Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stockdale School is a Great Place!

Today I stopped briefly at Stockdale School to see how things are going in my old place of work. It felt like old times. Within minutes I was asked how many bags of field stripe we would need for the typical Track & Field lines (25 bags are good) and the coffee pot had been drained and not refilled. How suddenly needed I felt!
Mrs Kathryn Corbett got (because I asked her to) all the students from the Red Maple group into the library for a photo-op. I was pleased to see such a fine bunch of smiling kids, all of whom were former students (except Halley). All these students will be the friendly & familiar faces at Harbourfront on May 12th for the big Forest of Trees Festivities. Mrs. Corbett & crew will set out at 6:30 AM (!) to be there on time. That is dedication!
Thanks to Megan, Taylor, Maddy, Kaeli (great shirt), Kaitlyn, Vicky & Anna, Donnie (ooo-be-doo) Wallace, Dierdre (nice hair!), Brooke & Tristan, Jessie, Mac, Mike, Melissa (no-longer-the-tallest), Conner, Jake, and William. It is so good to see some of you boys reading as much as you do to qualify for this trip. Good to see all of you again.

A Visit to Stirling P.S.

Today I visited Stirling Senior Public School, briefly, to deliver some copies of Leaving Fletchville to students there who had asked for them. I had a SKYPE visit with them previously and it was nice to see everybody face-to-face. Mrs. Yearwood had been promoting the Red Maple books heavily in the Library there and there was a nice display of them.
I'd love to come back some day and tell more about the Fletchville Math program.

A big hello to Shania, Bradley, Matthew, Clinton, Madison, Gracie and, of all people, Tyler Schmidt. (Tyler and I must be related, distantly, but he is certainly more handsome and intelligent looking than my side of the Schmidts )

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Teaser

Here is a teaser for you!

Here is another teaser.... (I am finally getting around to re-writing a story I began working on over 30 years ago...) Here's a bit from the first page...

Dan walked slowly down the street with an anatomy book in one hand and an apple in the other. He bit into the apple and slowly chewed as his eyes studied the page on; The Muscular System – flexor digitorum profundus. He whispered the words slowly to himself “flex-or didgit-o-rum pro-fun-dus” - the muscle that flexed his fingers, or digits. Dan flexed his digits. “They work,” he observed. He flexed them one at a time while staring at them and slowly chewing his apple. Each digit flexed when he wanted them to. Next he tried his extensor digitorum muscles to stretch them out again.
“Wow!” Dan stuck the apple in his mouth, wrapped his left hand around his right wrist and felt the muscles move underneath the skin. “Cool.”
“Look at this weirdo,” observed a voice from just behind him.
“Playing with his fingers,” added another voice. “Ain’t cha got any toys to play with?”
Dan turned to face the voices. A hand swiftly extended and digits one through five flexed and grabbed the apple from Dan’s mouth. With a flick of a carpal joint the apple was suddenly flying into a nearby garden.
“Compost,” declared Axel, the biggest of bad boys in Grade six.
“How green you are,” agreed Wolfgang, giving Axel a high-five. He was the second biggest of the bad boys.
“That was my apple!” complained Dan.
The boys didn’t even bother to answer, walking on past Dan and ignoring him completely. Axel jumped up and slapped a school crossing sign as he walked underneath it and Wolfgang slapped the same place a little bit harder. The sign made a funny sound, like a fake thunderstorm in a cheap movie.
Dan was sure those two boys were leftovers from the stone-age. Yes! a couple of Cro-Magnon types who were probably thawed from an ice sheet and sent to Pleasant Valley Maple Ridge Garden Public School as a social experiment. Some day, when Dan was a famous surgeon, he could get his revenge. Maybe during an operation he would sew their hands on backwards. ‘Let’s see them button their shirts then!’ Dan smiled at the thought of vengeance.
This is story number three which I am working on. In it a boy named Dan finds a magic watch which can change how time goes. He can slow down time, speed it up or stop it altogether. I wrote it as a kid's book many years ago and now I'm changing it, making it longer and better (I hope).
Meanwhile it is getting frustrating because I am waiting for publishers to get back with a decision on two other books I sent to them. If they like it, there will be re-writes. If they don't like it I can cross their names off the list and move on.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Leaving Fletchville & Canadian Disasters blast off at Redstone Public School

Redstone was a type of rocket when I was young... We used to dream of getting inside a capsule and blasting off into outer space. Instead, I was involved in another type of Redstone blast-off last Friday.
Congratulations to the students and staff at Redstone Public School in Richmond Hill! You are to be complimented for an excellent welcome for me and the others involved in the R.O.@.R. (Reading Only @ Redstone) Conference on April 9th. All of you were kind and attentive and the teaching staff, especially Marguerite Gervan and Ronda Dietrich, made us feel at home. Great Starbucks Coffee, BTW.
I did three presentations; to mixed classes of Grade 8, Grade 7 and Grade 6 and I was impressed by the questions and insights. Some of the smaller students got to wear my old mining gear as we discussed child labour laws and the first Springhill Mine Disaster of 1891.
This school has excellent programs in place to promote reading, especially for boys - a passion I share. Much media coverage was there, as well as such 'heavyweight' education professors & theorists Michael Fullan and Barrie Bennet, plus authors Bob Barton, Andrea Beck, Lucy Falcone, Allan Foster, Michael Wade and 'yours truly'. Also in attendance were local politicians, trustees, and school officials, and most of the Richmond Hill fire department. These firefighters were not there to answer any alarms but these brave young men were on hand to visit and read their favorite books to students.
I wish all schools took reading this seriously!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Review of 'Shepherd's Granddaughter' and ' War Brothers'

On this Easter weekend I have just finished reading the last two of the Red Maple books for 2010. It will be very difficult for readers who are voting to make up their minds about all these titles since each book appeals in a different way. The last two books for me are The Shepherd's Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter and War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay. Both of these books take place outside Canada and that gives the reader the benefit of learning firsthand about a different culture. War Brothers is set in northern Uganda in Africa, a country which has seen more than its fair share of strife over the last two or three generations. War Brothers follows the story of Jacob who together with his classmates is abducted into a guerrilla 'child' army. The army is constantly on the move, attacking, killing, stealing food and capturing more children. Jacob takes seriously his promise to protect young Norman, and he along with friends Tony and Paul, try to survive without killing anyone. They are helped by the mysterious Oteka, a tall boy Jacob had helped before his capture, and Hannah, the proud girl who refused to cooperate with the rebel soldiers. There is much bravery in the main characters and faith in God to help them through their situation. The story would be less tragic if it wasn't based on very real situations. The ending is positive and hopeful for most of the characters. This is an excellent read for anybody.

The Shepherd's Granddaughter is set in Israel. Amani is a Palestinian shepherd who has chosen to tend the sheep as her grandfather had done rather than follow a more modern role for girls. She does not attend school but gets an excellent home-school education from her family instead. Around her quiet fields new settlers from Israel are moving in and building roads and claiming space long used by the Palestinians. Amani senses danger in a wolf which lives nearby but finds more trouble from the settlers, road-builders and soldiers who come to the area. Amani's family gets involved in the conflict and... well, I'd hate to give an ending away... This is another excellent story. I had to re-read some parts because sometimes I got confused at the similar-sounding names of the many characters who live in Amani's family. Other than that it was a vivid snapshot of some of the problems encountered by the Palestinian people in parts of Israel.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Talking about Disasters at Sir. Mackenzie Bowell

Hello to Sir Mackenzie Bowell Public School in Belleville and Mrs. Yearwood. I just finished a SKYPE visit with them and we talked about Leaving Fletchville and Canadian Disasters. I enjoyed the good questions and the opportunity we had to connect. The students were great listeners, and although their images looked a bit fuzzy toward the end, they still looked like a handsome and intelligent bunch. We talked about various jobs I have had and how that helps me write better. I pointed out to them that compared to all the jobs I have done teaching was by far the hardest job of them all. Exhausting! They were surprised to hear that like many writers who are published only in Canada, I would make more of an income mowing lawns than I do writing books for kids. But I prefer writing to mowing lawns...

This is a photo of the Edumond Fitzgerald in better times (click on the photo to see it in better detail). It sank in November of 1975, during a terrible storm on Lake Superior, taking the entire crew of 29 sailors to their deaths in a matter of minutes. Gordon Lightfoot wrote a famous song about her after reading a small news item on the third page of a newspaper. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is known to most adult Canadians who were around at that time.

Now imagine eight ships, similar in size to the Edmund Fitzgerald, which also sank 'with all hands' (all the sailors drowned) in a single weekend storm in November of 1913. The largest ship in Canada and the British Commonwealth, was the James C. Carruthers.

She was only a few months old, her paint was barely dry, and she was one of these eight which sank with all hands. Now add to this image about twenty-two more steel hulled, large ocean-going sized ships like this, and see them all blown ashore and destroyed around Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.Many of the wrecks were completely lost and remain undiscovered. Altogether 245 Canadian and American men and women died and most of their bodies were never recovered. Unfortunately we, as Canadians, barely know about these events.
Boy I really get into this stuff!

Canadian history is full of fascinating tales like this and I enjoy learning about new ones and writing about them too. One of the questions I was asked was why I chose to write non-fiction as well as fiction. The truth is that some non-fiction stories are a lot more interesting than fiction because these amazing things actually happened to somebody. Imagine that!

Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to visit electronically.