Books & Writing

Reading Through the Pandemic

It has been a long, difficult, isolating pandemic and we have all felt its far-reaching and troubling effects. Some of us have suffered big losses and the deaths of people close to us.

As light begins to shine on the horizon (thank you science, vaccines and the goodness of people who followed the daunting restrictions), we can look to a brighter future and a resumption of many parts of our pre-pandemic life.

Will any of us be the same? I doubt it. But I hope we can forge ahead on a renewed and more optimistic path.

What saved me during the pandemic? Books! Many, many books. I have read more over the past year and a half than ever before in my life (and I have always been a voracious reader). So this note is a deep thank you to all the dedicated authors who, in good times and bad, work so diligently at creating works that inspire, educate, entertain and open us up to new worlds and experiences.

I have kept a reading log of the best books, annotated, so that I can always look back and remember what got me through the pandemic. And one of these days, I will share that list here. For now, I will recommend the wonderful middle grade novel for kids Everything Sad is Untrue: (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri. It was heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measures. “A journey as intimate as it is epic. A remarkable work that raises the literary bar in children’s lit.” says BOOKLIST (starred review).

A Year Later

It’s now been a year since the pandemic became our reality and what a challenging year it has been. For all of us, I know.

In publishing news: I had a new book released just as the world came to a halt. I feared the worst for its success in reaching readers, as speaking engagements, launches and school visits were cancelled. It seemed that all the time spent prior to the book’s release — perfecting the language, reviewing the gorgeous art, adjusting text to illustrations, writing promotional pieces and everything else that is involved with producing a new work — now seemed an exercise in futility.

So when my royalty statement turned up a few weeks ago, I was reassured to see that all had not been lost. The book had, in spite of my many misgivings, sold some copies and was in a number of bookstores I surveyed.

I checked in with the VP of our publishing house and asked how the year had been for books overall. I was happy to hear that it had not been as dire as everyone had predicted early on in the pandemic. It turns out that a lot of people have spent the past year reading, and especially reading with children. What good news!

And so, I continue to forge on with writing and feel a hint of optimism for us and our world. Take care of yourselves and keep reading!

SCBWI Winter Conference

I recently attended an excellent online conference that is normally held in New York every winter. It was hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators — a wonderful organization with chapters around the world. There are two big conferences a year, one in New York in February and the other in Los Angeles in August.

I have attended both in the past (in person) but because of the pandemic, it was a conference by Zoom this year. Surprisingly, it worked very well! And it was impressive in size with over 6000 participants from many parts of North America and beyond.

We heard from editors, agents, publishers, authors and illustrators about current trends in children’s book publishing and it was very inspiring. Much to think about! The great thing about this Zoom conference is that the sessions were recorded and are available for participants to watch (or re-watch) in their own time over the next month.

It was a worthy winter event, and even though it wasn’t in New York (which is always special!), it provided a welcome boost to the mind and spirit.

If you are an aspiring author or illustrator, consider becoming a member of SCBWI — there are local chapters everywhere! You will learn a lot and find a group of like-minded people willing to share their craft, expertise, encouragement and support. And maybe some day, you can attend one of these conferences, too!

Fallow Time

As all of the world knows, it has been a long and difficult year. The virus has changed everything. While we wait for vaccine, we ponder what this year has meant. There has been so much hardship and grief for so many people. My heart goes out to us all.

While the disruption is less for writers (we are used to being solitary and working from home), it has meant that the part of our job that involves speaking to the public, hosting book launches for new releases, and visits to children in schools and libraries have become almost non-existent. Meanwhile, many publishers are not accepting new submissions. So we haven’t exactly ground to a halt, but we have slowed down dramatically.

It would be very easy to dwell on the doom and gloom of the times (and who hasn’t done so over the past year???) but I am trying to see this as a time to be quiet, to contemplate, to consider and to use these days as a fallow time — something that those of us with farm family roots understand. It means letting a field rest for a season, without sowing or planting, so that it can recover and rejuvenate. To this end, I have been reading a lot and working on small projects but at a reduced pace, and believing (hoping desperately!) that we will once again return to a time when we can be more productive.

Spring is just around the corner. To me, it has always been a season of hope. And in the spirit of hope, I wish you good health and happier days to come.

This lovely winter photo of snow-covered apples in a fallow field was taken by Brian Harris and is from our book Up We Grow: A Year in the Life of a Small Local Farm. 

West Coast Learning Activities

Hello teachers and parent educators!

I hope you are staying healthy and well in these challenging times. I know that many of you are working hard to keep the children in your homes and virtual classrooms learning and happily engaged in educational pursuits. If you are looking for ideas on west coast nature activities, you might want to try some of the ones featured here.

Feel free to ask me any questions about my west coast books or send me your students’ questions. You, or they, can write to me via my contact page.

And if you’re looking for educational ideas to accompany any of my other books, please see my classroom activities page. These suggestions can easily be adapted for home or virtual learning.

I’m happy to help! Take care, stay safe and have fun. Happy learning!

West Coast Wild Babies

April 1st is just around the corner and I’m looking forward to the release of my new book West Coast Wild Babies.

Illustrator Karen Reczuch and I have teamed up once again and are happy to have collaborated on another book celebrating the beautiful west coast of BC. Karen’s illustrations are so evocative and lovely!

As promised, here are two more pieces of her wonderful art showing a bald eagle family with downy grey eaglets and an orca pod swimming with a brand new calf.

What could be better than baby wild animals born in the spring? Enjoy!

Coming Soon!

I was excited to receive copies of my upcoming book West Coast Wild Babies! Hooray!

It is the second book in a series I’ve been working on about the Pacific west coast – in particular, the glorious coastal region of western Vancouver Island. The book is a sequel to West Coast Wild.

Some of you may know the spectacular stretch of pristine nature that can be explored from Ucluelet to Tofino. It may be my favourite place in the world! I have loved writing books for kids about this awe-inspiring region and its wild inhabitants.

In this new book, young readers will be introduced to fourteen wild baby animals born in the springtime – in the ocean, on the shore, or deep inside the ancient rainforest. The babies include: wolf pups, cougar kittens, bear cubs, eaglets, whale calves and more. Kids will see these remarkable creatures thriving in their coastal home.

Karen Reczuch’s beautiful art shows many scenes of gentle affection between the offspring and their parents.

Here’s one of a new sea otter pup and its mother, snoozing among the kelp. More to come!

A Story of Spring

Many of us are in the midst of a very cold winter, donning mitts and wielding snow shovels, and looking ahead to warmer days.

We on the west coast, however, have kindly been spared the Arctic temperatures of other places.  We’re grateful to see the sunshine and blue sky today, although the air is not yet close to spring temperatures. (Update: Actually, it snowed a lot the day after I posted this!)

Why the talk of spring? There’s a new book on the horizon and it’s a spring story. Cooking with Bear will be released on April 1 and the illustrator, Lisa Cinar, and I are feeling like expectant parents, happily anticipating our newborn’s arrival.

This illustration is from the opening page of the book. It shows Bear looking outside of his den window and seeing the sunshine and green all around. He’s delighted that spring is finally here. (It’s been a long cold winter in his forest.) He can hardly wait to gather some fresh plants of spring and get cooking with his friend, Fox.

Lisa and I will be delighted when spring arrives, too, especially when we get to hold our brand new book in our hands.

Nature Book Nook

I was delighted to see a mention of West Coast Wild in a review of nature books posted on Twitter and Facebook by Nature Book Nook, a group from Portland that is dedicated to finding and exploring great nature books for kids. I hadn’t heard of the group previously but I will definitely follow them now. I’m always happy to see books that celebrate nature.

And if you’re interested, here are the kind words they posted:

“As residents of the Pacific Northwest, West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet by Deborah Hodge and also illustrated by Karen Reczuch, struck in us the desire to explore more of our region – while we live in Portland, Oregon, the landscape and flora/fauna presented in this book is from coastal British Columbia. From A (for Ancient Forests) to Z (for Intertidal Zone), each letter of the alphabet brings alive just one part of this ecoregion (a temperate rainforest), which taken altogether create the whole of a wild landscape. Humans show only twice – one figure craning their head high to peer up at the tree canopy at the beginning of the book and two children exploring along a sandy coastline at the end. With all the species of plants and animals (both marine and terrestrial) shared in between, West Coast Wild is a reminder that there is much more going on in our world than each of us will ever be able to experience. Where we encounter nature, whether in an ancient forest or along an intertidal zone, we we are only scratching the surface – and the more wild we allow some spaces to remain, the better.”

A big thank you to Nature Book Nook!