friends. The message is given very subtly. “I am finding myself wanting that subtly more and more,” Sheila said. “I have less need for resolution.”

    Sheila then threw a question to the audience: “If we are passionate about the world we live in, what about telling stories that aren’t ours to tell…or are all stories ours to tell?”

    This is the question of appropriation of voice, which Sheila said she didn’t have an answer for. As writers, can we write about different races, different cultures? She thinks that our writing would be very narrow if we could not, but she thinks its an important question that she urges us not to gloss over. It is a question worth grappling with again and again.

    Sheila ended the talk by giving us a few of her “pet peeves.”

    Pet Peeve #1

    Why does all historical fiction have to be about rebellious girls who don’t seem to fit in their own time period? Too many historical novels are anachronistic in that characters do not have the mind of their times. By doing this, authors are creating someone “born better.” Isn’t it more interesting to write about someone completely immersed in their own time period, who has the attitudes of the day?

    Pet Peeve #2

    In too many novels there is a boy who sticks with the girl through thick and thin. Sheila does not want to be anti-boy, but in some novels, this character’s faithfulness is his only quality. He’s hard to believe in, this perfect boy. Sheila doesn’t think this is the best hope to be giving young girls. There is a desire to end a book--especially a book where a girl has had a bad time--with the promise that a guy will be there in the end. Sometimes this works and is appropriate, but authors need to ask themselves the tough question: Are you telling lies to children?

    Pet Peeve #3

    The first person in picture books is tricky. If it works it can be brilliant, but often an author attributes too much to the voice of the child. The wonderful thing about Good Night Commander is that even at the end, the boy protagonist is thinking “sort of the wrong thing” about his situation. He’s only part way. And everything he says is from this realistic point of view. Writers, ask yourself: Are you using the child protagonist to communicate things to the reader that no child could communicate? If so, you have a problem.

    Thanks so much for joining us on a rainy Wednesday, Sheila!

    A note from your recorder: That's right!  What were once called "CANSCAIP Minutes," write-ups of our Toronto meetings, will now appear on our blog.  In upcoming months, we'd like to make our blog more vibrant, so if you have any ideas for posts, contact me at lena (at) lenacoakley (dot) com

  • Thursday, September 04, 2014 8:00 AM | Lena Coakley

    Big changes are afoot on the CANSCAIP blog!  In the next few months, we’ll be bringing you more content than ever before, so keep checking back or grab an RSS feed, above.  We’ll start by having write-ups of our monthly Toronto meetings and featured interviews with the speakers of our upcoming Packaging Your Imagination conference.  If you have further ideas for what you’d like to see here, please don’t hesitate to contact the office.

    And now, without further ado, here is the first in our series of short features about our PYI speakers:

    Introducing… Paula Wing

    Lena Coakley: Hi Paula!  Thanks for answering a few questions for us.  The topic of your CANSCAIP presentation is: Standing On Your Head: Adapting Your Work for the Stage.  Can you give us a little taste of what you'll be talking about?  What's one tip or nugget of wisdom you'll be sharing with PYI attendees?

    Paula Wing: I'll be talking about and sharing exercises that have helped me to adapt books to the stage. There is a saying in Italian about translation that I think applies in some ways to adaptation: Traduttore, tradittore. Meaning, translator, betrayer.

    You have to be faithful to the original, but you have to be faithful to the spirit of the original rather than the letter of it. You will have to abandon certain things. You will have to invent small things. In order to be true to what the original is about.

    Lena: Translator, betrayer.  I love that.

    You have been writing and adapting plays for many years now, with all the ups and downs that entails.  How do you stay motivated?

    Paula: Staying motivated is one of the challenges of the writing life. For me, one of the best ways is to mix it up. I change the location of my writing sometimes - meaning I go to a café or I even go to a different room in my apartment, or write in bed when I wake up. On rare occasions when I have a big deadline I sometimes go off for a "dirty weekend", to a cottage or don't tell motel where I hole up and write pausing only to eat ripple chips.

    I recently took an online writing course to kick start me after a sluggish period. I meet with other writers in coffee shops for writing dates. I am fuelled by the brilliance and success of others (though I admit I can struggle with feelings of envy and jealousy there too. But when I can use others' success as a motivator, it works very well).

    Lena: Thanks so much, Paula.  See you at PYI!

    Paula Wing is a playwright,translator and teacher. Her most recent play was an adaptation of Robin Hood for Geordie Theatre in Montréal. Her original play Risky Phil is indevelopment at Young People's Theatre in Toronto.


  • Wednesday, April 16, 2014 7:47 PM | Sharon Plumb (Administrator)
    Do you use Goodreads to find books or to promote your own? Have you heard of it but aren't sure what it is? This month's Sask CANSCAIP chapter's discussion forum is on "Why Goodreads?" Come and add your two cents or ask your questions  at .
  • Friday, February 14, 2014 4:09 PM | Sharon Plumb (Administrator)
    The Sask CANSCAIP chapter is thinking of hosting an online writing course so that all of our members can participate without having to travel long distances in uncertain weather. This month we want to find out if our members would like a course, and if so, what sort. It would probably take place in the Fall of 2014, and would also be open to people outside Saskatchewan if there were spaces left over. 

    If you would be interested in teaching an online course on some aspect of writing for children, we would also like to hear from you. Post on the blog or email
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2014 11:33 PM | Sharon Plumb (Administrator)
    Marie Powell has just posted Sask CANSCAIP's latest discussion topic: Research - How Much is Too Much? You can read the post and comments, or add your own, at .

    December's post, by Linda Aksomitis,  was on the topic of publishing your own e-book.
    November's, by Dianne Young, was about unexpected things that can happen at School Readings and how to deal with them.

    You can find all of these at . Check it out!

  • Friday, November 15, 2013 6:00 AM | Sharon Plumb (Administrator)
    The Saskatchewan Chapter of CANSCAIP has started a monthly online discussion forum on the chapter website. The idea came up at our general meeting after the 2013 Prairie Horizons Conference in September, during a discussion on how to connect our geographically scattered members.

    A different discussion topic will be posted on the 15th of each month by a guest moderator. The first one went up in October on the topic of the discussion forum itself, and the second one is out today! Check it out at
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