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Seeds of a Story: Part One

On Thursday, the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards will be presented in Toronto. We asked the nominees to tell us about the seeds of their stories, the places from which their inspiration grew.

On Thursday, the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards will be presented in Toronto. We asked the nominees to tell us about the seeds of their stories, the places from which their inspiration grew. Here are some of their responses. Part Two appears tomorrow. (Update: you can find it here!)


Book Cover Graffiti Knight

Graffiti Knightby Karen Bass

Nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

"Graffiti Knight started over a cup of coffee. I had driven out to a friend’s farm for a visit, and we were discussing the progress of the novel I was currently revising. Talking about a young adult novel must have triggered the thought, because my friend mentioned that her father had been a teenager in Leipzig, Germany, during and after World War II. The conversation veered to other things. I knew that Leipzig had been in what was called the Soviet Zone, and over the following year, the idea took root that a teenager in post-WWII Leipzig could make a great YA story. When my friend’s father agreed to let me interview him, the story took off."


Book Cover Brothers at War

Brothers at War, by Don Cummer

Nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

"My son was eight years old the summer we drove through upstate New York. We came upon the site of a battle I had not heard of before—Oriskany, near the Mohawk River. The battle was fought between neighbours; some were American patriots, while others were loyal to the King.

As we drove away, I thought about what a terrible thing it would have been to face your neighbours and friends—perhaps even family members—across a field of battle. I thought about the Canadian equivalent of Oriskany: the battles of the War of 1812 where some Canadians fought with the American army. They were commanded by a former newspaperman and member of the Upper Canada Assembly. The more I researched into the life and career of Joe Willcocks, the more my imagination played with the story about two boys—one Canadian and one American—who swear an oath of loyalty to each other as blood brothers. What would the war have done to them?"


Book Cover Metro Dogs of Moscow

The Metro Dogs of Moscow, by Rachelle Delaney

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

"About five years ago, I was reading the Globe and Mail when I came across a short article in the now-defunct Social Studies section (a moment of silence, please. It was a gold mine for story starters). The article reported that stray dogs in Moscow had learned to take the subway to get around the city. Intrigued, I began to research, and I soon found out that not only were some Muscovite mutts commuting on public transit, but that the subway system itself was a thing of wonder. I was hooked, and went on to write a middle-grade novel about these strays.

It wasn't until after I'd finished the first draft that I went to Moscow myself (in the middle of winter—not recommended). As I explored the city, tracked down stray dogs, and got hopelessly lost on the subway, I was able to collect some great setting details, not to mention some excellent travel stories."


Book Cover In the Tree House

In the Tree House, by Andrew Larsen (Illustrated by Dušan Petričić)

Nominated for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

"The seed for In the Tree House was planted when, as a young boy, I dreamed of building a tree house. I dreamed of having a special place where I could hang out with my older brothers. They seldom had time for me and I was convinced they’d make time if we only had a tree house.

We never got to have a tree house and I learned how to dream of other things.

Years later, I saw my daughter standing in a friend’s tree house. I knew, in that moment, that I had to write a story about a tree house. I didn’t know what kind of story I would write but I knew I had to try.

After many unsuccessful attempts, I tried writing the story in the first person. Eureka! I began to write from the heart. The story came alive and essentially wrote itself. I remembered my dream. I remembered what it felt like to grow up, grow apart, and grow together again.

Now that I have written the story, I finally have a tree house. I built it out of words."



A History of Just About Everything

A History of Just About Everything, by Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinsky (Illustrated by Qin Leng)

Nominated for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction

"We really like working as a team and were looking for another book to write together. Originally we came up with the idea of writing about the important events of the 1900s. We’d both written about such important people as Marie Curie and Albert Einstein, so we knew that the last century was a time of big changes, not just in science, but in art, politics, etc.

When we approached Kids Can Press with our idea, they were interested immediately. However they asked if we would consider writing not just about the 1900s but writing about, well, just about everything. Wow—what a job! It would have been a really difficult project for just one writer to take on, but having a writing partner to share the work made it possible.

Something that was really important to us from the beginning was including the 'Ripples' feature with each event in the book. We wanted kids to know why we chose these events and how they affect the world now. We thought this would make the book different from any others that are out there, and that kids would find these Ripples really interesting."


Book Cover the Stowaways

The Stowaways, by Meghan Marentette (Illustrated by Dean Griffiths)

Nominated for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy

"I’ve always adored miniature things. As an unusually small child, tiny things felt right to me―they fit the scale of my personal world. I spent the majority of my time on my bedroom floor, happily making miniature homes for my toy mice out of bits and pieces I collected (rather like a mouse would!).

I eventually pursued a career in the film industry as a costumer, and though it’s an artistic field, I still yearned for that creative joy I felt as a child. When I got a contract making costumes for tiny puppets for a stop-motion animation TV show, my imagination went wild again! But I wanted to create a whole little world, not just the costumes. So, shortly after that job, I sat down to write The Stowaways. I had no idea how to write a novel; all I knew was how the story might end. What drove me through the work of it all was the joy I felt in having complete creative freedom again, like I had as a child. I consciously chose to set my story in that old familiar place in my head―in the miniature world of mice. The very first page I wrote described the Stowaway family’s teeny home full of scavenged things. In the end, that scene was edited out, but my childhood vision still trickles through every page."


Book Cover Fox and Squirrel

Fox and Squirrel, by Ruth Ohi

Nominated for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

"There is a forest a few minutes from my home and I’ve always loved sketching the animals I see there and in my own backyard. Foxes and squirrels are very different creatures, but both quite similar too—bushy tails, pointy ears, both need to sleep and eat. This was the seed of the story, Fox and Squirrel.

Growing up in Canada, especially in a city like Toronto, one has the privilege of living in a wide mix of many different cultures. Fox and Squirrel poses the question: can people who look and do things so differently find enough in common to get along? Not necessarily be best friends, but at least respect each other. I revisited this manuscript from different approaches for many years. The final push came when I read an article by Canada’s former Governor General, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, who mentioned that while we often celebrate our differences, we should also remember what we have in common since that is what builds community and fraternity."


Book Cover Once Upon a Northern Night

Once Upon a Northern Night, by Jean E. Pendziwol (Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault)

Nominated for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

"Stories can be found everywhere. They howl like wolves, cackle like witches, roar like dragons, and, sometimes, if you listen very, very carefully, they whisper like a snowy morning. I live in the shadow of the Nor’Westers, an ancient mountain range worn down by time, close to Lake Superior. My house is in rural Thunder Bay, and the creatures of the boreal forest frequently visit my backyard. One crisp early winter morning, I woke up and gazed out over a transformed world. Snow had fallen overnight creating a fresh white canvas that had been crisscrossed with deer tracks and packed down by the furry feet of snowshoe hare. The hoarfrost hung, sparkling, on the dogwood and hazel. It made me realize that during the night, when I was sound asleep, in the darkest of dark, life continued on in all its miraculous majesty and beauty. Stars twinkled, the moon glowed, and animals frolicked. I took out my pen and set about painting a picture with words of a small, quiet moment that speaks of hope and love. What I wrote became Once Upon a Northern Night."