Bored by Boards: Tales of a Newly-Converted Board Dodger

 

Bored by Boards. They're not very exciting. It's not like they serve me food and drinks or anything at all.

Boards. They’re not very exciting, are they? They don’t do tricks. They certainly don’t serve me food or drinks or anything at all. Sheesh.

Bored by Boards. That term exactly expresses my sentiment about serving on boards and committees. Such tasks sound endlessly dry, dull, sedentary… and painfully grown-up. And so, it is no wonder that I have made a career of avoiding them.

As someone whose varied careers and roles have generally involved children and youths, the payoffs for avoiding the dreaded boards and committees have been many. For example, instead of sitting on the fundraising committee for my children’s Parent Council Association, I gave back to the school by chaperoning countless field trips. (Pond dipping, anyone?)  (Here, let me shove my hand into that pumpkin and de-gut it for you. It’s only gross if you think about it too long.)

In my teaching years, I was masterful at avoiding lunch-hour and after-school meetings. My strategy largely involved sharing my love of sports with kids. As such, numerous meetings blissfully passed me by while I coached students in track and field or cross-country running, or while I supervised floor hockey in the gym.

As a parent of athletic children, my club volleyball contributions involved arranging healthy “grazing stations” for the teens during their tournament weekends, and score-keeping their games. In so doing, I had a blast–all while skirting the dreaded roles of secretary or (God forbid!) treasurer, which also required attendance at club meetings.

Sitting on boards... This is what it means, right?

Sitting on boards… This is what it means, right?

In short, I am a doer–not a sitter, and my avoidance tactics have served me well… until today, when I begin my three-year term as Board Member with the Young Alberta Book Society (YABS).

After years of being a Board dodger, how do I feel about this turn of events?

Let me put it this way… Do you know people who swore they’d never date or get married again, yet who are enjoying wedded bliss as we speak? I do too, and presumably all it took was finding “the right person.” Well, I have found my right person. Or in this case, the right organization: YABS.

And what’s not to love about this description: “For over 25 years, YABS has been an advocate for children’s literacy in Alberta. Its mission is ‘to foster literacy and a love of reading among young people in Alberta by providing access to the province’s literary artists and their work.'”

Literacy, love of reading, young people, Alberta, literary artists… Sold!

So here I am–a newly-minted Board member who, with any kind of luck, might even be able to manage the “adult” part of the equation for a few hours. Best of all, I have a back-up plan; I am going to secretly (shhh!) pack along a soccer ball, a pair of running shoes, and a whistle–in case my first meeting threatens to get too serious.

How I Made 800+ New Friends: 2014 Cenovus Wordpower Tour

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.

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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.

Can you guess the type of adventure I went on with my division one students?

Can you guess what type of adventure I went on with my division one students?

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!

An evening shot outside of Brooks

Evening falling over Brooks

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.

Very excited to immediately see so many Orca titles in the library at Brooks Composite High School.

Very excited to see so many great Orca titles in the library at Brooks Composite High School.

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*

Loved the ambiance within Wasana Restaurant

Fabulous ambiance and food at Wasana Restaurant. Padt Thai–oh yum!

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.

Talented storyteller Mary Hays holding her junior-high audience rapt

Talented storyteller Mary Hays holds her junior-high audience rapt

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.

Book Signing Finale

Three Alberta authors; Three takes on YA fiction  Karen Bass (historical fiction author); Karen Spafford-Fitz (contemporary fiction author); Marty Chan (steampunk author)

Three Alberta authors; three takes on YA fiction.
Karen Bass (historical fiction author); Karen Spafford-Fitz (contemporary author); Marty Chan (steampunk author)

I had a good feeling heading into 2014. Sure enough, it’s away to a roaring start and a personal highlight is the Book Signing Tour that I’ve undertaken with fellow-YA authors, Karen Bass and Marty Chan. Throughout February, we’ve held successful signings at three Edmonton-area Chapters stores: West Edmonton Mall, Sherwood Park, and St. Albert.

We are soon heading to Edmonton’s south side for the final weekend of the tour. On Saturday, March 22 from noon until 4:00 pm, Karen, Marty and I will be at Whyte Avenue Chapters to chat with book lovers and to sign our books.

On Sunday, March 23, we will be at Indigo South Edmonton Common from noon to 4:00 pm. We look forward to reconnecting with our friends and to meeting new ones. Marty, Karen and I are always happy to talk about writing and books, and we love inspiring young people to see themselves as writers.

We hope you can join us!

Alberta Authors Add Second Book Signing in Sherwood Park

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Alberta authors Marty Chan, Karen Spafford-Fitz and Karen Bass will appear at Sherwood Park Chapters

I’m proud to announce that Marty Chan, Karen Bass and I will hold a second book signing. We will be at the Sherwood Park Chapters on Sunday, February 9 from noon until 4:00 pm to meet our fans and to sign our books.

Marty, Karen and I have collectively written books for young people from three to 16 years old, and our genres include contemporary fiction, historical fiction, mystery, steampunk, and adventure.

Along with information about the authors, here are the titles we’ll have on hand in Sherwood Park:

Alberta author, KAREN BASS, writes realistic novels for teens, often exploring little-known aspects of WWII. Her latest book, Graffiti Knight, is a gritty action/adventure story set in a dystopia that actually existed: post-WWII Germany in the Soviet Zone.

Karen’s books: Graffiti Knight, Drummer Girl, Summer of Fire, and Run Like Jager.

MARTY CHAN writes plays for adults and books for kids. He’s best known for the Marty Chan Mystery Series. His latest book, The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon Gate, is his first book for young adults.

Marty’s books: The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon GateBarnabas Bigfoot series (A Close Shave, A Hairy Tangle, and The Bone Eater); True Story; Marty Chan Mysteries (The Mystery of the Frozen Brains, The Mystery of the Graffiti Ghoul, The Mystery of the Mad Science Teacher, and The Mystery of the Cyber Bully).

As for me, KAREN SPAFFORD-FITZ, I am the author of two middle-grade novels. Vanish and Dog Walker are both fast-paced books that appeal to even the most reluctant readers. They feature realistic teenagers who live in Edmonton.

We hope to see you in Sherwood Park!

Book Signing by Alberta Authors at WEM Chapters

 

Karen Spafford-Fitz, Marty Chan and Karen Bass - a trio of young adult authors from Alberta

Karen Spafford-Fitz, Marty Chan and Karen Bass – a trio of young adult authors from Alberta

Edmonton authors Marty Chan and Karen Spafford-Fitz are teaming up with Hythe author Karen Bass for a book signing at the West Edmonton Mall Chapters on Saturday, February 8 from noon until 4:00 pm.

These three writers share a unique bond: they all transitioned from other successful careers to success in publishing.

Former playwright Marty Chan, former teacher Karen Spafford-Fitz, and former librarian Karen Bass now write fiction for young adults, and will be on site at West Edmonton Mall  to meet their fans and to sign copies of their books.

Hope to see everyone there!

Mini Writing Retreat, Edmonton-style

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The words have dried up.

I’ve changed the sentence seven times. Then changed it back seven times.

My brain is so fuzzy that I no longer remember my protagonist’s name.

I make one more flailing attempt to continue writing, but the signs are irrefutable. It’s time for a break. Or, in more exotic terms, a Mini Writing Retreat.

Like most writers, I have my favourite form of writing break  retreat. It involves a racing pulse, and pure and simple movement in the great outdoors. Its name is…

…running.

Running refuels my writing batteries to the point where I fear I might not be able to write if I couldn’t run (although I understand other authors somehow accomplish such a feat).

I have been a devout runner for many years, and my running practice and my mileage peak once the temperatures drop and the snow flies. Those are the days when I am extra inclined to “fake sick,” ditch my writing, and head outdoors for a run.

On one such recent day, snow had fallen non-stop overnight and the temperature was a brisk -11 degrees Celsius (minus 18c with windchill). Images of my favourite running trails tickled the edges of my addled brain. The laptop before me was soon powered off.

I grabbed my running gear. Even as the layering process began, I could already feel my head beginning to clear.

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Author or ninja?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(And really, is there a more glamorous item of clothing than a balaclava? I think not.)

Meanwhile, my beautiful Dion running snowshoes—my white, orange and black beauties–were summoning me from the garage.

Time to go play in the snow with the Dion twins!

My Darling Dion twins, how I missed you this summer. Time to go play!

With the Dion twins at my feet, I stepped onto the trail. I could hardly believe my river valley had transformed into something even more magical overnight.

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My co-writer/runner agreed, as was evident by her exuberant “Dashing Through The Snow” routine.

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As always, I didn’t consciously think about my work-in-progress while I ran. Yet somehow the gnarly bits of plot and character that had eluded me when I was sitting before the laptop began sorting themselves out. They untangled themselves further with each crunchy snowshoe stride and each inhalation of chilled air.

When I eventually surfaced and parked my snowshoes back in my garage, I was ready to continue writing. I was also confident that whenever I next needed a Mini Writing Retreat, all I had to do was firmly strap on my snowshoes and re-enter my magical winter portal–from which I would again emerge refreshed and ready to resume my writing.

Part Two: “Together is a lot better”

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I am so proud of the grade 5/6 students at Kitaskinaw School in Enoch, Alberta for sharing their story ideas with me. After we collaborated, I finished writing this story called “Missing.” The students have enough great ideas to write many stories. I hope they will! 

 

Missing

 

“Hurry up!” Marcy says.

I walk faster. A lot of leaves have fallen onto the sidewalk overnight. I don’t see anything in front of me until I nearly step on it.

“It’s a backpack.” Marcy picks it up.

“It probably belongs to someone from our school,” Kyler says. “Maybe there’s a name inside.”

Kyler checks.

“Nope,” he says.

“Let’s get going,” Marcy says. “We’ll hand it in at the office.”

The bell rings and kids take off running.

Kyler tosses the backpack to me. “Here,” he ways. “You found it. You can turn it in.”

I sigh and head to the office.

Mrs. Granger is pulling out late slips when I get there. She loves lecturing students about being on time.

She is opening her mouth when I start talking. “I found this backpack. It was lying on the sidewalk near the school.”

I lift it and something shifts inside. A pencil box and a picture book nearly fall out.

“Was it open when you found it?” Mrs. Granger asks.

“No. Kyler opened it. He was looking for a name.” I push everything back inside.

“Was anyone else with you and Kyler?”

“Marcy,” I say.

I give her the backpack. Mrs. Granger looks disappointed that she doesn’t get to write out a late slip. I smile and go to class.

 

 

It’s lunchtime when some announcements come over the PA system.

“Marcy, Kyler and Alex—report to the office. Immediately.”

I close my locker and look at my friends.

“What do you think that is about?” Marcy asks.

“No idea,” I say.

Mrs. Granger is waiting for us at the office. “You three kids had better talk fast.”

“What—?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what’s going on.” She plunks the backpack onto the counter. “Do you recognize this?”

“Of course,” I say. “I brought it here.”

“And you all touched it this morning?”

We nod.

“Then you better explain to me why thirty dollars is missing from inside it.”

“Thirty dollars? But we didn’t—”

I look at Mrs. Granger’s face. She does not believe us. I have an idea.

I reach down and turn my pockets inside out. Kyler and Marcy do the same. “Look, no money.”

“You can check our lockers too,” Kyler says.

“Don’t play games with me!” Mrs. Granger is shaking with rage. “I have worked with students for a very long time—and this proves nothing. Clearly you have hidden the money somewhere else.”

She glares at each of us in turn.

“I will say this just once: until you repay the money, all three of you are suspended.”

 

 

As we walk out of the school, Marcy’s lip quivers. “I’ve never been suspended before. My mom is going to be really mad.”

“Mine too,” Kyler says. “Mrs. Granger has probably phoned our parents already.”

“What if they believe her about the money,” Marcy says. “Maybe we should try to borrow thirty dollars to give to her.”

“No,” I say. “We didn’t steal any money. That wouldn’t be fair.”

We are almost home. I grab their arms and pull them to a stop.

“Since we’re already in trouble,” I say, “let’s not go straight home.”

“Alex, are you nuts?” Kyler says.

“Yeah,” Marcy says. “Do you want us to get in even more trouble?”

“Of course not,” I say. “But we have to prove that we are innocent. Let’s retrace our steps to where we found the backpack.”

“Yeah,” Kyler says. “Maybe the money fell out when I opened the backpack.”

“Exactly,” I say. “So we need to search for the money.”

“Or a wallet,” Marcy says.

We look everywhere—from the front door of the school, to where we found the backpack. We kick about a ton of leaves out of our way. But still, we don’t find a thing.

“What if someone picked it up?” Kyler says.

I nod sadly. “Yeah. We found the backpack three hours ago.”

We slump down against a tree to rest.

“I guess there’s nothing else to do,” Marcy says. “We have to go home.”

I shake my head. “There must be another way to prove we’re innocent. What do they do in the movies?”

Kyler laughs. “In the movies, they have fancy surveillance equipment. We don’t have that.”

“But there are security cameras around the school,” Marcy says. “Remember they installed them last year after someone broke a bunch of windows?”

Kyler and I sit up straighter.

“You’re right, Marcy,” I say. “We could tell Mrs. Granger to check the video cameras.”

“Have you forgotten that we’re suspended? That means we aren’t allowed back to school.”

I take a deep breath. “We don’t have any choice.”

We step into the school. Lunch is almost over and people are swarming everywhere. Nobody notices us .

“Where would we find the video cameras?” Marcy asks.

“Let’s check the office,” I say. “Act casual.”

It’s not easy to act casual when you’ve been suspended. But we slip inside the office. Right away, we hear Mrs. Granger’s voice.

“Oh no!” I say. “Fast—in here!”

We run into the storage closet by the front counter. We don’t have time to fully close the door before we see Mrs. Granger.

“So you lost your backpack this morning, Nora?” she says to a little girl in grade two.

“Yes. On my way to school.”

“Can you describe it to me?”

“It’s blue with red straps. It has a picture of Dora the Explorer on the front.”

Marcy, Kyler and I nod. That sounds exactly like the backpack that we found.

“Is your name inside it?” Mrs. Granger asks.

“No,” Nora says. “But I had a pink pencil case inside and two picture books. And my lunch.”

Nora has a little voice and we press closer to try and hear her.

“Anything else?” Mrs. Granger asks.

“No.”

At that moment, Kyler trips over Marcy’s foot. He tumbles to the floor and the closet door slams shut.

“Who’s in there?” Mrs. Granger says. “Open the door immediately!”

Kyler, Marcy and I look at each. We have no choice. We slowly open the door.

Mrs. Granger starts yelling at us. But I hardly hear her. My mind is stuck on what Nora just said.

There was nothing else inside her backpack.

“Quiet!” I yell back at Mrs. Granger.

She is so surprised that she stops talking.

I turn to Nora. “Did you say there was nothing else in your backpack?”

Nora nods. “Just my pencil box, two library books, and my lunch.”

“Was there any money?”

Nora’s eyes grow large. “No.” She shakes her head. “My mom and my auntie don’t let me take money to school. They say it might get stolen.”

“So you never had any money in that backpack at all?” Kyler asks.

“No,” Nora says.

We all turn to Mrs. Granger. “But you said—”

Marcy is the first to speak. “You were trying to get money from us!”

“You have no proof of that,” Mrs. Granger says.

“Maybe we do,” I say.

I dash into the principal’s office. Mr. Sheldon, our principal, is sitting at a small table in the corner. He is peering at a video screen.

He looks up as we enter. “Just a minute, kids,” he says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this machine. It’s been malfunctioning lately.”

Mrs. Granger flashes an evil smile.

“Luckily though,” Mr. Sheldon says, “we have a back-up system in the caretaker’s office.”

He phones Mrs. Crouter who soon appears with a tape in her hand.

Kyler takes it from her and puts it into the machine. Our eyes grow as we watch Mrs. Granger searching through dozens of backpacks and lunch kits. We even see her finding money and stuffing it into her pocket.

“Mrs. Granger!” Mr. Sheldon says. “I can’t believe this!”

“I do!” I say. “She suspended us until we pay back the thirty dollars that she SAID we stole from Nora’s backpack.”

Nora shakes her head. “I never bring money to school. My mom and auntie said it would get stolen.”

“Your mom and your auntie are right,” I say.

“And since there wasn’t any money there,” Marcy says, “she lied and said there was.”

“Mrs. Granger, you are permanently suspended from your job!”

Mr. Sheldon turns to Kyler, Marcy and me. “This isn’t the first time money has gone missing. I will review the entire video carefully. I’m sure I will find it most interesting.” He glares at Mrs. Granger who turns and slinks out of the office.

“We’ll be in touch!” Mr. Sheldon calls after her.

“Don’t hurry back!” I say.

We all laugh.

“Thank you, kids, for solving this case. I’m sorry you were suspended from school—even for just an hour. Welcome back!”

I look at the school motto written above his desk. “Together is always better.”

I look at my friends and I smile. Yes, together is definitely better!

The End

Part One: “Together is a lot better”

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“Together is a lot better.” That is the motto at Kitaskinaw School, where I recently spoke with students about story building. I gave the grade 3/4’s the beginning of a story, and they came up with fantastic ideas about how to finish it. Kitaskinaw’s students are proof that together is a lot better, and here is the story I wrote based on their ideas. We hope you enjoy “Trouble At Riverbank School.”

 

Trouble at Riverbank School

 

It is noisy in the hall. Every class from Riverbank School is walking to the gym.

“Do you know why Principal Porcupine called an assembly?”

“No.” Rudy Raccoon shakes his head. “Do you know why, Gordon Grizzly?”

Gordon does his “no” growl.

We all sit on the gym floor.

Principal Porcupine steps in front of the microphone. Oh no! His face is red and angry.

“Something has happened,” Principal Porcupine begins, “and I am not pleased at all.”

He nods toward Mr. Badger, the custodian. Mr. Badger wheels something into the gym on a large trolley.

I look at the long, metal object. It is all twisted and dented. Broken pieces stick out at the bottom.

I finally realize what it is. The new waterslide!

My tummy feels sick. I love that new waterslide. Just yesterday, I played on it for hours. I splashed into the school pond over and over. I quietly brush away a tear.

“When I came into school today,” Principal Porcupine says, “that is what I found.” The quills on his chin quiver with rage.

I feel frozen in place. Rudy Raccoon and Gordon Grizzly don’t move either.

“The only good news,” Principal Porcupine says, “is that I know who did this terrible thing.”

Everyone leans forward.

“It was the last person who used the waterslide. And that was—Orval Otter.”

Everyone turns and looks at me.

“But—but—” I say. “I didn’t do it.”

I look around. I can tell that nobody believes me. Not even my two best friends, Rudy Raccoon and Gordon Grizzly.

At that moment, I know what I have to do. I have to prove that I did NOT wreck the slide.

As we leave the gym, I get an idea. Clues! I’ll look for clues! I have to move fast.

I slide out the side door where Mr. Badger wheeled in the broken slide.

Yes! Sharp pieces of metal are scattered across the floor. They look like pieces from the slide!

“The slide must have been broken inside the school,” I mutter. “Not outside where I was playing. When I tell Principal Porcupine, he will have to believe me.”

At that moment, Principal Porcupine’s voice rings out.

“Mr. Badger, can you sweep up these metal pieces?”

I duck into a doorway so I can listen in.

“Sure,” Caretaker Badger says. “Where did they come from?”

“The senior class is collecting scrap metal pieces from old boats. They are going to build sculptures with them in art class. These are the leftover pieces that they don’t need.”

Oh no! These metal pieces are not from the slide after all! My heart drops down into my claws. That means I’m still in trouble. I need to think of another idea right away.

I stay hidden until Principal Porcupine and Caretaker Badger have left. Then I duck out the back door of the school.

I run to the pond. There must be clues here!

I splash around the edge of the pond. I don’t know what I’m looking for. But there must be something!

I’m all the way around the pond. I still haven’t seen anything unusual. As I step out of the pond, I kick at the long grass.

“Ouch!!!”

I grab onto my sore back paw and hop around on the other one. When it finally stops hurting, I reach into the grass. What did I just kick?

A toolbox. It has somebody’s initials on it: MB.

I open it up. It has screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches, a jigsaw, and some power tools inside.

Hey! Maybe someone used these tools to wreck the slide!

I’m standing up when I hear a noise. I spin around. It’s Mr. Badger.

“Don’t come any closer!” I say. “I know it was you. You broke the slide with these tools! The toolbox even has your initials on top.”

“That is not what happened.” Mr. Badger takes another step.

“I already told you—don’t come any closer. Or I’ll throw your expensive power tools into the middle of the pond!”

“Orval Otter, this is ridiculous,” he says. “I brought those tools out here this morning. The slide was twisted and broken, but it was still partly fastened to the base. Principal Porcupine told me to unscrew the slide so we could bring it inside. He wanted to show it to the students.

Oh, gargling grasshoppers! It sounds like he is telling the truth.

I don’t have another plan. My whole body feels heavy and sad. Everyone will still think that I broke the slide.

Beep. Beep. Bzzzzzzz.

I jump. “What’s that?”

Mr. Badger points up into the trees. “That’s a signal that the video camera needs to be reset. It’s almost out of film.”

“Video camera? Is it filming us right now? And was it filming everything around the pond last night?”

Mr. Badger nods. A smile glides across my face.

“Where can we watch the film?”

“In my office,” Mr. Badger says. “Principal Porcupine is the only other person who has a key.”

“Principal Porcupine? Oh no!”

Badgers and otters can run pretty fast. We’re soon at Mr. Badger’s office. We run through the door—then we skid to a stop. Principal Porcupine is sitting in front of the video screen, peering at it.

“Principal Porcupine,” I say. “Get your paws off of that video machine.”

As Principal Porcupine reaches for the ‘delete’ button, I slide the chair out from underneath him. He tumbles to the floor with a loud, chirpy squawk that echoes throughout the school.

Footsteps pound down the hall. Before we know it, most of the school has crowded into Mr. Badger’s office.

“Watch this, everyone.” I switch the video on.

The teachers and students all stare at the screen as Principal Porcupine slides down the waterslide again and again into the pond.

“But he’s too big,” Rudy Raccoon says.

“Yeah,” growls Gordon Grizzly.

“He’s going to break the slide!” Ms. Magpie covers one eye with her wing.

Sure enough—

Crash! Bang! Thud! Splash!

With a sickening crunch, the bottom of the slide gives way. Principal Porcupine swerves to one side of the slide, then the other. After a wild tumble and a loud chirpy hiccup, he lands on the muddy riverbank. Then he rolls into the pond. And all that is left of the slide is the tangled, angry mess that we saw in the gym this morning.

I turn off the video and everyone starts talking at once. As Principal Porcupine rises to his feet, a silence falls across the room.

“I never had a real waterslide like that when I was a young porcupine,” he says with a sniffle. “I just had a nasty old plank that gave me slivers in my backside whenever I slid into the river on it.

“I just wanted to have some fun last night. But you saw what happened.” His head drops to his chest in shame.

Principal Porcupine turns to me. “I was so embarrassed that I didn’t know what to do.”

“So you blamed me? Principals aren’t supposed to behave like that!”

“You’re right. I am going to resign as your principal right away. I don’t deserve this job.”

“But who will be the principal of Riverbank School?” a young mole with a pink hairband asks.

“I don’t know,” Principal Porcupine says, “but I think Mr. Badger would be a fine choice.”

Mr. Badger shakes his head. “No,” he says. “My office is nicer than the principal’s office. I want to stay right here. How about you, Ms. Magpie?”

Ms. Magpie removes her wing from across her face. She puffs herself up. “I accept,” she says. “And the first thing I will do as your new principal is insist that we ALL apologize to Orval Otter.”

“We’re sorry, Orval Otter.” The students say it together.

“I didn’t hear you, Mr. Porcupine,” Ms. Magpie says.

“Okay, okay,” Mr. Porcupine says. “I’m sorry, Orval Otter.”

“You’d better be!” I say. “And don’t you forget it!”

I give Mr. Badger a high-five. Then I turn to go back to class. My friends carry me high on their shoulders the whole way.

 

The End

Stay tuned for Part Two, where the grade 5/6 students from Kitaskinaw School share their ideas about the story, “Missing.”

Research: Needless or Necessary for Fiction Writers?

 

“Research… is like an iceberg. Only the tip must show, but the rest of it, the great bulk that lurks invisibly under water, has to be there to support it.” (Rhona Martin)

“Research… is like an iceberg. Only the tip must show, but the rest of it, the great bulk that lurks invisibly under water, has to be there to support it.” (Rhona Martin)

One of the best things about being a fiction writer is the freedom. Freedom to set the office dress code (running clothes). Freedom to adopt a late-late-night writing shift (I’ve never been much of a nine-to-fiver). And freedom to write what I am most passionate about.

And because I write “made-up” stories, surely I have an additional freedom: freedom from research—right?

Um, no.

While fiction writers are allowed to take some liberties, there are times when we have no choice but to check our facts. The last thing I need, for example, is a tech-savvy twelve-year-old discounting my entire novel because his mother, a Silicon Valley telecommunications expert, has explained how dropped cellphone calls work–only to find that the author got those facts wrong.

I can’t have my credibility going down the crapper–so I research.

In Vanish, my recent middle-grade release, I did extensive research about parental child abductions. Here is some of the information I learned:

  • Do not assume an abducted child is safe because he/she is with a parent.
  • Abducted children suffer emotional trauma due to their lack of contact with the left-behind parent whom they are often told no longer loves them or has died.
  • The social, educational and health needs of an abducted child are often compromised because of the abducting parent’s obsession with concealing the child’s identity.
  • Abducted children live secluded lives and often are not permitted to form any connections beyond the abducting parent.
  • Parental abduction is an act of anger; not of love.

While I don’t overtly state these facts in Vanish, they are among the “great bulk” that supports the story–hopefully grounding my novel and offering my middle-grade readers a richer, more compelling reading experience with their quiet presence.