Words on a Limb Interviews Maureen Fergus

543233The air is crisp and chilly in Winnipeg as fall descends on us. We had a unique opportunity to sit and talk to one of our favourite picture book authors, accomplished writer and mom, Maureen Fergus.

Born in Regina, Saskatchewan and raised in Winnipeg, she has lived quite a journey to arrive at her dream of creating multiple picture books, several young adult novels, including a wildly popular fantasy trilogy. She admits, that in spite of all her achievements, the one thing she values is most is the recognition of her many readers and fans.

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Maureen spoke to us over the phone from her beautiful home, apparently full of treasures (more on that below), in Winnipeg where she lives with her husband, three children, a hedgehog and the family dog Buddy, affectionately known as Sir Barksalot – handsome fella, no?

Here is her story. If you are a young writer, there is plenty of gold in this river.


Welcome Maureen, it’s a privilege to speak with you today. What kind of kid were you , how much of it has stayed with you?
Maureen at 4I’ve never been asked that, that is an interesting question. I was very studious, I liked school, I was a perfectionist. I loved a good laugh, I thought I was hilarious, that certainly hasn’t changed. The perfectionist thing mellowed a lot once I had kids. You sort of have 2 choices when you have 3 kids in 3.5 years. You can continue to try to be a perfectionist and go off the deep end, or you just relax a little and except that not everything can be in its place all the time.

But in terms of the way I think and I approach situations I think a big part of that has stayed with me. In fact, I can go back and have a very clear memory of who I was at 4, how it felt to be 4, how I saw the world at 4. I can see that vividly, even at the ages of 7 or 11. This really helps me as a writer because, when writing picture books or books for middle grades or for older teens, I’m not thinking from the outside looking in, I’m thinking what a kid would do or think. I really try to put myself back in that place to write.

Do you have any creations from when you were a child?
I actually have one story that I wrote when I was 10 or 11. It was about a super pickle that goes to Ottawa and becomes a member of parliament. I was just a rambling sort of story. As a young girl, I never really wanted to be a writer, it was never my objective. I was always much more interested in science and math. I did love reading – I would keep a journal, keep up with out-of-town friends through snail mail.

I remember one other story from grade 7. I had a perfectionist teacher. Every week we had to write a story and my goal was write one that would get a 10/10. So, I wrote a story making fun of how strict she was. I wrote about me turning over the table, kicking the garbage can and how Miss Shanks got really upset. Funny enough it was a piece of writing that most closely resembles what I’m writing 20 years after. I got 10/10 for that one – the only 10/10 she gave out that year, it appealed to the perfectionist in me. Fortunately, she pushed me to get in touch with the voice of the writer I was going to become. It wasn’t a moment where I suddenly recognized I was going to be a writer, but looking back now, I realized it was the first moment when I really tapped into what that voice was going to be. I would like to go back and let her know that, even though I did not know it at the time, she had a pretty profound impact on my 20 years down the road. Continue reading

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Back-to-School Favourites

GravatarHere it is – a collection of my favourite Back-to-School literature. Some are new, others are older classics. Please feel free to share your discovered gems in the Reply box below. I will continue to update this list, so please come back and check again (because we can never have too many).


The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten
Maureen Fergus
Kids Can Press

A kindergartener invites her mom to class and discovers there are some things kids are better at than parents. This book makes a perfect gift for readers who are about to start or have recently started school.


Llama Llama Misses Mama (Llama Llama)
Anna Dewdney
Viking Juvenile

Strange new teacher.
Strange new toys.
Lots of kids and lots of noise!

What would Llama like to do?

Llama Llama feels so new . . .

It’s Llama Llama’s first day of preschool! And Llama Llama’s mama makes sure he’s ready. They meet the teachers. See the other children. Look at all the books and games. But then it’s time for Mama to leave. And suddenly Llama Llama isn’t so excited anymore. Will Mama Llama come back?

Of course she will. But before she does, the other children show Llama Llama how much fun school can be!

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Words on a Limb Interviews Ashley Spires

ashleysWhether she is busy hacking her new book into a stylish bag, or demonstarting her flair for fashion, or buried in a heap of ideas embodied by her sketches, Ashley Spire’s artistic passion shines bright.

A few weeks ago, we picked up her latest picture book The Most Magnificent Thing and recognized that Ashley brings a fresh voice to children’s picture books; in this instance, sharing a story about perseverance and the value of imagination, mixing in some science, math and technology. Your little ones will love this story’s diminutive protagonist and her loyal assistant. The book is brimming with clever, engaging words and complemented by Ashley’s own charming artwork.

Ms. Spires has also authored the wildly successful Binky series, along with other picture book favourites like Larf. We reached out to this favourite Canadian author to learn more about and ultimately share her story as a writer and illustrator. After her whirlwind Library Tour, we finally caught up with her. Here is what we discovered.

What were you like in school growing up on the west coast?
I was constantly drawing. Every project had the most elaborate title pages! When my best friend and I passed notes, we weren’t writing about usual kid stuff, we were writing each other stories. Mine always had illustrations with them too.

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My Favourites – May 2014

GravatarMy recent visits to the library and bookstores have revealed a bountiful selection of rich children’s literature. I put together a list of some of my favourites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Please feel free to comment below each title and share your thoughts and opinions. Have a great weekend everyone.


The Most Magnificent ThingReaders pick
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press

Award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires has created a charming picture book about an unnamed girl and her very best friend, who happens to be a dog. The girl has a wonderful idea. “She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” But making her magnificent thing is anything but easy, and the girl tries and fails, repeatedly. Eventually, the girl gets really, really mad. She is so mad, in fact, that she quits. But after her dog convinces her to take a walk, she comes back to her project with renewed enthusiasm and manages to get it just right. For the early grades’ exploration of character education, this funny book offers a perfect example of the rewards of perseverance and creativity. The girl’s frustration and anger are vividly depicted in the detailed art, and the story offers good options for dealing honestly with these feelings, while at the same time reassuring children that it’s okay to make mistakes. The clever use of verbs in groups of threes is both fun and functional, offering opportunities for wonderful vocabulary enrichment. The girl doesn’t just “make” her magnificent thing — she “tinkers and hammers and measures,” she “smoothes and wrenches and fiddles,” she “twists and tweaks and fastens.” These precise action words are likely to fire up the imaginations of youngsters eager to create their own inventions and is a great tie-in to learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.


Whimsy’s Heavy ThingsReaders pick

by Julie Kraulis
Tundra Books

Whimsy’s heavy things are weighing her down. She tries to sweep them under the rug, but she trips over them. She tries to put them in a tree, but they fall on her. She even tries to sail them out to sea, but they always come back. Eventually Whimsy decides to deal with the heavy things one at a time… and a surprising thing happens. With exquisite illustrations and delightfully simple text, Whimsy’s Heavy Things is a sweet story about changing the things that weigh us down into the things that lift us up. Continue reading

Interview with Aubrey Davis

GravatarHello everyone. A couple of weeks ago I reached out to one of my favourite Canadian authors, the incomparable Aubrey Davis, who I met many years ago when he was kind enough to autograph a copy of Bagels From Benny for my kids. I asked if we could connect and learn about his journey as a writer. When we got news that he was available, we set up some time and had a chat with Mr. Davis. Here is his story. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you.


I’m Mauricio, managing editor at WOAL, and I had the unique privilege of spending some moments with one of Canada’s most cherished story-tellers and children’s authors. A world traveler, he has mastered the gift of recounting timeless traditional tales in both the oral and written disciplines for a modern day audience. We had a chance to reflect on writing, culture, books, movies, the state of the education but most indulging of all, to me, the distinct art of story-telling. He joined us via Skype from sunny downtown Toronto, on of all days, Mother’s Day.

Welcome Mr. Davis. We know early on you began your career as a story-teller, what inspired you to become a writer?

It began when I was a kid, I was 9 years old and I lived next door to a writer. I never spoke to him about his writing, nor did I see any of his writing, I just lived next door to him. One day I woke up and felt, I want to be a writer too. I kind of caught it like a cold. So I bugged my mom for a typewriter, and a great big Webster’s Dictionary and I started to write.

What I loved to write back then was funny things. I really loved humour. I was a fan of Mad Magazine and the Bible. I was a religious kid on my own, not through my parents. And I just kept writing funny things until grade 8.

Who were some of your champions supporting you early on? And what happened in Grade 8?

I think it was when I was a kid, my 6th grade teacher. I noticed all the other kids got their stories handed back to them and I was the only one that didn’t get a story back. I didn’t know what was going on. He read my story to the whole class, with tears of laughter running down his cheeks. And I thought “Oh, this is nice”. I loved to write in school.

I had a grade 8 teacher that wrote, “There’s nothing worse than humour poorly done”. That shut me down, and I didn’t write again until I was I was about 40 and I came into story-telling.

How did teaching shape your writing? Continue reading

My Favourites – April 2014

GravatarHello Everyone. Spring is finally here (oh no – I hope I didn’t just jinx it). In honour of our late-comer, here are a few great reads. Thank you to everyone who sent in their suggestions.  Keep them coming.


And Then It’s Spring
by Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Published by Roaring Brook Press

Following a snow-filled winter, a young boy and his dog decide that they’ve had enough of all that brown and resolve to plant a garden. They dig, they plant, they play, they wait . . . and wait . . . until at last, the brown becomes a more hopeful shade of brown, a sign that spring may finally be on its way.
 


Spring Is HereSpring Is Here
by Will Hillenbrand
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ublished by Holiday House

Spring is in the air. Mole can smell it. But Bear is still asleep after his long winter nap. How will Mole wake up Bear so they can celebrate together?

 


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