Words on a Limb Interviews Stella Partheniou Grasso

A little while ago, I was pleased to connect with Stella when I was in contact with Scholastic Canada. She was very gracious and supportive to me as a burgeoning writer. Her insight and advice gave me great direction and confidence. 

Stella has been the Publishing Coordinator at Scholastic Canada for several years. During that time she has also successfully published three exceptional children’s books. I caught up with her recently this fall, as she was launching her new title: There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Puck.

Stella has a compelling career as a publisher and author, and I’m happy to share her story with you.

* For our teacher friends – do not miss the classroom resources available for download in the book review section below!


Where did you grow up? What were you like as a child? What part of those personality traits have stayed with you?
I was born in Nicosia, Cyprus and came to Canada very young. I grew up in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I was a shy kid and I’m still pretty shy. I’ve learned to work around it, though. I always loved reading and sharing stories.  I spent a lot of time at the public library and I always took part in the summer reading programs. I helped with the reading buddy program at my elementary school and later I tutored high school kids who needed help with English and Math. My parents would tell me stories of our village in Cyprus that I share with my own kids now.

What was your first piece of creative art that you remember (craft, book, painting) creating? Where is it now?
I always loved arts and crafts. As a kid I learned to crochet, knit, dance (ballet, jazz and Greek dancing), play the violin and piano. I even taught myself how to make pysanki (Ukrainian Easter eggs) and I’m not even Ukrainian. I decorated some eggs especially for my mom and she still displays them every Easter as part of the centrepiece.

In grade four I wrote a play called “Prince Pickleworth Stops Littering.” I worked on it for weeks and when I showed it to my homeroom teacher, he was so impressed that he asked me to perform it for the class. So a bunch of my friends and I stayed in for recess over a couple of days and then put on a show. I kept worrying that the play was going to be a disaster but when it came time to perform for the class everyone did a great job. It turned out really well. I was so proud of them. The play is lost but the memory is always with me.

Tell us about your first “YES” in your career. Where were you? How did it feel?
The first “yes” in my writing career was the one I told myself.  It was a “yes” to doing what I love regardless of the outcome. I never thought I’d get published but there was no harm in sharing what I had written and seeing what happened.

My first published book started with a silly punchline that popped into my head as I was walking down the street: Sasquatchewan. I don’t know where it came from but once it was there I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I had to write a joke to match that punchline. I finally figured it out, “Where does Big Foot live?” Before I knew it I had written over 150 spooky jokes and some silly poems too. I sent them to an editor at Scholastic Canada. She liked them and the next thing I knew we were working to make it into an actual book. We left out the poems and pared the list of jokes down to 101 creepy Canadian jokes, which we published under the title, um, 101 Creepy Canadian Jokes.

Getting published was actually a big surprise. I didn’t know if my jokes were any good (and, quite frankly, some are better than others).

Tell us about your writing process from idea to page. Do you envision your book completely or does it unfold for you as you write?
Most of the time I know how I want the story to start and I know how I want the story to end. I then figure out how to get from start to finish. Sometimes a story will start taking on a direction of its own and in those cases, I just let the story write itself without worrying too much about getting to the ending that I had in mind at the beginning. After I’ve worked out a first draft, I’ll figure out how that story would fit into a 32-page picture book and revise it to fit.
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