PICKPOCKET has arrived: “new baby” makes eight!

I’m delighted to announce my family has once again grown — this time with the arrival of Jean-Luc of Pickpocket.

my eight darling (book) babies

Here’s a better picture of the new baby, with Jean-Luc — driving way too fast for his mom’s liking, I might add — on his uncle’s Vespa through the streets of Old Nice in France.

PICKPOCKET – Orca Book Publishers, January 2021

Because Jean-Luc entered the world during a pandemic, I couldn’t host a live event to welcome him. Instead, I marked the occasion with a photo countdown on Facebook and Twitter in the days leading up to the book release.

I’m delighted to further share the photos here to offer some insights into what compelled me to create Jean-Luc and his story.

I quickly became friends with Rex, the socca maker’s friend, who held court each day outside Chez Thérésa.

The story begins with my first visit to Old Nice in 2012. The apartment I rented was beside a socca shop called Chez Thérésa.

How to order socca at the market: “Une portion de socca, s’il vous plaît.”

I definitely ate my fair share of socca. A popular street food there, socca is a flatbread that is much like a crêpe but is made from chickpea flour. I immediately loved Old Nice and with its creamy texture and crispy edges, I also loved socca from the first time I tasted it.

Marché aux Fleurs

Although Thérésa and her family made the socca in their shop, they transported most of it to the Marché aux Fleurs and sold it there. Despite its name, the market vendors sell more than just flowers… luscious produce, local honey, homemade soaps and lotions, tea, baked goods and, of course, socca.

When I first saw the bustling market and the winding streets, my immediate thought was: “What an ideal spot for a chase scene!” And so, the town of Old Nice became my first character in the story that grew to become Pickpocket.

An evening picture “sur la prom”

The Promenade des Anglais (Englishman’s Walk) is a famous 7-kilometre path which runs along the Mediterranean Sea. As the locals would say, I was “sur la prom” when someone tried to steal my wallet. Luckily, I returned to my apartment with both my wallet, and a story idea starting to emerge.

That leads me to my second character: 17-year-old Jean-Luc Dupont, who spends his summer working at a socca shop. As for how I got him there…

“La maison est un désastre.”

…Jean-Luc’s life has been on a downward spiral since his sister passed away two years ago. After his friends talk him into throwing a massive house party to celebrate the end of eleventh grade, his parents have had enough. They send him away to work with his great uncle Henri in Old Nice for the summer.

The narrow streets of Old Nice often change names, even when you don’t turn a corner, thereby confusing directionally-challenged people like Jean-Luc and me.

Initially annoyed at being so far away from home, Jean-Luc soon meets a pretty young woman on the Promenade des Anglais and decides his summer might not be so bad after all…

…until he realizes Selina has stolen his wallet.

the weekly antique market in the square

Selina took shape in my mind when I began reading about rings of young pickpockets being forced to steal, and to then turn over the winnings to their handlers. Although this situation mostly occurs in larger cities like Paris, pickpockets are also prevalent in Old Nice.

coastal route to Villefranche

Still grieving the loss of his sister, Jean-Luc sometimes makes poor choices. But on a rare day off, he makes a great choice: to hike the winding coastal trail from Nice to nearby Villefranche-sur-mer.

the beach at Villefranche

While at the beach, Jean-Luc processes all that has happened to him while in Old Nice, and over the past few years. He also starts to envision how he might get his life back on track.

my research spot in Old Nice: ‘Marc de Café’

Like Jean-Luc, I spent considerable time reflecting on life while in Old Nice. Its charm and relaxed vibe seem to lend itself toward doing so. I also completed much research there and I remain grateful to Marc and his regular café patrons for their patience in answering my many questions over morning cappuccinos and afternoon glasses of rosé.

When it’s safe to do so, I still dream of hosting a book event to further welcome Jean-Luc into the world. I am also, of course, dreaming of my next visit to Old Nice — and I invite you to join me there too via the pages of Pickpocket.

Many thanks to Orca Book Publishers, who partnered with me in creating Pickpocket. Special nods to my editor Tanya Trafford, and to Ella Collier, who completed the beautiful design work.

I encourage teachers, librarians, and all book lovers to check out the many fine titles in Orca’s collection. Visit www.orcabook.com. 






Trailers: for tractors and books

Not so very long ago, I thought a trailer was just for lugging sports gear or for towing farm equipment from one place to another.

As a farm kid, this is the type of trailer I grew up around.

More recently, I’ve come to enjoy BOOK TRAILERS and the bird’s-eye view they offer into new books — complete with fun visuals and music.

I was thrilled when Canadian kidlit author and tour de force, Eric Walters, put me in touch with Dan Rolo. An Ontario-based teacher, Dan also builds book trailers to help connect his students to Canadian authors, and to generate enthusiasm for reading their books.

Volleyball Vibe (Lorimer Sports Story; released fall 2020)

With insights by acclaimed author Lorna Schultz Nicholson, Dan created this wonderful book trailer for Volleyball Vibe. This is my second Sports Story and it features Ria Tanaka, a grade 8 student and (initially) a reluctant athlete who joins her very first school team…. the volleyball team.

While working with Dan on the trailer, I learned we have something else in common: we both love working with junior high students. Throughout my eight years as a teacher, I mostly taught grade 7 and 8 students. Dan gravitates toward the same grades and this year, he teaches a grade 7/8 class.

Dan Rolo, teacher and superhero

I’m delighted that in addition to being the proud owner of this wonderful book trailer, I will get to do a virtual classroom visit with Dan’s students during #IReadCanadian week. How lucky am I?

Karen in Zoomster presentation mode!

Not surprisingly, Dan is also involved in “I Read Canadian: 2.0 Now More Than Ever.” This initiative is very dear to me and it encourages students to read a Canadian book for at least 15 minutes on February 17, 2021.

“Now More Than Ever”

As always, I am inspired by all that teachers like Dan (aka “Mr. Rolo”) do to make a difference in students’ lives. And, of course, I think he has surpassed himself with my shiny new trailer for Volleyball Vibe.

Thank you, Dan, for the wonderful book trailer and for your work inside and outside of the classroom.

My Growing Family

Like all parents, I worry about my kids. Are they getting enough sleep? Are they eating properly? Are they interacting well with their peers?

My maternal worries especially surface when the family undergoes a major milestone like what we just experienced: the addition of a new baby. And so….

Mother-daughter picture: Karen and Ria

Mother-daughter picture: Karen and new family member, Ria of VOLLEYBALL VIBE.

…welcome to the world, dear Ria! I hope you will be happy in your new family with your glorious siblings!

Since it feels like time to update the family portrait, I called the entire group to gather around the piano for a photo shoot.

Of course, it’s hard to get everyone looking at the camera and — kids being kids — someone is always glowering, or yawning and complaining it’s too early, or telling me to hurry up because they’re hungry. But eventually, I snapped this group pic:

Is it just me, or are these the cutest kids ever?

Is it just my maternal bias, or are they the cutest kids ever?

As for the newcomer, Ria seems to be adjusting well to her new family. In typical form, she spent the first few days hiding behind her cell phone and not talking to anyone.

Ria, Simone and Brett


I finally insisted Ria put her phone away, at which time she did a dramatic sigh and grabbed a volleyball. She then invited Simone and Brett to join her in the park to practise.



Jonas soon followed them to the park. I think he was most interested in showing off on the track. He came back shortly after and reported that Ria, Simone and Brett told him to “get over himself.” Jonas is now sulking upstairs in his room. We will all chat about this later.

Vienna (SAVING GRAD) and Zaine (PUSH BACK).

Vienna (SAVING GRAD) and Zaine (PUSH BACK).

The older teens, Vienna and Zaine, are my most serious kids. They recently became serious coffee drinkers as well, and are discussing life over massive, steaming mugs.

(They generally clam up when I walk into the kitchen so I’m eavesdropping from the living room.)

Winston Turkington, aka "Turk" of DOG WALKER

Winston Turkington, aka “Turk” of DOG WALKER

Turk has now joined Vienna and Zaine in the kitchen. I know I can count on Turk to lighten things up. I also know the kitchen will be a disaster if I don’t get in there soon — because Turk never puts stuff away and he still hasn’t figured out how to use a dish cloth to wipe the counter or the stove.

That said, all seven of them are great kids who make me proud. And thankfully, Ria is already finding her place in our little family, where she is warmly welcomed and dearly loved by all of us.


Many thanks to my publishers, James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. and Orca Books, for helping my darling family continue to grow. I invite everyone to (safely) explore their local bookstore or library if you’d like to get better acquainted with any/ALL of these sweet kiddos. And please tell them, from me, to mind their manners, to stick together, and to get home before dark. Because their mom tends to worry.

Taking the Lead: new book and multiple-author signings

It’s always incredibly exciting and gratifying to introduce a new book to the world. And so…

World, please meet Taking the Lead!

Taking the Lead

Taking the Lead (James Lorimer & Company)

Many people are involved in creating a new book, starting with the author and acquisitions editor, through to the production, design, and marketing people. I’m grateful for the many pros at James Lorimer & Company who were my teammates in bringing Taking the Lead to life.

Here’s a (possibly) little-known fact about book publishing… Sometimes authors don’t create the titles for their own books. I originally called this story Going the Distance. My publisher and editor, however, felt Taking the Lead is a stronger title. I agree with them, although sometimes Going the Distance still slips from my mouth.

Going the Distance Taking the Lead arrived in the world on September 3, 2019–the same day many students returned to school. So, my new book is now exactly one week old. (Gosh, they grow up so fast!)

The book is targeted toward 10-13 year-old students, and is inclusive to those who read reluctantly. I had the opportunity to chat with Tara McCarthy at CBC Radio a few days prior to the book’s release. We chatted about the importance of turning reluctant readers into avid readers via books like Taking the Lead.

Here’s a link to the broadcast:

My interview on CBC Radio

As for the book itself, Taking the Lead features a track star named Jonas Bosch. When the story opens, Jonas, who is sometimes overly proud of his achievements on the track, is unkind to some younger teammates. Jonas soon lands in the principal’s office, where Ms. Oshima further notices that Jonas has also failed to complete his required hours of volunteer work. He is devastated when she pulls him from the track team, although she later cuts him a deal: if Jonas trains Darien, a vision- and physically-impaired athlete, to run a 5-kilometre race, Ms. Oshima will let him compete at the final track and field meet.

At this point, I’d like to share another writerly fact: one of the main jobs an author faces is to make the protagonist suffer. So, I ensured that Jonas and Darien couldn’t stand each other. That made it extra fun [read: agonizing for my protagonist], because Jonas and Darien were tethered closely together for their training runs and the 5k. That meant the two teens had to work out their differences at super close range. (Talk about awkward!)

I won’t disclose anything else about the story… because apparently you can lose your Author Card by giving too much of your story away. But I hope you’ll check out Taking the Lead.

And, if you’re an Edmonton area reader, I hope you’ll join me, along with my adored author-colleagues, Alison Hughes and Lorna Schultz Nicholson, at our two upcoming signings on September 14th and 15th.

Chapters St. Albert Sun, Sept14, 12:30-2:30pm

Chapters St. Albert
Sun, Sept14, 12:30-2:30pm

Audreys Books Sun, Sept15, 12:30-2:30pm

Audreys Books
Sun, Sept15, 12:30-2:30pm

Alison, Lorna, and I would love to see you at Chapters St. Albert, and at Audreys Books. We’ll be signing books, chatting about writing, and generally sharing our love of all things book-related.

On a final, personal note, I will be drawing on PUPPY POWER at those signings… because I recently adopted a new puppy!!!

adopting Bowie

July 31, 2019: adopting Bowie from a farming & beekeeping family near Smoky Lake, Alberta.

Three-month-old Bowie–a border collie-golden retriever cross, aka “my little rockstar”–is doing his best to ensure his mom doesn’t get toooo much sleep at any one time, while also brightening my days… and tormenting his big sister, Zolli.


Puppy antics aside, I’m happy to report both dogs/co-writers have fine taste in books!

Hope you’ll join me, Alison Hughes (author of Watch Out), and Lorna Schultz Nicholson (author of Just Three) for our book signings this weekend!

Let there be cookies…. and books!

My double book launch for Unity Club and Push Back is now in the rearview mirror and wow, what a party!
Unity Club Cover PushBack-FINAL jpeg

For now, I hope you’ll take my word for that, as my photographers are still downloading the pics they took on Sunday at Audreys Books.

Here is one of the few pictures that I have so far. It elicited the following response from my wonderful Orca editor: “Congrats, fellow southpaw! That is a lovely pic.”

"Lefty Signing A Book" (Photo credit: the lefty's sweetie)

“Lefty Signing A Book”
(Photo credit: the lefty’s sweetie)

As for those other pictures, I will try to remain patient while reminding myself that my photographers (aka my husband and big brother) “have other lives and jobs too”–or so they say.

While I’m not a photographer on their level, I did snap this shot of some tasty goodies. I pulled these from my oven several days before my launch, then attached threatening notes before stuffing them in my freezer.

butter tarts (blissfully raisin-free) and ginger cookies

butter tarts (blissfully raisin-free) and ginger cookies

What is not shown is the luscious chocolate cupcakes my friend, Melody, also brought to the launch. I’m hoping that my photographers managed a few shots of them before they disappeared from the table at Audreys.

As for the ginger cookies, my friend, Debby, requested the recipe, which I have shared below. You can tell from the ragged, well-stained recipe card that these cookies have been a staple in the Spafford-Fitz household for many years.


For clarity, I have re-typed the recipe below….


Karen’s Book-Launch Ginger Snaps

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Cream together: 3/4 cup butter and 1 cup sugar.

Add: 1 egg and 1/4 cup molasses. Mix everything well.

Add: 1/2 tsp bkg soda; 1/2 tsp salt; 1 tsp each cinnamon & ginger; 2 cups flour. Mix well.

Form into balls. Roll in sugar. Leave round.

Place on cookie sheet. (I use a pizza stone.) Bake for 10-12 minutes in preheated 350*F oven. (They will still look somewhat undercooked when you remove them. Let them cool on cookie sheet.)

Enjoy the cookies. Best served with a good book…. or two!


Thanks again to the friends and family who helped make the celebration a snowy success. Special mentions to Audreys Books, Orca Book Publishers, and James Lorimer & Co.

So THIS is coming up! Join me?

Hope you can join me for the party at Audreys Books! Sunday, September 16th, 2 pm.

I hope you can join me for the party at Audreys Books… Sunday, September 16th at 2 pm.

This is a first for me: the first time I’ve ever had two books released at the same time. So that calls for a half-time show, right? I mean, if the Super Bowl can do it, why not Audreys Books too?

There will also be a book talk, readings, refreshments (including my special raisin-free butter tarts), and a signing. It’s where ALL the cool* kids will be hanging out this weekend.

(*cool = awesome, book-loving)

Would love to see you there! And don’t hesitate to wear your favourite toque, puffer jacket, and winter boots in deference to Edmonton’s rude startling summer weather.

Happy reading, friends, and welcome to the world, Unity Club and Push Back!


Many thanks to Audreys Books, Orca Book Publishers and James Lorimer & Company. 

Princess Angelica: Imagination Ninja

A side effect of constant reading is that I’m often in the grips of serious “book crushes.” They sometimes sneak up on me. Other times, they grab me by the heart right from the outset.

Prince Angelica: Camp Catastrophe (Orca Books: spring 2018) is an example of the latter type. From when I first heard about Princess Angelica — the young girl who convinces her bunkmates at summer camp that she is an actual princess — I was smitten.

Princess Angelica: Camp Catastrophe, featuring Angelica, aka "Jelly"

Princess Angelica: Camp Catastrophe, featuring Angelica, aka “Jelly”

As a child, I spent weeks each summer worrying that my parents might send me away to summer camp. Mom and Dad never once mentioned summer camp to me yet for some reason, it seemed relevant at the time to worry about it. After all, camp would have deprived me of my precious tagging-along-behind-my-big-sister time, plus I was very shy then and couldn’t imagine spending a week living among new people.

So in my eyes, Angelica/Jelly was remarkably brave for going away to summer camp at all. But not only does she go to summer camp, she ROCKS summer camp by spinning the most fantastical stories about living in “a humungous stone castle surrounded by a moat filled with crocodiles,” who of course let her “ride on their backs. They’re better than floaties — or rafts.” And then there’s Jelly’s personal Jacuzzi, “which is constantly filled with jelly-bean-scented bubble bath.” (Sigh.)

grade 3

[Above: the shy 8-year-old who would LOVE to have gone to elementary school — and maybe even summer camp — with Jelly.]

Angelica sparkles with the right proportion of sass, whimsy and — when she experiences some pushback about her alleged royal lineage — contrition. Another side to Jelly’s inventive personality is her ability to repair broken objects. This skill comes in handy when she also needs to repair some friendships.

The “story behind the story” is just as delightful. When asked how she came to write this early chapter book, author Monique Polak has this to say:

“When I was 11, I went to the Y Country Camp in the Laurentians here in Quebec and I told my bunkmates that I was a princess. All summer, they made my bed and did my chores. In exchange, I told them stories about the royal court. So there’s a quite of lot of me in Princess Angelica!”

the incomparable Monique Polak

the incomparable Monique Polak

 My response when I heard that story was: “Only Monique! Only Monique would think of doing that!”
As for Jelly’s fix-it talents, when a fellow-camper questions her ability to fix the luggage hatch of the bus using a hairpin, this exchange follows:

“Jenna looks really impressed… ‘I guess I thought princesses just sat on their thrones and looked pretty and got spoiled.’

‘FYI,’ I tell her, ‘Princess Angelica is not the sitting-around type.’ “

“Not the sitting-around type” equally applies to author Monique Polak, who has written 23 books for young people. She also teaches at Marianopolis College in Montreal, and writes freelance articles for The Montreal Gazette. And she somehow finds time to review French language YA books for Radio-Canada. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Monique in person and I dare anyone to try to keep up with her!

Luckily for me and for other readers who adore Monique’s royal protagonist, a sequel is on its way.  Princess Angelica: Part-Time Lion Trainer is due out in spring 2019, and Monique is at work on the third story in the series.

When I asked Monique what she would like kids to take away from Princess Angelica: Camp Catastrophe, she had this to say:

“What I’d like kids to take away is that making up stories is super fun. I have been hooked on listening to stories and reading them, and making them up since I was a kid. I hope my readers will get hooked too. Also, imagination is a useful tool for problem solving.”

Since she has some expertise about imagination that I intend to follow, I will give Princess Angelica the final word:

“I close my eyes. My imagination works best when my eyes are shut.”

Duly noted, with thanks to Monique Polak and to her darling alter-ego, Princess Angelica.

Wordpower 2018: On The Move for Literacy

How am I spending my time these days, gentle blog reader?

Meet Zaine, the 16-year-old protagonist of Push Back (James Lorimer & Co., fall 2018 release).

Meet Zaine, the 16-year-old protagonist of Push Back (James Lorimer & Co., fall 2018 release).

Aside from reviewing the copy edits on Push Back, developing a new teen story to pitch, and addressing the realities of allergy season, muddy-dog season and shedding-dog season (I can never decide if it’s a good thing or not that those three seasons collide), I am….

"I didn't mean to leave dog hair and mud all over the floor. It's not MY fault."

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to leave dog hair and mud all over the floor.”

….preparing to go on tour!

Along with 17 other Alberta authors, illustrators and storytellers, I’m proud to be a Cenovus Wordpower 2018 touring artist. For next week’s tour, the artists’ fees — hotels, food, transportation, speaking fees — are generously sponsored by Cenovus Energy.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta's Wordpower tour.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta’s Wordpower literacy tour.

In addition to covering those various touring fees, Cenovus Energy has also bought hundreds of copies of books by Alberta artists to send to the schools that we will be visiting.

I am delighted that Turk, Vienna, Simone and Lily will be accompanying me on tour next week.

I am delighted that Turk, Vienna, Simone and Lily will be accompanying me on tour next week.

The tour was 100% organized by a literacy-based group called the Young Alberta Book Society, or YABS, which operates out of Edmonton. I can’t imagine the work involved in putting the many moving pieces together for a tour of this magnitude!

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta's Wordpower tour.

Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for again sponsoring Alberta’s Wordpower tour, and to YABS for organizing it.

On Sunday, I will be hitting the happy Wordpower trails, where I will be offering presentations and workshops that will fire up students’ imaginations about reading, writing and books.

Even before I meet all those wonderful kids and teens, I already know that I’ve hit the jackpot — because my tour partner this year is none other than the incredible Jacqueline Guest.

Jacqueline Guest is the popular author of 19 books for children and teens.

Jacqueline Guest is the award-winning author of 19 books for children and teens.

An experienced and popular visitor to the classroom, Jacqueline engages students with her Métis heritage and historical lessons. Her body of work is renowned for advancing diversity in children’s literature, and for promoting Indigenous culture. In 2016, Jacqueline became a Member of the Order Of Canada.

Over the years, Jacqueline has made strong contributions to youth literacy — and that’s before we even consider the impact she will have at the 9 schools that we will be visiting together next week. Wow!

If I had to pick a favourite book by Jacqueline Guest, I'd have to choose "Outcasts of River Falls," which is the sequel to "Belle Of Batoche."

If I had to pick a favourite book by Jacqueline Guest, I would choose “Outcasts of River Falls.” It is the sequel to “Belle Of Batoche.” Absolutely fascinating!

It’s time now to go organize my presentations and props. And to pack some “real clothes” — because apparently my usual writerly dress code of business-casual pyjamas and workout “athleisure” gear won’t quite work next week. I’d better see to that!

And as I like to tell my students…

The students always inspire me so much. And as I like to warn them: "Anything you say and do might end up in a book."

“Be careful, you guys! Anything you say or do might end up in a book.”

Thanks again to Cenovus Energy for its generous sponsorship of Wordpower 2018. Thanks also to YABS for herding all us cats organizing all us artists for next week’s tour. You are both amazing!

Book Crush: “A Time To Run” by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

Every now and then, I develop a book crush that’s so intense it hurts–in a good way. Lorna Schultz Nicholson’s new title, A Time To Runis one such crush-y book for me.

Lorna Schultz Nicholson, author of "A Time To Run," the newest title in her One2One series (Clockwise Press).

Lorna Schultz Nicholson, author of “A Time To Run” (Clockwise Press).

A Time To Run is the fourth and newest book in the One2One series, also known as the “Best Buddies” series.

As explained in an Author’s Note: “The Best Buddies is a real program that operates in schools, including colleges, all over the world. Students with intellectual disabilities pair up with volunteer peer ‘Buddies.’ They meet together, one-to-one, at least twice monthly to engage in fun, social interaction. They also participate in group activities.”

In previous books from the One2One series, the intellectually-disabled characters include Harrison (Fragile Bones), who is on the autism spectrum; Erika (Born With), who was born with Down syndrome; Madeline (Bent Not Broken) who suffered a brain injury; and now Stuart (A Time To Run) who was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

"A Time To Run" is the fourth and newest title in Schultz Nicholson's One2One series.

“A Time To Run” is the fourth and newest title in Lorna Schultz Nicholson’s One2One series.

In each book, the stories are told in first-person narrative which alternates between the characters with the intellectual disabilities, and those of their peer buddies.

But back to that book crush… As a former junior-high teacher who worked with students born with FASD, I feel that Schultz Nicholson once again captured the voice of her intellectually-disabled character. And as Sam, Stuart’s peer buddy, says of him “Stuart sure could be complicated.”

Stuart is indeed complicated, and Schultz Nicholson does not shy away from portraying even the more challenging sides of his personality. Born to an abusive, alcoholic mother, Stuart now lives in a loving adoptive home, where he sleeps on a bed in the middle of his bedroom such that he is less apt to damage the walls. He hates conversations about consequences and – I’m not going to use any euphemisms here – he lies.

He lies to his educational assistant about the ten minutes that his mom made him spend repairing the new holes he punched into the wall. He lies to his parents about the unsavoury character he spent the afternoon with when he was supposed to be at track practice. Stuart’s go-to line when he doesn’t want to answer a question that might land him in trouble is “I dunno.” (Pretty smooth, Stuart!)

Stuart however remains an appealing, well-rounded character whose potential shines through, especially when he is with best buddy Samir, aka “Sam,” who suffers from his own challenges.

In the early pages of A Time To Run, basketball-star Sam suffers a nearly-fatal heart episode which derails his athletic career. As A Time To Run evolves, it is clear that both Stuart and Sam are at their best when they are working through their various challenges–and simply hanging out–together.

My only complaint is that A Time To Run and the rest of the One2One series arrived after my years of teaching junior-high students on a daily basis. I so wish this series had been available to me when working with special-needs students in Toronto and in Edmonton. Hence my need to offer this shout-out about the entire One2One series.

A Time To Run is another heartwarming story by Lorna Schultz Nicholson. I highly recommend it to tween and teen readers, adults, educators and to anyone who enjoys books that foster diversity, hope and sympathy.

"A Time To Run" shown here with a book lover who would dearly love with Stuart!

“A Time To Run” shown here with a book lover who dearly wants to run with Stuart.

A Time To Run is available March 15, 2018. Currently available for pre-order.




Story Avenue 2018: Literacy FTW!

On February 22nd and 23rd, I joined eight other Alberta artists at Story Avenue–an annual writing conference designed to foster literacy among grades 5 and 6 students from Edmonton’s downtown core.

Orca author, Natasha Deen.

Orca author, Natasha Deen, and I were among the presenters. It’s always great connecting with friends and colleagues there… and of course with the students!

Rita Feutl, author of Rescue At Fort Edmonton, Room Enough for Daisy (co-authored with Debby Waldman), and Bike Thief was also one of the presenters.

Rita Feutl, author of “Rescue At Fort Edmonton” and “Bike Thief” was also one of the presenters.

The Alberta artists led students through a series of writing and illustrating workshops. And while I pride myself on offering energetic, informative sessions, sometimes the students simply take over…. (and I love it when that happens!)

Annie*: “The protagonist is the main character and I bet I know who you’re going to talk about next–the antagonist, because that’s, like, the protagonist’s enemy and sometimes I like to hate on that character but sometimes I like that enemy-antagonist guy a bit too.”

[Wow! That also sums up my feelings about the antagonist… that the antagonist isn’t ALL bad, and some of the best stories give us insights into why antagonists behave as they do. Way to go, Annie!]


And then there was Keenan*: “Have you ever noticed that books sometimes start with a little bit of stuff about who the character is and where he lives, then the action suddenly takes off?”

[Yes, Keenan, I have. That’s the cool thing about the inciting incident, which alters the protagonist’s world. And then the action TAKES OFF! Good catch!]

*student names have been changed.

I love it when the students take over!

It’s always magical when the student enthusiasm fills the room!

Story Avenue is also packed with wonderful volunteers. One of them, an elementary teacher, shared an amazing story with me about a really bad day she had when she was in junior high.

Her story inspired me so much that I might write a book about it someday. I won’t tell you Ms. B’s story yet but I’ll divulge a key phrase/teaser: “teacher’s mark book.” Stay tuned!


I also invited the students from my Thursday sessions to share their thoughts about what they wrote. I have listed them below, along with the students’ pen names:

“I was proudest that I wrote my own half story.” Anonymous, grade 6

“What I liked best was the mystery of the story.” Dread Nought, grade 6

“What I liked best was the continuation of Karen’s story.” Fy-FFF, grade 6

“I liked that we got to write about being accused for things we didn’t do.” K, grade 6

“What I liked best in my story was the dark figure disappearing in the shadow.” T, grade 6

“What I did well was explain why Mrs. Granger blamed Marcy, Kyle and Alex for taking the $30.” Hazel, grade 6

“It feels so good writing my story.” Honey the Cat, grade 5

“I liked talking and making the settings for the story. I wrote lots and put lots of details.” Cyborg Hot Dog, grade 6

“I thought it was a lot of fun how we got to finish an actual author’s story.” I.H., grade 6

“I liked when she shared her tips and when we were writing the ideas.” Anon, grade 6

“I like it best when we were writing about a blame story and how I added detail to my story.” M, grade 5/6

“Something I did well was the twist to my story.” B, grade 5

“I loved it. It helped me with my writing. I loved my twist ending.” J, grade 5

“What I liked best is that Karen is so funny! All of it made me proud.” Squishy Heart, grade 5

“I am proud of how my story went so smooth.” Nicki Ma Noodles, grade 6

“The writing was the best part. I was proud of my creativity.” grade 5

“I liked that we got to write our own story. I was proudest of my powerful words.” S.

“What I liked best was that she was funny. I’m proud of the amount I wrote.” Cherry Chipotle, grade 5

“What made me proudest was when people talk in my story.” Mr. Bearpaw, grade 6  [Author note: I am thrilled to have found another writer who loves dialogue as much as I do!]

“Karen was nice and funny and I learned a lot. I am proud that I thought of so many things.” Success Queen, grade 5

“I liked the part where we learn the pro tips and the part where we got to write. Something I did well was where I solved the story.” Astra, grade 5

“I liked when you told the story, ‘Missing.’ I was proudest of how I wrote that the mean character said, ‘I thought it was my dad.'” Unicorn Cop Com, grade 5  [Author note: that was a seriously cool plot twist!]

“I liked all of it. The fun characters made me proudest.” Buzzfeed, grade 6

“What I liked best was writing how to prove you’re innocent. I explained it step by step.” J, grade 6

“What I liked best was EVERYTHING!!! I was proud that I made it interesting and I put in a twist in the end.” Kitty Vi, grade 6


As always, the students made me incredibly proud. Best of all, I think they made themselves proud too.

Many thanks to the Young Alberta Book Society for organizing Story Avenue. Thanks also to the wonderful sponsors for funding the program, including  buying a book for each student.

I'm so happy that these wonderful students received their own copies of Vanish. I hope they enjoy meeting Simone, Lily, Aaron, and friends!

It was a pleasure signing copies of VANISH and sending them home with the students. I hope they all enjoy meeting Simone, Lily, Aaron, and friends!

One of the students could hardly believe that he was getting his OWN book… to keep!

Much gratitude to these sponsors for their commitment to fostering literacy among Edmonton’s city-centre students:

Edmonton Oilers, Telus, Werklund Foundation, Edmonton Public Teachers (Local 37), City of Edmonton, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Edmonton Arts Council, Alberta Government