Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Spotlight on 3 Picture Book Creators (2016 Blue Spruce Award Nominees), (Part 1)

By Susan Hughes & Submitted by kateburgess

How many Canadian picture books are traditionally published each year? Meghan Howe, Library Coordinator of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, estimates the number to be between 180 and 200.

So imagine the thrill of having your book be chosen one of only 10 picture book titles nominated for the 2016 Ontario Library Association Blue Spruce Award! Between now and April, children across Ontario from kindergarten through grade 2 will read these 10 delightful picture books, consider the story, text, and pictures in each, and then vote for their favourites. You can read a synopsis of all ten of the nominated titles here.

Wonderful, right?

So how could I choose which three authors of these nominated titles to interview for this blog? I went with the ever-popular tried-and-true eenie-meenie-miney-moe method!

And today, I share with you my conversation with the very talented Sangeeta Bhadra (Sam’s Pet Temper), Elly MacKay (Butterfly Park) and Alma Fullerton (In a Cloud of Dust). Enjoy—and if you have any questions of your own, please add them to the comments section below.



Sangeeta Bhadra lives in Brampton, Ontario. Sam’s Pet Temper is her first picture book. Her Temper is kept leashed and muzzled in public and is generally well controlled the rest of the time, too!


ellymackay2015 author photo

Elly MacKay is a paper artist and children’s book author. She lives in an old Victorian house in Owen Sound, Ontario. Her website is


Alma Fullerton author photo

Alma Fullerton struggled with reading as a child until she realized she had dyslexia. By grade nine Alma loved reading. An award-winning author and illustrator Alma lives in Midland, Ontario. Her website is

Susan Hughes:

Sangeeta, Elly, Alma—congratulations on the nomination of your picture books for the 2016 Blue Spruce Award! How did you each react when you learned of the nomination?

Sangeeta Bhadra:

It was completely unexpected, so you can imagine that I was beyond surprised! Sam’s Pet Temper is my very first book, and while it has had an exciting debut, I certainly didn’t think it would be nominated for anything.

Elly MacKay:

So delighted! I loved being a part of the Forest of Reading with If You Hold A Seed. It was a great chance to meet young readers, teachers, librarians and other authors and illustrators. I can’t wait to share Butterfly Park with kids this year!

Alma Fullerton:

I’m always pleased when one of my books lands on the Trees. It’s an important list. We write for children so it’s fantastic to have awards chosen by children.


What do you think young readers will enjoy most about your book?


Young readers tend to enjoy the monster story aspect of Sam’s Pet Temper, which makes me very happy. Before anything, books should entertain. If you learn a life lesson, that’s an added bonus. But if a reader simply enjoys the read, then it was worth the write.



Making Butterfly Park (work in process) MacKay

I think Butterfly Park is a book for kids who have just moved, for kids who like to help in the garden and for kids who like to make things. Kids see that the scenes in the book are created from things like boxes and paper. I love watching kids get busy making their own little worlds after seeing the book.


I think readers of In a Cloud of Dust will enjoy seeing how Anna helps her friends and in turn they help her as well.


What inspired you to create this particular picture book?


I’m often asked whether I had temper tantrums as a child (no, never) or if I researched the topic before getting started (again, no). I didn’t plan on writing a book on this topic at all. I consider Sam’s Pet Temper to be a gift, really. I was working on another story when the idea just came to me...“But it wasn’t me, it was my Temper!” “Well, control your temper!”

I dropped what I was doing and got the first draft down in one sitting. This story came to me with the title, Sam’s Pet Temper, just as Sam came to me named Sam. I don’t know why to this day!



gate and girl sketch -- MacKay earlysketchbutterflypark

I always keep a sketchbook handy. One day a drawing of a gate with a girl on one side of it appeared, and, like the girl in the drawing, I needed to see what was on the other side.


Most of the inspiration for In a Cloud of Dust came from reading an article about bicycle libraries. I thought it would be great to let North American children see how children in other countries want similar things but for different reasons.


Sangeeta, I understand that you’ve always wanted to be a writer—yet you chose to study biology at university. Can you explain why, and whether you believe you made the right choice?


Yes, I did study biology at university, but also sociology, history and classical civilizations. I recall making the conscious decision to avoid studying anything to do with literature (though English was one of my favourite subjects in high school), because I wanted my own work to be as fresh and “un-influenced” (whatever that means!) as possible.


Elly, you’ve created several pictures books, all of which are set outdoors. Did you do this purposefully, and, if so, why?


I grew up in an old church, out in the countryside. We were surrounded by bluffs, forest, fields, and the bay. I loved it there. Perhaps my stories still live in Big Bay.


Alma, the characters in all your stories grapple with difficult topics, such as grief, anger, betrayal, and inequity, which lead your readers to examine these issues as well. Why do you choose to write almost exclusively about challenging themes?


I choose challenging themes because I feel the more children know about the world around them, and the more they can connect with other people, the more likely it is that they will do something to make the world a better place.


cover ButterflyPark1 MacKay_0

In a Cloud of Dust book cover_0


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,