What inspired you to write Heart of a Champion?
I was watching TV one night and I came upon a documentary about the Vancouver Asahi baseball team. I had never heard of them, and I was amazed to hear how great they were—not
just great baseball players, but great role models through their dignity and pride in the face of
racism against people of Japanese descent. When the program was finished, I thought to
myself, “Every Canadian kid should know about the Vancouver Asahis.” So, since I write
children’s books, I decided to write a book about them.
What kind of books do you like reading and writing?
I love reading and writing all kinds of books, but I think the thing that draws me the most is
characters. I want to get inside the skin of a character and feel what that person is feeling and
learn what that character learns and grow along with the character. So I love to read and write
books where characters feel things deeply and grow and change in some way.
Most of my books are middle-grade novels, for kids 8 to 12 years old, although I have written a
few picture books and a few novels for teens. I wish I could write more picture books, but my
ideas mostly come as stories for older kids.
My favourite book when I was a kid was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The
interesting thing about that book is that the main character, Mary Lennox, is totally unlikable at
the beginning. She is a vain, selfish, spoiled brat. And yet you root for her and care about her,
and it is so wonderful when she begins to change and become a nicer, more caring person. I still read The Secret Garden every year or so to try to figure out how the author does it (and I never can).
Which of your books is your favourite?
Agh, I hate that question! It’s like asking a parent which is her favourite kid. But if I had to
choose just one, I would say Mr. Belinsky’s Bagels, one of my picture books. The character of
Mr. Belinsky is based on my grandfather. My grandfather was not a baker, but he was a sweet,
kind man just like Mr. Belinsky. And, interestingly, Mr. Belinsky looks just like my grandfather,
even though the illustrator, Stefan Czernecki, never met him or saw a picture of him.
When did you start writing books?
When I was 30. My first career was as a special education teacher. At the same time, I was very
interested in the environment and energy conservation. So I started by writing a couple of
educational stories for kids about conserving energy. I sold one of them to the Province of
British Columbia and the other one to the National Film Board. I found that I enjoyed writing
and that it came naturally to me, so I tried writing a regular story. That was Dusty, which
became my first book.
How many books have you written?
Sixteen books for kids and one for adults. I have a chapter book coming out this spring called
The Princess Dolls, for 7 to 10 year olds. That’ll be my 18th book.
Who do you look up to?
Frances Hodgson Burnett, as I mentioned above. My favourite Canadian children’s author is
Susin Neilsen. In my opinion, she is brilliant at writing stories about sad and complex subjects
but doing it in a hilarious way. Her books make me laugh and cry. That’s what I try to do, too.
What book are you working on now?
I’m writing a middle grade novel called Up in the Sky. It’s about a girl named Sophie whose
father has died in a helicopter crash. Sophie and her dad used to build remote-controlled model airplanes together, and they were in the middle of building one when her dad died. Sophie wants to finish the model, but she can’t, because she has a reading disability and she can’t read the manual. And now her mom has a new boyfriend . . .
Do you get calluses from typing? Or other injuries related to your job?
No, thankfully. I write the first draft of my books longhand with a pen and paper, so sometimes
my hand gets cramped from holding a pen for hours. But I can stretch out the sore muscles.
What’s your favourite colour?
Turquoise, followed closely by purple. Interesting question!
-Sara Leach, Teacher-Librarian, Spring Creek Community School and the Spring Creek Community School Red Cedar Book Club