Monday, 29 August 2016

It's 1903 and the ice cream is melting!

Me (in the rocking chair), Shawna Daigle (handing out crayons & art) at the CNE, Aug. 27/16. Photo courtesy CNE staff.

It's 1903 ... and the ice cream is melting! The CNE is the oldest continually running fair in Canada, it started in the late 1880s and has run during the last two weeks of August, ever since. 

Last weekend I was so honoured to read my newest book, Carter and the Curious Maze, (book 3, Weird Stories Gone Wrong), on the KidsWorld Stage there. Above is a photo of my fantastic illustrator, Shawna Daigle (who did all 22 illustrations, including the covers, for the series), and I getting ready. 

Ride the Switchback! (CNE archives, @1903)
The story is set on the CNE fairgrounds, and is about a young boy who travels back in time through a strange and magical maze. He visits three time periods all on the same spot: 1903 at the CNE, then 1813 during the Battle of York, and 1750 at Fort Rouille, a little-known French fur-trading post, which still has a memorial on the CNE grounds.

I read for about 10 minutes, taking kids back to what that very spot would have been like in 1903 ... they seemed pretty entranced. It was a dream come true for me, honestly. I've always loved the CNE, I visited every summer as a child, and took my own kids.
Carter in 1903, by Shawna Daigle

So to sit there and read my book, to those kids, in that place while the ferris wheel and midway rides went on behind me ... well it doesn't get a lot better than that for an author, I don't think.

I also read the book to summer camp kids a few weeks before, at Fort York, also amazing.

All to say, I'm totally lucky, and many, many thanks to the CNE staff, the Fort York staff, the Toronto Pioneer and Historical Society, and to my publisher, Dundurn Press, for helping me make it all happen.

Enjoy last week's blog post about the book and thoughts on Writing Historical Fiction for Kids.

To see more of Shawna's wonderful art, take a look at the Book Trailer.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Carter and the Curious Maze at the CNE!

I'm really pleased to say that I'll be reading from my new book, Carter and the Curious Maze, on the Kids World Stage at the Canadian National Exhibition this weekend (Sat. Aug 27/2016)!

A thousand thanks to the Fort York and CNE staff for all the support, and for helping me to arrange the reading.

Here are the details:

Event: Philippa Dowding at the CNE
Place: Kids World Stage (CNE, near Dufferin Gates)
Date: Saturday, August 27th
Time: 4 pm - 4:30 pm
FREE with admission to the CNE. The author and the illustrator Shawna Daigle, will be selling/signing books after the reading.

I hope you'll come and join us.

The book is a time-travel story set on the CNE grounds. Young Carter is bored with the CNE this year, until he enters the curious maze, and travels back to 3 time periods on the same spot: the CNE in 1903, the Battle of York on April 27, 1813, and then back to a fur-trading day at little-known French Fort Rouille, in 1750. The Fort Rouille monument still stands at the foot of Dufferin Street, behind the bandshell and next to Scadding Cabin. I've lived in Toronto all of my adult life, and had no idea that it existed, and that Fort Rouille was actually the first European settlement in the area.

Me signing books at Fort York, thank you for having me!
I had so much fun writing this book, although it was an incredible amount of work for 20,000 words. But as I delved further into the 3 time periods, there was more and more I wanted to say. It was tough to keep the word count for each chapter to about 1,000 words and to say what I wanted to say in 3 chapters per period. I also needed to keep the tension high, since the maze is actually another midway ride, after all, with chills, thrills and scream-inducing moments. Just like any good roller-coaster.

The next stage, the getting-the-word-out stage, has been fun, too. I was lucky enough to read at Fort York twice in August 2016 to summer camp kids, that was pretty special. Many thanks to the Fort for having me. (Note: a room of kids yelling KA-BOOM makes me laugh, apparently, every time.)

Fort York 2016
The book isn't really a history lesson, although it was my hope that the mystery of the maze will pique young reader's interest in the historical aspects of the story. And certainly it isn't didactic, it's a yarn about growing older and the infinite mysteries of the world around us as we leave childhood. I leave it to the reader to form their own impressions of the awful practice of freak shows in the last century, the terror of the Battle of York, or to recognize that the fur-trade was the sad first step in the European domination of First Nations people. The information is all there, Carter is sympathetic and curious, and it's my hope that teachers and librarians will open the conversation with their students, and use this book as a jumping off point for further inquiry and critical thinking.

I also wrote Carter and the Curious Maze because I have lived in and around Toronto most of my life, and I have the fondest memories of travelling to the CNE on the GO train from Oakville as a young teenager (one of a gaggle), and wandering through the CNE until the last train left for home. The words "Doggie Doggie" will mean something to a few readers of this piece, and send anticipatory shivers down a few spines, like they still do for me.

A trip to the CNE was, for most of my friends and certainly for me, our first taste of real freedom, through a world of wonder, strange and luminous to us. I wrote Carter and the Curious Maze to share some of that wonder with the next generation of readers, a sort of love song if you like, to Toronto. Finally, to be able to read this book at Fort York and now the CNE this weekend ... how lucky am I? Thanks to all who made it happen.

Recent reviews of Carter and the Curious Maze:

"This original take on time-travel historical fiction is a sure bet" Kirkus Reviews
"Readers will be compelled by historical tales of Toronto's past" 4/4 Stars, Highly Recommended, CM Magazine
Goodreads Reviews

Find a few more thoughts about why I wrote the book here: AUTHOR ARC LETTER

And to showcase illustrator Shawna Daigle's fantastic art, here is the BOOK TRAILER