Several months ago, I applied for the 2014 Cenovus Wordpower Book Tour– a project that allows students to interact with working artists while promoting literacy.
I was thrilled to learn weeks later that I was selected to be one of eight artists to travel to southern Alberta–specifically Medicine Hat, Redhill, Brooks and Rosemary–from April 6th to April 11th.
As I expected, the week sped past and I have now settled back into my non-tour life with my family and my writing schedule. My mind however keeps bouncing back to these beautiful tour moments:
The “Firsts:” Although I’ve presented dozens of workshops to students in grades 4-9, division one (grades K-3) and division four (grades 10-12) were new to me. I was thrilled then that my workshops were well received by the students and teachers. I had a blast slipping into my top-secret Superhero Alter-ego with the Littles, and loved sharing “Writing Beyond High School” with the Bigs. I look forward to putting my expanded repertoire to further use in the days ahead.
Lights, Camera, Action: My first presentation was to grade eight Leadership students in Medicine Hat, who were paired with grade one buddies for a picture-book writing project. Given that my newest novel features grade eight Leadership students paired with “Kinderbuddies,” I felt like I was on a real-life movie set for Vanish. *cue bright lights* *author swoons*
Living the Dream [Option Class] in Medicine Hat: Over the past week, I have asked myself this question many times: How come I never got to lead a Novel Studies option class back in my junior-high teaching years? Thankfully, I got to live that dream in Medicine Hat with a group of grade seven students who, like me, enjoy nothing better than reading, discussing and recommending YA novels. Hats off to those avid readers and writers in the Hat!
Getting to know the Brooks community: First, a bit of background… the major industry in Brooks is a meat-packing plant which recruits workers from all over the world–Philippines, Sudan, Somalia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Colombia, etc. As a result, Brooks is a true multicultural mosaic and throughout my three days there, the beautiful languages, exotic accents, and stories made me feel like I had travelled far beyond Alberta’s borders. I so appreciated the warm welcome, and the students taught me Spanish phrases, told me about their homelands, and shared their experiences as new Canadians. Lucky me!
The Bold and the Timid: I have come to love the moments that follow my presentations as this is when students either burst forward, or more cautiously migrate in my direction with shy smiles. The intention is often to share reading recommendations or to tell me about the books they are writing. Throughout Wordpower, I learned about several works-in-progress, including sci-fi missions, the zombie apocalypse and romance plots. Given the students’ enthusiasm and expertise, I’m sure I brushed up against several next-generation authors last week. I love knowing that my future reading choices are in their capable hands.
Best Compliment Ever: While getting my lunch one day, two junior-high students were making out by the school entrance. I discreetly looked away, only to have the grade nine boy stop necking with his girlfriend, look up, and say “Great presentation!” My nephew, who is of a similar age, shared a key point with me: “It’s not even what he said, it’s that he stopped kissing with his girlfriend to say it. That means you did good!” *beams with pride*
Dining: Of course, one can’t visit a new community without sampling some local cuisine. Thankfully, a colleague suggested Wasana Restaurant, a Thai/Vietnamese eatery just outside of town. As I soon learned, the menu is varied, the ingredients are fresh, and the piping-hot food arrives swiftly. The major draw however is Kam, the delightful restaurant owner and chef. Kam’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his dinner recommendations included house favourites, as well as new dishes that hadn’t hit the official menu. During my final visit to Wasana, Kam grew especially animated. “Here’s something you’re going to like. I want to make this for you.” And in deference to my low-spice threshold, he kindly added, “For you, one chili only.” Simply, Wasana is a must-visit while staying in or passing through Brooks.
Being a member of Cenovus Wordpower South: Because of our varied schedules, I did not cross paths with Team South members, Kathy Jessup and Tollolwel Mollel. I did however enjoy dinner and evening gatherings with the other south-touring authors and illustrators: Debby Waldman, Jacqueline Guest, Sue Farrell Holler, and Georgia Graham. I also had the pleasure of working with tour partner extraordinaire, Mary Hays–a talented storyteller from the Calgary area whose expertise, calm perspective and friendship were great gifts to me.
Throughout the week, I presented to over 800 students. Most were in junior high, although they ranged from kindergarten to grade eleven. In the time that we shared, I hope that I succeeded in sparking their enthusiasm for literacy. I hope too that they remember the promise I made them: that if they work at becoming stronger readers and writers, their lives will be better and easier in ways that they have not yet imagined. In turn, my life is already better for having met them.
Many thanks to Cenovus Energy for funding the tour, and to the Young Alberta Book Society for organizing it.