Q: What inspired you to write this book? Did the story come from a personal experience?
A: I am often asked this question, but to be honest, Bird Child did not come from a particular incident. As a teacher, I see a great deal of bullying. I wanted to empower kids with the knowledge that we can each make a difference in the life of another. The idea of standing up for someone who needs you is a message that has always been close to my heart and this came across through my writing.
One day, I was driving home through the country, listening to Erik Satie, and the idea of flying beyond these difficulties came to me. I pulled over and jotted down my ideas and this was the beginning of Bird Child.
Q: Do you think you are more like Lainey or Eliza?
A: First of all, I must tell you that I love this question. No one has ever asked me this before!
I think growing up, I was probably more Lainey. I was quite shy and I am not sure I would have had the confidence to stand up and say stop. I remember both bullying others as a bystander within a group, and also being bullied. Bullying seemed to be an accepted part of growing up back then. I think we are finally seeing it for what it is: cruel anti-social behaviour that can destroy the life and self-esteem of another.
As an adult, I believe I have become an Eliza and I really focus on convincing others - my children, my students, or groups of students at a reading - to speak out when they see injustice. My husband and I have done some traveling in developing countries and this has made me painfully aware of the global injustices in the world. We really try to live our lives and raise our kids to be aware of injustices in our community and in our world and to do something about it. Craig and Marc Kielburger and Greg Mortensen have some great books for kids and adults on these topics. One of my favourites for parents is “The World Needs Your Kid” by Craig and Marc Kielburger.
Q: How did you come up with the message, "Look down and see what is. Now, look up and see what can be." Was this told to you by your own parents?
A: No, this message did not come to me from my parents, though my parents did instill in me a deep respect for all and a belief that everyone should be treated with equality and dignity. I think the message came from the idea of flight. I am big on description and after I described what Eliza was seeing from the air, both above her and below her, the line about looking upwards toward possibilities evolved.
Q: What do you suggest to people who are being bullied or watching someone get bullied?
A: I think the most important thing you can do is to not be silent. Talk with an adult about the bullying you are experiencing or the bullying you are witnessing. Speak with a parent or a teacher or anyone you trust. If that adult doesn’t seem to listen, or does nothing, tell another adult. Not only can an adult intervene to stop the situation, if necessary, but he or she can also give you the courage, support and guidance for you to stand up to the bully.
Speaking up and telling the bully to stop and challenging the bully to see the point of view of the person being bullied is also a brave and important step to stopping the bully. When we do nothing, we are giving the bully more and more power.
And finally, befriending the person who is being bullied, even standing close to that person, takes some power away from the bully and gives the person being bullied greater confidence and a needed sense of belonging.
I recently read an amazing quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that said, “It’s not the violence of the few that scares me. It’s the silence of the many.”
Q: Do you write full time? Or do you have another job?
A: In addition to being a writer, I am a mother and a teacher. I currently teach Kindergarten in Kitchener. Though it takes time away from my writing, teaching and being out in the world gives me much inspiration. I also get ideas from my own children and the things they say and do.
Q: What is the first thing that you think about when you sit down to write? How do you start a story?
A: I rarely start a story by sitting down and writing. I usually take little notes on the backs of napkins, scraps of paper, sticky notes. I notice something when I am out somewhere or think of an idea I want to explore. That idea keeps growing and changing in my mind and in notebooks long before I actually sit down to begin the story. With a picture book, I like to have the entire arc of the story in my mind before I begin. With a novel, I write little chapters and excerpts, not necessarily in order, until a story begins to form.
When I have the story ready in my mind, I like to read the very best books I can find, in the style I am trying to achieve. This seems to give me a rhythm for my writing and something great to strive for. Just as watching Sidney Crosby can improve your hockey game, reading great books can really improve your writing abilities!
Q: Are you working on any other books now?
A: I do have a couple of new books coming out. In Fall 2011, I have another picture book forthcoming with Tundra Books about an Old Order Mennonite girl. This is a subtle coming-of-age story told through a series of narrative poems. The poems go through each month of the year and describe little happenings in the life of Naomi, such as trying to ride her brother’s bike that she is forbidden to ride, attending her first quilting bee, and imagining a dress in a more “worldly” fabric. There is a recipe, using seasonal ingredients, to accompany each month.
I am especially excited about the illustrations for this story. Peter Etril Snyder is an amazing artist, specializing in artwork depicting Old Order Mennonites. He has come out of retirement for this commission. He is using my 9-year-old daughter as the model, as Old Order Mennonites cannot be photographed because of their faith. We take specific pictures and he sends us the sketches and paintings. It has been an exciting process.
I also have something coming out for the educational market this fall that will be in the form of a Big Book and CD for classroom use. Scholastic is actually setting my kid’s poem to music and I am looking forward to that!
After that, I will hand my editor some more of my work and see if something catches her eye. I have a number of picture book manuscripts completed and I have some partial novels on the go. As my children are getting older, I am spending the summer reading as many novels for young people as I can find, and I may see if this genre wears off on me a bit. A novel is a big commitment and I want to make sure I find a topic I can live with for an extended amount of time.