Vikki VanSickle on Writing, Reading & Other Pipedreams

Everything I need to know in life, I learned from children's literature

The Book Lovers’ Guide to Purging

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Over the course of a year I amass a lot of books. I attend lots of book launches and have an endless appetite for new books, used books, novelty books, books I intend to use for research purposes for novels I want to write…and so on. What I don’t have is a lot of space. Perhaps the only thing I like as much as books is a tidy, well-ordered apartment.

Can a girl have it all, a massive library and a neat, efficient living space?

Yes, but it does require some purging. Like most book-lovers I am quite attached to my books; In fact, I am a secret sentimentalist. As a child I used to fret over which stuffed animal I would choose to sleep in my arms every night, worried I would deeply offend the others, relegated to the cold, lonely, end of the bed. Similarly, an irrational part of me worries that the author will somehow know I have not kept their book and by removing it from my personal collection I am letting her down. This is nonsense. The best way to support an author is to buy her book– which you have done. The next best thing is to spread the word.

Don’t think of purging your shelves as throwing your books away, think of it as passing them on to another reader who will love and appreciate them. You are a benevolent benefactor of books gifting someone her next best read. You can of course drop your books off at Goodwill, Value Village, or a used bookstore, but I find the following alternatives allow me to sleep easier at night, even without a well-worn stuffie.

 Little Free Library

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These book boxes are popping up all over the world and might be the most charming way to donate your books. Check out the map on their website to find the location nearest to you or to register a box of your very own. I have dreams of building a Hogwarts Little Free Library one day. Check out the variety of boxes on instagram (@littlefreelibrary)

Visit your Local Library Branch

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Increase the reach of your books ten-fold by donating to the library. Some branches will accept recent books in very good condition. Not all libraries accept donations-don’t leave books in the drop-off bin or in a box outside the door. Ask to speak to a librarian at your local branch and allow him/her to go through your selection.

The Children’s Book Bank

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In Toronto we are lucky to have this wonderful organization that allows children in lower-income areas to take a book home with them- for keeps- every time they visit the bank. They are currently accepting books for children up to age 12. You can visit the bank or leave your gently-used books in the drop-off box at Mabel’s Fables. They also run programming and have a great trivia contest on instagram (@thechildrensbookbank).

Start a Gift Box

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Find a nice box or storage container that matches your decor and store books you think would make great gifts. Invited to a dinner party? Bring a book instead of a bottle of wine. Last minute baby shower? That signed picture book you got at a launch would be perfect. Heading up to someone’s cottage for the weekend? Everyone appreciates a new addition to their summer library. While this does not get books out of the house immediately, it does clear up shelves. Finding a nice storage box to keep them clean and tucked away is key.

Be a Book Fairy 

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Everybody loves mail. Select a book you love and send it to a friend or a friend’s child who you think will have a particular interest in that book. Even better, include a letter explaining why you chose this book for them. This gives you an excellent reason to invest in the fantastic new Alice Munro stamps.

Local School

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There isn’t a public school in Canada that isn’t strapped for cash. Library and classroom budgets are getting smaller and smaller, what better way to encourage a love of reading within your own community than donating to a local school? Make sure you are in contact with a teacher or librarian and allow them to select from what you have. They understand their students’ needs better than you will. Don’t treat a school like Value Village- a place where you can unceremoniously dump what you don’t want.

Summer Camps

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Like schools and libraries, camps are another great hotbed of reading. I have fond memories of trading novels with my fellow counsellors and reading aloud to the girls in my cabin. Look up your old sleep-away camp or ask a friend who has a child in camp if they could use some books. Some camps have reading rooms or lending libraries that operate out of the tuck shop.

Purging makes you feel great. So does donating books.

Where do you like to take your gently-used books? Let me know in the comments!

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New Digital Short: AMY ABBOT IS HAVING A PARTY

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I was flattered when Fierce Ink Press approached me to write a piece for their Fierce Shorts program. Featuring powerful work by Jo Treggiari, Susin Nielsen and Alice Kuipers, the Fierce Shorts program is a response to the It Gets Better movement in which YA authors write a short, digital piece about an experience they had in high school.  A portion of the proceeds is donated to a charity of the author’s choice.

Nonfiction is a tricky business. As vividly as some memories stick with you, there will always be details that need to be re-imagined. The events in Amy Abbot is Having a Party really happened. The characters are people I knew. But while I remember certain cutting comments and well-timed compliments word for word, most of the dialogue is an approximation of conversations I had.

I love reading memoir. I love the humour and the outrageous stories in Cathy Gildiner’s trilogy of memoirs, Too Close to the Falls, After the Falls, and Coming Ashore. I love the heart and charm of legit teenager Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular. I will read any food memoir. Some of my favourites include Tender at the Bone, A Homemade Life  My Berlin Kitchen. But I never once considered writing it myself until Fierce Ink came knocking.

Like most people I have a bag of anecdotes I can rummage around in and pull out something apropos as needed. The time I climbed through an open window of an abandoned house as a kid, a result of reading a lot of Nancy Drew. The time I convinced my grade eight teacher to allow me to hand in chapters of a novel instead of my English assignments.  These anecdotes are short, pithy gems polished from years of telling. They may be true stories but they have a distancing effect. They represent how I want to be perceived. Like fiction, they are a smokescreen that I can project upon.

That wasn’t going to cut it this time around.

The truth? My high school experience was very vanilla. Not even French vanilla, but no-name vanilla. I was a good student. I was a joiner. When I wasn’t at school or band practise or in the student council office I was working at my part-time job. No boys, no alcohol, no drugs, no real drama to speak of. I didn’t relate to teenage struggles presented to me in fiction or movies because I never really felt like one. I went from feeling thirteen to thirty-five. Now tween angst I can do. My tween years are as clear to me as the images on my fancy hi-def TV, which is why I tend to write middle grade.

This is not to say that I didn’t have my share of teen angst, as my journals and some truly terrible poetry demonstrate. But my shade of conflict felt pale in comparison to the struggles of so many others. Then I thought about all those thirteen-going-on-thirty-five year old teens out there who maybe don’t see themselves in YA. By writing about myself, I am also writing for them.

So this is my story, a little slice of my life back in 1999 in Woodstock, Ontario. Britney Spears had just burst onto the scene and everyone watched Survivor. I was considering taking kick boxing, which was all the rage thanks to Billy Blanks and Tae-bo.  Maybe you will see a bit of yourself in this story, or recognize a friend or family member. Or maybe you’ll simply be entertained, which is fine with me.  For each download a percentage of the proceeds will go to Girls Rock Camp Toronto, one of my favourite organizations.

You can purchase Amy Abbot is Having a Party at Kobo, iTunes or Amazon.ca

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Manhattan and Macarons: The Summer Invitation Review

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This lovely confection of a book feels a bit like a contemporary fairytale, or at the very least a glimpse at what Eloise’s life might have been like as a teenager. Valentine (pronounced Valen-teen) and Franny are invited to spend the summer in their eccentric and wealthy aunt’s Greenwich Village apartment with sculptress and chaperone-of-many-secrets, Clover. Valentine is desperate to fall in love and Franny isn’t sure what she wants out of the summer just yet- but what she doesn’t want is to be left behind.

For a certain person, this is the ultimate fantasy- an all expenses paid trip to the kind of 1960s Manhattan that likely doesn’t exist anymore. Franny and Valentine shop for fancy lingerie, get make-overs, go to classic old New York bars and have deep conversations with gentlemen in their sixties. Valentine meets a handsome cellist and embarks on the love affair of her dreams. Franny is naive but an old soul at heart, and like her aunt and Clover she appreciates history, sophistication, and solitude. Think champagne, oysters, and sheath dresses. Her naiveté would make the book appropriate for a middle grade reader, though it is technically marketed as YA.

I read and enjoyed Charlotte Silver’s memoir Charlotte au Chocolat and her delicate, almost whimsical prose is put to good use here. There are hints of darkness and melancholy, but they are employed to heighten the giddy, fizzy experience of Franny’s first summer in New York. One of my favourite middle grade novels is Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, and this felt like the perfect next step for readers of that book. Light, classic and sweet as a macaron, this is a frothy and tender look at that old fictional trope, “The Summer That Changed My Life.”

The Summer Invitation is available now from Roaring Brook Press.

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The Art of Noticing: Sidewalk Flowers Review

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As a kid I used to pick Dandelions, purple clover and Queen Anne’s Lace and bring them home to be put in a vase and displayed on the kitchen table. I did not understand the difference between a weed and a flower. It’s all a matter of perspective; one person’s weed is another person’s flower. Perspective and the art of noticing are beautifully explored in this new wordless picture book from Canadians JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith.

Sidewalk Flowers follows a little girl as she walks through the city with her father. While he spends most of his time on his phone, she collects sidewalk flowers and then gives them out to people and animals she meets along the way. In the beginning, only the girl is in colour- wearing a vivid red cloak- along with the flowers she spots in a black and white city full of black and white people. But as she notices things- a patterned dress, a vase, a bird- they too become brightly coloured and by the end of the book the whole world is vivid. Very simple concept, very effectively executed. My heart just about stopped when I saw the image of the flowers left as a memorial for a dead bird.

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You can’t throw a stone without hitting a wordless picture book these days. Wordless picture books invite contemplation in a way that other picture books don’t. That isn’t to say the experience is better, but different. How the story is shared becomes a truly personal experience. Do you make a story up as you go through the book with a child? Is it the same or different each time? Do you give the book to a child (or adult) and have her sit silently and experience the book in her own head? There is more room- or at least more space- for imagination.

Some picture books are kinetic and invite laughter and action (The Book With No Pictures, Pete the Cat, The Day The Crayons Quit, Goodnight Already), but this is the perfect example of the opposite kind of book, inviting meditation and encouraging mindfulness. The experience of reading Sidewalk Flowers mirrors the experience of the little girl in the book- taking time to notice things, becoming aware, and delighting in the world around her. Children are better equipped for this sort of awareness,  perhaps why it keeps turning up in picture books, not only Sidewalk Flowers but also in Kathy Stinson’s award-winning The Man with the Violin.

Fans of The Farmer and the Clown, Journey, The Gardener, On My Walk, and The Man with the Violin will perhaps best appreciate this lovely tale of a transformative walk. I cannot wait until I can go on my own city walk and marvel at the tenacity of spring and it’s new growth, which with any luck, will be in a few weeks time.

Sidewalk Flowers is available now from Groundwood Books.

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Skate Like a Girl: Roller Girl Review

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There is a surge in middle grade graphic novels featuring female protagonists that I am totally into. Some of these books are memoirs ( Smile, Sisters, and El Deafo) and others are fiction (Drama, Chiggers, or This One Summer). Fiction or non-fiction, they are all fabulous, and now there is a new kid on the block that I couldn’t love more if it was covered in vanilla icing and dipped in sprinkles.

Astrid loves roller derby and decides to spend the summer at roller derby camp, hoping to become a  jammer like her hero, Rainbow Bite. But her long-time friend Nicole does not share Astrid’s love for derby, and Astrid finds herself alone at derby camp struggling to stay on her feet and complete basic drills. But then she is befriended by Zoey and things start to look up, until the two girls compete for the same position.

Roller Girl perfectly captures that moment when you realize that you are growing apart from your best friend. This is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if that friend makes new friends that you don’t particularly like or understand. Girls especially put a lot of stock in the Best Friend. But as Mindy Lahiri would say, “Best friend isn’t a person, it’s a tier.” I love that Astrid not only makes cool new Roller Derby friends, but finds a way to keep Nicole in her life. The ins and outs of friendships make up a big portion of the drama tween (girls especially) deal with and Roller Girl gets to the core of these issues.

Plus this book is about roller derby, an adrenalin-laced, kick-ass female driven sport. I’ve always had a soft spot for roller derby and freely admit to loving Drew Barrymore’s under-appreciated film adaptation of Whip ItThe idea of thousands of young girls on the cusp of adolescence discovering the power, camaraderie, athleticism and fun of roller derby through this book warms the cockles of my heart. Skating does not come easily to Astrid, and there are lots of bumps and bruises along the way. Roller Girl also demonstrates- in the most fun way possible- that learning a skill is hard and perseverance has its rewards.

Victoria Jamieson is now on my list of girl crushes, alongside such greats as Celine Sciamma, Tina Fey, Emily Lockhart, and Raina Telgemeier. Not only does she write fab middle grade but she herself is a Roller Derby girl and a great artist. I mean look at this amazing magnet she designed:

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I want big things for this book because it’s bright and funny and empowering and all-around wonderful. Plus it begs the question, what is YOUR roller derby name? I can never decide between Alice Munroad Kill or Surly Temple…thoughts?

Roller Girl is available now from Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House.

 

 

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Happiness is a Penderwicks Novel: The Penderwicks in Spring Review

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How can a book that is ultimately about an eleven year old’s belief that she is responsible for the death of those she has loved be so funny and charming? Such is the magic of The Penderwicks in Spring, the fourth in the truly classic and heartwarming Penderwicks series. We throw words like “modern classic” around a lot in children’s literature, but The Penderwicks are deserving of that classification. I used to comp these books to Little Women, but The Penderwicks has now evolved into the series that other books are comped to, though I have yet to find a truly worthy contender.

This book focuses on Batty, who is now eleven. She has recently discovered a hidden talent for singing and cannot wait to share it with her family on her birthday, which also happens to be when Rosalind returns from college and Jeffrey is visiting from Boston. Despite a large revolving cast, the characters are clear and the reader never feels overwhelmed. Birdsall’s gentle third person narration gives us wonderful insights into her characters, some which tug at the heartstrings and others that made me laugh out loud. Ben is evolving into a sweet, serious boy with a love of rocks and a dislike of Rosalind’s schmarmy boyfriend (“How could such a person as Oliver come from a state with so many great rocks? Would Ben have to rethink his devotion to Minnesota?”). Skye is as angry and complicated as ever, and we get a breathtaking look into the source of this pain, one that slays the reader and sends Batty into a devastating tailspin. It is hard to watch Batty suffer, and she weeps throughout a lot of this book, which meant I also wept. I finished the book a few hours ago and I still feel emotionally sensitive.

One of the aspects of Birdsall’s writing I find the most interesting is which moments she chooses to include in her family saga, and which happen off the page. One of the challenges of writing a series that takes place over seven years is that obviously you can’t include everything. But Birdsall tends to include quieter, everyday moments instead of big dramatic ones. We don’t see Rosalind go to college, for example, or experience the birth of Lydia. But we do spend time with Batty in the woods or Ben behind the bushes playing army. Perhaps most significantly in this novel, we don’t see the death of Hound but we do experience Batty’s profound and prolonged grief, which is perhaps the unexpected choice, but an extremely effective one.

There are few things in life I enjoy as much as a Penderwicks novel. I have written about them before here. I love the wild, warm chaos of the family, which now numbers up to eight with toddler Lydia, nine if you count Asimov the cat, which Batty certainly would. I love the descriptions of home and the traditions and details that make the Penderwicks as real to me as any living breathing person in my life. Take for example, how at age five (otherwise known as the age of reason) each Penderwick chooses their own special cake which is made for them lovingly by the rest of the family every year on their birthday. I love how emotionally resonant the books are, a literary equivalent of that tender person who wears her heart on her sleeve. So many books these days use snark, irony or flashy gimmicks to win over a presumedly jaded audience, but Birdsall proves that all you really need to engage a reader is emotional integrity.

Apparently there will be one more Penderwicks novel after this one. I would read about this family all the way to old age. The whole series thus far stands up to re-reading, for both kids and adults. While all of the novels are genuinely emotional, this one dips into the darkest territory so far, but it is a cleansing and satisfying experience. I am so happy to live in a world where there are Penderwicks books. 

The Penderwicks in Spring will be available March 24, 2015 from Random House Canada.

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Cold Hands, Warm Heart: Waiting for Unicorns Review

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Who doesn’t love a unicorn myth? Author Beth Hautala weaves folklore about unicorns, whales, and specifically narwhals (the unicorns of the sea) into a gentle and lovely story about a father and daughter coming through grief in northern Manitoba. This is the kind of book we would have referred to as a “Vikki book” at The Flying Dragon, so it is fitting that I make my much belated return to blogging with this middle grade gem.

Twelve year old Talia is not pleased about accompanying her whale-researcher father to Churchill, Manitoba. Their relationship has been strained since the death of her mother and everything about the isolated northern city is cold and unfamiliar to her. But slowly Talia starts to let people in, like Sura, who is hosting Talia and her father, an ornithologist referred to as The Birdman (not to be confused with the title-character in the Michael Keaton film), and his charming grandson Simon.

Much of the book is about Talia holding onto the memory of her mother, Katherine. She was the kind of person who believed in magic and made life bright and fun. Talia is desperate for stories about her mother, which Sura is happy to provide. This information and a few choice flashbacks sprinkled throughout the narrative make it achingly clear what Talia has lost. But this book is also about forging new relationships. Her father isn’t so much distant as grief-stricken. Talia and her father were never as close as she was with her mother, but they both yearn to connect and when they do it is extremely satisfying for the reader. Sura seems gruff at first but is patient with Talia and wins her over in part with pancakes and some truly delicious-sounding hot chocolate. And then there’s Simon the Guitar Boy, a preternaturally wise and positive influence on Talia. In other words, exactly the kind of friend/crush she needs. In many ways this book is about the power and importance of wishing, a not-so-distant cousin of hope. This keeps the book buoyant, and despite some truly aching moments, the book never becomes unbearably heavy.

There are a lot of lovely details in this book that straddle the line between whimsical and earthy, which is possibly my favourite line in children’s fiction, and one not easy to straddle effectively.  A particularly effective visual metaphor in the book is the jar of wishes that Talia keeps under her bed. I also loved the ‘unicorn of the sea’ imagery and the little tidbits of natural history, wildlife, and conservation which pervade the book and give a excellent sense of place. Canadian readers will especially love how Hautala represents one of our more Northern communities. The conservation angle and the setting are part of what sets Waiting for Unicorns apart from the crowd.

Fans of Counting by 7s, After Iris or The Secret Hum of a Daisy will appreciate this gentle and reassuring story about life after loss, set in a refreshingly unique location.

Waiting for Unicorns is available now in hardcover from Penguin Canada.

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The Best Moments in Children’s Books, 2014

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There were some shining moments in the children’s book world in 2014. This year we encouraged children to practice their reading with cats, celebrated graphic novels, established a new YA award in Canada, and took a stand on diversity.

Mac Barnett’s TED talk

Barnett’s books are funny, clever, and sophisticated, but never at the expense of child appeal. It comes as no surprise that the author himself is an engaging ambassador for children’s literature. In his TED talk “Why a good book is a secret door,” he discusses the human aptitude for imagination and gives plenty of real-life examples from his days as a camp counselor to his work at the inventive writing & tutoring organization 826LA, and his own writing.

 

Berks ARL Book Buddies Program 

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I mean come on. Look at this picture! So cute I had to post it twice. This story of the Animal Rescue League of Berks County Book Buddies program went viral in February, due largely to this image of a little boy reading to a shelter cat posted on Reddit. Encouraging children to read AND comforting cats? I am in.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

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This grassroots organization of diversity crusaders has come a long way. After BookCon announced an all-white, largely male line-up this spring, authors and readers took to the internet to make it known that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. To their credit, the organizers responded, and a panel entitled “The World Agrees: We Need Diverse Books” was added to the programming. Months later, after significant media coverage and successful crowd-funding campaigns,  WNDB is a full-fledged organization. Featuring grants, book lists, tips for bringing diversity into the classroom and an upcoming festival, it is safe to say that #WeNeedDiverseBooks is transitioning from a moment to a movement.

 

THIS ONE SUMMER wins the Governor General’s Award for Illustration

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In an insightful piece in The National Post this fall, Anna Fitzpatrick discusses the potential impact of Jillian Tamaki‘s GG win on the perception of comic arts. With the ever-growing popularity of graphic novels and memoirs for children (El Deafo, Sisters, Through the Woods and the upcoming Roller Girl), the ever-growing attendance at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and a TCAF pop-up shop at the Toronto Public Library this month, it is hard to deny that graphic art in all it’s permutations is commanding more respect. This is fantastic news. Just think of the amazing crossover and genre-bending books there are to come!

 

The Amy Mathers Teen Book Award is Established

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Book-lover and CanLit advocate Amy Mathers began her marathon of books, reading her way across Canada one YA book at a time, in January 2014 hoping to raise enough money to fund a much-needed award for Canadian YA. At the TD Children’s Literature Award Gala in November it was announced that her dream would become a reality. The first Amy Mathers Teen Book Award will be awarded in 2015. This is great news for the vibrant and diverse range of YA books published by Canadians.  Follow Amy’s journey and peruse her book reviews on her website or connect with her on twitter.

Now doesn’t that make you feel good? Here’s to a great 2015! Happy holidays, friends!

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Summer Days, Starry Nights Shortlisted for the 2015 Red Maple Award

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I could not be more thrilled to be among the fantastic writers on the 2015 Red Maple Award list. The OLA Forest of Reading is one of the largest children’s choice award programs in Canada and attending the Forest of Trees ceremony in Toronto is one of my favourite days of the year. If you have any doubt about the state of reading in this country, this is a program to check out. But don’t take my word for it:

 

If you get the chance to go to Harbourfront and witness the 8000+ school children screaming for their favourite book, I highly recommend it. You will leave grinning and feeling like the world is in excellent hands. Mark Medley did a fantastic article about the event in The National Post. Read it here.

I have created some resources to compliment the Summer Days, Starry Nights reading experience. Please check out my resources page to find:

-Discussion questions and a list of related activities

Pinterest Inspiration board– Here you will find a collection of images that inspire the setting, the clothes, and some of the characters in the book

Playlist– I have pulled together some videos of artists and musical groups that are mentioned in the book or inspired the characters of Bo, Gwen, and Johnny

I am also available for school visits and have a quantity of Summer Days, Starry Nights bookmarks available for your schools and libraries. Leave me a message in the comments and I’m happy to put together a package for you (while supplies last).

 

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Thank You for the Borderlands: RIP Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Zilpha Keatley Snyder, 1927-2014

When I was a kid I got a box of books at a garage sale. I don’t remember how old I was. It was the summer, possibly between grades 3 and 4, or 4 and 5- but I do remember that box vividly. I discovered some of my favourite authors in that box: E. L. Konigsburg, Judy Blume, and my favourite author of all time- Zilpha Keatley Snyder. At the time, Snyder was the wild card. None of my friends had heard of her. I took great pleasure in recommending The Stanley books, The Egypt Game, The Witches of Worm, and her fantasy series Below the Root to everyone I knew. I still read and love Snyder’s books. She is my greatest inspiration as a writer of children’s fiction.

What I love about Snyder’s books is that they deal so well with things that happen in between, in the borderlands between ages, genres, and perspective. Her characters were often somewhere between childhood and adolescence and she wrote in the spaces between genres. She was never just realistic, just fantasy, just historical. On her website, she even has a category of books called “Border Line Fantasy.” Now there is a writer ahead of her time. Sometimes the magic in Snyder’s books was real, sometimes it had a logical (non magical) explanation. Sometimes the ghosts were literal, other times they were imagined. With Snyder’s fiction I was never sure what kind of book I was about to read, but I knew that no matter what the subject matter or the ending, I would love it.

Many people have said and will say much more eloquent, specific things about Snyder and her work, like this lovely piece from PW, for instance. But I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of accolades because you don’t love an author the way you love one as a child. She is the kind of author I want to be. Every time I sit down to write a little part of me wonders if my work stands up to hers, if it would belong on the same shelf. So here is a list of some of my Snyder favourites:

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The Witches of Worm is about an ugly cat, adopted and loved by a girl who discovers that the cat may be possessed by a witch. This is a book that can be enjoyed equally by cat lovers and cat haters, a rare feat of fiction indeed. The story and some very creepy spot illustrations make it an ideal Halloween read. I have a memory of staying up way to late to finish this in bed and scaring myself silly. And I am firmly on the cat lover end of the spectrum.

The Egypt Game is about a group of children who create an elaborate fort and game based on the myths of Ancient Egypt, an innocent game taking place in the shadow of a recent string of child murders. This is a masterful book in terms of plot, atmosphere, and relationships, likely why it was a Newbury honour book. But it also had tons of detail about Ancient Egypt, which I couldn’t get enough of at the time. I desperately wanted to play my own version of the Egypt Game.

The Changeling is about two girls who meet in the woods between their houses and become friends. Martha, shy and conservative, and Ivy, wild, imaginative, and fearless, who claims to be a changeling child left by the fairies with her family, constantly in trouble with the law. Sigh. Doesn’t every twelve year old girl want a friend like Ivy?

Below the Root is the first book in The Green Sky fantasy series that takes place on a planet entirely covered by trees. I was not an avid fantasy reader but I could not get enough of this book. At the time it was one of the most beautiful, saddest stories I had read. I remember begging (badgering might be more accurate) the children’s librarian at the Woodstock Public Library to order it in because it wasn’t in our system.

The Stanley Family series, beginning with The Headless Cupid, is essentially a loose collection of stories about a blended family learning to get along and live together, with a good dose of mystery and suspense thrown in. These bear the hallmark of 1970s-1980s realistic children’s fiction that was issues driven, made extremely popular by Judy Blume. I wanted very badly to be part of the Stanley family’s antics.

Libby on Wednesday is about a girl who lives in an old mansion (this is a common theme in Snyder’s books) and has to put up with a group of eccentric writers who live and work there. This sounded like heaven to me and I couldn’t understand Libby’s reluctance to join their writer’s group. Despite this difference of opinion, I quite liked Libby and I loved this book. Also, as I learned as an adult, her depiction of writers’ workshops is spot on.

Season of Ponies is about a girl who meets a boy who lives with a herd of magical ponies. This sounds an awful lot like a premise for many of those glittery, sparkly early chapter books “for girls” about ponies, but the story is much deeper, earthier, and has a touch of The Secret Garden to it. Even I, avowedly not a horsey person, wanted to find Ponyboy and his horses.

The Velvet Room is about a girl who discovers a tunnel to a secret abandoned mansion full of turrets, plush window seats, and libraries. This place could have been dreamed up by Anne Shirley. Basically everything I ever wanted to find when I was nine years old.

The Truth About Stone Hollow is essentially a friendship story disguised as a ghost story, but it excels on both counts. Plus adding “The Truth” to any title pretty much guaranteed that I would read it. I loved (and still love) an implied lie. Who doesn’t want to find out the truth about things?

I’m not sad that Snyder has died because she had a long life and a wonderful career. What I hope is that people will stumble across eulogies and posts like this and feel inspired to pick up one of her books. You won’t regret it; she was a master.

 

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