David Homel and Marie-Louise Gay: How to Talk to Kids About War

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One of our memorable family trips that was just waiting to be turned into a book took us to the coast of Croatia, a landscape of countless islands linked by improvised ferries. The country is peaceful and beautiful today, but the scars of recent ethnic conflict are just beneath the surface.

Traveling-Circus_3-1This new book held a special challenge for us as writers and parents who travel with their kids. Our Traveling Circus takes place in a country recently torn apart by the civil war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. How do you fit that into a novel for young readers? How do we as parents and writers explain events to our kids? How would Charlie and Max, the two brothers on a trip with their parents, figure out what happened in this place, and how would it affect them?

They would do what any of us would. They compare their new surroundings to what they know from back home. On my street, Charlie says, people speak different languages and have different religions and look different, but they don’t fight. So what happened here? He will get his answers before the book comes to an end, and return home richer for it.

The other thing Charlie does is get a guide. Several guides, actually: his parents’ old friends Fred and Gordana and their grandson Libero, and their friends, the completely bald Bobo and his wife Silvia, who looks like a movie star. These people, part of the traveling circus, are a mixture of origins and backgrounds. They experienced the war, and have stories to share with Charlie and his brother.

But Charlie really begins to find things out when he heads off on his own adventures – with Max trailing behind, as always. On one of the islands they visit, a place where cars have yet to set foot, Charlie and Max come upon a frightening hermit with a few secrets that have to do with the war.

In The Traveling Circus, we mixed drama and humor in the right measure. When the kids discover a village that is half destroyed, half intact, and entirely deserted, they really see what a civil war means. But there is plenty of laughter as they confront fish thieves and ferry pilots who seem to be sailing with their eyes closed. Not to mention the time they almost get thrown into prison for sneaking across a border without their passports (Charlie was only taking Max behind the closest bush for a pee).

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The Traveling Circus will take readers of our three previous books in this series to a place that few people see from the inside. We hope our Circus will inspire them to imagine other lives in other places, and widen their view of the world today.


Marie-Louise Gay is a world-renowned author and illustrator of children’s books. She has won many prestigious awards, including two Governor General’s awards, the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. She has also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

David Homel is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, journalist and translator. He has won the Governor General’s Award for translation, and the Hugh MacLennan Prize and the Jewish Public Library Award for fiction. His most recent novel is Midway. He lives in Montreal, Quebec. Together they have written four books about their family adventures.

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki answer your frequently asked questions

As Mariko and Jillian Tamaki toured North America with their new graphic novel, This One Summer, they found that there were a few questions that came up from fans and interviewers again and again. Maybe you have some of these questions too.

What is the process of creating your books? How is the work divided?

Mariko Tamaki: Comics have this kind of unique way of unfolding that’s very different from prose. With comics, your focus is on script and narration. My goal, for my side of things, is to keep things very loose, knowing that the majority of what’s happening on the page, what the reader will see, is illustration. It’s a funny way to piece together a story, with these bits and pieces. I try to imagine it as this thing that’s happening, like I’m a fly on the wall watching these conversations unfold. The narrator is sort of a version of me, watching the story unfold as “I” the character is inside it. I like the idea that it’s a limited perspective, and my goal with is always to play with that. With what characters know and don’t know at any given moment. Once that’s done, I hand what is essentially a theater script (narration, dialogue, basic setting for scenes) over to Jillian, and it’s her job to interpret and fill out the whole thing. Which is, I know, a ton of work. A. Ton. So I try to be as helpful as possible. And I wait for what is inevitable, which is change. Because once you add visuals, the whole thing is naturally going to start moving around. It’s funny because the conversations we had after I’d handed over the script were so great. It’s like you’re talking about this fictional family that’s kind of YOUR family and you’re like, “What’s up with Alice?” In a way I felt like, “How can we help Alice?” was one of the conversations we kept having, which I think lends hugely the to the final story.

Jillian Tamaki: People are often very fascinated by the collaborative aspect of our books and often remark that it seems like the books are made by one person. This is a huge compliment. I try to always honour the spirit of Mariko’s work (or anyone’s work, really), while also taking some ownership of the characters and story for myself.

What is the starting point for you when you create a character?

MT: I try to think of something they would say all the time. I feel like if I can get a kind of verbal hook on someone, I can figure them out.

JT: I think of a character I can draw from multiple angles. Very pragmatic.

Why did you choose blue ink for This One Summer?

JT: First and foremost, I thought it would look cool. It is a slight reference to vintage manga and risograph, visually. But I think it also has an undefinable melancholy and nostalgia that adds a meaningful layer to the artwork.

Is the story autobiographical? What did you draw from your own life to create the story?

MT: After Skim came out, there were a lot of people who inferred that because there were many similarities between myself and the main character that the story was not fictional. Which, by the way, it IS (fiction). After that I really tried to push myself to go outside of what was immediately ME when writing TOS. That said, I mean, your memories of being a kid are an invaluable resource. You need memory to write. But it’s also about what you’re observing in your current life. A lot of the kid stuff in TOS is from the kids I met later in life, who I find fascinating. KIDDING! (Not kidding.)

What is the most challenging part of making a comic?

MT: I think editing is a bit of a strange process for making comics. It’s really this thing that you have to have a massive amount of trust from your publisher, that they would see what is essentially a skeleton and trust you to go off and make a whole person.

JT
: Aside from the same old issues anyone would have making a book? The labour. The tedium. It is not a particularly lucrative endeavour if you break it down dollars per hour. A challenge of being a cartoonist is often one of economics.

What was your reaction to This One Summer being named a Caldecott Honor Book?

MT: Being an artist is a largely thankless task that, at the same time, is fuelled by the reactions of readers, viewers, and so on. So of course it’s good to know that some readers of note (librarians) liked your work enough to give it an honor. It means, to some respect, that you’re on the right path or at least you’re doing something right. I think the trick is not to be persuaded by that to either only do the things you’re getting recognition for or to do the things you think will get recognition. So it’s awesome but it’s not something I want to lean on or wear on my lapel every day.

JT: I agree!

Did you write This One Summer with any audience in mind? 

MT: I knew that TOS was being published by a YA publisher. And I knew that it was going to be about, in part, younger people. But I don’t think I tried to make it for anyone, aside from myself and for Jillian. Beyond that, I think it’s a guessing game. And who wants to guess?

JT: I try to make books that adults would appreciate, even if it’s technically going to be defined as a YA book. I’m actually less concerned about what a kid would like.

How do you feel about This One Summer being called a children’s book? 

MT: Well. It’s not a children’s book. It’s a book for readers, I would guess, about 12 and older. I would like to think that this is not a controversial matter, although I know for some people it is, because readers, as I know them, self select. If you are a young reader, either this book is going to be given to you by a teacher or a librarian, or a parent, or you’re going to find it somewhere and look at it and decide if you want to read it. I can’t imagine a child is going to be into a comic like TOS. That said, since we’ve gotten some recognition from librarians and I’ve read a few more articles, I kind of like the idea that it’s a book you could read as a kid, that has a place in young adult literature because it’s not explicitly for young readers but about them. Beyond that, you know, it’s about stuff I thought of when I was a kid, so why not?

Is this a feminist book?

MT: Yes. Because it was written by feminists.

What is your advice for people who are starting out in this industry? Who want to make comics?

MT: Just start making them.

JT: The bar for making comics is incredibly low. You need a pencil and some copy paper and you’re ready to go. You don’t even need to photocopy anymore, just post them on tumblr or twitter or instagram or whatever platform is popular when you’re reading this.

Will you make another book together?

MT: Sure, if the right project comes up. I like to think our work is evolving, so it would have to be part of that continuum.

JT: Yup.

What are your upcoming projects?

MT: I’ve got a prose YA book, Saving Montgomery Sole, coming out with Roaring Brook/Penguin Canada in Winter 2016.

JT: My webcomic, SuperMutant Magic Academy, will be collected into a book and published by Drawn and Quarterly in April 2015. I will also have a small book called SexCoven, published by Youth in Decline, coming out in the Spring.

Boldly go! Linda Little explains the magic of tall ships

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Years ago my partner and I made the two-hour trek into Halifax to catch a festival of tall ships and to watch the Parade of Sail. The ships, all rigged out and with their crews out on deck or up in the rigging, sailed a wide circle around Halifax harbor and then set off to sea. A few weeks later at a summer gathering with friends, we were all discussing the spectacle and a teenager said, “I don’t get it. What’s the big deal with the tall ships?” A few of us fumbled around with bumbling half-answers but the question stuck with me. In the days when nothing moved except by the power of wind, water, or muscle, the prospect of seeing beyond one’s horizons must have been a powerful lure for the curious and adventurous. It was ten years before I finally addressed that question with the text for a picture book. What is the big deal? Tall ships are a symbol to us of worlds beyond our experience. They are about courage and curiosity and exploration. They are about setting off into the unknown and embracing what we find.

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My past writing experience is mostly writing novels for adults. Writing a picture book is more like writing a poem. It requires one really good idea that is expressed within 1,000 words rather than a set-up that allows for continuous tension. What I learned is that, like any piece of writing, a picture book needs a strong foundation. Authors need to know exactly what they are saying. The story is an easily accessible narrative, but the underlying idea needs to be strong enough to support the story for years of reading and to support a young reader’s own imagination. In the case of Work and More Work: boldly go!


Linda Little is a short-story writer and novelist. She has won the Cunard First Book Award, the Lilla Stirling Memorial Award, the Dartmouth Book Award and the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize. She currently teaches composition and the literature of Atlantic Canada at Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture. This is her first picture book. She lives in River John, Nova Scotia.

Spotted in a bookstore near you: The Missing Dog is Spotted

The Missing Dog is Spotted

Written by Jessica Scott Kerrin

Trevor Tower doesn’t worry about being short until he is assigned dog-walking duty with Loyola Louden, the tallest person in his class. But the dogs are a wonderful distraction, and even before Trevor and Loyola vow to solve the mystery of a missing spotted dog, they are becoming good friends.

In this standalone prequel to the acclaimed novel The Spotted Dog Last Seen—a New York Public Library Book for Reading and Sharing (2013)—Jessica Scott Kerrin gives readers another mystery to solve and a lost dog to find. But does the missing dog even exist?

Celebrate Black History All Year Round with These Four Books

Black history month has come to a close, but that doesn’t mean we suddenly turn a blind eye to black history, issues, and culture. Black voices are often under-represented in children’s literature, which is why Groundwood is proud to offer a wide selection of books that relate directly to black history and experiences.

Here are four books to help you and your children celebrate black history any month of the year:

I See the Promised Land (Ages 10+)
Written by Arthur Flowers
Illustrated by Manu Chitrakar I SEE THE PROMISED LAND Written by Arthur Flowers

I See the Promised Land by Arthur Flowers tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr. in a graphic narrative-style, illustrated by Indian scroll painter Manu Chitrakar.

The book gives a complete look at the social climate Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) lived in and the historical conditions that informed his fight for civil rights, leaving no stone unturned. Arthur Flowers touches on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, MLK’s involvement in the formation of civil rights groups, the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, and more.

I See the Promised Land encourages children to learn more about civil rights by introducing them to the influence that Mahatma Gandhi had on Martin Luther King Jr., and the method of nonviolent resistance that helped both leaders achieve their goals. Flowers also introduces kids to the challenges that MLK faced with the rise of Malcolm X and the Black Power Movement—both of whom fought for the same rights as MLK, but did so in a manner that conflicted with Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent methods.

I See the Promised Land concludes with a look at MLK’s legacy, and a note on the Patua art that Manu Chitrakar used throughout the book. I See the Promised Land is suitable for children ages 10 and up.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged (Ages 5-9)
Written by Jody Nyasha Warner
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki

VIOLA DESMOND WON'T BE BUDGED Written by Jody Nyasha WarnerViola Desmond Won’t Be Budged tells the story of Viola Desmond (July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965), a business woman who challenged racial segregation at a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946 by refusing to leave a whites-only seating area. For her defiance, she was removed from the theatre, arrested, thrown in jail overnight, and fined.

Upon her release, Viola Desmond fought the charges, but lost her battle in court. Her determination, however, inspired strength in her community, and she became a hero and an icon in the struggle against injustice and racial segregation in North America.

In 2010 Viola Desmond was given a posthumous free pardon by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the first to ever be granted in Canada, and was also issued a formal apology by the government of Nova Scotia.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged, illustrated by Nova Scotia-based artist Richard Rudnicki, Jody Masha Warner, tells the story of Viola Davis in a way that is suitable for children ages 5-9.

Music from the Sky (Ages 3-6)
Written by Denise Gillard
Illustrated by Stephen Taylor

Nana’s Cold Days (Ages 3 and Under)
Written by Adwoa Badoe
Illustrated by Bushra Junaid

Nana’s Cold Days by Adwoa Badoe and Music from the Sky by Denise Gillard both discuss intergenerational relationships within families. MUSIC FROM THE SKY Written by Denise Gillard

Music from the Sky tells the story of a young girl and her grandfather as they set out one morning to find the perfect branch to carve. He wants to make a flute for her out of the branch they find, but the young girl doubts his abilities. She has seen flutes before, and knows that flutes are not made out of wood.

Music from the Sky, suitable for children ages 3-6 and illustrated by Stephen Taylor, captures the special relationship between a girl and her grandfather and takes place in one of Canada’s oldest black communities.

NANA'S COLD DAYS Written by Adwoa BadoeIn Nana’s Cold Days, Ken and Rama have been looking forward to their Nana’s visit from Africa for months. But Nana lands in Canada in the middle of winter and she finds the weather too cold to bear. Nana covers herself in sheets and blankets and refuses to go anywhere until she comes down with the croup and has to figure out how to get better. Suitable for children ages 3 and under, the book is illustrated by Bushra Junaid using a unique collage style to bring this warm family story to life.

Enter to win a Bright Sky, Starry City prize pack!

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On March 11th we are giving away a gift-package to one lucky winner to celebrate the publication of Bright Sky, Starry City by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro!

If you win, you will receive one free copy of the book and four pieces of sidewalk chalk so that you and your kids can begin drawing the night sky on your sidewalk, just like Phoebe!

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This contest is open to residents of North America (excluding Quebec). We will accept entries until midnight on Wednesday, March 11th, and will contact the winner by email on Friday, March 13th.

Good luck!

Sorry! Contest closed!

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Charis Wahl and the Bottle Gourd

Charis Wahl’s new book, Rosario’s Fig Tree, is about a little girl whose neighbor has a very green thumb. Rosario grows “tomatoes and peppers and beans and zucchinis and cucumbers and eggplants and lots of things I don’t know.” The book is inspired by the people on Charis’s street, and in honor of its publication she’s shared a story of her own about mysterious things growing in the garden next door.

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We have a lattice fence between our backyard and that of our neighbors. While our yard is pretty much a mess, theirs has neat lines of poles joined by strings, on which vines climb. Some of the vines climb the fence. They are a very pretty lime color and have large, bright flowers, a definite improvement on mere fence.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 3.33.35 PMOne day we realized that there was a two-foot-long, light-green object hanging over the fence — sort of like a giant caterpillar, but not hairy. We gently sent it back over the fence to its rightful home and thought no more about it.

Some time later, our neighbor came to the door and handed us the green object. There followed much mutual bowing and miming of “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” as we have no language in common, but no answer to the question of what to do with the unidentified crop.

Enter the internet: it turned out to be a bottle gourd, a cousin of a squash — no mystery there — but what kind was a revelation. Sure, you can eat it — we curried ours — and it’s frighteningly healthy, but that’s just the beginning. They are also used in cosmetics, as medicine containers, made into musical instruments and, yes, turned into water bottles. Dry them properly, give them a couple of hits of bleach, wax the inside surface and, eureka, Thermos is out of business.

And to think that I saw only a backyard filled with pretty vines. Silly me.


Charis Wahl is an author and editor of books for children and adults. She co-authored Doris McCarthy: My Life and co-edited Love, Hope, Optimism: An Informal Portrait of Jack Layton by Those Who Knew Him. Her next-door neighbor of thirty-five years inspired her to write Rosario’s Fig Tree. She lives in downtown Toronto.

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