Interview with Sarah Ellis

We’re back with another great Red Cedar Award author interview! The Red Cedar Club at Ecole Heather Park Elementary in Prince George, Summer, Torrin, Erin, Trista, Mya, Leila, Megan and Maya, and their Teacher-Librarian Ms. Maria Weisgarber, interviewed Sarah Ellis, author of Outside In.


Questions about Outside In

What inspired you to write Outside In?

Every day I walk in a big park near my house,  Queen Elizabeth Park. There is a reservoir at the top of this park.  I often go “off-road” into the trails where the gardeners have their compost boxes and the maintenance workers keep their tools.  One day I noticed a metal door in the side of the reservoir.  I wondered what was behind it.  I started to think about living under the reservoir.  Then I started thinking about living entirely off the grid.  How could you manage it?  Where would you get food? Clothing?  Education?  Could you live without money? What kind of a family might live that way?

Where did the idea of Underlanders come from?  Do you know any people who live like the Underlanders in the story?

I don’t personally know any Underlanders but once I invented them I started to notice magazine articles and documentary films  about people who live in our society in different ways.  There are people who grow all their own food in their own gardens.  There are people who trade skills and goods, rather than using money.  There are people who make art out of junk.  There are people who live in the subway. There are people who “glean,” going over harvested fields and picking up the produce that the machines missed.  There are people who live in city parks.

How did you come up with Lynn’s nickname “Sixer”?

Ha!  That’s a good question.  When I was a kid I was a Brownie and then a Girl Guide.  Sixers were the leaders of the little groups.  Was this Brownies or Guides, I can’t remember.  Was I ever a sixer?  Can’t remember that either.

Does the tall building Tron jumps from really exist?

Not that I know off.  The kind of jumping Tron does is called “Base Jumping” and you can see it on youtube.  But I made up the actual location.  (Do I need to say this?  Base jumping from buildings is illegal for good reason.  It’s hugely dangerous. A young Vancouver man was killed just last year.   But my characters sometimes do things that are foolish and I figured that this is exactly the sort of thing that Tron would do.)

Questions about writing

Why do you write?

I’m a reader and I’ve had such pleasure from reading my whole life that the idea of giving somebody else that pleasure makes me feel that writing is a worthwhile thing to do.  I also just plain like doing it.  I enjoy getting the words right.  I like going out in the world and seeing something or hearing something and thinking “Hey, that would make a good bit in a story*.”  Being a writer makes you notice things and pay attention.  It makes the world a more interesting place.  And I like the feeling at 5 p.m. that I’ve created something that didn’t exist at 9 a.m.  Just our of my own head!

*For example here’s something I just found out about:  There are adults who love Disneyland so much that they go there at least once a month, just by themselves, without kids.  Now, I went to Disneyland once with a couple of kids and I had fun, but ONCE A MONTH?!  Are you kidding me? What’s that about?  The question, “What’s that about?” is a very good story starter.

When did you write your first book?

My first book was published in 1986.  (Back when dinosaurs walked the earth.)

Are you writing any books right now?

Yes, I’ve got a short chapter book for little kids about a boy and his new baby sister.  That one will be illustrated and it is pretty much done.  I think the title will be Liam and Sophie.  And I’m working on a novel for you folks about a family that takes in an American draft dodger in 1970. It is going to be about war and friendship and (yikes) love.   (That one is a little bit autobiographical.)  I’ve got 50,000 words and I keep adding more and so far it is a BIG MESS.  I’m working on sorting out the mess.  Believe it or not, that’s fun for me.

By the way, if you’ve got some time, could you do me a favour and  tell me what the title “Square Five” might suggest to you? Anything? Hint:  did any of you used to play hopscotch?

Questions about Sarah Ellis

Are you married and do you have kids or pets?

I’m not married and I have no kids of my own (nieces, nephews, step-daughter, foster grandchildren, there are important kids in my life)

As for pets:  Memo the cat has just arrived from Catfe.  She’s called Memo because as soon as she arrived at my place she jumped into the in-tray in my office.  She is sociable and funny.  Here she is:


Do you have siblings?

Yes, two older brothers.  One is a retired policeman and one is an artist. We all like to make things.

A big thank you to the Red Cedar Club at Ecole Heather Park Elementary in Prince George for this great interview!

Stay tuned to the blog for more great interviews with Red Cedar Award nominees!

Interview with Richard Scrimger

We’ve got another great interview on the blog today! The students at Spring Creek Community School in Whistler interviewed Zomboy author Richard Scrimger.

Teacher-Librarian Sara Leach says, “due to a technical glitch the recording of the interview didn’t work, so it is our best collective memory of his answers, rather than a direct transcript. He sounded much more eloquent live than we make him sound!”

1. What inspired you to write Zomboy?

My son liked zombies and I wanted to write one about friendly zombies.

2. What’s your process? How long does it take you?

It starts with an idea and I write them down. Then I write a draft. It takes about one to two months to write a draft of a book, and a year to get it out in published form. Writing is all about rewriting until you get the best draft possible. I’ve written 20 books in 20 years, so it works out to about a book a year.

3. What are you working on now?

I have three books coming out this year. One of them is a book call Lucky Jonah about a magic camera. When you take a picture you switch places with the person in the picture. It’s about a boy who is being bullied by his brother. He lives twelve lives in a day.

I’m also working on another book that’s a cross between Through the Looking Glass and Old Yeller. This guy falls through the world because he’s sad about his dad dying.

4. What are your hobbies?

Squash, running, playing with my kids, going to the coffee shop and the bar. I don’t watch many sports except baseball. We have a good baseball team in Toronto but our hockey team has been really bad for a very long time.

5. What books do you like to read?

I like to read fiction. I don’t like non-fiction. I like Gordon Korman. It doesn’t matter too much what kind of book, it just has to have a good story.

6. What will happen after Zomboy?

If I write a sequel the characters would go to Toronto and problems would happen to them. [spoiler deleted]

7. If we liked Zomboy what else might we like to read?

Arthur Slade, Martha Jocelyn, Kenneth Oppel.

A big thank you to Teacher-Librarian Sara Leach, the students at Spring Creek Community School, and Richard Scrimger for this great interview!

Interview with Becky Citra

We’ve got a really exciting post for you today! Students from Ecole South Sahali in Kamloops interviewed Red Cedar Award nominee Becky Citra, author of Finding Grace, and have shared their interview with us!

Finding Grace

1. How did you get the idea for your book?

I am a twin and like Hope and Grace I am very close to my twin. I have written another book about twins, so this is my second one. I also wanted to write about adoption, as my daughter is adopted.

2. Where did you get the inspirations for the characters?

I used to be a teacher and I have a daughter and a stepson, so I have met many young people over the years. I use bits of different people in all of my characters. Hope was the first character that I created and I wanted the twins to be similar but not exactly the same.

3. How did you get the idea of two sisters, not knowing the other existed?

I like to write stories with mysteries in them to keep the readers reading. Hope had to look for clues to find Grace. I have read stories in the news of twins reuniting after many years apart and that has always interested me.

4. Does the book connect to your life story?

I never write about myself exactly, but I need to write about what I know. The novel is all fiction, but it is written about a place that I know well: Harrison Hot Springs. I spent many vacations in Harrison Hot Springs as a young girl, the same age as Hope and Grace. When I was a young girl, a girl in one of my classes had polio and that’s where I got the idea for that.

5. What was the message that you wanted to tell the readers?

When I start writing, that is when the characters and the story come to life. I only re-read it when the book is published. It is then that I ask myself, “what was I trying to say?”. For Finding Grace, it is that different families exist. Grace and her aunt were a family and Hope and her mom and granny were a family. Two different families, but both happy. I also wanted to show that Hope had a lot of determination. She needed that to find her twin.

6. Are there some traits of yourself in the characters?

Yes, I am more like Hope and less like Grace. I had a happier childhood than Hope.

7. Where did you get the idea for the book cover?

The publisher picks the cover and I rarely get asked for input. I usually see the cover when I see the published book. I realize that this cover might only appeal to girls and I had some concerns about that, but I am happy with the cover. Covers are very important.

8. What inspired you to be an author?

I loved reading as a child. I had stacks and stacks of books on the go. We didn’t have as many choices back then, but I always loved reading. I also loved to write and was always writing stories. After I became a teacher, I didn’t write because I didn’t have much time, but I always kept reading. I liked to read stories to my classes and I thought that I could write one. Finally, I started a book and I would write in the early morning. It took me 3 years to write my first book. I wrote it 2 – 3 times; it was a lot of work.

9. What types of books do you like to read?

I read a lot of kids books. I also love mysteries and animal stories.

10. What made you decide to set the story in the 1950’s?

There are a few reasons. I wanted to have Hope look for Grace in a way that wouldn’t be easy like it might be today with the internet. With Grace having polio, the story had to be set in the 1950’s since polio isn’t a disease in Canada today. The third reason was that I wanted to write about Harrison Hot Springs as it would have been when I visited it as a child.

Thanks so much to Melisa Hunter, Teacher-Librarian at Ecole South Sahali, and to her amazing students for this great interview, and a special thanks to Becky Citra for sharing her thoughts with us!

Stay tuned for more great interviews with Red Cedar Award nominees coming soon!

Grown-Ups Read – The Swallow

We’ve got another great grown-up book review to share with you today! Cathy, one of our great adult volunteers, and Chair of the Red Cedar Awards, has been reading Charis Cotter’s mysterious novel, The Swallow.

The Swallow: A Ghost Story is a book about loneliness, family secrets, and the power of friendship. It centers around two twelve year old girls in 1960s Toronto. Rose and Polly are brought together when Rose moves in to the house next door to Polly’s. 

Both girls are lonely and isolated from their families, but for completely different reasons. Rose is an only child, often left alone by her career focused parents. Polly feels ignored in her busy household filled with rambunctious younger twin brothers and older foster sisters.

Their home lives are dissimilar, and so are their personalities. Both girls are very relatable, but Rose is mysterious & cautious while Polly is humorous & adventurous. The girls find common ground in their shared interest in ghosts. When they first meet, each initially believes the other IS a ghost! The friendship develops and an adventure ensues (they conveniently live across the street from a graveyard), with genuinely spooky results.

One could describe this book as a paranormal The Secret Garden. It is a beautifully written, suspense-filled book that will appeal to middle grade readers and grown-ups alike.


Besides being the fearless leader of the Red Cedar Awards, Cathy is a librarian at the West Vancouver Public Library.

Dunces Rock Contest Winners!

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 4.47.41 PMKate Jaimet, author of Red Cedar Award nominee Dunces Rock, has just announced the winners of the Dunces Rock Songwriting Contest! There were so many amazing contest entries to choose from that she’s decided to award two winners, one for best video, and one for best song lyrics.

The prize for best video goes to Amy Attalla, for her lovely song lovely song “Ms. Mills is the best”, which she set to the tune of Simon & Garfunkle’s Scarborough Fair.

The prize for best lyrics goes to Mia Herman and her song “Rules”, which Kate Jaimet says “exemplifies the sassy spirit of the Dunces.”

Each lucky winner will received a signed copy of either Dunces Anonymous or Dunces Rock!

Head over to Kate Jaimet’s website for a chance to watch Amy’s video and read Mia’s song lyrics.

Congratulations to our talented winners, and thank you to everyone who entered this exciting contest, well done everyone!

Grown-Ups Read – Finding Grace

We’re excited to announce a new feature here on the Red Cedar Blog – Grown-ups Read! Some of the great volunteers who help make the Red Cedar Awards possible will be sharing with us the Red Cedar Award nominees they’ve been reading. We’re kicking things off with Jane, who’s been reading Finding Grace by Becky Citra.

Imagine finding out that your imaginary friend is actually a real person! For years Hope has been pouring out her heart to her friend Grace, writing letters about all the good things and bad things in her life. Like the fact that her mom is so sad these days that she can’t even get out of bed sometimes, so the family has to keep moving because her mom can’t seem to hold a job or make the rent. Hope always thought Grace was just someone in her imagination, but when she discovers a shocking secret that her family has been hiding from her all her life, Hope realizes that Grace is a real person after all, and that nothing about her family is quite as it seems.

The story takes place in two different B.C. locations – Vancouver and Harrison Hot Springs – and although it’s set in the 1950s, readers will likely still be able to relate to Grace. A lot of her feelings and experiences will still be familiar to kids today, and readers will really get to know Grace and her family. This is definitely worth picking up for kids who like stories about friendships, family, life in the past, and gutsy girls!

Finding Grace

Jane Whittingham is a children’s librarian in Vancouver, and helps coordinate the social media content for the Red Cedar Awards.

The first Red Cedar Award nonfiction winner

We’re firing up the time machine again for a look at the winner of the very first Red Cedar Award for Nonfiction, awarded in May 1998.

The recipient of this first award was In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae, by Lisa Granfield, which has since become a Canadian Remembrance Day classic.

flandersIn this award-winning book, the lines of the celebrated poem are interwoven with fascinating information about the First World War (1914-1918) and details of daily life in the trenches in Europe. Also included are accounts of McCrae’s experience in his field hospital and the circumstances that led to the writing of “In Flanders Fields.”

Author Linda Granfield was born and grew up in the United States, but moved to Canada to study at the University of Toronto. Her books have won many awards, including Best Books selection – Ontario Library Association, Best Nonfiction for Children -Canadian Library Association, and of course the Red Cedar Award for Nonfiction. She is passionate about history, and a lot of time and research go into the making of every one of her award-winning children’s books.

The book was illustrated by award-winning Canadian artist, author and speaker Janet Wilson. Ms. Wilson has published over fifty books for children and young adults! She is passionate about social justice, and has written and illustrated several books about children around the world who are working hard to make the world a better place.

Have you read In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae? Which book do you think will take home the award in 2016? Let us know in the comments below!

Introducing the Cozy Slipper Book Club!

Today we’re thrilled to feature an enthusiastic elementary school book club here on the Red Cedar blog. The Cozy Slipper Book Club comes to us from West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver. They were interviewed by their school librarian Danielle Wing. Here’s what they had to say!


How often does your book club meet?

We meet every week on Wednesdays at lunch recess in our newly updated library.

How many people are in your club?

Our club varies from day to day depending on the different events happening in the school!

What is the name of your club?

We are The Cozy Slipper Book Club.

What kind of books do you like reading?

We like to read horror books, mystery books, adventure books and fantasy books.

…actually, we love to read all books!

Where are your favourite places to read?

  • In the library bean bag chairs

  • In my grandpa’s lazy boy chair

  • In the kitchen while cooking and eating!

…actually, we read everywhere!

What are your other interests?

Knitting, crocheting, dancing, swimming, baking and skating!

Thanks for that great interview, Cozy Slipper Book Club! We can’t wait to hear what you think of all the Red Cedar nominees.
Are you reading the Red Cedar nominees with your class or book club? We’d love to hear about it! Email us your information at redcedaraward@gmail and we’ll share it on our blog.

Amy’s Promise – Red Cedar Award Winner 1998

As we set off on another great Red Cedar award season, let’s fire up that time machine and take a trip back in time to where the awards began.

The very first Red Cedar Awards were handed out in May 1998. The winner of the inaugural award for fiction was Bernice Thurman Hunter’s historical novel Amy’s Promise.

amyAmy Phair’s world fell apart when her mother died. Her baby sister was taken away, and now Gramma Davis keeps her busy cooking and cleaning for three young brothers and a neglectful father. It isn’t fair . .. but Amy promised her mama she’d watch over them all. Still, Amy can dream: dreams of beautiful music, of having a sister, of a father who can love his children again. But what can a twelve-year-old do to make promises come true?

Bernice Thurman Hunter was born in Toronto in 1922, and although her childhood was difficult, and poverty meant she didn’t get a chance to pursue her dream of attending university, Bernice never lost her sense of humour or her cheerful personality. She always wanted to be a writer, and regularly wrote and told stories to entertain her children and grandchildren, but she didn’t publish her first book until she was 59 year old. Bernice eventually published more than 15 books for young people, most of them set in the past, and was made a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of her contribution to Canadian children’s literature. She passed away in 2002.

Have you read Amy’s Promise? Which book do you think will take home the Red Cedar award for fiction in 2016? Let us know in the comments below!

Richard Scrimger is coming to town!

Richard_SwrimgerExciting news, Red Cedar Group Leaders! Richard Scrimger is coming to BC this spring.  He knows the Greater Vancouver Area best, but would certainly consider visiting other parts of the province if there is enough interest.

Richard has written 20 books for children and adults, and his work has received multiple awards and been translated into a number of different languages. His last 3 novels feature a developmentally-challenged teen, a depressed zombie, and an onion-ring fan who falls into a steam-punk comic. Plots involve a ghost-wolf grampa, school bussing, a robotic lammergeyer and a brief apocalypse. Fortunately, confusion is Richard’s natural state.

Richard’s presentations are all about story — enjoying it, understanding it, creating it. For grades JK-2, he explains a simple formula: experience + ideas = story. The group shares experiences, and the audience participates in a raucous read-along. For middle grades (3-6) Richard recounts an event from his own life to model techniques of story-building. Then he and the audience create their own story using some of those techniques.

For seniors (7-8) Richard shows how to twist dark truths inside us to make convincing stories. He and the audience put together a story from bits and pieces of truth, and discover what works, what doesn’t, and why.


There is no maximum number of students per session: Typical would be 60-100. Fewer students means more interaction. Over a certain number (say, 150) Richard might charge more.

Richard offers Professional Development Workshops for teachers, educators, story builders. He has given key-note addresses across Canada, and conducted story workshops on 4 continents. He is comfortable in any venue – classroom, library, auditorium, gymnasium, concert hall, phone booth.

To learn more about Richard, visit his website.