Creating Christmas Books with Werner Zimmerman and Lisa Dalrymple

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 12:13 PM | Lena Coakley

Wednesday, December 9,2015 7:00 PM

Minute Notes taken by Saumiya B. Pictures by Debbie Ohi.

Our president, Sharon Jennings began by with an anecdote (from Facebook) that said, ’People who engage in artistic activities are 73% less likely to suffer from memory decline’.

She then informed the members about her many efforts and letters to the Toronto Star to improve and include children’s books in the best-sellers list. CANSCAIPers on the list include Robert Munsch, Eric Walters, Linda Bailey and Lorna Schulz Nicholson.

Sharon also mentioned CANSCAIP authors who were winners at the 2015 TD Canadian Children’s literature awards gala.

Marthe Jocelyn for What we Hide, Amy Mathers Teen Book Award.

Jonathan Auxier for The Night Gardener, Monica Hughes Fantasy and Science Fiction Award

William Bell for Julian, John Spray Mystery Award

Marsha Skrypuch for Dance of the Banished, Geoffrey Bilson Award

Kira Vermond for Why We Live Where We Live, Norma Fleck Award

Cybele Young for Nancy Knows, Marilyn Baille Picture Book Award

Jonathan Auxier for The Night Gardener, TD Canadian Children’s literature Award


Sylvia McNicoll :  Survival, Grades 6-12

Sylvia paid tribute (in Swedish) to the late Paul Kropp, then translated the same from her book Survival. Her dedication to Paul will read:

For Paul who launched a thousand reading and writing ships

and this one small airplane.

Brooke Kerrigan: Fisherman Through and Through, Picture Book by Red Deer Press

Kathleen Gauer : High in the Sky, Picture Book by Skipping Stone Press

Kate Blair: Transferral, Young Adult Sci-fi by Dancing Cat Books

Helen Alto, CANSCAIP Administrative Director, spoke about the success of PYI . The registrations increased from 118 in 2014 to 140 in 2015, with virtual PYI numbers soaring to 44 from 23 last year. The art show numbers also exceeded 2014 figures.

Sharon informed us that the executive board is approaching publishers asking them to let CANSCAIP know of their events, so it is easier for our members to be aware of ongoing programs.


Patricia Storms, programme committee chair, said the special potluck night of delicious goodies was a great opportunity to learn how to produce best-selling Christmas books. She then introduced Lisa Dalrymple who has lived with chickens in South Korea, lizards in Thailand and two sisters in the U.K.

Lisa, who is well known as the "skink lady" for her book Skink on the Brink, said that she would rather be known (suited to the occasion) as the A-Moose-Goes-a-Mummering lady.

Lisa’s first book was If It’s No Trouble…a Big Polar Bear, which according to her did not do as well, in spite of being a Christmas book that Quill and Quire featured it in its Fall 2012 preview alongside Robert Munsch’s Finding Christmas.

At this book’s launch in Newfoundland, while standing right in front of tall shelf stacked with multiple copies of A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, her publisher expressed her views. “We need a 12 days of Christmas in Newfoundland book,” she said. At first Lisa did not think she was the right author for this project, not being a Newfoundlander, but her publisher was persistent.

Lisa learned that the history and heritage of Newfoundland was very different from her own home province. For a Newfoundland Christmas book, Lisa figured there had to be a moose, a moose in a spruce. It was by chance that when she was talking about her work-in-progress that an acquaintance said, “Oh, a Newfoundland Christmas book. Is it about mummering?” At first, Lisa didn’t know what mummering was.  

She discovered that mummering is a Christmas-time house-visiting tradition practiced in Newfoundland. A group of friends or family dress in disguise and visit homes within their community or neighbouring communities during the twelve days of Christmas. If the mummers are welcomed into a house, they often do a variety of informal performances that may include dance, music, jokes, or recitations. The hosts guess the mummers’ identities before offering them food or drink. They may poke and prod the mummers or ask them questions. To make this a challenge for the hosts, the mummers may stuff their costumes, cross-dress, or speak while inhaling – ingressive speech. Once the mummers have been identified, they remove their disguises, spend some social time with the hosts, and then travel as a group to the next home.

When asked (by someone in the audience) about the challenges in producing Christmas books, Lisa said that a Christmas book has the potential to sell very well every year, but it’s a big risk for the publisher. Some won’t take that risk.

The second half of the evening was informative and inspiring, as Werner Zimmerman discussed the visual aspects of creating Christmas books. He is a life-drawing instructor at Seneca and Humber Colleges and an award-winning illustrator.

Werner shared slides of his rough drafts and thumbnails for his bestselling book written by Helaine Becker, A Porcupine in a Pine Tree.

His process is to first break down the story into storyboards. Then he doodles for a while, creating character sketches and playing with colours.

Werner often draws real-life animals. He visits places such as the zoo and the ROM where he spends several hours drawing beavers, puffins, dogs etc.

Werner talked about how where the eye naturally falls when looking at a picture. Artists can learn to play with this to subvert expectations and to create a sense of motion through a narrative. As with words, there is also that rhythm in pictures.

As Werner progressed through his Porcupine in a Pine Tree slides, he spoke about breaks in “picture frames” – where the illustrations begin to go in and out as opposed to back and forth. This adds variety. For the puffins' spread, he broke down the picture frame, making the birds seem to pop from the page. (Werner said he’d love to literally do this with a pop-up book, but Canadian publishers find them too expensive to produce.)

Werner concluded his presentation with a picture of him in the Scholastic office where he was given a desk to work at. Even after all the work he does at home, there are many comments from editors and art directors to be addressed, and his art is covered with many sticky notes.


Sharon was curious about what was on the sticky notes. Werner said that those were tiny missing or extra details, or something like a character not looking consistent throughout the work.

Sharon then asked the industry lead time. Werner and Lisa both agreed that it was 2-3 years from acceptance to publication.

Lisa was asked if she went through an agent. She said she did not and that it was harder in Canada to find agents that would represent picture books.

Helena asked if it were true that authors and illustrators rarely met.  Lisa and Werner said that this is not unusual, but it was not true in Lisa’s particular case. Werner said that as an illustrator he preferred not to have an author looking over his shoulder, but Lisa said that her illustrator for Skink on the Brink found Lisa’s input useful for biological accuracy, as Lisa had become something of an expert on skinks and their habitats.

The evening ended with merry holiday socializing and delicious treats and desserts brought out by members. Sylvia McNicoll and Debbie Ohi won the raffle for the evening – prints of Werner’s lovely paintings.


January 13th
Marion Hebb—founder and past chair of artists' legal services at TWUC will conduct a session on legal services at the 
CANSCAIP meeting in January.