Last night I had the pleasure of seeing long-time friend Jeremy Tankard launch his newest creation, Hungry Bird, at Vancouver Kidsbooks. As a library tech who does storytimes with preschoolers, I’m familiar with his other books. A favourite with the kids is Grumpy Bird, as you can read the book as an interactive with the kids acting out the animals plus you can discuss how you know when someone is angry and what we can do when we’re angry.
Along comes Hungry Bird, also a familiar feeling for the young and old. “Who brought me something to eat?” is the theme of this book, and again this will be an amazing picturebook for storytimes and early education. You can buy a copy from any retailer.
June 17, I was invited to present a workshop at the Cloverdale branch of the Surrey Public Library on writing action scenes. Writing action is what I’m known for with paranormal fiction involving wars between werewolves and vampires (mine was out before Twilight before your mind goes there) and secret martial arts clubs in Flying Feet.
There’s a lot of violence happening in the world right now, and it may seem irresponsible for authors to write about it in fiction–especially in books where impressionable youth are involved. However, those who believe that don’t give enough credit to just how sophisticated a tale youth desire these days, nor to the power of a story to guide youth (and grown adults) through questions and concerns they may have of living in such a violent world. My main talking points were:
Violence should move the story forward, not be a plot device nor be gratuitious.
If you can cut the violent scene out without changing the flow or meaning of the story–cut it.
Ten teens showed up (the entire creative writing group) and they were friendly, kind, and intelligent writers. They asked questions, they supported each other, and they made me feel welcome. I have no doubt that we are in for some incredible literature from the next generation and I left feeling encouraged.
Writing Workshop at the Surrey Public Library
The Cloverdale library is set in a city of just over 71 thousand people close to the City of Langley. Historic Cloverdale was settled circa 1870, and is a very cute spot to get a lunch and spend an afternoon. If you remember the TV series Smallville, you will recognize this area as the spot where the show was filmed. The theme song for this post is the intro song to the TV series.
Below is the area where the library is found. There is a museum, an old clock, plus a log cabin in this square. I arrived several hours early to explore (and grab some java) and was glad that I had. Unfortunately, I found the museum too late but will certainly make my way there another day.
What I loved most about exploring this small section of a few blocks was old signage. While the buildings had that rustic “old village” feel, the signage on the side of buildings and the shingles were what really made this place worth seeing. Below are a few of my favourites.
For you Smallville fans, you may recognize the theatre (now closed) as the Talon from the TV series.
I wound up at the Rustic Rooster for coffee, and had their blended iced coffee which hit the spot on such a hot day. They have a small patio for nice days, and a rather spacious interior with several places to sit and enjoy their food. As well, if you are interested in crafts, they sell quite a few knick knacks worth looking at.
Unfortunately, none of my photos turned out of the cafe so you’ll have to check out their website before heading down there.
As a library tech, one of my duties is to do an all-ages storytime twice a week. I generally gear this towards the 3-5-year-old age group as that is most commonly who attends. However, at the drop of a hat (as has happened) I have adapted for slightly younger/older. Being a male in an industry traditionally filled by women, I tend to be a novelty to some of my audience (though I think it’s far more common these days than most think it is). Thus far, this has never been negative, and quite a few caregivers have expressed their appreciation of my maleness. Just as there is a need for children to see women in roles traditionally filled by men, there is also a need for those same children to see men filling roles traditionally filled by women. I’ll be honest — I chose this vocation, not for that reason, but because I knew it was one I would love. End of story.
However, one of the challenges I face when choosing my stories is what to do when current cultural norms have shifted from classic tales. For example, Anne McGovern’s Too Much Noise, which I love, has an old man take in many animals and then at the end he just gives them away. *Smacks head* Sixteen years ago, I worked in a rescue shelter (and was gifted with my rescue dog) where I witnessed what happens first hand when people take that cavalier an attitude towards animals. This is an easy fix: at the end of the story, he takes the time to make sure every animal is transferred to a proper home. (He keeps the cat and the dog.)
Fairy tales present their own issues. Many are misogynistic, and as a male, I am always acutely aware of the messages I may be teaching my young audience. I came across this while considering Princess and the Pea, a story about a prince who is looking to marry and tests women by having them sleep on a mattress with a pea underneath it. If they don’t notice the pea, then they are not a true princess and not worthy of his attention.
Basically, this prince has reduced these women to having no value beyond that of their status in the world. It doesn’t matter if they are good people, kind, generous, have similar interests as him. (Probably because any woman in her right mind wouldn’t consider him a suitable suitor, and he’d be turned down.)
I like a challenge. As an author, it intrigues me to rewrite age-old tales for modern audiences. And we had a felt ready-made story to go along with this fairy tale.
This particular day, my regular 20 kids showed up. Moments before beginning the story, one of my coworkers leaned into our story barn (yes, we have a story barn!) and asked me to wait as there was a preschool group coming into the library to join us. Add another 20 kids so they were seated even outside the barn. It did occur to me that not only would parents hear my revamped story, but so also would the preschool teachers.
I started the story by telling them it was “Princess and the Pea,” but one that they may not have heard before. You see, this Prince was a young boy who was playing prince but was all alone. He never had anyone to play with and wished that he did. Along came a young girl who’s mother was a friend of the family, and she would be staying with them for awhile. As a joke, the boy placed a single pea under her mattress.
This pea made her mattress quite uncomfortable, so she asked him nicely for another mattress. And then another, and another. (The kids then counted the mattresses up to ten.) Each time she asked, she said “please” and “thank you.” In fact, she was so kind that he apologized for putting the pea under her mattress.
Because she said “please” and “thank you”, and because he said “sorry” when he had done something not very nice, they became the best of friends. And they played a prince and princess who, together, had many adventures throughout the land.
Everyone in the audience enjoyed my Princess and the Pea story, and I will definitely be telling it again.
Forks Washington is a town between the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean of just over 3,600 people. It’s fame comes from the Twilight novels, as that was where Stephanie Meyer set her stories. Interestingly enough, she had never set foot in the town when writing her books nor did any of the movies get filmed there. It is, however, an interesting place to visit if you are into pop culture (and its effects on people) or just like a beautiful drive. Olympic National Park is amazing.
This was a trip I had taken back in the summer of 2012, but since there’s nothing but grey skies outside and I haven’t been feeling up to a road trip the last week and a bit I’m going to reminisce. (Also, since I’ll most likely never have the chance to return to Forks, it would be nice to have a blogged record of it.) My soundtrack for this trip is Vacation, by the Go-Go’s.
I didn’t have my Jeep in 2012, so this was more of a “James in his Prelude Getting Pizza” event–which really doesn’t have the same ring. This vehicle, a 90s relic that looked better than it performed, used to suddenly begin to overheat with no cause. I had a few mechanics look at it, one changed the thermostat which helped for a short term, but eventually the vehicle completely died.
However, for this particular trip it performed well and only overheated and smoked at the the border while coming home. (Thankfully, it would stop overheating when I was at customs and then continue when I was over the border. It was really strange.)
Below is my dog, Conan, who really wanted to come with me. He stayed at the Baggie Socks Spa (a friend’s place that he stayed at whenever I went on vacation) where he was pampered and loved.
This was my first experience driving through Deception Pass (see my blog post about Langley, WA). I took the ferry from Fort Casey to Port Townsend, my first stop along the way. Port Townsend I do hope to return to someday to better explore, as it was a beautiful little port side town of just over nine thousand people.
I did find a 50s style soda shop where I had a burger and root beer. The food was good and the atmosphere was like that of Al’s Diner from Happy Days.
But this wasn’t where I was headed, so off to Forks. What I will say is that, as an author of a vampire series that came out a few months before Twilight (and that has been accused of copying Twilight’s tropes ever since,) it was fascinating to me to see what this level of fandom can do for a relatively unknown town.
Forks was a logging community and I got the impression that the residents were happy that the popularity of Twilight was waning so they could return to their quiet life. There was a bus emblazoned with the words “TWILIGHT TOURS” that drove through the area every hour filled with tourists. (I did not take the tour.) There was also a store dedicated to the sale of Twilight memorabilia.
I visited all the tourist places that marked events in the books. La Push was freezing cold, even though it was a hot summer day of plus 30C. Along the drive to La Push, there are dozens of signs warning of possible, sudden tsunamis. Made me feel a little nervous about being there — very open and exposed to the ocean.
All in all, I should have stopped to take more photos of the drive there as Olympic National Park was spectacular. (Warrants another trip there, for sure.) It would also be interesting to see the town after the Twilight phenomenon, now that it has died down so much. The people there were quite friendly, and there was a restaurant that had the *best* french toast I have ever had. (They said they used “egg bread” which I’ve never been able to find anywhere.)
Below is one more photo from the trip, this one taken in Port Angeles. I didn’t get to eat in the restaurant, as it was closed when I was there. (It was open only for dinner.)
As an author of paranormal fiction, I do have to tip my hat to Meyer for creating such a blockbuster success (regardless of my own opinions on the books). She did help the sales of my own novels, even if it is annoying to be constantly compared to her books as though hers invented the genre. (Mine didn’t either, in case you think I’m hinting at that.)
If you’re curious about my books, you can still get a copy of Rancor which is available in a 2014 edition on Amazon. And if you ever decide to go looking for Minitaw, where Rancor takes place, I should warn you that the town doesn’t actually exist. I did, however, base it on my experiences with Birtle, Manitoba, which was founded by my great-great-grandfather. And, it’s nothing like Twilight.
It’s about that time of year when all those New Years resolutions start to fall apart. The diets, the workouts, the promises to take better care of yourself. Maybe you tried a fad diet or workout program and after a few weeks, when the promised results didn’t happen, you felt like a loser and chose to give up. Or you paid for a gym membership and all the regulars sneered at you or made comments about you being a “resolutioner crowding the gym.” Whatever the reason is that you gave up, I want to encourage you to try again.
Last semester, I took a class where the instructor had us read articles that he’d written throughout his career as a librarian. His views on library work are inspiring, but what I really noticed were the snide comments he made about himself in terms of being out of shape and how that was expected because of his chosen profession. I grew tired of his body shaming, and at one point I wrote a paper on why staying in good health was actually a health and safety issue for a librarian. Putting yourself at risk for a heart attack or Diabetes isn’t comedic, it’s disrespectful to both yourself and to those who love you.
Writers also tend to put themselves down for having out of shape bodies, and pass it off as though that were the most natural thing. But honestly, you’ll be a better writer if you’re healthy and you’ll have the chance of a longer lifespan and a bigger body of work to leave behind. Some of my favourite authors and illustrators have found ingenious ways of staying in shape. Arthur Slade and kc dyer use a treadmill desk. Don Tate swims and does yoga, while Tyner Gilles lifts weights.
We don’t have to look like a Hollywood A-lister with bulging biceps and a six-pack. We’re all different sizes and shapes, and “healthy” is going to look different for all of us. What’s more, is that you should understand that to some people, no matter how healthy you get, you’re always going to be the overweight, short, skinny, wiry, individual that they’ve always seen you as. I’ve come to understand that no matter how long I work out for, strangers will always start conversations with me by saying, “I knew a guy once who was even shorter/thinner/smaller than you.” Makes me want to gasp and say, “Impossible!”
But I don’t, because now it no longer bothers me. I know what I’m capable of and what my goals are. I’m meeting my goals, and that feels amazing. I once got through an entire workout with a guy (stranger, never met before) constantly smirking and rolling his eyes at me as I walked on the treadmill because I wasn’t going fast enough. When he got off the bench press and I increased the weight by 20 lbs for my workout, he stopped sneering. I thought I’d won his respect. But later in my workout when I started doing abs, he made a rude comment to me — twice to make sure I heard it over my headphones. If anything, my being able to lift more than him just made him dislike me more. These people exist for one reason and one reason only: to shame you into not trying so that they can feel better about themselves. Don’t let them win.
From last June until this year I didn’t work out regularly. I was sporadic, mostly because I had started a new job and was adjusting to a new schedule. It would have been easy to just never go back to the gym and to quit altogether. But this is the most important thing I have learned: You are allowed to fail. You are allowed to miss a day, and start again. You are allowed to miss a week, and start again. You are allowed to get back up every time you fall down.
There are no fads that are going to offer you a real quick fix. No 30 day diets are going to change your life forever. No shortcuts that are going to make the world notice what an amazing person you are. Only one thing is going to change your perception of yourself and your life and it is believing this: I have value. You know that exercise is the greatest factor in stress relief and disease prevention, no one is going to dispute that. Find the program that works best for your goals, and you can’t lose except if you quit for good.
And if you are on the verge of quitting for good after attempting to go to the gym or start a diet I want you to join me in this challenge: Three days a week, we’re going to exercise for 30-minutes a day. I don’t care what you do: walk, do pushups, sit-ups, leg lifts, yoga, whatever. At this point, don’t change your diet. Don’t do a cleanse. Just concentrate on that three days a week for 30-minutes exercise. Make it low-impact. Don’t concentrate on results, just on that 30-minutes.
In a month, we’ll check in with each other. But at this point, if you’re just starting, or if you’re starting out, what I want you to keep in mind is that your goal is to create consistency. To create a habit. It’s going to be hard for the first few weeks. Your mind, your psyche, and maybe even the people in your life, will discourage you. But you need to push past that, because once the habit is formed it’ll feel strange not to do it.
One last time because it is worth repeating: there are no 30-days to a better you programs that will work. But maintaining a consistent workout schedule with realistic goals will change your life in unexpected ways.
One of the perks of my new job as a library tech is that I get to do storytime twice a week with toddlers. The first one I did I was so nervous that I forgot the words to my first song! But I shrugged it off, and launched into the songs I hadn’t forgotten. Families came back, so I assumed they enjoyed themselves. Thanks in part to Jbrary (my favourite song I learned from them is featured at the end,) I have much improved.
Now that I’ve done quite a few, and have memorized a few dozen songs and rhymes, I’m experimenting with different ideas to keep storytime fresh. Last year, I bought a ukulele and am learning a few songs so, hopefully, soon I’ll be brave enough to play it for the kids. (Though I did play Jingle Bells on it for our Christmas event, and Ten in the Bed that same day as it’s only the “G” chord.)
My latest prop is my storytime parachute. I remember parachutes from when I was a kid, and I loved them. So I decided that it would be a cool thing to have in my storytime, and for two sessions I have added it to the last three rhymes and songs.
My parachute is 10×10 feet and fits perfectly in our storytime barn. (Yes, it’s a barn. And it’s AWESOME.) I found a few blogs where I could pull ideas and gain advice on how to use the chute, so I thought I’d share them here:
STORYTIME KATIE – Katie is a Chicago early literacy librarian and has many great ideas.
So, this is me with my chute just before storytime. To keep things fresh and predictable, I’ll use it on Thursdays at my 10:30 AM storytime.
Also, as promised, my favourite Jbrary song that I sing every storytime because it always gets laughs and now my regulars all know the song. I sing the first version, and then after tell the parents about the … dreaded second version. The parents get a laugh about it, but I have a suspicion that they don’t believe me. Although, last week at babytime when we did Raffi’s Spider on the Floor as a tickle song I changed the words at the end to wishing the spider, not our children, were dead. They laughed at that, and then more so when I told them I softened it up for them.
Working in a library, I sometimes get asked by students to help with research. My favourite is a four-year-old who comes in regularly, and asks to help with her research which is usually something that she has become curious about that week. Today, it was if bears ever come into Richmond (to the best of my searching, it appears not).
Her other questions were why the dinosaurs were so big, and why they went extinct. We chatted a bit about different theories, and then she ran off to read Nick Bland’s A Very Cranky Bear that I had recommended to her.
While she was reading, her mom told me that friends of hers were telling her that teachers would one day dislike all the questions that her daughter would no doubt ask them. “Teacher’s don’t like to be asked things they have to admit they don’t know,” the mom said.
Having worked as a creative writing teacher, I can recall being asked many strange things (it was easier to ask me then it was to look things up, my students would say). I used those opportunities to teach my students about research, and how to find the answers they wanted without resorting to using me like Google.
In response to the mom, I told her that any teacher worth their salt will see her daughter’s curiosity and be thrilled at the potential. Though what kind of teacher she has early on will determine if she stays inquisitive – creativity and curiosity can both be killed easily with ridicule and a dismissive attitude. And yes, those teachers are out there, too.
On October 1st, I participated in PechaKucha Night at the Richmond Public Library. A PechaKucha is a talk that is 20 slides that you can talk to for 20 seconds.
The 12th volume of PechaKucha, entitled “Words Words Words,” took place on Thursday, October 1, 2015 and was hosted by the Richmond Public Library (Brighouse main branch). Words Words Words uncovered the influence words have on readers, writers, and communities. Volume 12 featured creative and professional practitioners in journalism, communications, literature, poetry and art.
Road trips, Jeeps, Libraries, and the Occasional Novel