A Sobering Time

 I find it hard to focus on storytelling with war being waged on Ukraine and its people.

Canada has the largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine, so it’s not surprising that we’re feeling this collectively on a deep level. My maternal grandfather’s family came from Odessa. Barry’s grandparents immigrated from Ukraine and settled on a farm in Manitoba. Their experience fleeing Ukraine and the subsequent Canadian internment of Ukrainians as ‘enemy aliens’ during and after World War 1 led me to write Lesia’s Dream. I wrote it, in part, so my children would understand their ancestors’ struggles and bravery. But I also wrote it because it occurred to me then, as it does now, that we often turn our cultural icons into heroes, yet it’s the individual acts of heroism, often unseen or unrecognized, that truly count.

And once again, the Ukrainian people are demonstrating true heroism, only this time the world is watching.

The war in Ukraine is not the only conflict or hot spot in the world – I know that – but it’s the conflict that’s on my mind right now. It’s the one that has our family asking, ‘what can we do?’ If you’re asking yourself the same question, here are some organizations that could use your support.

The Canada Ukraine Foundation:


The Ukrainian Red Cross:


Nova Ukraine:


Global Medic:


Doctors Without Borders:




Save the Children:


Choose Love:


World Central Kitchen:


Help Us Help:


Rallying for People

Normally in this space I blog about books and the writing life, and sometimes about my garden or my dogs or how the raccoons are tearing up the pond yet again. The main point of today’s blog is to share this link:  https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/canadian-childrens-authors-and-illustrators-suppor/

Canadian children’s authors and illustrators have joined together in an effort to raise money to support Syrian refugees. Inspired by the enormously successful UK fundraising campaign organized by British YA author Patrick Ness, Sarah Harvey and Robin Stevenson have started a similar fundraising campaign in Canada. They’re asking those who can to make a small contribution to Doctors Without Borders, an independent medical relief group that operates medical facilities in Syria and supports more than 100 clinics and hospitals in the country. Their original goal to raise $10,000 was met in 72 hours so the goal has been doubled to $20,000.

In case you’ve missed the news, the situation is dire. The conditions for people fleeing Syria and other parts of the Middle East are horrific. Doctors Without Borders is providing very direct help, and the above link will take you to the signup sheet for a donation. It’s easy to contribute and you don’t need to be an author or an illustrator to do it. You don’t have to pledge much. You don’t have to pledge at all. This isn’t about pressure or guilt or anything remotely close. It’s an opportunity.

I know there are opportunities everywhere. There’s need everywhere too. There are homeless people downtown and people out of work and seniors who can’t afford the drugs they need and single mothers who don’t know where they’ll get money for next week’s school lunches and the food banks are low on donations. And we have our own bills to pay and the economy sucks and on and on it goes.

It’s exhausting, really. I’m exhausted thinking about it. But I’m not half as exhausted as those Syrian parents who are piling their families into a leaky boat for a life threatening trip to Europe.

Refugee numbers, worldwide, are mushrooming at a staggering rate. Since 2013 alone, the United Nations has documented a four-fold increase. Millions of people are impacted, many of them women and children. I’ve heard people say it’s too far away; they can’t relate. Others bring up the terrorist and security issue. But this isn’t about terrorism or security or politics. And how far is too far away?

If most of us dig far enough back into our own personal history, chances are we’d  find an ancestor or two who fled untenable conditions without much more than the clothes on their backs. Or maybe they migrated here under relatively comfortable conditions. But migrate they did and they probably had a helping hand along the way. It’s easy to forget that. It’s easier still to believe this isn’t about us.

When my kids were young, I told them about my husband’s family who fled a dictatorship in Europe and came to Canada. They couldn’t relate. That was one of the reasons I wrote Lesia’s Dream which highlights the Ukrainian immigration and subsequent internment at the start of World War 1. In writing that book, I spent many hours thinking about our ancestors. Those people who crossed oceans and endured hardship to give themselves, their children, and their children’s children, a better life.

To give my children a better life.

So Sarah and Robin and the rest of the Canadian children’s authors and illustrators aren’t rallying for a cause. We’re rallying to help fellow human beings. And we hope you will too.

Notes From the Road


TD Canadian Children’s Book Week started with a bit of a jolt when I arrived at my first presentation in beautiful Elora, Ontario to find my audience waiting! A  communication mix up between two librarians resulted in two grade three classes arriving half an hour early for my talk. Luckily, they were happy to wait while I set up and it meant I had more time to get to my second presentation in Guelph later that day.

I’m in Waterloo today where I’m talking to grades five and six students at two local libraries. This morning’s talk is about writing Hot New Thing. This afternoon, I’ll focus on Lesia’s Dream.

I’m off to present in New Hamburg and then Stratford tomorrow before driving to Woodstock where I’ll spend the night. Friday, I’ll speak to students in that community before driving back to Waterloo where I’ll drop the rental car and catch a bus to Toronto.

Highlights from the road so far: when talking about how story ideas often come from real life events, one grade three student told us how his father had been shot in the knee with a rifle. A neighbor did it, the student said. By accident, of course. But there was tons of blood and everybody was scared, except the family dog didn’t mind because he actually finds the smell of blood appealing. It was just the opportunity I needed to talk about how conflict – in this case, a shooting  – can impact everybody (even dogs) differently.  After the session ended, the teacher quietly informed me that the ‘real life’ rifle shooting incident the student spoke about was all fiction. She knows the family. It never happened. Given the range of details in the student’s ‘real life’ event, I suspect I was listening to a future writer.

It’s a real honor to be picked to tour. I must thank the Canadian Children’s Book Centre for coordinating the week, as well as all the teachers and librarians who have greeted me so warmly in every community. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to get out from behind my desk and talk about books and writing to so many excited students.

One Stop Title Shop

ArtoftheTItleThere are times when a one stop title shop would come in handy. Though I’m an ambivalent shopper at the best of times – and rarely have trouble coming up with titles myself – it’s frustrating when a title is elusive.

Most of my titles arrive, in one form or another, as I’m writing a book. Sometimes the title occurs to me before I even start.  I get attached to my titles too. Seriously attached. In the same way I’m attached to my eyes or any other body part.  They become part of the whole and not something I want to live without.

So title changes can be challenging.

A few weeks ago, my editor at Orca Book Publishers said I needed to change the title for an upcoming young adult novel. The original title – Flavor of the Week – was a perfect fit, except for one thing. The word flavor can be spelled with a u (the Canadian and British spelling) or without a ‘u’ which is the American version.  Orca prints and distributes their books in both Canada and the U.S. and they use American spelling.  So I did too when I typed out the word flavor. It was all good, or so I thought.  But while Canadian readers are, for the most part, happy with American spelling, they tend not to like American spelling in their titles.  And who wants to annoy a reader before they even open the book? Not Orca and not me.

A title change was necessary.

This happened to me once before.  Lesia’s Dream was originally titled Under a Prairie Sky. I loved that title. It was as perfect as my right arm. HarperCollins liked the title too. So did Anne Laurel Carter. When she released her own Under a Prairie Sky (a delightful picture book) the season before my YA came out, HC quickly requested a title change.  It took numerous brainstorming sessions and a lot of back and forth but eventually we came up with Lesia’s Dream.  Which I love.

So, with a little more brainstorming and exchanging of lists, I’m sure we’ll come up with a fitting replacement for Flavor of the Week.   In the meantime, if you know of any one stop title shops, could you let me know?