Today, I’m continuing my fun chat with five authors of exciting fall 2016 hot-off-the-press children’s books, including a picture book, a chapter book, a middle grade novel, a nonfiction book, and a YA novel. Welcome to Olive Senior (Boonoonoonous Hair, Tradewind Books), Victoria Allenby (Timo’s Garden, Pajama Press), Sara Cassidy (A Boy Named Queen, Groundwood Books), Rona Arato (The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus, Orca), and Natasha Deen (Across the Floor, Orca).
Congratulations to you all on your new books! Please share with us your elevator pitch version of your newest story. I’m inserting the name of your book to come before your summary.
[Picture book – Boonoonoonous Hair.] A lighthearted picture book about a deeply serious subject for black kids – dealing with hair that they are constantly told is bad. My kid ends up realizing that her hair is boo-noo-noo-nous – a Jamaican word that embraces all the possible meanings of good.
[Chapter book – Timo’s Garden] In an early chapter book filled with innovative word play, multiple text forms, and nostalgic illustrations, an introverted rabbit steps outside his comfort zone to throw a party in support of a friend.
[Middle grade novel – A Boy Named Queen] In a ferry line-up, two girls watch in fascination how each other’s family passes the time. The girls’ lives – their sense of what is possible - are forever transformed by what they witness. The girls meet on the ferry and become fast friends; it turns out both are pole vaulters.
[Nonfiction – The Ship to Nowhere] Rachel has survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Now, aboard the refugee ship Exodus, she is braving new dangers in order to reach her people’s biblical homeland. Her dream, along with the 4500 other passengers, is to reach a land where they can live freely and safely as Jews.
[YA – Across the Floor] To stay on the team, a football player must join a dance class, and discovers an unexpected passion.
Authors, what are your favourite two consecutive sentences in your new book?
“ --They have hair that’s long and soft
and pretty, it glows as it flows
without plaits without pins
long or short
it can swish as they wish.
--O Jamilla, you silly, why want
their hair when the most
in the world
is right here?”
“There was sweet apple bread and sour apple soup, hot apple cider and apple iced tea. There were plump apple dumplings and glazed apple pastries and pies as far as the eye could see.”
“They are no longer the colors of weak tea and hay. Somehow her freckles have turned copper and gold.”
“Despite her fears, Rachel’s heart was filled with hope. They were leaving Europe and the horror of war behind. They were going to Eretz Yisroel, the ancestral land of the Jewish people.”
Probably the first two lines of the book: “This can’t be happening to me. For real, this can’t be happening.” I love this opening because Luc’s in the coach’s office, thinking he’s about to be cut from the team—which is the worst thing he can imagine—then finds out, nope, there’s worse, he has to join a dance class.
Okay, now go for it. Brag about your new book!
Boonoonoonous Hair is borne aloft by the marvellous illustrations by Laura James who also collaborated on our popular Anna Carries Water, also from Tradewind Books. There are many books out that that deal with the issue of black hair, but we have gone for the lighthearted (and rhyming) approach to learning a valuable lesson in self-esteem.
You can pack so many good things into one book! Timo’s Party has multiple text forms, including newspaper articles, an invitation, and a recipe. There are similes, metaphors, rhyme, alliteration, and assonance. But over all that it’s simply a warm friendship story about a group of animals who all support and learn from each other. So while parents and teachers can choose to use it as a teaching tool, the kids won’t even suspect.
Also, there’s the cynical humour of Bogs the toad to look forward to.
From Kirkus (a starred review of A Boy Named Queen!): "What happens when a girl who is expected to live by the rules meets a boy who makes his own rules? Cassidy offers a brief, stellar option for readers looking for characters who refuse to bend to societal norms and instead follow their own instincts toward confidence and joy. The contrast between Evelyn and Queen serves as a meaningful background to the friendship that forms naturally between them. A small, eloquent book with a powerful message."
A Ship to Nowhere, On Board the Exodus, is the first children’s book about the journey of the Exodus – a ship that changed history. The timing of the book is perfect since 2017 is the 70th anniversary of the historic voyage. Researching this book gave me a new insight into the plight of Holocaust survivors after the war. The Ship to Nowhere is a testament to their bravery and determination to rebuild their lives. When I heard Rachel’s story, I knew I had to write this book. It’s an amazing adventure. Children will relate to Rachel’s spunk and forbearance and rejoice in the happy ending.
I had a great time writing Across the Floor, which is Luc’s story. A kid who joins a dance class then discovers that’s his true passion? Love it. I felt readers would connect to his struggle: How do you tell your parents the things they want for your life aren’t the same as the things you want?
But the story isn’t all heavy. When it comes to dance class, Luc’s grudging but confident. After all, he’s a star football player. How hard can dance be? Then he gets into the first class and realizes it’s way harder than he ever thought. It was a lot of fun creating the scenes where he’s out of his depth with the choreography (I did a hip hop class once and much of Luc’s ineptness was lifted from my two-left-feet experience).
I also loved writing the story from a male dancer’s point of view. The majority of dance-focused books have female main characters, so it was great fun to see the dance world from Luc’s perspective.
And finally, please finish this sentence: Writing my newest book taught me…
Writing my newest book taught me … anything that makes me laugh as I am writing is also likely to entertain the reader.
… that I have come a long way in dealing with my dread of social events! All of Timo’s struggles are my own, and while neither he nor I have truly mastered small talk, writing about his experience on the day of the party made me realize that I, too, can now play the gracious host—with no one suspecting that on the inside I am quaking, shaking, and raking my brain for what to say next.
Writing my newest book taught me … that Holocaust survivors did not automatically live happily ever after. They had to overcome the loss of family and homes and fight to build new lives. I am awed by their courage and determination.
… that writing in the third person is roomy, with some hitches that can be overcome, in time, with practice and insight.
… that none of our experiences are ever wasted. As mentioned above, Luc’s adventures in dancing stem from my disastrous attempt to learn hip-hop. As well, Across the Floor gave me the opportunity to learn amazing things about the dance world that I didn’t know before. Until I started researching, I didn’t know the founding dancers weren’t just great at plié and chaînés, they were socially active, too.
And in every story we write, we get a chance to learn about the people around us, to see how big (and weirdly enough, how small) the world really is. Writing Across the Floor taught me more about the world than I’d known before, and I super love that!
Thank you so much for your time and insights!
Olive Senior is the prizewinning author of 17 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature who lives in Toronto. Her website is www.olivesenior.com.
Victoria Allenby writes stories, poems, and flights of fancy from her home in Toronto, with strict supervision from Cole the Cat. You can learn more about them both at www.victoria-allenby-author.com.
Sara Cassidy is a poet, journalist, short story writer, and the author of several children’s books. She lives in Victoria. Visit her online at www.saracassidywriter.com.
Rona Arato is an award-winning author of 20 children’s books. She lives in Toronto. Visit her at www.ronaarato.com.
Natasha Deen is the author of several books for kids and teens, including Guardian (Moonbeam Award & CCBC Best Pick), Sleight of Hand (CCBC Best Pick), and the forthcoming Lark Holds the Key. When she’s not writing, she’s arguing with her pets over who is the real boss of the house. Visit her at natashadeen.com.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website, www.susanhughes.ca.