Monday, May 24, 2010

Mother Theresa School in Bradford

Greetings to all. Shirley and I had an excellent visit to Mother Theresa School in Bradford, hosted by teacher-librarian Liz DeSousa. The students in one class had all read Leaving Fletchville and had excellent questions about the plot development, the characters and especially the ending. I have been asked why I ended the story in an unbelievable way and my answer is always the same; the ending is actually the most remarkable part of the story because that part is true. A girl in Montreal, whose parents were alcoholics, actually ran off with her younger siblings and set up housekeeping in Toronto. She did any mother proud, caring for them, making sure they were well-dressed, well-fed, got to bed on time and did their homework. Although she was still underage when she was 'caught', she was awarded custody, with assistance from the officials... That is the core of the 'Leon' story. The rest of the story comes from bits & pieces of 27 years' of teaching. Students bought a number of books, both of Leaving Fletchville and Canadian Disasters. It frustrates me that Chapters stores and other chain stores will only stock books for a month or two before sending them back to the publisher. Canadians especially lose when the only selection of books are the 'bestsellers' decided on by US readers, not local readers.
Enough of my rant! We had an excellent time in Bradford. A big thank you for the coffee mug, and the Tim Horton's gift card. Both were in use before the day was out!

Later that day we visited my brother Werner in nearby Tottenham. Werner is a sculptor and usually creates out of metal, which is probably genetic because Schmidt = smith = metal worker and two of the three Schmidt brothers have earned their livings working with metal. I am the black (wooden?) sheep, preferring to work with wood rather than metal. Not that I have any special talent in woodworking (I don't). The eagle sculpture is currently in pieces, a victim of a windstorm. Local residents want it back up. "...turn right two houses past the eagle..."
(Werner Schmidt's three metre tall eagle in Tottenham)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More School Visits

These last few weeks have been very busy for me! A number of schools had asked me to visit and I was always happy to say yes, when I could arrange the date. Mrs. Sandy Neufeld asked me to visit St. John Bosco school in Brampton and I was very impressed with the big and new building and impressive yard and surroundings. I spoke to Junior and Intermediate division classes (2 of each) and they had good questions for me about writing. We talked about Canadian Disasters with the younger students and more about Leaving Fletchville with the older ones.
Markham Gateway P.S. in Markham asked me to come on May 11th and I could because I had a bit of time left that morning. Linda Karan had the Grade 7 & 8 students all prepped and we had a great hour together in their library. I warned them about the dangers of using a laser pointer and then proceeded to use mine. Hey, I'm a guest and can do what I want, right? Although I had an interactive activity planned in case the students got restless, I didn't need to use it as they all were content to sit and listen.
The folks in Uxbridge were very welcoming to me and a number of other authors on May 11th. They had their own Red Maple and Silver Birch festival, feting us with pizza, snacks and juice in the Uxbridge arena. Although many people were involved, I was especially grateful to Mike NeuBauer of St. Joseph school whose students 'adopted' me as their author-friend-person and I got to sit with them. There was even a fellow 'Rene' at the table, although she, (and it's always a she!) spells it differently. I met a fine bunch of kids and autographed a lot of bookmarks. (Sorry Renae, but it just doesn't seem right...) The Forest of Reading event in Toronto's Harbourfront I already wrote about in the last blog post.

On Friday May 14th, I visited Gordon B. Attersley P.S. at the request of their teacher/librarian Deborah Perrault. I was very impressed by Attersley school and the Grade 7 & 8 students I met there. Beginning with having pylons blocking a Parking Space for my car (a first for me!) I was hosted by Annika and Hannah (who was even originally from Brighton) and these girls showed me where to go and who to talk to. Mrs Perrault had prepared the students well, and all had read Leaving Fletchville. It was so nice to have so many challenging and excellent questions about it. I even saw copies of many of my favorite reads and books by authors I used to promote when I could. Mrs. Perrault has accumulated a fine collection of books for Intermediate grades and students there have a very high regard for writing and writers. Many students wanted to stay later, despite it being Nutrition Break and a fine sunny day to walk outside. The visit to G.B.A. was a definite high point for me.
(Mrs Perrault and a student at G.B.A.)
This Friday May 21 I will visit Mother Theresa School in Bradford, hosted by Liz DeSousa, and that will be the last visit in Ontario for a while.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This was so cool!

On Wednesday May 12th I went to harbourfront with a lot of other writers, including the nominees for Silver Birch awards and the other 10 nominees for the Red Maple Awards. When I arrived at the stage, (20 minutes early as per the rules my wife insisted I follow), there was nobody there! Finally Philip Roy (Submarine Outlaw) showed up, and we chatted in the empty backstage area and wondered whether they would go ahead with the awards with nobody in the audience. Gradually the noise level increased, other writers showed up and we were organized behind the stage by O.L.A. people and volunteer students into a group of authors with signs & student volunteers to introduce us. Kathryn Corbett, my former teaching colleague, was there. Kathryn had pulled some strings, moved a few mountains, and written quite a few letters to get my former students and now Red Maple qualified readers to come to this event. She also managed to get Mac Willock and Kaitlyn Noble, former students of mine, to be my 'introducers'. Mac held up a sign and Kaitlyn clutched the words to a speech she had prepared to introduce me. On stage each writer was introduced by students and we were allowed to speak for a minute. I was the only one to be introduced by a student who actually knew them! That was way cool! I've never had a large crowd of anybody cheer for me before, either, unless it was because I missed a fly-ball for the teacher's team of year-end 3-Pitch. While we waited I talked to Caroline Pignat who wrote Greener Grass and Hazel Hutchins who wrote After. They agreed this was a real top event. Someone spoke about finally publishing a story they had started some 20 years before. Caroline Pignat beside me said she was doing the same thing and I told her I was doing the same also. (So kids, don't throw out those old stories!)

When the top three were announced I was asked to stand again, along with Susin Nielsen who wrote Word Nerd, and Max Turner who wrote Night Runner. My wife Shirley was ready to burst and my friend Kevin, sitting with Shirley near the front, gave me a big thumbs-up. Kevin had a stroke years ago and has never been able to read (or drive a car) ever since. Kevin has been a faithful friend and encourager and I was glad he was there with us.
Susin won for Word Nerd and she deserved it. It was a very popular book everywhere I went. She is very nice in person, and we had a great talk after. Her mother even bought my book and had me sign it. I spent a long time book-signing and meeting people. It's one thing when your friends and family like your book. I mean, they're supposed to. It's like your mother saying you're good-looking... But when complete strangers come up to you and insist, "I like your book! I mean, I really like your book!" it means something special.
There was an 'industry reception' at Il Fornello after the event and I saw Tim Wynn-Jones again. He taught me visual arts at York University many years ago and I acted in a play he wrote. A big thanks to everyone who came and participated, especially Kathryn and the Stockdale kids.
In the photo Susin Nielsen is facing left with blonde hair, and Kenneth Oppel is above my head.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kudos to KPR and Frankford P.S.

(Upper Left) A volunteer tries on mining equipment on Thursday at Frankford. He was the same age as many boys who died in the Springhill mine disaster of 1891
(Lower Right) Frank Edwards and I sign books at Galaxy Cinema in Peterborough on Tuesday.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to do a presentation in a movie theatre? I found out! At the request of Shelley Merton of the Kawartha Pine Ridge Board I joined Frank Edwards (a very successful author) at the Galaxy Cinemas in Peterborough on Tuesday May 4th and the next day we presented at Lydia Trull P.S. in Courtice. Frank and I appeared in a decent 3-D format, apparently, even without 3-D glasses. Dozens of schools participated and sent students who have been part of the Red Maple contest. Both locations were excellent for doing a talk and the students came with good questions and a friendly attitude. There are many youth who are considering writing as a profession, even after I told how little $ authors actually get for the hours put in.
I was especially impressed by Ashley, who, although being mostly blind, is a dedicated reader. She uses a laptop computer on large display and by sitting close can read quite well. Red Maple clubs and programs at various schools contributed a well-behaved and talented selection of students. Some of the students even got their faces signed. (Sorry about the dotted i's - that might have hurt)
On Thursday May 6th I visited Frankford P.S. and had a great time with the combined Grade 7 & 8 classes. With a longer presentation I was able to talk about Canadian Disasters as well as Leaving Fletchville. They also asked excellent questions and many stayed to talk and ask about buying books. Many thanks to Pauline Andrews for arranging this.