Once Upon A School – Part 2

“One stroke of lightning does not have to lead anywhere, but to the next stroke of lightning.” Alice Munro

Last week I told you about how it came to be that I was presenting my novel to a group of 50 kids at Vimy Ridge Collegiate in Edmonton. Here’s the rest of the story.

Paul introduced me by saying all sorts of nice things about me and the time we worked together. He spoke about his own parents’ experience as refugees and why my novel meant so much to him. Paul’s father was made a refugee after the 1948 split of Pakistan and India. He talked about his mother’s father having to leave his family behind as well, when Paul’s mother was only a baby. His grandfather did not see Paul’s mother again until she was 17. That separation affected the relationship between Paul’s mom and her father for the rest of their lives. Paul’s introduction made the issue of refugees very real for the kids. They listened intently.

I told them that this presentation was important to me because it allowed me to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and at the same time expose school kids to Canadian books, open their horizons to what was available and to what they could do if they were inclined to write. 

I told lots of stories about my research and the people I met and they were very quiet during those times, although maybe a little more restless when I was more in presentation mode. Then I showed a short documentary (A launch pad to Europe). They liked that video because it dealt with the entire refugee process from the smugglers’ perspective to the struggles of the refugees and the coast guard who try to rescue them. The video was in Greek and had subtitles, yet they were completely focused.

I read a short excerpt from my book and they listened carefully as though being read a bedtime story. Who doesn’t like to be read to? They asked great questions: why I picked these characters to tell this story, how a novel comes together, how I found the voice for each character. One smiling teen actually said he liked how I changed the diction of each character. What a kid!

When I asked the kids what they didn’t like about the book, one boy said that he was frustrated by all the work he’d been assigned. He felt his frustration didn’t allow him to give the novel a chance, although once he got into it, he finished it. Later that same boy asked me to sign his book to his mother. It’s hard for me not to tear up when I write this. 

At the end of the two and a half hours Paul got up and said, "you remember how I told you I used to work for Stella? Well every day she used to remind us we had to make a difference with our lives. That’s why I work with you guys now and don’t write strategic plans and business plans anymore.” Then he went on to tell them why it was important that they also make a difference with their lives. Very touching. 

The kids came up after to thank me, tell me how much they liked the book and to have me sign their copy. They appreciated having an author in the class talking about her work. It brought the book to life for them.

Later in the evening, I met with some of the kids’ parents. They had all read the novel, told me again and again how important this program was to their kids and thanked me for coming. They liked the book and one parent said that after finishing The Brink of Freedom, she picked up Nicolai’s Daughters, my first novel. I couldn’t think of a better way to make Canadian books and authors accessible to all than through school programs such as this.

It’s an experience we in Whistler have been enjoying with our high school students (and recently expanded to our elementary students) for several years. Take a look at the video for more information.

We’ll be featuring The Brink of Freedom and Katherine Fawcett’s new book of short stories, The Little Washer of Sorrows in all the high schools in the Sea to Sky corridor in the spring semester of 2016. This could not be made possible without the financial commitment of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and TELUS. I am also grateful to all the teachers who participate in programs such as these. Classroom by classroom, school by school they are raising the profile of CanLit authors in our Canadian schools.

By the way, I created the lesson plan for the Vimy Ridge Collegiate. If you are interested in featuring my novel in your classroom, I’m happy to customize the lesson plan to suit your needs and I’m more than happy to come by too. The experience is as rewarding to me as it is to the students.

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