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?

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.

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.

Nina Berkhout on the inspiration for The Mosaic

The inspiration for The Mosaic came from an article that appeared on my Yahoo! homepage one day — the weirdest stories show up there sometimes — about a man in Kansas who was living in a decommissioned nuclear missile silo with his wife. The silo had been active during the Cold War and he’d bought it from the US government in the 1980s for really cheap, during a time when the government was removing “old” rockets and auctioning off many of these obsolete sites that had taken billions of dollars to build. He transformed it into a cozy home (bonus being that he could survive a nuclear apocalypse in there), and it came with over thirty acres of land.

The article also mentioned that there were missiles currently active throughout the Great Plains, and that’s what really caught my attention. My research began there … For around a year I read about the weapons of mass destruction presently on high-alert status in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. I had no idea just how many of these nukes were actually hidden in plain sight, visible from highways, even. Imagine having to live in a town surrounded by all those killing machines, I thought. And so my story began …

My protagonist, Twyla, is a pacifist and she’s had to grow up in Halo, Montana, a community attached to Angstrom Air Force Base. Angstrom guards the missiles in the nearby fields, and its fighter jets also participate in bombings in the Middle East. Twyla hates everything that Halo represents and she wants out. But to graduate she has to fulfill volunteer hours. She gets stuck assisting Gabriel Finch, a Marine who spends all his time in the decommissioned silo on his property. Twyla thinks he’s gearing up for a shooting rampage or for Judgment Day, but as it turns out, Gabriel is working on a massive art installation – his way of coping with PTSD. Little by little, Twyla begins to realize that things aren’t as black-and-white as she assumed when it comes to warfare and those who participate in it.

You could say this story is about the looming threat of nuclear war and the impact of war on veterans, both of which it is, but more than this, to me The Mosaic is a love story. A love story between two young people living in an increasingly messed-up world. And of course, the novel is about the mosaic itself, and how art can be born from devastation.


The Mosaic

Written by Nina Berkhout

Twyla Jane Lee has one goal. To finish senior year so she can get out of her military hometown of Halo, Montana. But to graduate, she needs to complete forty hours of community service, and that means helping out a rude and reclusive former Marine named Gabriel Finch.

A young veteran of the conflicts in the Middle East, Gabriel spends his days holed up in a decommissioned nuclear missile silo on his family farm. Twyla assumes he’s just another doomsday prepper, readying his underground shelter for Armageddon. But soon she finds out the truth, and it takes her breath away.

Gradually the two misfits form a bond, and Twyla begins to unearth the secrets that have left the Marine battling ghosts. Her discoveries force her to question her views on the wars until she realizes that even if she gets out of Halo, she won’t ever be able to leave Gabriel Finch’s story behind her.

A beautifully written and thought-provoking novel about a teen facing the collision of love, ideals and uncertainty about her own future.

Tanya Lloyd Kyi on the inspiration for Prince of Pot

“Could the tale of a grow op guarded by bears get any weirder? Yes.”

That was the headline of a Maclean’s article in 2013. It seems that while dismantling an outdoor marijuana farm near Grand Forks, BC, police found two dozen habituated black bears. They suggested the animals might have helped the pot farmer protect his grow.

Most people who read the story probably thought about the legalization of pot, or the protection of wildlife, or about the explosives found on the property.

Me? I thought: What if that was your dad?

And so my novel Prince of Pot was born. It’s the story of Isaac, a teen struggling to decide between following in his dad’s footsteps or pursuing his dreams of art school.

I grew up in a small town where my parents ran their own business, so I know what it’s like to feel torn between family and future. There’s only one teensy difference between my story and Isaac’s …

My parents ran a restaurant. His run a grow op guarded by bears.


Prince of Pot
by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Isaac loves art class, drives an old pickup, argues with his father and hangs out with his best buddy, Hazel. But his life is anything but normal. His parents operate an illegal marijuana grow-op, Hazel is a bear that guards the property, and his family’s livelihood is a deep secret.

It’s no time to fall in love with the daughter of a cop.

Isaac’s girlfriend Sam is unpredictable, ambitious and needy. And as his final year of high school comes to an end, she makes him consider a new kind of life pursuing his interest in art, even if that means leaving behind his beloved home in the Rockies and severing all ties with his family.

For a while he hopes he can have it all, until a disastrous graduation night, when Sam’s desperate grab for her father’s attention suddenly puts his entire family at risk.

 

 

 

Scot Ritchie on Federica and Bringing Home Nature

A couple of years ago I was having lunch with my friend Odette in Germany. She was telling me about her two-year-old nature-loving daughter. Federica would take forever to walk one block because every leaf and bug was too interesting to pass by. Then she would bring them home. I loved Odette’s story and did some sketches while we talked.

When I got back to Canada I needed to catch up on other projects. In my “New Ideas” folder, I came across an idea I’d put aside. I knew it needed something, I just wasn’t sure what it was.  The topic was re-wilding, or bringing nature back into our urban lives. Then I remembered Federica. Her innocent idea of bringing nature home was a perfect fit. I was off and running.

As I developed the story, I realized mixing non-fiction with fiction is a tug-of-war — at some point one of them has to win. Federica seemed to stand on its own as a story, so I decided fiction would work. Any mention of re-wilding was gone (but hopefully could still be found lurking behind a bush, for the reader who was looking).

So it became a story about something we all do: cleaning house. Clever Federica does what’s obvious to her. Life at the park is orderly and peaceful, so to make her house orderly and peaceful, she invites her animal friends home. After all, raccoons clean, goats cut grass and spiders eat bugs. Once I was up and running, the book seemed to come naturally – with a good dose of help from my brilliant and supportive editor.

A few weeks before I was set to go to Germany this summer, a box full of the books arrived. I packed them up and flew to Berlin.

Which brings us up to last week when I had the great pleasure of delivering Federica to Federica. Odette and I had coffee while Federica looked through the book. She probably thinks every little girl has a book named after her.

Federica and her brother with the book

Federica speaks German and Italian but no English. I know her mom has done a great job of translating the story for her. But who knows, maybe at the book fair in Bologna next year Federica will find a German or Italian publisher, and she can read it in her own language.

As we were saying goodbye, Odette told me about her new little boy. He’s two years old and eats ladybugs — only ladybugs. It is a great story and, who knows, maybe it will fit nicely with an idea I have waiting in my “New Ideas” folder. I will keep you posted.

 


Federica
by Scot Ritchie

Federica’s busy family can’t keep their house clean! To get away from the buzzy, buggy mess, she escapes to the peaceful park where she can spend time with her animal friends…which gives her an idea.

She brings home sheep and goats, spiders and dragonflies, a toad, an owl, and some raccoons. Then she takes her family to the park for a picnic, and while they’re gone, the animals chomp the overgrown grass in the backyard, eat the garbage and catch the pesky bugs overrunning the house. After a peaceful afternoon at the park, Federica’s family comes home to a clean house — and raccoons doing the dishes!

Scot Ritchie’s warm art and original story bring a fresh perspective to the busy-family challenge of keeping the house clean, while featuring a clever and resourceful young girl who knows that, sometimes, letting nature back into our lives is the best answer.

 

The Real-Life Art Heist that Inspired a Novel

Thirty-one years ago today, a famous art heist took place in Melbourne, Australia. This event inspired Gabrielle Williams to write her novel The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex. Read on for more information about the heist, as outlined in the book.

Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

On August 2, 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world’s most iconic paintings — Picasso’s Weeping Woman — off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it for ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria. The painting was the subject of an international manhunt involving Interpol, Scotland Yard and the Australian Federal Police.

The Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.


The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex

by Gabrielle Williams

The Guy decides to have a house party while his parents are out of town. The Girl is adjusting to life in a new country. The Artist has discovered that forgery is a lucrative business. And his Ex, mother of his baby, is just trying to make ends meet.

As Guy, a feckless high-school senior, plans the party of the year, Rafi worries about her mother, who is still grieving over the drowning death of Rafi’s little brother back in Bolivia and haunted by the specter of La Llorona, the weeping ghost who steals children.

Meanwhile, Rafi’s uncle is an art dealer involved in a scheme to steal one of the most famous paintings in the world, but he needs the forgery skills of Luke, a talented artist who has just split up with his girlfriend, Penny, who wants nothing more than to get him back to be a proper father to Joshie, the baby Rafi babysits.

Engaging, provocative, darkly humorous and fast-paced, with a shocking and near-tragic ending, when Rafi’s mother’s grief tips over into mental illness.

“A winning, offbeat romp for all ages.” Kirkus Reviews

“Quiet but layered, Williams’s story lingers.” Publishers Weekly

“An intriguing and twisting plot keeps readers turning the pages to discover how the relatable characters connect.” School Library Journal

“A sophisticated entertainment, this book has intrinsic appeal to adult readers as well as its primary teen target.” Booklist

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