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Seeds of a Story 2019: Part 2

Discover which books were inspired by history, by questions, by rap lyrics, by beach glass, true crime podcasts, and more! 

Here's Part 2 of the Seeds of a Story series, which tells you the stories behind the stories nominated for the CCBC Book Awards, which were handed out in Toronto this week. Check out Seeds of a Story Part 1 here, and also the list of award winners. Congratulations to everybody involved!

And now read on to discover which books were inspired by history, by questions, by rap lyrics, by beach glass, true crime podcasts, and more! 


Book Cover A Wolfe in SHepherd's Clothing

Wolfe in Shepherd's Clothing, by Counio and Gane

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

The killer is often the starting point for our murder mysteries: we ask ourselves who they are, who they kill, and why. But we also build on what’s come before, seeking variation in motives, methods and victims from book to book. In Wolfe in Shepherd’s Clothing, the third book of the Shepherd & Wolfe mysteries, we knew we needed a brutal “bad guy,” one far more dangerous than anyone our boys had yet encountered.

Our concept of the killer evolved during the outlining and writing process. When we started writing the third book, we decided the villain would be someone hiding their identity, swooping in from another country to make their kills. When we shared this concept with our publisher, she made a suggestion that reshaped the entire plan, and the killer’s whys and wherefores were refined as we completed the manuscript.

As well, knowing it would be the halfway point in the Shepherd & Wolfe series, we framed the plot around the series’ central question, which has gradually revealed itself over the first three books. Our goal for the last two is to begin answering these big questions while continuing to challenge our heroes with some truly evil events.

We hope we have succeeded in telling a gripping story that forces our characters to grow, while ending it in such a way that leaves our readers wanting more.


Book Cover The Sound of Freedom

The Sound of Freedom, by Kathy Kacer

Nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction

The true story that inspired The Sound of Freedom was a "gift" to me from Rick Wilkes, the publisher of Annick Press. I didn't know much about renowned violinist, Bronislaw Huberman who had rescued nearly 1000 European Jews during the Holocaust, bringing them to British Mandate Palestine, and founding what became the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. I thought the story was remarkable and knew I had to write it. I created a fictional girl, Anna whose father has lost his position as a clarinetist in the Polish symphony. They must leave Poland but don't know how, until they hear that a famous violinist is auditioning musicians for a new orchestra and providing a way to escape from Hitler's brutality. Once the pieces of the story were there in my mind, the writing began to flow! I think the stories of those who rescued Jews during that terrible time are incredibly important. These stories can inspire young people to think about how they can demonstrate good citizenship and stand up for their friends and neighbours who may be in need.


Book Cover Bat Citizens

Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night, by Rob Laidlaw

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

For many years I've been walking, climbing, squeezing, crawling and even swimming to the far reaches of many cave systems. While traversing through this underground wilderness I regularly encountered bats, usually alone or in small groups, but sometimes in the hundreds or thousands. They were mysterious to me, just like they are to most people, but they were also incredibly fascinating. I wondered how these tiny creatures navigated into the farthest reaches of very complex caves, what they did, where they went, how long they lived, how many kinds of bats there were, and so much more. I also wanted to know what threats bats faced. I knew disease was a serious threat to North American bats but I didn’t know what other challenges they faced. And perhaps most importantly, I also wanted to find out how we can help bats, not just in Canada and the United States, but elsewhere as well. Bat Citizens, Defending the Ninjas of the Night was a way for me to finally explore the world of bats and hopefully to help them in the process. 


Book Cover Easy Prey

Easy Prey, by Catherine Lo

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

Unlike my first novel, which took shape excruciatingly slowly, the idea for Easy Prey came to me all at once and seemingly out of the blue. I woke up one morning with three characters in my head, complete with backstories, motivations, and a mystery that tied them all together. When I think about the origins of the novel, it’s that lightning bolt moment that first comes to mind. But, of course, that’s only part of the story. The idea for Easy Prey didn’t spring from nowhere, but rather emerged from my experiences working with teens. For more than eighteen years, I’ve worked as a high school teacher, with most of that time spent in a behaviour support program where I get to work with young people as they overcome challenges. And while none of my books are based on specific students or situations, I do draw inspiration from being immersed in the culture of a high school. For Easy Prey, in particular, much of that inspiration came from considering the ways that social media shapes the experiences of high school students.  


Book Cover Learning to Breathe

Learning to Breathe, by Janice Lynn Mather

Nominated for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

What would you do if the worst thing you could imagine actually happened?

This is the question my protagonist, Indy faces, and the question I set out to answer in Learning to Breathe. The challenges Indy faces—an unwanted pregnancy as a result of sexual assault—were ones that were in the air during my own teen years, always whispered about but rarely openly addressed, and even more rarely addressed with empathy. It started with the rumours of a girl whose older male relative was “messing with her.” My peers and I didn’t know quite what to do with this information, but as I got older and encountered more people with similar experiences, I set out to make sense of how a person who had been assaulted might live through that experience. Often, the answer I heard circulating seemed to be that a girl in Indy’s situation had somehow brought these crimes on herself because of how she looked, how she dressed, who she was, for being “fresh” or “force riped”, for, it seemed, simply being. I wanted to understand what it might mean to survive and break free.


Book Cover Go Show the World

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes, illustrated by Joe Morse

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

Go Show the World’s illustration process began with the problem of telling the story of 13 different Indigenous heroes introduced in the lyrics of Wab Kinew’s rap song. Some heroes were from different centuries and some are alive today. They appear in the story based on the needs of the song lyric and not on history or location.

There is also the urgent and powerful refrain introduced near the beginning of the book with Jim Thorpe, “You’re a person who matters, Yes, it’s true. Now go show the world what a person who matters can do.” and on the final page of the book, “We are people who matter. Yes, it’s true. Now let’s show the world what people who matter can do.”

I decided to link each hero to the land, with every spread celebrating the earth we all share and the unique contribution of each individual to their time and place. From the storm above the Chaco Canyon to the vista across the Grand Canyon to the northern lights emblazoned across the dark sky, I used the land as both setting and active participant in this celebration of Indigenous heroes. 

There are also hidden images, reflections, shapes and elements that each spread contains to be discovered by the curious and engaged reader. I benefitted immensely from the generous guidance that Wab Kinew provided throughout the development of the images.


Book Cover Don't Tell the Enemy

Don't Tell the Enemy, by Marsha Skrypuch

Nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction

Don’t Tell the Enemy was inspired by the actions of Krystia Sikorska and her mother Kateryna, who hid three Jewish friends under their kitchen floor during the Holocaust. Krystia's daughter, documentary film-maker, Iryna Korpan, approached me at a public event and handed me a copy of She Paid the Ultimate Price. She told me that the documentary was about her mother and grandmother's experiences in WWII and she asked if I would consider writing a book about it. Frankly, many people approach me with the same request, but once I watched the documentary, met Krystia, and heard about what happened from her own lips, I realized that this was an aspect of the Holocaust that had rarely been written about. I had a moral responsibility to explore further and write Krystia's story. I'm so grateful that Krystia was alive when Don't Tell the Enemy was published. She came to the launch with her entire extended family and she received a standing ovation. Seeing her receive such well-deserved accolades for her compassion and bravery was one of the best experiences of my life.


The Call of the Wraith

The Call of the Wraith, by Kevin Sands

Nominated for the John Spray Mystery Award

The idea for Call of the Wraith came while I was still writing The Assassin’s Curse, the previous Blackthorn Key adventure. I kept having this image of Christopher waking up in a strange room, all alone, not knowing where he was or how he’d got there. When he opened the door, he found himself in a winter landscape, on a farm he’d never seen, a place totally unfamiliar.

And as that image played and replayed in my head, I was struck by a bigger mystery: Children have been disappearing, and no one knows why.

That formed the kernel of the story. From there, I did what I always do: dove into the research. As I read, I wondered. Why were children disappearing? How could they just vanish? And who would benefit from such a thing? My research led me to the White Lady, and the other story elements—but to reveal any more would be a giant spoiler!


Book Cover Trash Revolution

Trash Revolution, illustrated by Bill Slavin

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

I was really pleased when I was approached by Kids Can to illustrate Erica Fyvie’s Trash Revolution. It is such an important book, one that deals with our unsustainable throw away society and I found, in illustrating it, that I learned a whole lot more about this interesting subject.

Years ago I co-wrote and illustrated a book about manufacturing processes called Transformed, sort of the opposite end of this book, processes by which we manufacture all the things we take for granted in this society. But all that manufacturing leads to a lot of garbage being created and much of Trash Revolution is about process as well—how we clean our water, how we recycle aluminum. This gave me a chance to recycle my own little workers in blue overalls from Transformed, as they help the reader work through some fairly complicated processes in Trash Revolution.

The book was a lot of fun to illustrate and in the process of doing it I was gob-smacked by the waste we create (the average North American throws out 32 kilos of clothing a year!) but at the same time inspired by the innovative solutions that are emerging from around the globe.


Book Cover Ebb & Flow

Ebb & Flow, by Heather Smith

WINNER of the TD Children's Literature Award

Ebb & Flow was inspired by a piece of sea glass that I found on the beach in Newfoundland. Curious as to how it was formed, I did some research. The process fascinated me: a glass bottle gets tossed in the ocean and its broken pieces spend years getting battered and bashed by the waves until slowly, almost magically, they transform into beautiful, frosty gems. The idea that a piece of discarded glass could become a treasure felt hopeful to me. It made me think that people are like sea glass too—that it’s often the hard times that shape who we are. With this in mind, I created, Jett, a boy who has made a terrible mistake and struggles to forgive himself. Like sea glass he, too, transforms. It’s a long, slow, and difficult process, but in the end he’s stronger for it.


Book Cover Sadie

Sadie, by Courtney Summers

Nominated for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

With Sadie, I wanted to explore our cultural obsession with true crime. Though it's a category dedicated to the quest for justice and the search for the truth, the victims at the heart of its stories are often women and girls. When we turn brutal atrocities against women into a form of consumable, bingeable entertainment, what does that mean for them? What does that mean for us? What is the cultural impact? I love the true crime category, so Sadie is not an indictment against it but I thought these questions were well worth asking and exploring with Sadie's story.


Book Cover They Say Blue

They Say Blue, by Jillian Tamaki

Nominated for the TD Children's Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

It takes some pressure off of the writing process if I approach it like a game. Set up a concept then follow its shape. It almost results in an unexpected result. They Say Blue started off being about an exploration of colors but more importantly I wanted a sense of movement, meandering, undulation. To me, that’s a very child-like way of traversing the world… or at least how I remember it. It also reflects what the creative headspace feels like. One one hand, it’s my job to tap into my own creativity (and hopefully wring images out of it), but so much of the labour of producing books is solitary, laser-focussed and largely conducted inside. Stepping out of the studio and letting yourself be affected by your environment is so important. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city, suburb or the country. The real world is so much more lush than anything I could ever dream up. They Say Blue is about this really active observing, analyzing and feeling—it’s my hope that the deeper we feel to our environment, the more inspired we will feel to advocate for its preservation. 


Book Cover After Life

After Life: Ways We Think About Death, by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox

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

The seed of my story? A simple question: what can I write about next? 

But context is everything. I was bored, sitting in a board meeting on a sunny spring afternoon, my mind wandering. I had just finished my first book, What’s the Buzz: Keeping Bees in Flight, which had come about quite by accident and had been hugely fun. And since this was a Victoria Hospice Society board meeting, the answer that leapt into my mind was—not surprisingly—death. 

Afterwards I tore home on my bike and went straight to my computer to search for “children’s non-fiction books on death.” There were plenty of picture books and chapter books for younger children, some novels for middle graders and teens, a few self-help workbooks for teens, and of course tons of books on death for adults. But nothing for the 9–12-year-olds I wanted to write for, looking the topic straight in the eye and asking, what is death, why do we die, and how do people around the world think about it?

Then I started asking—parents, grandparents, teachers, counsellors, librarians, booksellers—was there a need for a book like this? The answer: a resounding yes. Bravely, Orca Book Publishers agreed. And so After Life came to be. 

Which just goes to show that a little boredom can be a very good thing.


Book Cover Miles to Go

Miles to Go, by Beryl Young

Nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction

Miles to Go is based on a true story I heard when I was researching prairie stories in Saskatchewan. In 1908 the mother of a large farm family died in childbirth leaving her oldest girl to look after the baby. It was too difficult for the twelve-year-old girl, and the baby was taken away by social workers, leaving the family heartbroken. In real life and after many false leads, the oldest girl found her sister who was 60 years old and living in the U.S. 

I loved this story, but 18 years went by before I wrote it. My story is set in 1948 and is about two girls who are best friends at school. Anna lives in the country and is trying to care for her baby sister. Maggie lives in town and, I must confess, is a bit like I was!

In the book, both girls suffer hard losses that threaten their friendship. They reunite, and the book ends as they promise to search for the baby “all over the world if we have to.” 

Descendants of the family gave me permission to write their story and understood that I made it into fiction. Many of them attended the launch of my book in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.