Write On! A Summer Publishing Marathon!

For many years now, each July, I have designed and taught a course called Book Publisher through Summer at St. George’s. Eager young writers and illustrators sign up for a two week adventure into writing, illustrating, editing, designing and publishing their own books. It has become so popular that it attracts young people from all over the world, some of whom have been returning for more than five consecutive yearsIMG_6978

The rubber hits the road (or rather the pencil hits the paper) pretty fast here, as you can imagine, with only two weeks and three hours a day to plot out adventures for their characters or to research non-fiction topics that fascinate them. I am always amazed that we begin with a blank sheet of paper and end up with everything from books about forms of energy and cute puppies who stop bullying at puppy school to extensive novels about creepy spirits that inhabit abandoned factories and take over human bodies (shiver…)

It sure is a marathon though! A two week version of the 48 hour novel contest for kids! Some arrive full of ideas and some arrive with none. All leave with a sense of confidence, pride and a hardcover book that they created themselves.

This year, in July, we published 34 books! That’s more than a book for each day of the month! Our young authors had plenty of extra support. Ciara, Boyden, Mathias, Raj, Miya, Jamie and Reina, recreation leaders and volunteers were on hand to encourage, engage and inspire students. Much of the success of our marathon was due to them.

The diversity of stories and the mastery students had of language was amazing! There were stories about pixie like creatures who lived in trees and their adventures as they sought to save their homes from humans cutting them down. There were rags to riches stories about how a few magic fireworks can change your destiny. There were pig detectives and ghoulish mysteries. We even coined a new genre…traumance…the thing that happens when romance and trauma meet!

Below are some student designed illustrations and covers. To of my July Book Publishers I say, “Right on and write on!” I have no doubt that we’ll see some of these names on major literary awards some day soon.

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Hungry for Science is Here!!!!!

I love book birthdays!

It makes for an up kind of week with plenty of anticipation!

I was up every time I heard anything like a UPS truck approaching; up when my package finally arrived at the door and up when I took in Kari-Lynn Winters’ and my words paired with Peggy Collins’ vibrant illustrations in Hungry for Science Poems to Crunch On for the first time. Literally, I did a happy dance! Words, images and colours all leapt off the page!

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There were more ups to come! On Canada Day I surprised my friends by showing them some hot off the presses copies of Hungry for Science and they surprised me with impromptu readings, performed in character voices that had us all in stitches.

My favourite moment was when one of my youngest friends, a book lover, sat beside me and ‘experienced’ “Scary Mary’s Garden” for the first time. He squealed and giggled and curled himself up in to a ball to escape Mary’s hissing plants as they photosynthesized. His delight and suspension of disbelief were contagious. The energetic words of the poem brought out his sense of play (and mine too) as he acted out some of its stanzas, jabbing and prodding as if he were one of Mary’s zombie faced hybrids.

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So…if you need something to CRUNCH on this summer, if you have some budding scientists in your home, or are looking for ways to keep young readers HUNGRY for learning…then be one of the first to pick up a copy of Hungry for Science Poems to Crunch On by Kari-Lynn Winters and myself, Lori Sherritt-Fleming with illustrations by Peggy Collins,published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

You can purchase it, and its sister book, Hungry for Math Poems to Munch On in bookstores across North America as well as on Amazon or directly through Fitzhenry and Whiteside. It is LOADS of fun!

Thanks to Kristi Zahora for the great photos!!!!

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An “App”etizing New Story to SPARK Your Imagination Released!

I am happy to announce the launch of a new story, “The Eggs-travagant Problem”. It is available all over the world to download as a free learning app. and was illustrated by the talented Scot Ritchie!

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Produced by Hoda Elatawi and Ken Stewart of GAPC Entertainment for the Council of Ontario Directors of Education, it completely supports learning and literacy on so many levels and integrates technology, math, art and language arts all in one, fun, engaging place! Perfect for those using SPARK in their classrooms or simply for parents and kids who want a little bedtime reading that teaches math in enlivened stories!

A little more on the app.:

“Math Storytime helps parents and caregivers explore simple math concepts with their children through creative storytelling, stunning illustrations, interactive animations, and offers lively discussion ‘bubbles’ to guide parents and caregivers as they engage with their young learners. Stories also feature a “Read to me” function as well as an option for parents and caregivers to record their own story-reading voice.

The objective of the Math Storytime mobile app and web site is to help parents explore simple math concepts with their children (age 5-7) through stories accessible on their tablets or via the web (www.mathstorytime.ca). We hope that this new resource will engender ongoing conversation about math and connections to math in the child’s world and become a great resource for parents who want to engage their children in math, learning and fun at home.

One of the important features of the app and website will be the option to engage the inspiring, accessible and fun ‘discussion bubble’ function within each story.

It is important to “talk math” with your child every day. These discussion bubbles provide suggestions for you and your child to do and talk about math together and will help you to focus on the content in this story.

The objective of the members of the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) is to improve student success at every age level. Development of effective resources is a primary task to assist with student success.

CODE recognizes the importance of mathematics and knows from experience the value of parents engaging with their children and emphasizing the importance of math in everyday activities.”  (from the Math Storytime website).

I particularly enjoyed this project because some of the characters were inspired by my nephew, niece and my cousin’s daughter, Emilia. I hope you will take advantage of this fabulous site with your young readers!

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The Order of Mary Ward and the Power of Words

In October 2017, I was humbled and privileged to receive the Order of Mary Ward from my high school, Loretto Abbey in Toronto, Ontario. It is the highest award that can be given to alumnae and celebrates the values that the foundress of the Loretto Schools, Mary Ward, used to drive her vision. The award celebrates that “in time, women will come to do great things,”

Below is the speech that I gave in the great chapel at the Abbey. Thank you to all who put my name forward, to the Loretto Alumnae Association and to my friends and family. I am grateful for everything.

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Words, they have the power to hurt, to heal, to captivate, to inform, to exhilarate and invigorate, to stretch our imaginations to pull us apart or draw us closer together. One encouraging word alone can make somebody’s day, place joy where it may not have been before.

One word alone on a page…peace, love, faith, devotion, has an impact – draws as on an artist’s palette a painting in the eyes of those who read it. Close your eyes for a moment, and think of the word faith, or peace. What image comes to mind?

Words and images, help us to communicate. It has been said, that love opens doors and windows that we didn’t even know were there. The same can be said of words and stories. Words can be strung into sentences that flow into paragraphs and grow into concepts and ideals that become the foundation of our culture. These stories can be shared again and again, fostering a great communion of spirit at a grand international buffet.

Mary Ward, the foundress of Loretto Abbey, was a woman who fostered such a communion that is celebrated even today in the religions and educational communities that she established. Mary Ward was a great lover of words, language and stories. It was said that when she was a toddler, she was about fall and took a bad spill, and her mother uttered, “Jesus protect my child.”

Hearing this, Mary Ward’s first word was Jesus. It was this word that guided her life, as it turns out, as we all know she was a woman who went on to do great things both for herself and other women of faith for generations afterwards.

Mary Ward’s words were visionary, full of conviction, and strong even in the face of great defiance and danger. At a time when women had very little voice, Mary used her skill with words to affirm her faith not only in God, but also in her belief that in time women would be recognized for doing great works. She set up multiple schools for Catholic girls at the height of the Reformation.

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Mary loved words so much, that, when she was imprisoned as a heretic with nothing but the clothes on her back, she found a means to broadcast her message of hope, inspiration and forward thinking by writing in invisible ink using lemon juice and laundry paper.
That command of language made her a tremendous leader, helped her to break with convention and find the courage to forge pathways where none existed, to turn ears that would not listen and to inspire others to do the same. She knew how influential a well-chosen word could be, knew that how they were evoked, placed, uttered and shared could mean the difference between slavery and freedom. Mary Ward was a communicator and in her own simple and powerful words, she encouraged people to do good and to do it well.

It is those words that I take and hope that as an author, and an educator, that I too encourage people to do good and do it well, that as a kind of story whisperer, I can help them to elevate and celebrate their voices and as Mary would put in, “to act not out of fear, but only solely from love.” It is my hope that these voices will then be raised in confidence and communion to tell the stories that connect us all as humans.

At Loretto Abbey we had phenomenal teachers, and mentors, were exposed to great literature and were taught to inquire. We were encouraged to become active, compassionate and life long learners, to be principled communicators, open minded and caring risk-takers, to be balanced, reflective, articulate and empathetic.

I want to take a moment to thank our teachers: yes, they gave us lots of homework, yes they pushed us, and no, we didn’t always as young ladies appreciate it, but in reflection we sure value your wisdom now. It made its mark and it has made a difference. Teachers make a difference.

I want to thank my family, especially my parents for sending me to Loretto Abbey, for helping me to see it through, even though I may have railed against it; you were right, it was the best place to be.

Loretto Abbey was a place where we, the class of 1987 were blessed to develop deep friendships. A special thank you to Bernadine Berardi for putting my name forward for the Order of Mary Ward this year.

I want to thank the Loretto Alumnae Association, parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, friends, brothers and my sister for the honour of being here today, for the support, encouragement, joy and love you have provided along the pathway that has led to this moment. I also deeply congratulate the other, very inspirational recipients of the award today. You are all amazing women. We don’t create story alone. I am only here today because of others, because of the friends and partnerships that helped me to find my voice.

My calling, much like Mary Ward’s, is to plant seeds, seeds that, blossom and bloom, seeds that advocate for the values of faith, to bring the best out in each individual so we can be fair with one another, just, loving and respectful, so that each of us can be changemakers whether it be one on one, friend to friend or on a larger scale or stage through art and education. My calling is to share words, to evoke stories that connect us and to empower those who may lack the tools to do it alone, to build a literate community and to do so, as Mary Ward would, cheerfully.

What if a word meant nothing to you? If you saw no pictures, if you could not sound things out and string stories together?

 

781 million adults over the age of 15 estimated to be illiterate, 496 million were women, the World’s Women 2015 report found. Women made up more than half the illiterate population in all regions of the world.

People from poor families as well as the long-term unemployed, seniors, native people, prisoners, people with disabilities, and racial and cultural minorities all have higher rates of both illiteracy and poverty. Poverty has a direct link to illiteracy and vice versa.

It is our calling, as people who are literate, as people who have been gifted with the education and faith that Mary Ward laid out for us at Loretto Abbey to share this gift with others, to help them to be able to share their stories, their experience, to feel valued, included and empowered, to lift this poverty of expression. To help people experience the wonder of words, to be able to open a book and experience a world of different places and opinions, to have empathy for those places and opinions.

There are people out there who have dedicated their lives to bringing the joy of a words, the imagination a book can unlock to others. My journey as an author has opened this door for me as well.

Today Sonya White and Richard Clewes, founders of OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation and the Rainforest of Reading are here. They and their daughter Marleina saw the need to help others find their voices in places where many of us go for a holiday, but where much of the population struggles with literacy. They saw that there were no books in classrooms, no books in communities, no libraries in schools or towns. They made it their goal to bring books to places in the Caribbean that are often racked by hurricanes and lose their resources, having to rebuild everything again.

OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation educates and enlightens a small group that can go on to be changemakers. They educate and enlighten a world of children, hungry for learning and opportunity, joyful to receive the gift of words, the gift of story.

I had the pleasure of travelling to St. Lucia with them to help with their festivals of reading in 2016. It was deeply moving to see how 1000’s of children reacted to the gifts that they brought, and how deeply they had engaged with the books selected for the student driven competition. I witnessed first hand how a single, committed idea can make a positive impact. I am happy to say that if you purchase one of my books today, all of the funds will go directly to help Sonya and Richard’s initiatives. They bring words to the classrooms of future changemakers.

As we leave here today, my wish is that the words you say both out loud and to yourself are words of kindness, words of empathy and understanding, words that are not regretful, but hopeful. I hope that your words and the stories that they inevitably form into, much like Mary Ward’s, propel you to be brave in the face of adversity, faithful in times of doubt, and that those words, in time, will inspire all of us to do much, that we will use our words to open doors and windows for others that they didn’t even know were there.

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Celebrating World Read Aloud Day

Thursday Feb 1st, 2018 is World Read Aloud Day, a holiday and literacy movement that is celebrating its tenth anniversary across the globe and has expanded from a small, grass roots program into over one hundred countries.

Its premise is simple: taking the time and having the resources to read stories aloud builds empathy and creates a sense of belonging to a reading community that exists world wide. Pam Allyn, founder of Litworld and creator of WRAD suggests that reading aloud can change the world. She says, “As we read we become stronger emotionally and academically. Reading fosters the development of seven strengths: a sense of belonging, curiosity, friendship, hope, kindness, confidence and courage.”

WRAD puts literacy front and centre and, if even for a day, sheds light upon the fact that 750 million adults around the world lack basic reading and writing skills, two thirds of them women. Its hope is that by making books and stories more accessible, that this number will eventually diminish.

On February 1st this year, millions of teachers, parents, libraries, schools, families, authors and communities have scheduled read aloud events to celebrate our connection as humans through the power of story.

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As a member of CWILL BC Society I am a WRADvocate, part of that chorus of worldwide storytellers who believe in the power of sharing their tales and fostering the right to literacy.

CWILL is celebrating WRAD with author readings at one of Richmond’s largest and most culturally diverse schools, Henry Anderson Elementary. Three authors, myself, Suzanne de Montigny and G. Rosemary Ludlow will be igniting inspiration and curiosity in young audiences with selections from our prose. We are excited to be part of a movement that forges a lasting bond between readers and material and readers and listeners. We are also happy to be part of one of the Lower Mainland’s only events celebrating WRAD.

Suzanne WRAD

Some of my warmest and fondest childhood memories are of times spent being read to or doing the reading myself to someone else. Read alouds are a gift that keeps on giving. My parents and grandparents read to me every night growing up, bringing sleep on under the safe and comforting blanket of stories, words and images. I have been able to give this gift back to my own nieces and nephews and to audiences of children on my travels, bringing that same sense of wonder to the imaginations of children who will not only read, but also write the future.

People of all ages appreciate read alouds; they make them smile and foster communication and conversations; all of which are infectious. With a world of smiles in mind, how will YOU celebrate World Read Aloud Day?

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For more information and resources about WRAD 2018 or to create your own read aloud event, visit http://litworld.org or http://teacher.scholastic.com/worldreadaloudday/

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Remembrance…

Remembrance

“Flanders Fields the poem of the war,

poppies noticed never before.

 

On our chests,

To honour their deaths

Help us remember,

 

Lest We Forget.”

 

Portion of a poem written by Ivan Sun, one of my students.

I observe.

I observe the two moments of silence every year. I observe the many photos, posts, articles and programs that appear to remind us of sacrifice, of a world, a whole world, that went to war on foreign soil. I observe the stories etched in the faces of each veteran. I observe those who wear poppies and those who do not. I observe by asking questions, by forging connections between the past and by analysing its impact on the present. This year, I encouraged my students to write their thoughts on remembrance for the annual Royal Canadian Legion poetry contest, the same one I entered as a student at St. Paschal Baylon.

Many of those students are recent immigrants to Canada and are just learning of our history. All of them had the same questions, the same challenges in engaging with the assignment. “I don’t know anything about war. How do I write about something I can’t relate to?”

This led to discussions about sacrifice, about what remembrance means to them. It led to research: watching videos, imagining what it would have been like to switch places, filling in the spaces where no words existed, looking at the faces and photos of war and diving deep into the characters that stared back at us.

The results were amazing.

“Fighting through fear.

Passionate to bring victory near.

Living in intense conditions.

Determined to complete every mission.

On my shirt a red poppy I’ve pinned.

In remembrance of my ancestor’s kin.

And those who’ve laid down their lives for us all,

lest We Forget, your names we recall.”

 

Portion of a poem by Andrew Li

I am happy to say that our schools are doing a tremendous job in balancing remembrance of bitter wars with as sense gratitude for the peace that followed and the peace we sustain. They have instilled in children, myself included, who have not experienced war first hand, a sense of respect and solemnity, a need to, even when they have graduated from the system, to bow their heads and reflect on November 11th.

Yesterday, I attended a beautiful ceremony of Remembrance at Samuel Brighouse Elementary School in Richmond, BC. Students from Kindergarten to grade seven filed into the gym in silence and remained silent throughout the service. It began with bagpipes and poetry and the singing of O Canada. It melts me every time I hear a school of children, from so many different backgrounds singing about keeping our land glorious and free. Their voices are the voices of the future and they were harmonious.

Next, seventeen students from different backgrounds came forth and as candles were lit, they each said the word for peace in the language of their kin. It was a true metaphor for Canada and where we are today, so many voices, all understanding and reflecting on one word…peace.

There was a trumpeter who played the last post and the reveille, poetry, videos and music. Every student was involved and they created awareness, respect and solemnity around commemorating the past and envisioning a peaceful, inclusive future.

I leave you with this, today. In the words of a grade five student.

“I think you’d be pleased to know that on Remembrance Day we spend a moment to recall your stories.

I think you’d be pleased that we wear poppies to look back on the battles you lost and won.

I think you’d be pleased to know how grateful we are, even though you are not standing in front of us today.

We will not forget.”

Segment of a poem by Farrah Fang.

Enjoy the photos, they were all taken by me on our visit to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France this past April.

 

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Celebrating Unity Through Art

Art is all around us. On a recent trip to the Canadian National Exhibition (the CNE) in Toronto, I came into contact with the Unity Pole, a magnificent piece of artwork created by Ojibway artist Kris Nahrgang. I was immediately inspired and energized.

Totems are not usually the traditional way of communicating culture in Eastern Canadian Indigenous Nations, they are usually associated with Western Canadian Indigenous Peoples. Kris was asked to create an installation that would share some of the history and culture of Indigenous Peoples in Canada in a vision that reflected a journey towards unity. He chose to express this using a totem infused with symbolism.

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As I was soon to be presenting to teacher candidates at Brock University at the Arts Matter Conference, a unit on using drama across curriculum with a focus on also incorporating Indigenous culture, I saw this as a wonderful teaching tool!

Below is the information and inspiration behind the symbolism that was selected and highlighted by Kris in carving the Unity Pole as well as how it was turned into a lesson that can highlight diversity, acceptance, empathy and understanding in any classroom.

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Symbols: Turtle: refers to Indigenous creation stories. It is rooted at the bottom of the pole and is the foundation of the other stories, holding the weight of the other images and allowing the story to build.

 

Bear: The Canadian Black Bear represents family and on a larger scale, Canada’s culture. He is beating a drum with feathers attached. The drum celebrates the heartbeat of our community and our connection of family and Mother Earth. The feathers represent healing, the various cultures in our communities and the need for healing in our beating hearts.

 

Otter Loon and Fish: Otter and Loon are depicted above scattering fish, their source of nourishment. Fish are a staple in many Indigenous people’s diets as well as in the diets of many other cultures. The feed us, nourish us and look after us. This shows the importance of working in harmony and as a group as well as the beautiful resources we have in Canada. The movement of these creatures emphasizes the need for groups to work together to survive in today’s trying times.

 

Wolf: The wolf is howling a prayer of hope. He sits atop the conflict of the story.

 

Beaver and Maple Leaf: The beaver represents everything the fur trade brought to Canada including the very beginnings of “good and bad” for Indigenous peoples. The maple leaf is the national leaf of Canada. The combination of these images pays tribute to the CNE’s vintage emblem which originated in the 1920’s and underscores the relationship of the fair with Canada and its community.

 

Eagle Feather: In Indigenous culture to receive an eagle’s feather is the highest honour you can receive as a person. , it’s given only when you do great things or when you’ve done something for your people. It is painted white to represent healing. It symbolizes healing trickling down the pole and bringing with it reflection and balance.

 

Spiral: the spiral is painted the 4 colours of the community: red, white black and yellow reinforcing the story line of the pole, calling to action a need to come together.

 

Eagle: The eagle symbolizes a messenger that can fly between the spiritual and mutable worlds. The eagle here is shown passing along the messages of the Creator by absorbing the red power lines through the spiral. The eagle is also shown sending blue power lines back through he side of the pole.

 

Red and Blue Painted Power Lines: Power lines run along side of the pole. The red power line symbolizes hostile energy and flows through the story of the pole before traveling up through the eagle. While the blue painted power line, representing balance and calm flows down through the eagle in the hopes that coolar heads will prevail in times of conflict to help usher in an era of harmony throughout Canada and its peoples.

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Lesson: Review videos and stories about the artist and the Unity Pole. Print out the meaning of the selected symbols. Frame the lesson with information on the cultural significance of totem poles using historical images to support.

-Collectively review how to write an I Am poem and write the first part collectively.

 

Example:

I am the totem pole,

I wonder if people understand my symbols.

I see…stories

I hear the drums, the heartbeat of my people.

I want people to know why I exist and to bring unity through stories

I am the totem pole.

 

Students then fill in the following based on the information Kris used above in his Unity Pole.

 

I am (name of totem animal or symbol)_________________________________

I (action) _______________________________________________________________

I represent _____________________________________________________________

I am (name of totem animal or symbol)_________________________________

 

-Once students have written their section, they practice choral speaking with the collective piece, then, move in, reciting their segment to create a dramatic poem. Singing, chanting and drumming can be used as intervals.

 

This format can also be used to create a class totem based on the many cultures that make up a classroom, or a school totem with each division or group of students creating a symbol to represent them, their culture and what they bring to a united, unified Canada.

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Peace.

 

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