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Top Interview of Top Dogs Author!

Abbotsord Christian interviews Top Dogs author Elizabeth MacLeod:

  1. What inspired you to write this book?

I knew there were lots of great stories about dogs in history and dogs who have shown incredible bravery during war time. I wanted to share these tales with kids. I’d just written a similar book about horses (called Galloping Through History), and I know how much kids like dogs so I hoped readers would really enjoy Top Dogs.

  1. Do you have a dog?

I don’t have a dog but almost all of my neighbours do, so there are lots in the neighbourhood. I have a cat named Cosimo, so of course I had to write about cats in history! If you like cats, you might like to read Super Cats.

  1. What is your favorite dog? When researching this book, did you discover your favorite breed or have your mind changed about your favorite breed?

My best friend has a Tibetan Spaniel, so think that’s my favourite breed of dog. Carmen (the dog) looks a lot like the Pekingese on page 18 of Top Dogs. While I was writing the book, I also fell in love with Stubby, the little Boston terrier in chapter 3 of the book. I love the image of Stubby standing up on his two back legs and saluting his owner’s commanding officer!

  1. How long did it take you to write this book?

It took me about 5 months to write the book. That involves working with my wonderful editor to write a couple of different versions of the manuscript, each time making it better. Then I had to answer any questions from the copy editor — that’s the editor who really knows all the rules about grammar and punctuation. I also had a number of meetings with the photo researcher to help choose the best photos for the book. And finally I had to prepare the index, which takes a lot of very picky work. I was writing two other books at the same time, so I wasn’t working on Top Dogs exclusively.

  1. When you do research, where do you look for information?

I use as many sources as I can. I read lots of books, check Web sites (but only ones that I really trust, like encyclopedias, government institutions, etc.) and read newspapers and magazines. I also talk to experts — many are especially helpful when they find out I’m writing a book for kids. As well, I’m at my local library often, either picking up books, or getting help with my research. Librarians are really smart and very helpful!

  1. Did you have a dog as a child? Where did you grow up?

I’ve never owned a dog, not even as a child. (But we did have a cat named Jeremiah and many guinea pigs.) I grew up in Thornhill, Ontario, just north of Toronto.

  1. Where do you live now?

I live in Toronto but I love visiting British Columbia. You live in a beautiful province!

  1. How did you become interested in writing books? What age did you start?

I studied sciences at university — I think the whole time I was there, I only wrote one essay! (I DID have to write lots of lab reports, tests, etc.) After university, I took the Banff Publishing Workshop in Banff, Alberta, and I thanks to that course I soon got a job at OWL Magazine. While there, I started writing books — I think that was in the late 1980s.


  1. How many books have you written?

I’ve written around 65 books. I obviously really like writing!

  1. Have you ever been rejected by a publisher?  If so, what made you continue to write?

Like every author I know, I’ve had book ideas rejected by publisher. It hurts but I really love writing so I just have to keep trying and proposing new book ideas. It feel so great when a book proposal is accepted! Because I’m a non-fiction writer, I don’t have to write a whole book before getting a decision from a publisher about publishing it or not. I prepare an outline, describing what stories I think should be in the book, etc. It’s still a lot of research and work but not as much as writing the whole book.

  1. Why did you call the book “Top Dogs”?

If you read the introduction to the book, then you know there are lots of expressions with the word “dog” in them. That’s because dogs are so important to people. I thought it would be fun to use one of these expressions for the title. Luckily for me, my editor agreed! I don’t think we considered any other title for the book.


Vote May 6-17

Voting will be open from May 6-17 this year! Don’t forget to download your voting tallies at the Group Leader Resource site

Who will win? Not long now before we find out!

Author Presentation Opportunity

For Red Cedar Leaders!

A message from Sigmund Brouwer: The presentation, Vimy Ridge Today, tells the story of how Canadians succeeded (without any spoilers for the students reading the book!). Along the way, I encourage students to use story as foundation in their own expository writing. I also celebrate the ways that teachers in the classroom mirror the leaders of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and how we can all be better as team mates, similar to the soldiers in the trenches.

I would welcome anyone interested in learning more about the presentation to email me directly at: sbrouwer at Also, here is a link to the TVO interview that features Innocent Heroes: <>

Again, thanks!


South Sahali Elementary interviews Yolanda Ridge!

South Sahali Elementary’s interview with Yoland Ridge, author of Inside Hudson Pickle
Was the fire based on a true story? If it was, did the fire hurt anybody?
The fire was not based on one true story but a combination of two. When I was in University, a friend really did fall asleep with the kettle on. No one could believe she slept through both the kettle whistle and the fire alarm. Luckily, the people who lived upstairs heard it and managed to wake her up. No one was hurt and there wasn’t even a fire – the stove was turned off in time to prevent it. But when my mom was young, her house did burn down. Again, no one was hurt but her family lost everything. Because of that, my mom’s always been very worried about house fires. It’s something I thought about a lot during the last few summers with all the forest fires in BC – especially since I live on an acreage outside of Rossland surrounded by trees (and no fire hydrants).

What inspired you to write the story?

When I worked as a genetic counsellor, I had to tell an 18-year-old aspiring firefighter that based on the result of his genetic test, firefighting was the one profession he shouldn’t pursue. As someone who hates being told I can’t do something, this experience still affects me to this day.
Do you have asthma or do you know someone that has asthma?
No, I don’t have asthma. But my best friend growing up had asthma. And my son had it when he was younger.
What inspired you to become a writer?
My sons inspired me to write fiction for kids. (I have twins who just turned 13.) They had health problems when they were born so I had to quit my job. When I got short breaks from taking care of them, I was too tired to read. So I would escape into stories I wrote for myself. And since I was surrounded by young people, the heroes of my stories were young people and before I knew it – I was writing picture books and middle grade fiction.
How old were you when you first started writing?
I think I have always been a writer. When I was in elementary school, my family moved around a lot and I was always writing letters to my friends. As a teenager, I got into journal and poetry writing. Even when I became a scientist, I was still drawn to writing. I wrote scientific articles, informational pamphlets, and educational material for doctors – whenever something needed to be written, I would always volunteer. But I didn’t start writing stories until I was 33-years-old.
How long does it usually take you to complete a book?
It usually takes me about six months to write a complete manuscript. But it takes much longer for that manuscript to become a book. After I finished writing Inside Hudson Pickle, I spent another six months making changes based on feedback from my writing friends. Then it took me another six months to find an agent who could sell the book to a publisher. Once the publisher bought it, I spent another six months making more changes with the editors that work for them. By the time it was actually published into a book, at least two years had passed since I first started working on it.
What’s your favourite book of all the books you’ve written?
My favourite book of all the ones I’ve written hasn’t actually been published yet. It’s called Reasons to Tell and it’s about a competitive swimmer who has epilepsy. I haven’t sold it to a publisher yet but I’m hoping I will soon so you can all read it!
What’s your favourite book that you’ve read?
I fall in love with books easily so my favourite is usually the last one I read! I just finished Fadeaway by Maura Ellen Stokes. Now I’m starting Nikki on the Line by Barbara Carroll Roberts. I don’t always read sports books but there’s been some good ones about basketball published recently!
Do you have any other careers besides being an author?
I used to be a genetic counsellor, like the one Hudson and his family meets with. But now I just write and drive my boys around – which involves carrying my laptop with me to many hockey practices and libraries. (I’m actually writing this email at the ice rink!)
Is Hudson based on a person you know?
Hudson is the combination of a few different people I know. One of my friend’s sons did get cut from AAA hockey after a growth spurt. It was really hard on him because he didn’t know what else to do with himself. A lot of people I know – including one of my twins – sees the world through sport just like Hudson. I can relate to this because I spent a lot of my school years playing sports. And when I got cut from a provincial volleyball team, I put all my energy into basketball. So I guess I would saw that Hudson is based on many people I know – including myself!

Brentwood Interview with Charis Cotter!

Interview with Charis Cotter, author of The Painting,

Elizabeth Rayner, Elementary Teacher-Librarian, and students from Brentwood Elementary School (SD63)

A great many of us had the opportunity to read “The Painting”, but as you can see there are quite a few of us. For those of us who haven’t had the chance to yet, can you tell us a little bit about your book?

My book is set partly in Toronto and partly in Newfoundland. And it’s about two girls: Annie who lives in Toronto, and Claire who lives in a lighthouse in Newfoundland. What happens is that one night, Annie’s mother’s in a car accident and she’s in the hospital and she’s in a coma, which is like she’s asleep and she’s not waking up. She is very very sick. Annie’s at home with her dad and she’s very worried about her mother. She’s looking at a painting on her wall, and this is a painting that she found in the attic which is a painting of a lighthouse in Newfoundland.

As she’s looking at the painting, all of a sudden, she finds that the painting seems to be coming to life, and things are moving, and birds are flying. She can smell the ocean, and the next thing she knows she is walking into the painting and she finds herself on a road by the ocean in Newfoundland at night. There’s a moon, and she’s hearing someone call her name; calling, “Annie! Annie!” It’s coming from the lighthouse, so she goes into the lighthouse, and up the stairs, and in a room she finds a girl there, named Claire. When Claire first sees her, she’s really scared, but they start to talk.

What happens in the book is that Annie goes back and forth from Newfoundland and her house in Toronto, and she gets there through paintings. They are all paintings by a woman named Maisie King, and Maisie is Claire’s mother, and Maisie and Claire live at the lighthouse. There’s a mystery, because you don’t really know what’s going on, and there’s ghosts, and Annie’s worried about her mother. That’s a little bit about the setting of the book.

What inspired you to write “The Painting”?

I was born in Toronto, and I lived in Toronto for a lot of my life, but a few years ago, I bought a place, a little cottage, in Newfoundland. I loved Newfoundland so much I wanted to live there, but I had to keep coming back to Toronto in the winter time. I would go back and forth between Toronto and Newfoundland, and I always wished I could stay in Newfoundland. Annie can go to Newfoundland just by walking through a painting, whereas I have to go on an airplane and save up my money. That was partly what inspired me: wanting to be able to magically go from one place to another.

But I think I was also inspired by just the idea of girls and their mothers, and how sometimes girls fight with their mothers. I know I fought with my mother, and my daughter fought with me. Sometimes there’s misunderstandings, but underneath it all, you know your mother really loves you. So it’s about mothers and daughters and how they grow apart and how they come together.

Some of our kids were wondering if you were Annie or Claire in the story, would you make different choices than those characters, or would you make the same choices?

That’s a very good question. You know, when you’re writing, I’m sure you know if you’ve ever written a story with characters in it, you’re often writing about yourself in a way. I put a bit of myself in my characters, and I kind of feel that I probably would have made the same choices. Except, I think Claire and her mother really had a hard time, and I hope I would not be quite as stubborn as both of them were. I don’t know. When you’re writing, you try to write yourself into your characters in a way, so it’s hard to imagine them behaving any differently.

Why do you like to write scary stories?

It’s too bad we’re so far away, because I have a workshop that I do with kids which is teaching them how to write a ghost story. I use Newfoundland ghost stories to show them how you can build tension. But we’re too far away for that!

But first of all, I really like scaring little kids! Just for fun. Not scaring them too badly, but I love telling stories. I’m a storyteller, and I love being in a room with a crowd of kids like you and reading a story and getting you all on the edge of your seats. That’s fun!

I also really like the idea that there’s some spooky things in the world. Not everything is black and white. When you’re littler, you sometimes believe in magic. It’s hard to keep believing in magic sometimes, but I still believe in ghosts. I think that’s why like I writing spooky stories.

How do you build suspense in your stories?

I think it’s a matter of imagining yourself into the situation and going very slowly. I looked up the world; I think suspense came from a Latin word that means staircase. When you’re building suspense, you’re kind of going up stairs really slowly. The first stair, you’re telling a story that’s just a little bit scary. The second stair, you get a little more scary. You just feed out the information a little at a time. As you slowly climb the stairs, things are getting scarier and scarier, until you get to the very top where there’s the scariest thing.

So it’s a matter of going slowly. Often repeating things makes them scarier and making the audience wait. If I said, “Oh my goodness, I saw a ghost last night! It was so scary, and it came into my room! It was awful!” THat’s not as scary as, “Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night. I heard a noise, then I heard footsteps outside my door. Then, I heard my door slowly opening.” If I tell the story like that, I’m making you wait for the scary part. The longer you have to wait, the more scared you’re going to be. THat’s one of the tricks I use to build suspense.

Did you always want to be a writer? Is it your full-time job?
I think I always wanted to be a writer. When I was about your age, maybe grade four or five, I loved reading books, and I loved going into the world of the book. I think I kind of dreamed that maybe one day I could write books, and then it would be even better than reading them. I could live in them full time. I also wanted to be an actor for a while, and I studied acting, and went to acting school. It turned out that I wanted to be a writer more, and I’ve been writing part-time for a while because it’s hard to make all of your living from writing. Now in the last few years, I have been more or less writing full time. I have been trying to get a book to come out every one or two years. THere’s two other novels that I’ve written. One is called “The Swallow: A Ghost Story”. The next one that just came out last year is called “The Ghost Road”. That one is set in Newfoundland, and “The Swallow” is set in Toronto. I’ve written another book called “The Dollhouse” which is about a haunted dollhouse, but I haven’t got that one published yet so that’ll be a couple of years. I’m always working on a book, so I’m writing pretty much full time I’d say.

What does a “writing day’ look like for you?

I get up and I live by the ocean, so I like to get up and go for a walk after breakfast by the ocean. It clears the cobwebs out of my head and wakes me up. Then I go back and I’m usually writing by 9:30 or 10 and write for a couple of hours. Then I have lunch, and write for another hour or two in the afternoon. Then I do other things like housework, or other kinds of business stuff. Three or four hours a day of writing is about as much as I can get in. As you know, whenever you’ve written stories it takes a lot of brain power and concentration. I can’t really get up in the morning and work all day until it’s time to go to bed. That’s too hard.

How long does it take for you to write a book?
It depends on the book. My very first book it took seven years from the day I thought of the idea to when it appeared on the bookstore shelf. That’s because I was doing other work, and I was learning how to write a novel. I had to keep writing it again and again, different drafts. I’d say now it takes a year, to a year and a half. Now that I’m getting a little more used to doing it and I know a bit more what I’m doing.

We’ve been talking a lot about growth mindset, and how making mistakes is an important part of learning. I know writers often get rejections. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about how long it took to get your first book published? How did you stay inspired to keep writing?

I started writing a very long time ago, and I probably wrote three books that didn’t get published. That was over a period of ten or fifteen years, and I was busy doing other things. My other job was working in a publishing company as an editor, so I knew people in publishing. My very first book wasn’t a novel, it was a book about history in Toronto. I got that published through people that I worked with.

I ended up writing non-fiction, one was called “Kids Who Rule”, about kids who were kings or queens while they were still children. I wrote three books that were biographies about unusual children. It involved a lot of research, and it wasn’t my favourite thing to do.

I decided to stop writing non-fiction, and then it took me five years to change into writing novels and to find a publisher. I did get rejected. It’s really hard, because you have to keep telling yourself that you’re good, but you don’t really know you’re good unless someone else wants to publish your book! So you really have to develop a belief in yourself, and tell yourself every time you get rejected, “Okay, well that makes me sad and unhappy, and I’m disappointed. But what can I do next?” You always have to keep moving on, and say, “Okay that’s too bad, what but what can I do next?” You have to really be determined. And persistent. It means trying again and again and never giving up. That’s really important for writers. There’s an awful lot of people writing books out there who don’t get published, and if you’re going to stick at it, you got to do your best to write as well as you can and make a really good book. Keep at it, keep persisting.

What advice can you give us who are wanting to become writers?
What I usually say is, the most important thing to do is to read a lot of books. It gives you ideas, it introduces you to new words, and once you’re living a lot in your head, in the land of books, that will make you a good writer. The more you read, the better you’ll be.

I also tell kids, it’s really important to develop your imaginations. Some of the workshops I do, I go and do imagination games with kids. That’s something you’re born with, but you need to keep using it to make it work better. I tell kids they should daydream; just sit around, looking out the window, and making up stories in your head. If you see a tree outside and say, “I wonder what it would be like to build a treehouse in that tree, and what would it look like? What would I do in it?” That kind of daydreaming, making up stories in your head, is really important if you want to be a writer. If someone tells you to stop daydreaming, tell them, “I’m just getting ready to be a writer, actually!”

What is your favourite book that you have made?

Have you ever asked your mother which is her favourite child? Who she loves best? Would she say she loves you almost the same? My books are sort of like my children. Usually the one I love the best is the one that I’m working on right now, and right now I’m working on “The Dollhouse” so I love that one the best. My other books, I really love them all when I’m working on them, and afterwards I kind of leave them alone for awhile.

Do you ever get bored of writing?

Sometimes it’s so hard, and sometimes I get stuck and I don’t know what to write. Sometimes it’s just really hard work. That’s when I get frustrated, but I don’t get bored. I’m always making up stories and living with the characters in my stories. They’re always having adventures, and there’s ghosts and scary things happening. It’s never boring!

How long have you been writing?

I’ve probably been writing since I was in grade four, or even younger when we first started writing things to school! When I was grown up, I wrote a few books that didn’t get published. I was always writing for many many years. In 2004 was when I first got published, so you can say I’ve been a professional writer for fifteen years.

What is your favourite book that you haven’t written?

This is hard! It’s always hard, because I’m always finding a new one. I really love the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, that was my favourite book for a long time, and it’s three books in one. I really love a book called “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Marquez. Children’s books that I love are the Narnia books. I still love to read them now, and they were my favourite when I was your age. Probably, the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” was my favourite.

How do you get your ideas for new books?

Remember what I told you about daydreaming? I do a lot of daydreaming, and honestly, I get a lot of ideas when I’m out for walks. When I’m walking along, my mind gets freed up. And that thing I told you about looking out the window at a tree, and thinking I could build a treehouse there, that would make me start thinking, “What kind of person would live in a treehouse? What kind of books would happen in a treehouse?” I’m always thinking of ideas, and I’m always imagining things a little differently than they are in the real world.

What made you want to be a writer?

What I said before about liking reading so much, I just loved living in my imagination and I loved imagining things were different. When I’m writing a book, sometimes it’s really hard especially when I’m get the middle of the book and I can’t figure out what’s going to happen next, but most of the time I’m just sitting back, and I’m thinking, “Where am I going to go today? I’m going to go to this old house where there’s a haunted dollhouse, and I’m going to see what’s going to happen with these characters.” I have so much fun imagining myself into this land of the books, that I think that’s why I wanted to become a writer.

It’s very satisfying to create something, and to make something, that other people enjoy. One of the things I really enjoy doing is going into schools and meeting kids and today, on Skype, meeting you guys. I tell people that inside I’m ten years old, and I haven’t really grown up properly. That’s where I’ve stayed: ten. When I write about kids I can stay that age in my head, and think about things that kids think about instead of what grown-ups think about. It’s really more fun to be a kid!


Interview an Author!

It’s time again for author interviews!! Kids always ask such great questions.

The authors below have indicated they’re available for groups to interview. Send your top two choices to asap, and we’ll do our best to accommodate you. When you are matched, we will send details about making contact. As always, keep a transcript of your interview, then send it in to us to add to our blog!

Fiction authors:

Kallie George, Natalie Hyde, Anna Humphrey, Alex Lyttle, Yolanda Ridge, Linda Bailey, Sigmund Brouwer, Charis Cotter, and Emma Donoghue

Information authors:

Maria Birmingham, Claire Eamer, Joanne George, Linda Granfield, Monique Gray Smith, Ann Love, Jane Drake, Elizabeth MacLeod, Antonia Banyard, and illustrator Paula Ayer