Like a beauty queen contestant waving her last wave, Margaret and the Moth Tree’s reign as the Silver Birch Express Award book of 2013 has come to an end.
The year ended right where it began, at the Ontario Library Association conference here in Toronto, and this time, Brit was flown in, too! (Thank you, OLA!) Brit and I were part of a panel of authors talking about what our Silver Birch award meant to us, and I want to reiterate here what we said there: it was life-changing.
Apart from the honour of being nominated for (let alone winning) a provincial award because librarians selected us, the contact we were able to make with young readers was the truly priceless thing about this whole experience.
There is nothing more inspiring than direct feedback from kids. Without that exposure, we would never have had such strong encouragement to keep going and keep writing. I really can’t emphasize enough how much this means to fledgling authors, and of course, what it means to over 250,000 book-loving kids.
To everyone involved in this wonderful program, a million thank-yous.
There’s a fantastic reading series here in Toronto called “Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids.” It’s exactly as its name suggests: respectable adults — writers and non-writers alike — delve into their closets and basements to find their most entertaining childhood writing, and everyone gets together to laugh at them. I have yet to make it to one of these readings (they always sell out!), but the knowledge that they’re happening in my city makes me happy. This event, along with my blogger friend Caitlin’s hilarious foray into her childhood time capsule, reminded me that the last time I was back home in Edmonton, I did some digging around in my room. And oh, did I find things. What did I find, you may ask?
Sister issues! Deep-rooted sister issues I didn’t even know I had! My introverted nature = EXPLAINED.
Without further ado…
Relics of My Childhood
The Tale of Too Many Sisters
Here is a poem I wrote about the precious escape offered by my bedroom. Sometimes sisters want to have fun, and all you want to do is have some alone time. You know, a place for yourself.
Sisters sharing rooms. Dirty cats. Small, orchardless backyards. Some things are just so sad.
Sisters are full of lies.
Sisters steal from you.
It’s okay though. When the real world feels crowded with sisters, simply insert yourself into famous literary classics, taking the place of the main character. This allows you to hang out with imaginary people instead of your sisters.
Better yet, write a book with no one else in it at all! This sisterless story won the Caldecott “Medle,” apparently.
And if there was any doubt about my feelings on the matter…
I can’t say enough how much of a pleasure it was getting to meet so many readers, young and old, around the province this past month. Seeing the Margaret-inspired artwork some of you made, getting such insightful questions and comments, opening the mail to find a stack of reader letters… it’s been just amazing for Brit and me. And one form of reader interaction that’s been especially fun — which we just tried for the first time! — is video-chatting with book clubs.
We first heard about Toronto’s Bookworm Bookclub when two of their members, sisters Thea and Annika, made a fantastic movie trailer for the Silver Birch Award voting, costarring their mom Kim (aka Bookwormmom). They did such a good job… future filmmakers in the making, perhaps?
So when we got to meet this club at the Toronto “Forest of Reading” event, we jumped at the chance to virtually “attend” one of their meetings.
Bookwormmom went all out, as she writes on her website!
I set the table in the manner that Ms. Switch would have entertained her real guests – lovely flowers, pretty cakes and tea (a.k.a. pink lemonade)…
We had a good discussion about how we stand up to bullies, even when the bully is an adult. It was encouraging to know that all the girls had someone they felt they could turn to if they needed help (usually a teacher or parent). After that, we played a game where we stayed silent with our eyes closed for 2 minutes and listened for as many sounds as possible. It’s amazing how long it takes the ear to settle down and begin to hear the soft sounds of birds chirping or dogs barking far away. By 90 seconds we were wavering between trying to remember all the sounds we were hearing and trying not to giggle because we felt kind of silly sitting all together with our eyes closed. I have to admit, I peeked a few times to check that the girls weren’t all sitting there staring at me! Our next activity included a lot of magazines and scissors. In the book, the moths feed on nimblers; the stuff dreams are made of. The girls cut out pictures depicting dream-like and nightmarish images to them. They chatted about the kinds of dreams they have and what they might mean. I didn’t know you could have a nightmare about a spoon, but apparently it happens! I would have loved to have done a dream analysis activity with them, but alas we barely had enough time to finish cutting out the pictures for pasting onto poster board before our author call… Each girl had a question that we had come up with earlier in the meeting. Since all of us were siblings, we were very curious to hear what it was like to work so closely with a sister… Margaret and the Moth Tree was one of our Bookclub’s favourite books, both because of the story it told and the authors who told it. It’s one of those sweet little tales you fondly recall on a warm summer night watching moths flit around the porch light at the cottage. And the message of hidden strength no matter your size is one I hope the girls will carry with them always.
What fun — it was so great to chat with you guys, and we both hung up feeling so energized and inspired.
Can’t wait to “meet” another book club, the Share-A-Story club in Milton, next month!
I feel like I just want to echo everything Brit wrote last week, so I will go ahead and steal her words…
Wow!! Kari and I are so insanely thrilled… Margaret took home the Silver Birch Express Award in Toronto last Thursday! What a fantastic way to end of this whirlwind tour of Ontario. For those who aren’t familiar, the Silver Birch Express is a provincial readers’ choice award in Ontario. With over 100,000 kids voting across the province, we couldn’t be prouder to have been selected as this year’s winner in the middle grade category. The fact that we were chosen for this award by our readers makes it so meaningful to us — so much so that we are now hard at work on our next book!
As Kari and I said on Thursday, we’re so grateful to the Ontario Library Association for having us as part of the amazing Forest of Reading program. And to all the kids who took part in the program and voted: you guys are the BEST!!! Keep reading!
Thank you again, OLA, teachers, parents, and especially our readers — we’re just over the moon to have gotten to experience all this with our first book. It’s been a wild ride to share with you and Margaret!
Brit and I are back in Toronto after the most unbelievable and wonderful week on the road! We’ve been travelling from Parry Sound to North Bay to Thunder Bay with a roving band of fellow “Forest of Reading”-nominated authors — and meeting hundreds of amazing young Margaret and the Moth Tree readers in each city!
We’d heard before that the “Forest” award ceremonies are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an author. And they really, really are.
In each place we went, we got to meet kids, parents, teachers and librarians who’d read our book. We heard questions and perspectives about our own story that we never would have expected. We got to know the other authors, and we got swept up with everybody in a sea of OVERFLOWING BOOK LOVE. And, as the icing on the cake… Margaret was the regional winner at all three ceremonies! Thank you so much to all the Ontario kids who read and voted. Your fantastic enthusiasm, curiosity and passion for books are such an inspiration to Brit and me. It’s been a huge boost to keep writing and try to return to the festival again some day 😉
We’re so excited to meet 2,500 more of you next week at the provincial awards ceremony in Toronto!!
When I was growing up, I listened over and over to an audiobook version of Charlotte’s Web read by the author, E.B. White. At the beginning of the tape, E.B. White says of his story: “I wrote it for children, and to amuse myself.” I always loved the sound of his voice saying those words, and they’ve come back to me often over the years. Now having been through the process of writing and publishing a kids’ book myself, I’m still inclined to agree with E.B. — writing for children is equal parts self-amusement (sometimes self-help!), and the desire to tell a story that a child might get something from.
Well, Brit and I definitely amused ourselves while writing Margaret and the Moth Tree. But so far, the writing for living, breathing children part has been a bit theoretical. So far, we haven’t got to meet and talk with that many child readers face to face…
This is about to change!!
After counting down the months, we’re off on a journey around Ontario for the Silver Birch Awards! Thanks to the wonderful Ontario Library Association who administer the Silver Birch and the rest of the Forest of Reading awards, Brit and I will be travelling by ground and by air with a group of fellow nominees. In each location, we’ll get to witness the announcement of the favourite children’s book of the year in each age category, as chosen by young voters! We’ll be going from Parry Sound (May 6) to North Bay (May 7-8) to Thunder Bay (May 10) to Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (May 16), with a school visit in Richmond Hill squeezed in on our off-time. Then I’ll be going sisterless to the final destination, Durham Region, on the 17th.
I absolutely can’t wait, though my nerves are getting a wee bit jumpy… What does it feel like to be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of book-loving children, cheering at the top of their lungs about how much they love to read? We’re about to find out.
Last week, I got to eat breakfast with a room full of people celebrating the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Program (the program that nominated Margaret and the Moth Tree for the Silver Birch Express Award!).
It was a treat to meet the librarians and to chat with some fellow nominees. And listening to the speeches about the program, it really got me thinking about what it’s like for teachers and librarians nowadays, helping to raise a generation of young readers. This is a group of people who work a lot of unpaid overtime to bring literacy to kids, whose programs often lack the funding they need, and who are always trying to reach struggling, disengaged kids.
So when a literacy program comes along that’s as popular and effective as Forest of Reading is, it makes you want to get to your feet and cheer.
As I wrote about when nominations were announced, Forest of Reading is an annual youth reading challenge, in which ten books are selected for each age category by a group of librarians. Kids read the nominated books, then they get to decide which title takes home the prize at the end of the school year, and attend a super exciting awards ceremony where they get all worked up cheering for their favourites. Usually kids will take part within their schools, with the support of their teachers, or sometimes they’ll take part through a parent-run book club.
Something I’ve heard so many times — and something I can’t wait to witness firsthand — is that kids just love this program. It gets them excited about starting the next book on the list, and it gets them to form opinions and start discussions about what they like to read.
It’s a pretty inspiring thing, especially when it comes to reluctant boy readers. I heard someone at my table say, “Usually, it’s only the girls whose hands you have to pry a book out of when reading time is over. But after taking part in Forest of Reading, it was the boys in the class who wouldn’t let go of their books.”
Being nominated for one of these awards is a wonderful boost for any author, but especially for a new author. It’s obviously really encouraging to know that a committee of librarians thought your book worthy enough to nominate it. But beyond that, being a Forest of Reading title means that your book gets brought into schools in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t. It means that more teachers know about it, more students read it, and (my personal favourite part)… we get to hear kids’ thoughts on our book!
The students have started posting their reactions on the Forest of Reading online community… here are some delightful bits of conversation from the Margaret and the Moth Tree forum. 🙂
“I think this book was awesome because it showed a lot of caring and it also showed how a little girls life could become spectacular, in just a little time!”
“I think that this book is a great book because it shows how teamwork works.”
“This is so cool it is about a girl who goes to an orphanage. WOW! You should read it because Margaret saves the day!”
“I didn’t like this book because it was sad that miss switch was so mean.”
“This one’s plot is terrific and some parts are funny.”
“I love this book because it is funny and it is great for all ages.”
“I like this book because it has a good ending and it makes a lot of sense so you guys should read it.”
“Such a great book! i loved how every chapter started with a saying or a lesson. And there couldn’t have been a better ending!”
“Wow, this book was both funny and terrifying at the same time (how would you like to dangle on a window sill on a blistery day). We learned that you shouldn’t judge someone by the way they look or a book by its cover. Ms. Switch is such a lovely lady………..”
“I think this is a great book because it tells you that at the loneliest times you can still make friends and make the situation better.”