Danielle Daniel on writing music to go with her books

I never learned to play an instrument when I was younger, besides the flute which I played horribly (sorry, Mom.) After watching my son, Owen, practice the guitar and fill the house with song for several months, I became inspired to pick up an instrument of my own. His dedication and passion to his music motivated me to finally stop talking about someday — I made a commitment. I decided on the ukulele because it’s portable and easy to play. What I also realized is that it’s a perfect companion during the long and dark winter days in Northern Ontario.

After learning a few popular songs like “Over the Rainbow,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers, I was already itching to write music of my own. I knew I wanted to add music to my poetry for children. I thought it would be a great way for the kids to join in while I read my books. It could be an experience rather than a passive activity in listening. This way, we’re all engaged in saying the words aloud. As a former elementary school teacher, I know it’s best to have a few tricks up your sleeve or tucked inside your toolbox.

While I don’t sing the whole book because that would be too long, I do love bringing my words to life with a melody. Once in a Blue Moon is much lighter in mood compared to Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox, which depicts many different emotions and characteristics. Once in a Blue Moon is about finding the magic in nature and appreciating these special moments that are rare. Of course, this song has to be uplifting and filled with glee and celebration.

Because the first line in each stanza is repeated, it does lend itself well towards creating a rhythm. It has been pure joy for me to create these little ditties and sing my words. I hope the kids feel my heart in there too. I want them to know you don’t have to have the best singing voice to share it with others.

My maternal grandfather used to play the banjo and my paternal grandfather played the harmonica (and the spoons.) All of my cousins play an instrument and they’re all musicians in their own fields; from punk to garage to techno. Family gatherings are a true jamboree. Both of my brothers are also musical and self-taught, so now you know why it has always been on my New Year’s resolution list.

Ultimately, I thank my son for showing me how much music can enrich my life. I thank him for teaching me about daily practice and patience. I’m glad I didn’t wait another year to get started. I think I’ll work on snow tunes next. Let it snow. I’m totally ready.


Once in a Blue Moon

by Danielle Daniel

Inspired by the expression “once in a blue moon,” Danielle Daniel has created a book of short poems, each one describing a rare or special experience that turns an ordinary day into a memorable one. She describes the thrill of seeing a double rainbow, the Northern Lights or a shooting star as well as quieter pleasures such as spotting a turtle basking in the sun or a family of ducks waddling across the road.

In simple words and delightful naïve images, Once in a Blue Moon celebrates the magical moments that can be found in the beauty and wonders of nature.

 

Jessica Scott Kerrin on the inspiration for The Things Owen Wrote

When I was an undergraduate in Alberta, I spent a summer working for the (then) Alberta Historic Sites Services as an interpreter. I was assigned to a newly opened site called Stephansson House near Red Deer (between Calgary and Edmonton). We opened the house each day and wore 1920s period clothing in keeping with the decade that the poet-farmer named Stephan G. Stephansson died and to which period the house was restored.

Stephansson House Provincial Historic Site, near Red Deer, Alberta

I spent countless hours in the Icelandic-Canadian’s homestead surrounded by his belongings, whiling away the hours between visitors by attempting to grow a garden, baking cookies on the woodstove or spinning wool. I didn’t get very good at any of it.

Three things stayed with me over the years. First, Stephansson’s attic had become home to an enormous bat colony. We could hear and smell them through the walls. Occasionally, one would escape and make its way into the living quarters, and I would be horrified to discover it when I opened the house in the morning. Even now, I’d know that smell anywhere.

The second was the tragic way in which one of Stephansson’s sons, Gestur, died. The sixteen-year-old was attempting to get home before an approaching thunderstorm but was struck by lightning while climbing over a fence. The ghostly photograph of that boy and his nearby grave marker haunted me as I stared out over the prairies where he lay.

The third was the extraordinary contradiction between Stephansson’s fame in Iceland and his relative obscurity in Canada, owing to the fact that he wrote all of his work in Icelandic.

I recently revisited Stephansson House decades later. Nothing had changed, of course, except me. Now that I was a writer, I could appreciate how hard it must have been for him to construct poems after working the fields while his family slept through the night. I had also spent a career working with curators, archivists and translators, all of whom I now understood as being critical to Stephansson’s legacy. With this deepened awareness, I felt I had the makings for my next novel. A research trip to Iceland confirmed it. I experienced firsthand the glaciers, waterfalls, turf buildings and the family farmland that Stephansson wrote so poetically about.

One special moment comes to mind. I carefully opened the now frail travel journal he had kept aboard during his emigration to North America, which had been preserved at the national archives in Reykjavík. I scanned his list of English words and their Icelandic equivalent. Stephansson was learning a new language en route to North America. It made me gasp to finally read him in English. It felt as if he was saying, “Hello, Jessica. Nice to see you again. Now, let’s get down to writing.”

Page from Stephansson’s travel journal, now housed at the National and University Library, Reykjavík, Iceland


The Things Owen Wrote

by Jessica Scott Kerrin

Owen has always done well, even without trying that hard. He gets As in school, is an avid photographer and knows he can count on his family’s support. But then Owen makes a mistake. A big one. And now he must face his fear of disappointing his entire family.

A last-minute trip to Iceland, just Owen and his granddad, seems like the perfect way out. For Owen’s granddad, the trip is about paying tribute to a friend with Icelandic roots. But Owen has a more urgent reason for going: he must get back the notebook his granddad accidentally sent to the Iceland archive. He can’t let anyone read the things he wrote in it!

The pair gets on a plane, excited to leave their prairie town for a country of lava fields, glaciers and geysers. However, as they explore Iceland, the plan to recover Owen’s notebook starts to spiral out of control. Why does Owen’s granddad seem so confused and forgetful? And can Owen really hide the truth of what’s in his notebook?

An Excerpt from Sit by Deborah Ellis

1

THE SINGING CHAIR

Jafar was sitting on a work bench in the furniture factory.

Not sitting, exactly. Perching, like a little bird on the edge of a trash can, ready to take flight at the first sign of danger from a cat or a truck.

Or from the boss storming through looking for slackers.

As he rested his bony little body, Jafar stared into a sunbeam. It was only a second-hand sunbeam, one that bounced off the window of the coffin shop across the lane, but Jafar looked forward to it every day. It meant his workday, which began in Jakarta’s pre-dawn gray, was heading toward the end.

The second-hand sunbeam pushed through the factory gloom. It made the men and boys glow like angels as they bent over their work. The dust particles danced and sparkled in the air.

I’m in a gold factory, Jafar thought.

In the haze, the rows and rows of chairs looked like thrones meant for gods and goddesses, not just kings and queens. No wonder the workers were not allowed to sit on them.

“Don’t sit on the chairs!” Boss was always yelling at them. “The chairs are not for you and your filth.”

Jafar had to agree with Boss about that. All the boys and men in the factory were filthy. Even Boss, although he was not nearly as dirty as the rest of them.

One of Jafar’s jobs was to sweep. He swept the whole factory floor several times a day, but the dirt kept coming. Wood dust, wood shavings, grime from the sooty car and bus engines that blew in through the open wall that faced the street. The factory refused to stay clean while work was going on.

The dirt stuck to him, too. No matter how careful Jafar was with the glue and lacquer, drops always landed on his skin and clothes, and everything stuck to these drops. At the end of an especially busy day, when they rushed around to get their work done, sawing and sanding to fill orders, Jafar looked like some new kind of animal, with wood shavings for fur and soot-dust for skin. When he scratched his head with his glue-hands, the glue and wood dust made his hair stand up on the top of his head like many small ears.

“Quit daydreaming!” Boss yelled. He slapped the back of the boy’s head as he moved through the factory.

Jafar jumped. He felt a little guilty because he had been daydreaming. He was working, though, and quickly. He could work with his hands and still daydream in his head.

Jafar was sanding chairs today, the final sanding before the chairs would be loaded on a truck and taken away. His chairs would go on a journey and he would be left behind.

Who would sit on his chairs? Would it be a happy person or an angry person? Would someone sit on one of his chairs and give up on life? Would his chair be a place where a child learned arithmetic or where an old man sat to eat a meal? Would someone sit on one of his chairs to watch a sunbeam and keep watching as shadows grew and turned into night?

Jafar wanted to know, and he knew that he would never know.

These were not chairs that would be painted or polished. These were cheap chairs. They would be sold to people who still had to work hard and save long to buy them. The fancier chairs Jafar’s factory made were beyond those people, and the real carpenters worked on those. Boys like him worked on the cheaper ones.

Jafar didn’t care about not working on the fancy chairs. Work was work. Each day he worked brought him closer to paying off his family’s debt, closer to being able to keep the money he earned, closer to having a life where his belly was always full and he could take the time to find work in a place where the boss would not hit him.

“We would make perfect murderers,” said Sanu, who was a year older than Jafar but had only been at the factory for one year. Jafar had been there for three.

“What are you talking about?” Jafar asked.

Sanu held up his hands and wiggled his fingers.

“No fingerprints!” he said, laughing.

They could laugh now, but when Jafar first started sanding, his fingers got so sore and bloody!

“Get one more drop of blood on one of my chairs, you little cockroach, and I’ll send you back to your family in a garbage sack!” Boss had yelled at him.

One of the older boys had slipped Jafar a blood-stained rag.

“My fingers have healed,” he said. “You can have this now.”

“How much do I pay you?” Jafar asked.

The older boy shrugged. “Someone gave it to me. Pass it on to someone else when you’re done with it.”

The blood stayed off the chairs, Jafar was not sent home as garbage, and his fingertips grew tough and strong.

“No fingerprints. That’s a good one,” Jafar said to Sanu. “You should go tell the others. We could all be murderers!”

He laughed again, but he really needed Sanu to go to another part of the factory and leave him alone for a moment.

There was something he had to do, and he could not have any witnesses.

Sanu looked pleased with himself but made no effort to move.

“I’ll tell them later,” he said. “If I go over there now and tell them, they’ll think it came from you. They think all clever things come from you.”

Jafar looked at the rows of completed chairs. There were only a few left for him to sand. Then the whole lot would be loaded into a truck and driven away.

He could not miss his chance today! There would be other chairs and other chances, but he was ready today! Another day, he might not have the nerve.

Jafar decided to use an old trick. He started sanding viciously, really putting his muscles into making the chair leg smooth like milk, going at the bumps and slivers with all the strength of his bird-thin arms.

“What are you doing?” Sanu whispered. “The fellas have just got the boss used to the slower pace. You want the old quotas back? You want to keep working until midnight again?”

“I just feel like finishing up,” Jafar said, not slowing down one smidgen.

“Sweat by yourself, then,” Sanu said. He picked up the chair he was sanding and moved away to sit and sand more slowly with the others.

Jafar kept up his speed for a few minutes more until he heard the voice and stomp of Boss returning to the factory floor. He slowed his pace then, but kept the boss in his peripheral vision. He kept watch on everyone.

No one must guess his secret.

No one must guess that he went to school.

Boss had not told him he couldn’t go, but Jafar suspected he would if he knew about it. Boss said nasty things to workers who were smarter than he was. The other boys would make fun of him, too, if they knew. They would poke him and trip him and tell him he thought he was too good for them.

They gave him a hard enough time the day they caught him writing on a piece of scrap paper with a tiny stub of a pencil.

They grabbed his pencil and would not give it back. They tried to get his piece of paper, too, but he would not let them see what he was writing. He popped the paper in his mouth and chewed it and swallowed it. They did not get to see what he thought about the beggar on the corner, how her face looked like sunshine when she smiled. They did not get to know his private thoughts.

Anyway, he had written it clumsily. The words scrawled on the paper did not at all match the thoughts and feelings in his head.

His teacher at the school for working children read them poems. Poems told him feelings he didn’t know he had. Poems made his heart dance and his mind fly above the smoke and stench and sweat of the city.

How do writers do it? Jafar wondered for the millionth time.

Today, he had a whisper of an answer.

Today, he had completed his first poem.

He had worked on it for days, trying to find the words, the words that would say exactly what he wanted to say.

Today, the poem was done.

Six words.

Six words that told the story of him.

Six words. Today, he had to grab the time and the privacy to write down his six words and send them off into the world.

Maybe someone would discover them. Maybe someone would discover them years from now when the smooth yellow-wood chairs were gray with age and dust, the smoothness battered with dents and scratches.

Jafar kept watch for his chance.

He saw his moment.

He took a nail from his pocket. He lowered himself to the floor, tipped over the chair he was sanding and scratched his six words into the underside of the seat.

With this chair

I am there.

Boss would not like the poem on the chair. He would see it as damage. He would certainly hit Jafar if he found it, and make him pay for the damage with months and months of labor.

But Jafar needed his poem to leave his head. He needed to see it written down, and when he did, it was more beautiful than all the stars and all the flowers and all the kittens that ever were.

Quickly he pocketed the nail again and stood the chair up on its legs. He placed it in the row with the others.

Astonished at his boldness, adrenaline dashing through him, he finished sanding his last chair and put it with the others, too.

“What are you standing around for?” Boss yelled at him. “You think those chairs are going to load themselves? Move!”

Jafar carried chair after chair into the truck. The chair with his poem on it looked like all the others. But to Jafar’s touch, it hummed and buzzed with life. His life.

The driver got into the truck and started the motor.

There was clean-up to do, sweeping and more sweeping. But Jafar leaned on his broom and watched.

He watched the truck with his chair and his poem move off down the street, passing the coffin shop the sunbeam had abandoned, merging with the motorbikes, taxis and people.

Somehow, amidst the honking horns, revving engines, hawking merchants and crying babies, Jafar heard something else. Something wonderful.

He heard his chair. It was singing.

With this chair

I am there.

It was the happiest day of his life.


Sit 
By Deborah Ellis

The seated child. With a single powerful image, Deborah Ellis draws our attention to nine children and the situations they find themselves in, often through no fault of their own. In each story, a child makes a decision and takes action, be that a tiny gesture or a life-altering choice.

Monica Kulling on International Day of the Girl Child 2017

“Some of the greatest minds in the history of the world have been dismissed because they were covered with curls and bows.” — Anonymous

To mark International Day of the Girl Child, the United Nations offers this fact: “The world’s 1.1 billion girls are a source of power, energy, and creativity.”

So they are, and so they have been throughout history, even though struggling to fulfill one’s potential as a girl child was often met with derision or lack of opportunity, as it is for girls in many parts of the world today.

If you were a scientifically minded girl living in the 18th and 19th centuries, you could look forward to putting your light under a bushel, unless you were made of sterner stuff. You needed dedication to follow your passion no matter where it might lead, perseverance, a will to work hard and an independent spirit to walk a singular path. Most often, you were the only girl in your field of study. Despite these obstructions, however, many women made significant contributions to science.

Take, for example, Maria Mitchell. She was born in 1818 and became the first professional female astronomer in the United States. In 1847, Maria tracked the orbit of a new comet using the family’s small telescope! That comet is now called “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” In her lifetime, Maria’s passion for the heavens would result in observations of sunspots, other comets, nebulae, solar eclipses, and the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

Ynes Mexia, born in 1870, had a passion for plants. She dreamed of finding a new plant species and did so many times over! She is considered to be one of the most important botanists of the 20th century.

And then there’s Mary Anning — born into poverty in 1799. From early childhood, Mary was passionate about the strange curiosities found in the cliffs of her Dorset, England, home. Mary had little formal education and relied, it seemed, on an intuitive knowledge of the cliff faces. She was a paleontologist before the word existed. Even the word “dinosaur” did not yet exist!

And then there's Mary Anning!

Mary’s first major excavation, an Ichthyosaurus (Latin for “fish lizard”) shook the scientific world to its moldy foundations. At this time, scientists didn’t believe that species could become extinct. Mary’s find proved otherwise. Before this, scientists thought the world was only six thousand years old. Mary’s ichthyosaur proved it was two hundred million years old! And Mary didn’t stop with one fossil find. She continued to discover significant fossils throughout her life. Her story is inspirational.

So, tell your budding girl scientist that there is no limit to her universe! As Coco Chanel said, “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”

Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaurus Natural History Museum London Image Credit: Ghedoghedo

Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaurus at the Natural History Museum, London. Image Credit: Ghedoghedo


Mary Anning’s Curiosity

by Monica Kulling

Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.

Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth. In 2010, Mary was named among the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Charles Darwin even cited Mary’s fossilized creatures as evidence in his book On the Origin of Species.

In this triumphant novel about scientific discovery, Monica Kulling brings Mary Anning and her world to life for young readers.

Coyote Tales: A new addition to your Coyote library

Two tales, set in a time “when animals and human beings still talked to each other,” display Thomas King’s cheeky humor and master storytelling skills. Freshly illustrated and reissued as an early chapter book, these stories are perfect for newly independent readers.

In Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote is at first the cause of misfortune. In those days, when the moon was much brighter and closer to the earth, Old Woman and the animals would sing to her each night. Coyote attempts to join them, but his voice is so terrible they beg him to stop. He is crushed and lashes out — who needs Moon anyway? Furious, Moon dives into a pond, plunging the world into darkness. But clever Old Woman comes up with a plan to send Moon back up into the sky and, thanks to Coyote, there she stays.

In Coyote’s New Suit, mischievous Raven wreaks havoc when she suggests that Coyote’s toasty brown suit is not the finest in the forest, thus prompting him to steal suits belonging to all the other animals. Meanwhile, Raven tells the other animals to borrow clothes from the humans’ camp. When Coyote finds that his closet is too full, Raven slyly suggests he hold a yard sale, then sends the human beings (in their underwear) and the animals (in their ill-fitting human clothes) along for the fun. A hilarious illustration of the consequences of wanting more than we need.

Learn More

Thomas King has written several highly acclaimed children’s books. A Coyote Solstice Tale, illustrated by Gary Clement, won the American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Award for Best Picture Book, and A Coyote Columbus Story, illustrated by William Kent Monkman, was a Governor General’s Literary Award finalist.

King, who is of Cherokee and Greek descent, was a Professor of English at the University of Guelph for many years, where he taught Native Literature and Creative Writing. He recently won the Governor General’s Literary Award for his adult novel The Back of the Turtle, and he has been nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Now Available: Louis Undercover

 

This nuanced tale of an observant, sensitive boy finding his own brand of strength is bittersweet and beautifully composed.
Booklist, Starred Review

Britt writes with perception about the torment of first love.
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

[A] perceptive addition to graphic novel collections.
School Library Journal, Starred Review

Louis Undercover is a deceptively complex book—simple enough for children, but with enough layers to reward repeated readings by adults.
Foreword Reviews, Starred Review

 

Louis Undercover
Written by Fanny Britt
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

In this powerful new graphic novel from Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, we meet Louis, a young boy who shuttles between his alcoholic dad and his worried mom, and who, with the help of his best friend, tries to summon up the courage to speak to his true love, Billie.

A beautifully illustrated, true-to-life portrayal of just how complex family relationships can be, seen through the eyes of a wise, sensitive boy who manages to find his own way forward.

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