News and Interviews

Jennifer Lanthier on the Magic of Reading for the First Time

Jennifer Lanthier

Breaking up with a friend is never easy. But it's especially tough when there is an entire world on the line. Such is the dilemma young Oscar finds himself in as he pens a fiery goodbye to his best friend and fellow adventurer. But if the friendship is over, does that mean the inner city apartment complex that they'd transformed into a portal for time travel adventures will go back to being just a bland old building? 

The latest picture book from award-winning writer Jennifer LanthierBy the Time You Read This (Clockwise Press, illustrated by Patricia Storms), is a charming story of friendship, fighting, and forgiveness - as well as plenty of adventure. As a fun bonus, the book also features a bonus board game on the inside of the dust jacket.

We're pleased to welcome Jennifer to Open Book to participate in our WAR Series: Writers as Readers, where we ask author about the books that have shaped them. Jennifer tells us about a mother's magical powers, the good and bad kind of laughing as a reader, and the book that she might have read. 

The first book I remember reading on my own:

This is kind of cliché but it was one of the Narnia books. My parents had been reading it to my sister and me, one chapter each night. But one afternoon I was bored and lonely and suddenly desperate to know what the Pevensies were up to.

My mother had two kids at the time and five million more pressing things to do than read to me. I remember her saying, in a matter-of-fact tone from the narrow galley kitchen which she refused to abandon, “Why don’t you just read it to yourself?”

I could not read. She was being thoroughly unreasonable. I opened the book to show her what an impossible mother she was and all the words were suddenly visible and formed clear sentences. The real world dropped away, my life changed forever, etc., etc. but also my mother was revealed to be some kind of awesomely powerful witch.

A book that made me cry:

Many books have made me cry. When Jem steps off the train and Dog Monday goes wild, at the end of Rilla of Ingleside? I defy you not to at least tear up. When the father in The Railway Children is released from prison thanks to the efforts of his good-hearted children, and Bobbie is there on the platform to meet him when he steps off the train? 

But those are happy tears. If you want heartbroken tears I will admit to horrendous, gut-wrenching sobs while reading Miriam Toews’s brilliant All My Puny Sorrows, a book that just destroys you. In my defence, I was home alone so only the rabbits could hear me. This book also features trains.

It isn’t strictly necessary to involve a train. I made myself cry writing The Stamp Collector, a picture book about a writer in prison. (It doesn’t have a happy ending.) It’s still tricky to read aloud because I catch myself hoping for a different ending, thinking this time, maybe, the writer will live. Who kills off one of their main characters in a picture book? That’s just mean.

The first adult book I read:

I think it was a glumly trashy detective novel I found in the backseat of the family car on a road trip to the Maritimes. I don’t remember the author but what sticks in my mind is a “blonde” (no name) being murdered pretty early in the plot. I was nine and very struck by the fact that she didn’t even rate a name.

I stayed happily in the world of children’s literature long past the point of social acceptability – and at about 13 I fell hard for Alexandre Dumas, who was sort of a gateway drug to all sorts of adventurous or thrilling or mystifying books of dubious literary value by writers like Wilkie Collins or Ayn Rand.

It took until my late teens to get around to Turgenev and other literary novels and non-fiction.

A book that made me laugh out loud:

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. (I mean, it’s tempting to say something like Art of the Deal, but that would be the sort of jittery, terrified laughter you resort to in nightmares and also what if someone actually went out and read that book?)

The book I have re-read many times:

Almost certainly a children’s book. I’d like to say something seriously lofty and claim I turn to it in times of trouble because the themes are so layered, the language is just so genius, and the ideas so provoking. But realistically, the books I’ve re-read the most are probably books by L.M. Montgomery or Elizabeth Enright. That @#$% really holds up.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:

Ulysses, by James Joyce.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:

Ulysses, by James Joyce. “Read this now and get it over with,” I’d tell my 17-year-old self. “If you don’t deal with this early, your failure to be a serious reader will haunt you forever.”

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:

No other author should be held responsible for my sins. But I will spend the rest of my life wishing I could live up to E.L. Konigsburg, L.M. Montgomery, Ezra Jack Keats, and Hillary Mantel.

The best book I read in the past six months:

I know too many children’s authors to pick just one book.

The book I plan on reading next:

Ulysses, by James Joyce. I just remembered I actually did read it one summer after one of my three kids was born. It’s possible that I was massively sleep-deprived though, because I don’t remember much about it at all.

A possible title for my autobiography:

You can do better than this.


Jennifer Lanthier is the author of the award-winning picture book, The Stamp Collector, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in 2012. A former newspaper and wire service reporter, Lanthier also served as a communications strategist and speech writer in the Office of the Premier of Ontario. She is the author of two children’s novels published by HarperCollins Canada and a picture book published by Penguin Canada. Lanthier works at the University of Toronto where she serves as Editor of

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By the Time You Read This

Oscar is penning the ultimate break—up letter to his former Partner in Adventure and now Sworn Mortal Enemy. No more Time Travel Tower of Ultimate Power. Or Precarious Portal for Intrepid Explorers. Is their friendship doomed to destruction along with the world of imagination that the two have built together?
Set in an inner—city apartment complex and filled with humour, By the Time You Read This is a story that acknowledges the emotional rollercoaster that defines some childhood friendships and the importance of empathy and forgiveness in keeping those friendships strong.