Kids Are Still Kids

jan-coates-2I’ve been doing some school author visits lately, and it’s always interesting walking into a classroom full of strangers, most often from grades primary to eight for me. I like kids, their honesty, energy and enthusiasm, and doing school visits really inspires my writing; it’s a great research opportunity. For the most part, students are attentive, and they can ask some pretty funny questions, often about my dog since I include Charlie in my PowerPoint, along with my other family members, the people who help me be a writer on a daily basis. Giving four presentations in a day pretty much tires me out – how do teachers do it day after day?

The thing that always strikes me is that kids are still readers and they’re still p1000574kids, despite the internet, technology, etc. that brings the world to their fingertips regularly. There are still shy kids (often those paying closest attention), bold kids looking for a laugh, in-between kids, and, sadly, left-out kids. Middle-school students are still trying to figure out their place in the group; the “cool” kids are still trying to stand out in various ways and venturing into the confusing, yet thrilling, world of relationships.

 

I always browse the bulletin boards at schools. I took these pics when visiting a school in BC during TD Book Week last year. One thing I’m careful about these days is to never gender-specify when calling p1000578on a student. There are always plenty of volunteers willing to share their writing, and it’s not always the “out-there” kids you might expect. I ask volunteers who want to present to write their own names on the board. One grade 8 student, in a classroom featuring a rainbow flag, proudly told me they’d made up the spelling of their name – Jaycob. Generally, it seems like kids today are a lot more free to express themselves, to be who they want to be than in my long-ago school days, when everybody seemed to be conservative and fairly conforming. Maybe I’m being naive, but I’m cautiously optimistic that this means the adults of the future will be more accepting and open… What do you think?

Wandering and Wondering through 2015

As I’ve been sitting around eating chocolates, drinking coffee and enjoying having both kids home for the holidays, I’ve also been reflecting on 2015, a busy year for me, especially in terms of writing. I did lots of wandering (14 trips by air, thousands of kilometers – a few too many, I think – Cuba, Georgia, Vancouver, Surrey, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Toronto, Maine, Ottawa, etc.) and plenty of wondering, marveling at sights I saw, things I heard. I met hundreds of readers, and lots of writers, too, including Alice Priestley, the illustrator of my first book, Rainbows in the Dark (2005).

In May, one of my favorite moments was seeing the mountains in British Columbia, a glorious sight I hadn’t seen since 1981. Stunningly beautiful! P1000544Another favorite, as part of TD Book Week, was arriving at a Sikh private school, donning a bright orange headscarf (which clashed with my pink shirt), before being greeted enthusiastically by a hundred smiling five and six-year-olds, several asking if I really had written If Dogs Could Talk, one of my books with Caramel Tree Readers. So sweet.

P1010166

With fellow juror (and new friend:) Rachna Gilmore.

In  December, I had dinner at the Governor General’s house, Rideau Hall, in Ottawa, and got to enjoy the company of many of Canada’s literary luminaries, briefly. In the lead-up to that Literary Awards ceremony, as part of the jury (with David Poulsen and Rachna Gilmore), I had the privilege of reading 148 Canadian novels published for young readers in 2014/15. There’s a lot of talent in our midst!

My newest book, The King of Keji, came out from Nimbus in June, I wrote (and read) pretty much every day all year, and saw my first (and possibly last) coy-wolf while loving being artist in residence at Fool’s Paradise, former home of Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy, overlooking the Scarborough Bluffs.

Fool's Paradise - a perfect reflection.

Fool’s Paradise – a perfect reflection.

2016 looks like it will be a less busy year, but before 2017 arrives, I’m hopeful of finding homes for the two novels I think I’ve finally finished polishing (possibly, maybe, hopefully…). And, of course, lots of new ideas to start getting down on paper. Also, Sky Pig (with intricate plasticine illustrations by Suzanne Del Rizzo) 9781927485989 (2)will fly out from Pajama Press in April, 2016.

Sincere thanks to YOU for being part of my year; I hope your 2016 will be pleasantly busy, full of good health and cozy time spent with those who matter most to you. Take good care of yourself, and I hope to see you again next year!