The Story Behind the Story

Written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam

I am often asked if my stories are based on personal experiences — perhaps that has something to do with my deliberate choice of first-person narration, or the similarity between the profiles of the characters in fiction and personal life.

The seeds are sown in reality, but the tales that spring from them are figments of my imagination — often nurtured over an exceedingly long period of time!

The idea for When I Found Grandma originated five years ago from my parallel piece of non-fiction writing titled “Between Five and Sixty-five.” While that essay recounted my personal observations as I tried to find middle ground between my visiting parent and growing progeny (born and raised in North America), the entertaining and animated dynamics between the two inspired me to expand and create an age-appropriate picture book.

From casual everyday behavior, I have observed that while social /communicational expressions can often be a differentiator or grounds for teasing, they can also really be a reminder of what we have in common. (You like Potayto/I like Pothato.)

When Grandma delights at spotting Maya near the “merry-go-round,” Maya promptly corrects her, saying “carousel.” While she is not wrong in doing so, the nuances in personal/conversational styles can have potential for unwarranted conflict.

As with many adults, Grandma is quite set in her ways and it is challenging for her to comprehend Maya’s preferences. But when the fear of losing sight of her grandchild sets in, she uses everything in her power to reconcile — holding up a baseball cap on her cane, calling Maya by the name she prefers, and setting off to walk in the direction of Maya’s favorite place on the island.

Nothing could be more reassuring to Maya than to find her “special” family when lost amongst a sea of scary strangers. Neither Grandma’s clothing nor her loud mannerisms really matter!

Girl and Grandma find each other in more ways than one.

While assimilated children of a certain age and racial heritage may relate better to the specifics, context and characters, the story arc and exploration of familial love will hold universal appeal.

Neither the narrative nor the events bear any resemblance to real life. The story arc sort of shaped itself over time and several rewrites — two years from conception to final draft and over three years from submission to publication.

The idiosyncrasies and charm of the characters are brilliantly brought to life by Qin’s illustrious illustrations.

When I Found Grandma written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam and illustrated by Qin Leng is now available wherever books are sold.

An Excerpt from Cold White Sun by Sue Farrell Holler

A teenage boy stands outside the Calgary bus station, alone, on a frigid night. He has no winter clothes, no identification, and he speaks little English. His name is Tesfaye, but who is he, and where did he come from?

Tesfaye’s story is true, told by Alberta writer Sue Farrell Holler after hundreds of hours of research and interviews with the real “Tesfaye,” who cannot be identified so as to protect his family. Cold White Sun has the full support and endorsement of “Tesfaye,” and he has provided a statement that serves as the novel’s frontispiece.

The following is the frontispiece from Cold White Sun.


When the author and I began work on this story, I was hurt, confused, and didn’t understand what had happened to me or why. I was angry, but I didn’t know why I was angry and I didn’t know where to direct it — my country, my family, the set of circumstances that caused me to flee Ethiopia, or a combination of all three. My underlying anxiety was senseless but I couldn’t let it go.

Sharing my story and watching it develop as a work of fiction helped me see my past in a different context. is perspective has changed my heart and my mind and brought me peace.

— Tesfaye


Cold White Sun, by Sue Farrell Holler will be available on March 1, 2019 wherever books are sold.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Stella!

Written by Marie-Louise Gay

It’s hard to believe but Stella, Star of the Sea was first published 20 years ago! I wrote and illustrated the simple story of a little girl who discovers the wonders of the sea with her tiny brother Sam. When I wrote the story, I wanted to focus on the child’s point of view. How a child would perceive, understand and discover the secrets of a place that he or she had never seen. I wanted to develop a dialogue between a younger sibling and his slightly older and more knowledgeable sister. I wrote dialogues peppered with questions and answers, at once serious and whimsical:

“Where do starfish come from?” asked Sam.

“Starfish are shooting stars that fell in love with the sea,” answered Stella.

My intention was to write only one story but after Stella, Star of the Sea was published in 1999, I missed my two small friends and I began to see the natural world through their eyes and their curiosity. So, one day, as I walked through a lovely snowstorm, I wondered how Stella and Sam would see the winter landscape, and Stella, Queen of the Snow was born.

I went on to write and illustrate six Stella books and three Sam books.

Since then… Stella and Sam have learned to speak many languages. The books have travelled around the world and were published in over twenty different languages…here are a few: in Chinese, Hebrew, Welsh, Korean, Portuguese and Slovenian.


Various Stella books have won awards over the years: the Mr Christie’s Book Award, the Ruth Schwartz Award, the IBBY International Honor List, the Elizabeth Mrazik Cleaver Award, to name a few, while others were shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award.

Since then…Stella and Sam have become world travellers. They have travelled on letters, packages and postcards since two Stella illustrations were reproduced on postage stamps issued by Canada Post.

Since then…Stella and Sam have become international TV stars in an animated TV series created by Radical Sheep and based on the Stella books: The Stella and Sam Show, 52 episodes, some of which I wrote and worked on as a creative consultant.

Also, a play was created in Lisbon by the theater group Gato que Ladra with live actors playing Stella and Sam.

I feel very fortunate that my Stella and Sam stories are read and loved by children all over the world. I have been touched by the hundreds of letters and drawings that I have received from children and their parents who shared the stories of Stella and Sam. I have been inundated by letters from teachers and students who have read and studied my Stella books and have created art, new stories and fantastic projects inspired by my books. They have let their imagination run wild!


Thank you to all my readers and writers and artists!

Happy Anniversary Stella and Sam!

See all of Marie-Louise Gay’s Books and check out her website.

16 Books to Love This Valentine’s Day

Love comes in all shapes and sizes. Fall in love this Valentine’s Day with these books about first crushes, first loves, and the love shared between family and friends.

Grab your loved ones and snuggle up with one of these heart-warming tales.

Flannery by Lisa Moore

A Boy Named Queen by Sara Cassidy

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng

Buddy and Earl by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Buddy and Earl Go to School by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Buddy and Earl Meet the Neighbours by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis

Friend or Foe by John Sobol and Dasha Tolstikova

I Was Cleopatra by Dennis Abrams

I’m Glad That You’re Happy by Nahid Kazemi

Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Ophelia by Charlotte Gingras and Daniel Sylvestre

Prince of Pot by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

The Mosaic by Nina Berkhout

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