Friday, January 25, 2008

Have a Fantastic Family Literacy Day

January 27, 2008

Mark that date ’cause it’s Family Literacy Day! Hooray! (Here in Canada anyway) And it’s its tenth anniversary this year. [And yes that’s a rather awkward sentence but I just had to let it stand. Doesn't it seem sorta like the ‘it’ words are facing off against one another, holding their ground firmly, sure of their own purpose, daring the other to back down...? But I digress.]

I'm going to celebrate this worthwhile event. I may have a date with a cold hard seat in a hockey arena but as soon as I’m out of there we’ll be reading.

Find out more about the event and ten ways to celebrate it from the people who bring it to us at

And Just One More Book has a terrific interview with the President of the ABC Canada Literacy foundation. You’ll find it here.

Read on!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

AFH-GI Award Consideration

I just learned that Let’s Go! has made the official long list to be considered for the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award award given by the Canadian Library Association.

Way to go Scot Ritchie!

It's terrific to know Scot's illustrations have caught the CLA's notice. The winner and honour books are announced in May 2008 at the CLA Vancouver conference.

Find more about the award at and more about Scot at and for more about our publisher Maple Tree Press at

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

At the End, Real vs Right...Fact vs Fiction

The best book endings feel satisfying. They feel Right. They feel like the perfect completion of something wonderful. Too bad real life doesn’t work that way.

I find myself mulling over how suddenly and swiftly life can be over...ended. That might seem rather morbid of me but I am saddened that last Friday was the funeral for my second cousin John O’Keefe, an innocent victim killed by a gunshot in Toronto the previous weekend as he was walking to the subway to return home. There’s an article about it in the Toronto Star. He was only a year older than me. He had a son a year younger than mine. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What were the chances that he’d be in that exact position on that exact stretch of sidewalk to find himself in the exact fatal trajectory of that bullet? A foot or maybe a few inches either way might have made all the difference. What if that night he’d walked faster... or strolled slower? So many elements accumulated to create such a sudden and senseless ending to his life story. It almost doesn’t seem real.

And then there’s my brother-in-law who last week was slammed up against the wall by a charging bull. One thousand five hundred pounds of beef decides to go on a rampage and he’s in the way. He was “lucky.” His was a close call that ended in four cracked ribs and a bruised lung and many months of painful healing to look forward to before he can resume his normal life.

Even I’ve had experience with normal life abruptly snatched away for a time. A few years ago I had a snowmobile accident that ended with a broken vertebrae and left me at first incapable of even cutting up my own dinner. I cannot forget that, just before I passed out, I lay there on the cold icy snow with the fleeting thought that this might be It. I might be Done. Thanks for coming out but sorry, time’s up. My overwhelming feeling was disgust mixed with outrage and incredulity that it could all be so stupid to end that way with so many things just left, dropped, abandoned in the middle, never to be seen through to their conclusion. . .and some things never even started.

So of course I’d love to say that now I’ve learned my lesson and I live each day to its fullest. I’d love to say that I take every opportunity to fully enjoy my family and that I now follow all my dreams because I really do have a good idea that you never know when you’ll take your own final walk home, when you’ll meet your own wall and when your fall will be final. But that would be not be entirely factual.

It would however be great stuff for fiction. Fiction writers work hard to make their fictitious characters grow and learn. They work hard to make their stories seem real. But seeming real doesn’t equal really could happen. What if a book you were enjoying just ended with the main character being shot for no reason at all, just a random chance that had him in the wrong place at the wrong time? It could happen. It does happen. But that book’s ending would suck. You’d be mad at the writer. You’d say it was unfair and that you felt cheated and that it wasn’t right. You’d be right, of course. It’s not right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Something Fowl in the Air

As I was taking down and putting away all the decorations from the tree, musing over how 2007 had been in general, some movement outside the window caught my eye. There was something up in the tree. Some type of fowl! I ran to get my camera. I opened the sliding glass door, stuck my head out and had a great time watching these birds in the tree while simultaneously freezing and freaking out the furnace. I took some photos but they were a little far away and ended up pretty lame looking even by my amateur photography standards. The film I took is a little better if only because you can see them move.

Not sure what these birds are exactly. Grouse? Partridge? By the time I was done fooling with the photos and went to get the binocs and bird book I returned to find that--poof--the fowl had flown away.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I Am Inhabiting the Fog

These past two days have been so foggy I feel almost as if I'm inhabiting a different world. I'm in that Stephen King story about the fog...okay not really thankfully! Traveling is more, well, interesting when something like another car or a deer can appear in front of you at the last second. It's no wonder fog inspires writers to use it as a device to create suspense or to set a mysterious mood. The road is looking like this today:

And the view from my computer chair is also of a dim and whitewashed world:

This lane is looking like the passage to another realm:

Okay so perhaps my imagination is running away with me. Fog...a cloud on the ground...metaphor for confusion, befuddlement...sinister secrets.

Any favorite fog stories come to mind?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cybils Shortlist!

Just got some great news for the new year--Let’s Go! has made the Cybils Awards Nonfiction Picturebook shortlist for 2007. Yay! I’m jumping up and down here. Great titles to be found in all the categories. I'm really honoured!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Fun with Food...and French?

There I am preparing Monday night's dinner. I’m making a ham. The package proclaims it to be a Toupie style ham. I’m thinking to myself, What the heck is a toupie ham exactly? Okay, I’m holding the thing so I know what it is, so perhaps the question is better express as why ? Why is this ham called a toupie ham?

So I think about it. The term toupie is similar to the name of a really cute cartoon mouse named Toopy partnered with some cat named Binoo that my daughter likes to watch. It’s similar to that oft-joked about rug worn on the head, the toupee. But similar is not exact and if a mouse and some hair have got anything to do with my dinner I'm done with it.

But this mystery is driving me crazy. The word won’t leave me alone. It’s bugging me so much that after we’ve devoured the dinner and done the evening thing and I have some time to myself, I do some research like the good nonfiction writer I am.

A toupie. Is it French? According to my French-English dictionary 'toupie' means a spinning top. Well the ham was definitely not spinning when I
a.) bought it
b.) cooked it or
c.) ate it
and if it was it would’ve been straight-to-the-dump-with-it-and-be-gone-forever-from-my-sight. But I digress.

So that’s no help. The package also describes the ham as smoked but I know that’s fumée (with one of those accents pointing jauntily to the right at a slight upward angle over the first ‘e’ in case it doesn't show up here). So I’m starting to feel a little fumée myself. I do what all modern people with burning questions do: I Google it.

Seems I’m not the only one to have pondered this question. Some say it means a ham sold with the bone in and fat on it but others profess to have purchased a toupie with no bone and little to no fat. I would concur. So I try The Source.

According to Pork Marketing Canada, a toupie style ham means that it’s a whole muscle ham with a high moisture content (in other words they inject it with water and stuff so that no matter how lousy a cook you are the ham still comes out moist and tasty). Thanks Pork People! But no mention of WHY it’s called toupie. So I asked them.

And I got a reply! They said it is probably a reference to the shape of the ham, because it looks like a toupie (a top). So using my stellar powers of imagination I can indeed picture a bone in the middle sticking out as a handle and picture the rounded ham as the spinning surface. Okay, I can actually see that the ham would resemble a spinning top. Hunh, learn something new everyday! So be sure to visit those pork people cited above for some mighty tasty-looking recipes for the next time you find yourself with a toupee--er toupie--on your mind.

And this brings to mind some other fun with French I’ve had over the years. I confess that I cannot think of “turkey” without the addition of “dinde” making it a Turkey Dinde. Two words. Always. Imagine me as a kid reasoning that it was a cutsie way to say dinner, you know, like din-dee? Get it? Oh well, just go with me on this one. I loved turkey dinde. Imagine then how let down I was to learn later in life that 'dinde' is just turkey in French and, because both French and English have to be on product packaging here in Canada, that’s why the two words always appeared together. Bummer. Turkey’s never been the same for me since.

But the food label thing that really bugs me, not because of the fact that there’s French on my package (I actually find it entertaining to try reading the French sometimes) but because of the way the French comes across in my English brain. When that big mega box of cereal sits on the table and stares me in the face during my bleary-eyed breakfast (I’m not so great in the a.m. until I’ve had at least 2 coffees) I swear it’s yelling at me. It says: Flocons de Mais.
Translation: Flakes of Corn. Corn Flakes.

Seem harmless? Nope.
To me there's this little voice from the box hollering at me: Flocons, Flocons, FLOCONS!

Yeah, well, Flakes to you too, pal!