Saturday, September 18, 2010

Air Lift To L.A.: Canadian authors helping a school library in need

Libraries are in need everywhere, but here's one initiative - the brainchild of Canadian author Helaine Becker - that actually took flight. Three of my novels, including Abby and the Curling Chicks, Wild Dog Summer, and The Toymaker's Son will be among the books finding a home on the shelves of Ralph Bunche Elementary in Los Angeles.

Five authors are making the trek to deliver the books and show support for a school library in need.  Read on for the official press release:


Los Angeles – As part of their ongoing commitment to strengthen inner-city school libraries throughout Los Angeles and beyond, Access Books has joined forces with a team of Canadian authors to help impoverished families gain access to books. The event will take place at Ralph Bunche Elementary (16223 Haskins Lane, Carson, CA 90746-1092) on October 2, 2010 at 9 a.m. This school is one of 25 elementary schools in the Compton Unified School District (CUSD) that is in desperate need of books for its 450 students.

Access Books, "Air Lift to L.A." and a team of volunteers from Bunche will spend October 2nd revitalizing the library by painting murals and cataloging brand new books. In addition to the books, Access Books will provide a reading rug, rocking chair and sofa to create a warm and inviting environment for students. Five authors from Canada will be on hand for the event and to give fun and exciting presentations to the students.

The participating authors are:

Rob Weston, author of Silver Birch award winner Zorgamazoo

Kari-Lynn Winters, author Jeffrey and the Sloth, On My Walk, and other award-winning books.

Jill Murray, YA author of Rhythm and Blues and Break on Through

Wendy Kitts, Freelance Writer, Book Reviewer, and author of a soon-to-be published picture book from Nimbus Press

Helaine Becker, author of more than 40 books for children including Silver Birch award winners Boredom Blasters and Secret Agent Y.O.U.

Sadly, only 48 percent of Bunche's students are scoring "proficient" or "advanced" in English & Language Arts on the California Standards Test. Research has shown that the best predictor of how well a child will learn to read is the number of books to which he or she has access, but 61 percent of economically disadvantaged children don't have age-appropriate books at home. The students of Bunche Elementary fit this profile: 90 percent live at or below the poverty line. According to a 2009 report from the Jumpstart Foundation, communities ranking high in achievement tests share a common denominator: an abundance of books in their libraries.

California's Department of Education recommends 28 library books per student, according to the February 2010 draft of its School Library Standards. Bunche, however, has a mere three books per student. Therefore, Access Books has set a goal: Collect at least 5,000 books for Bunche's library and classrooms. Many of these will be brand new, popular fiction titles – books that have been carefully selected to get students excited about reading.

Access Books' partner for this endeavor, "Air Lift to L.A.," grew wings after Canadian children's author Helaine Becker visited a Long Beach elementary school and saw the empty shelves. Shocked and saddened, she rallied her Canadian colleagues and started a book drive. "The conditions [in Los Angeles] are on par with the worst of the Third World countries," she writes on the "Air Lift to L.A." Facebook page. "Actually, they are worse, because in much of the Third World, people are doing their best to raise their standards, while in Los Angeles, conditions have deteriorated abysmally in the last ten years."

Bunche has just moved its campus library into a new, larger space to afford room for growth, but unfortunately, many of the shelves are bare. The library assistant nicknamed the library "The Dream Shop," but with so few books, its dreams have yet to be realized.

California ranks last in the nation in funding for school libraries, spending less than one dollar per child. Although the 2011 federal budget proposal includes a $400 billion investment in education, there's no mention of federal funds specifically geared toward school libraries. According to Sandra Barnett, head of the American School Library Association, "the budget is proposing to take away the last access to literacy for these kids in high-poverty areas." The American School Library research data clearly shows that students with access to school libraries and good books score higher in state reading scores and are more interested in reading.

"I think the big issue is that we really need to make reading part of school and make reading fun and interesting," said Rebecca Constantino, P.h.D., the founder and executive director of Access Books. "And that starts with having a good library."

About ACCESS BOOKS: Access Books provides quality, high-interest books to Southern California's most impoverished school libraries. Since 1999, they have donated more than a million books to school and community libraries in the greater Los Angeles area. Access Books has been featured in USA Today, the L.A. Times, the New York Times and School Library Journal among many other media outlets. Access Books' founder, Rebecca Constantino, is a recipient of Oprah's "Use Your Life" award. She has published over 100 articles and a book in the areas of literacy development, equity in education, urban school and cultural perspectives of language acquisition.

Give a Child a Book, She'll be Happy
Give a Child a Library, She'll be Literate

P.O. Box 64951, Los Angeles, CA 90064

Monday, September 13, 2010

Terry Fallis: A writer shows how to make self-publishing worth the effort

If you haven’t read Terry Fallis’ award-winning – and laugh-out-loud funny – novel The Best Laid Plans, you should run to your local bookstore and get busy. THRNow.  Today.

I make this suggestion because Terry’s second book, The High Road, is now available.  It’s the second installment in his Parliament Hill series featuring political aide Daniel Addison and his charge, Engineering professor-turned-public servant Angus McLintock.

Madcap antics and mayhem ensue on practically every page – what a great read!

I met Terry when he read at the Elora Writers’ Festival in June, and since then he’s been everywhere promoting his book and talking to people about his fun journey from self-published author to Stephen Leacock Award-winning Author. And if you don’t believe me (about the “everywhere” part), just check out the Appearances link on his website. 

 TBLP[1]The Best Laid Plans was chosen by Waterloo Region for its “One Book, One Community” selection this year. With interest so high, I was asked to review The High Road, and did so with trepidation. The words “sophomore jinx” hovered in my mental background, but no fear: the second book in the Addison-McLintock saga holds its own quite nicely, thank you. You can read the review here, posted on Terry’s website.

For me, the most interesting part of Terry’s rise-to-fame story is that he was just another self-published author – until he sent his 10 free copies of The Best Laid Plans (part of the self-publishing package he subscribed to) to the selection committee for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. He was a first-time author without a book-publishing history or a literary agent, one of the masses of self-published authors who frequently draw the disdain of “real” writers (i.e. think agents, editors, publishing houses, review in Quill & Quire, etc.). In fact, as Terry tells it, he did approach several agents with his manuscript, but didn’t get any bites.  Self-publishing was the obvious alternative.  He also took it a step further and tapped into the social media scene by podcasting his book and offering audio chapters for free.

But guess what? The Best Laid Plans was short-listed for the the award.  Did that change anything?  Yes – one of those previously-uninterested agents perked up her ears, the book won the Leacock Award and found a publishing home with McClelland & Stewart and – well, the rest is history.

The moral of the story: persevere, writers.  If you’re good enough and creative enough to get your work out there, good things can happen. Terry Fallis is the perfect example of self-publishing as a means to a very happily ever after.


Interested in self-publishing?  If you live in the Waterloo, Ontario, area, Terry  will be part of a panel discussing his journey down this road.  Here’s the scoop from the One Book, One Community blog:

Self-Publishing 101

Monday, September 27 at 6:30 p.m. With Terry Fallis, OBOC Author; Dean Froome, President, Volumes Publishing; Ron Stadnik, Print Collection Development Manager, Library Bound; Sharron Smith, Manager of Readers’ Advisory Services, KPL.

When the doors to traditional publishing houses were locked, One Book One Community author Terry Fallis decided to forge his own key.  He released his first novel on the internet – free – as a chapter-by-chapter podcast, then turned to social marketing for promotion.  Following encouraging feedback, Terry decided to publish his own novel.  Later that year, his novel won the prestigious Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.  Within a week of his “Leacock shock,” he signed a publishing contract with McClelland & Stewart, a well-established Canadian publishing house.If you are still knocking on closed doors, join our panel for an informative discussion on self-publishing.  Find out what services are available and how to keep the process affordable.  Gather tips on marketing your product and the criteria used to select new books for library collections.

Kitchener Public Library – Country Hills Community Library
1500 Block Line Rd. To register, please call 519-743-0271 519-743-0271  ext.  255.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Globe and Mail: “But strong principles, they endure”

This week, the Thomson family announced that they are now hold 85 per cent of the shares in The Globe and Mail,  a result of the sale of CTV to Bell. No more Globemedia: the newspaper stands alone.

The Globe’s Saturday edition includes a compelling and entertaining editorial explaining this transaction and celebrating, deservedly, the newspaper’s new situation. We should all celebrate a nationally distributed news source that operates free of political or corporate involvement.

The editorial includes some wonderful tidbits about the late Roy Thomson, the media mogul whose family is once again solely in charge.  “The Canadian People Deserve A Free and Fearless Press!” read the ad that Mr. Thomson – then the owner of a series of dailies across Canada – took out in The Globe and Mail in 1951. You have to love this.

In fact, I love The Globe.  I’ve been a Globe reader since about 1960 (the year I learned to read). My brothers and I waged fierce battle over the sports section and the comics at the breakfast table. Gradually I learned to appreciate our morning newspaper as a source of not only news, but also opinion and entertainment.

Being published in this newspaper was one of my greatest thrills as a writer.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?  I’ve already written about my disappointment in The Globe and Mail’s 2008 change of policy concerning payment for writers of essays published on the Facts & Arguments page, “Why I can’t send my essays to The Globe and Mail and why you shouldn’t either”.

I believe that a basic principle of publishing is being abused. The title of Saturday’s editorial reads: “Editorial autonomy, financial acumen, real media values.”  How do “financial acumen” and “real media values” equal not paying writers for the privilege of using their work?  If the writing deserves to be published, the writer deserves to be paid.

I emailed John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief of The Globe and Mail with my concerns, but he didn’t reply. Perhaps now, in light of these positive changes at the newspaper, and as a follow-up to the sentiments expressed (by him?) in Saturday’s editorial, it’s time for Mr. Stackhouse and the Globe powers-that-be to live up to the standards they so publicly celebrate.

“But strong principles, they endure”, Saturday’s editorial proclaims in its final sentence. 

I agree completely.  Please, writers and readers, ask The Globe and Mail  to pay its Facts & Arguments writers. Mr. Stackhouse didn’t listen to my voice, but he and the decision-makers he reports to might listen to ours.


John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief

Phillip Crawley, Publisher and Chief Executive Officer

The Globe and Mail

444 Front St. W., Toronto, ON Canada M5V 2S9