Library Services Centre

Children’s Display Day Spring 2020 is coming up on March 4th at the Sherwood Community Centre in Milton, and we are very lucky to have special guest, Forest of Reading winning author Elizabeth MacLeod joining us for an author talk and book signing. We had a chance to talk with Elizabeth about her new books ahead of the day.

 

Elizabeth MacLeod loves science; that much is clear from her bibliography. A catalogue deep with biographies of Chris Hadfield , Albert Einstein, and Marie Curie, she pulls these figures out of recent and far history, and brings their lives and accomplishments to the attention of children across Canada.

 

This attention to science makes sense, as a former editor at OWL magazine. But with more than 60 books under her belt, she is a writer who can find passion and interest in any subject sent her way, as diverse as the subjects of her two new books, biographies of Willie O’Ree and Terry Fox.

 

With your background in biology, it is interesting that many of the scientists you have profiled have been physicists, chemists, and engineers. How do you choose which historical figures you write about?

 

"I love science so I want to interest kids in it and show them that it’s part of our lives every day. I also hope to help kids see that scientists aren’t necessarily geniuses, but they’re people who look at the world carefully and really see it. That’s something we can all do.

 

"There are so many great people to write about that I’m always sending names to my publisher. When I give presentations in schools and libraries, I ask kids, teachers and librarians for ideas. When I listen to podcasts or read blogs and newspapers, I’ve always got this series on my mind. My editor, Erin O’Connor, is also great at coming up with suggestions (and she’s a fabulous editor!).

 

"Choosing the subjects is hard because there are so many wonderful options. Diversity is really important in the series since we want kids to see themselves reflected in the books. We’re trying to include Canadians from many different backgrounds, men and women and from all across the country."

 

I’d like to ask you about your process a bit. How long do you spend researching your subject before you start writing? Are you researching multiple subjects at once, writing about one while researching another; or do you pick one, get it done, and move on to someone new?

 

"As soon as I’m given the subject, I start researching. I’m looking for facts and amazing stories as well as photos that the illustrator, Mike Deas, can use for visual references. I’m also searching for each subject’s most important characteristic — for Tom Longboat, for example, that was his love of running, while for Elsie MacGill it was her determination to work hard.

 

"The amount of time I spend researching depends on when the first manuscript is due and what other projects I’m working on at the same time. It can take me anywhere from two weeks to two months. I write each of the books in the series one at a time, but sometimes I’m working on books for other publishers too. As well, depending on the schedule, I may be writing one of the biographies in this series, while reviewing final pages for an earlier book."

 

Which of the figures you’ve written about has been your favourite? Which has surprised you the most?

 

"I think what I like best about the people in this series is that they were ordinary people, but went on to do something extraordinary. Viola Desmond was a businesswoman, not a black rights activist, when she sat down in that movie theatre, refused to move and made history. Chris Hadfield dreamed of being an astronaut when Canada didn’t even have a space program, so his ambition seemed impossible.

 

"I think each of the people in the series has surprised me. Did you know that Chris Hadfield is afraid of heights? Or that Elsie MacGill took drawing lessons from Emily Carr, Canada’s most famous female artist. Willie O’Ree not only faced discrimination because he’s black, but also lost the vision in his right eye when a puck hit it. I love discovering incredible stories like this!"

 

It was just announced that the Canadian Mint chose your newest subject, Willie O’Ree, as the figure to grace the 2020 Black History Month coin. What drew you to Willie?

 

"I’ve always loved hockey, so I was so happy when Scholastic, the series’ publisher, agreed to let me write about Willie. He really came on our radar when he was made a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2018. I also loved how he inspired kids with sayings like, “If you think you CAN or you think you CAN’T — you’re right!”

 

"When I researched Willie’s story, I discovered that as a young teenager, he’d met baseball great Jackie Robinson and told him that he, Willie, was going to be the first black NHL player. Isn’t that amazing? The stories about the discrimination that Willie faced are so disheartening, but it’s important that kids hear them and understand what Willie had to overcome."

 

Terry Fox may well be one of the most famous Canadians, ever. With the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope this year, is there anything about Terry that still surprised you while researching him?

 

"First of all, I was amazed that it’s already been 40 years since Terry’s Marathon of Hope.

 

"My editor and I and the whole Scholastic team have also been surprised at how emotional Terry’s story still makes us. We keep complaining that someone must be cutting onions nearby when we watch videos of him running or the interview he gave when he had to stop his Marathon of Hope! Such a brave man and he united and inspired all Canadians.

 

"I was also surprised that at one point Terry said that he was more upset at losing his hair during the chemo treatments than he was at losing his leg. As well, before the treatments, his hair was straight, not at all curly as it grew back after his treatments."

 

Is there someone you’ve wanted to write about but haven’t had the chance to?

 

"There are so many great Canadians to write about! There are a few that are almost definite for upcoming books and I can’t talk about them yet, but I’d also love to write about Joseph-Armand Bombardier, who invented the snowmobile; singer and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie; Jeanne Sauvé, Canada’s first female governor general; wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen (who was inspired by Terry Fox) … the list goes on and on! And we’re always open to suggestions — let me know if you have any good ideas!"

 

If you want to hear Elizabeth talk more about her books, her process, and her new subjects, Willie O’Ree and Terry Fox (and maybe suggest a future subject), she’ll be speaking and signing books at LSC’s Spring Children’s Display Day on March 4th, at the Sherwood Community Centre in Milton. RSVPs can be sent to Jamie Quinn at jquinn@lsc.on.ca.

 

We’ll see you there!

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