Record Breaker Won the Silver Birch Award!!!

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 1:38 pm by Robin Stevenson

I still can’t quite believe it. SO EXCITING!

But to backtrack a little…

Yesterday was the Festival of Trees in Toronto. For those who don’t know about it, the Festival of Trees is the culmination of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program- and it is the largest Canadian literary event for young readers.

I live on the west coast and had never attended the Festival before. I’d heard it was big, and I’d heard it was fabulous- but seriously, the Festival of Trees has to be experienced first hand. I had NO IDEA. I was completely blown away, by both the size and the sheer fabulousness of this event. Over 8000 people attended this year and the atmosphere was more like that of a rock concert than any author-type event I’ve been to. I’m still on a high from all the conversations with young readers.

It was wonderful meeting the other authors too. Here’s a picture of the Silver Birch nominees on stage at the Harbourfront:

Festival- on stage

Each nominee was introduced by a student, and they all did such great work researching the author, writing speeches and delivering them to a huge and exuberant crowd. So impressed by their poise. As Kevin Sylvester commented, it’s a hard act  to follow when the person who introduces you is more articulate than you are!

Here’s Micah, who introduced me. (Thanks Micah! You were awesome!)

Toronto- Festival of Trees

I was completely stunned when my name was called and I realized that my book Record Breaker had won the Silver Birch Award for Fiction. I was also taken aback by my own reaction- I was thrilled  (which wasn’t the surprising part) and also so incredibly moved. I actually was close to tears. I can’t express how much it means to me that so many readers-so many kids- read and loved and voted for my book. Several students told me that it made them cry, but in a good way. One even told me it was her favorite book ever.

Record Breaker is a quiet kind of story. It has some sad parts, and it has some sweet parts, and it deals with  some pretty serious themes. It’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious (though it does have some very funny scenes), and it’s not a wildly exciting adventure story. But apparently it resonated with kids, and that makes me so very happy.

So thanks, everyone, for this huge honour. I feel so encouraged and inspired.   I feel like writing MORE BOOKS!!!


Because Every Community Should Have a Library

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized at 6:14 am by Robin Stevenson

My mother volunteers for an organization in Victoria, BC called the Compassionate Resource Warehouse. They collect donations and surplus materials locally– everything from clothing to sewing machines to wheelchairs and medical supplies– and ship it overseas in response to requests from organizations. Since they began in 2000, they’ve sent over three hundred and sixty containers to schools, hospitals, orphanages and NGOs in more than sixty-five countries.

I wanted to share these photographs from Zimbabwe. The Warehouse sent them books and shelves and furniture– and the receiving organization turned the forty-foot long shipping container itself into a community library!|It’s pretty fabulous. Check this out:

container outside- painted

And here’s the inside:



If you live in Victoria and want to get involved, the Warehouse is always open to new volunteers– and if you live elsewhere but want to make a donation, here’s the link. You can also help by spreading the word- share this on Facebook or Twitter, or just tell your friends about it.


Thunder Bay Kids, You are Fabulous!

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 11:13 am by Robin Stevenson

Yesterday was the Festival of Trees in Thunder Bay and I have to say a HUGE thank you to all the kids for  making me feel like a *ROCKSTAR*.


What am amazing day.

First I met the fabulous Marissa, a sixth grader. Marissa is also a writer and lover of stories, and she did a great job- first by making me feel very welcome, and then by standing up in front of hundreds of people and introducing me! NO WAY could I have done that at eleven. I still get cold sweaty hands when I speak in front of more than, hmm, maybe six people. A shout out to Reese, too, who carried a very cool sign with my book cover on it (and I’m sorry if I am spelling your name wrong Reese! )

All the kids who introduced the nominees did it fabulously well- they had really done their research, and I think we were all impressed. And the AUDIENCE! Eight hundred kids can make a lot of noise- and they did! It was so great to see all that excitement about BOOKS!

And then- drumroll- the icing on the cake. RECORD BREAKER actually won the Silver Birch Fiction Regional Award for Thunder Bay. YOU GUYS LIKED MY BOOK!!! I talked to dozens of kids and signed tons of books and passports and book marks,  and it was all SO MUCH FUN.

Here’s the crowd:

Thunder Bay readers!

And here are some of the nominees (back row, left to right: Alma Fullerton, Kevin Sylvester, Rebecca Upjohn, Allan Stratton, me, Andrew Larsen, Elly McKay; front row: Natalie Hyde and Helene Boudreau)

Forest of Reading nominees- Thunder Bay

And here (I LOVE THIS) is the Silver City movie theater that I led a workshop in. My name in lights! I’m expecting the paparazzi to show up any day now…

My name in lights!

Thank you so much for a wonderful day, Thunder Bay kids. Sending you all a big virtual hug!


Forest of Reading- It’s Festival Time!

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 7:52 am by Robin Stevenson

…And I am back on the road again. But, rather conveniently, Toronto is where my very lovely brother and his family live, so instead of a hotel room I have an adorable three year old nephew, a fabulous sister-in-law (who happens to also be a fabulous baker- check out her blog), and an enormous and very beautiful ragdoll kitten called Silly. Why yes, the three-year old DID name him- though apparently my brother voted with him.

Yesterday’s trip from Victoria was somewhat lengthier than anticipated… Got up at 4 am, headed to airport, cleared security and boarded plane, settled in with book… and then the pilot announced a mechanical problem and we all had to collect our belongings and disembark. And then- because I live on an island that apparently has no engineers on it- they had to FLY in an engineer from Vancouver to fix the plane. So it took awhile.

But- and this is cool- because we were all stuck hanging around for quite awhile, I had one of those cool small world experiences and discovered that fellow authors Meg Tilly and Don Calame were also on (and off) the plane. So I had a lovely time chatting with them and petting their very cute and well-travelled dog. Meg’s new book, A Taste of Heaven, sounds terrific and I am looking forward to reading it.

Eventually we all trooped back on to the now fully-functional plane and the trip began… WOOHOO! FESTIVAL OF TREES!!! SO EXCITING!!!!

And so now I am in Toronto and soon to board a plane to Thunder Bay. Here’s tomorrow’s very exciting looking  schedule.  I can’t wait to meet all the young readers and the other nominees- and I want to add a sentence to the Story Wall! What a cool idea.



Home again…

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 6:24 pm by Robin Stevenson

The BC Book Prize Tour was beyond fabulous. What an amazing opportunity to visit a beautiful part of the country, and how inspiring to meet hundreds of children who were brimming with curiosity and creativity and enthusiasm. The BC Book Prize gala is coming up soon (five days and counting) but whatever happens in terms of the actual awards, I feel like I have already won something wonderful.

road to Hudson's Hope

Above: With Catherine Greenwood, on the road to Hudson’s Hope- a breathtakingly beautiful country we live in!

And it is good to be back home, in my house, with my family, and even with my rather vocal cat– who apparently missed me!

And in eight days… I’m off to Thunder Bay and Toronto, for the Forest of Reading’s Festival of Trees. I am excited. My cat, however, will not be impressed. He’s already eyeing my suitcase with great suspicion.


BC Book Prizes Tour, Day 3

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 6:15 pm by Robin Stevenson

We flew to Fort Nelson this morning, in a Very Small Plane. There was a lot of snow, and the pilot said we might not be able to land. For some reason, I thought of Dr. Seuss: “I do not like this, Sam I am.”

Free books at the Fort Nelson AirportBut… can I just mention how AWESOME northern BC airports are? Fort St John’s has TOASTERS! A whole display case of funky old toasters, including one which is actually a kettle as well. NEED! And Dawson Creek, Fort St John and Fort Nelson all have shelves of books- for a donation, exchange, or free. Plus all the staff are super friendly and helpful and kind of laid back and low-key in a way that us slightly nervous flyers really appreciate. Other airports further south- you have some catching up to do! I’d suggest starting with the book shelves.

Our pilot did manage to land us in Fort Nelson- and fly us out again later, despite the impressive amount of snow. And it was more than worth the trip. I spent the afternoon with 170 students in grades 5,6 and 7- and they were the most wonderfully engaged, curious, thoughtful and creative group. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them and could happily have stayed for twice as long.

Fort Nelson school

We are back in Fort St John tonight, and tomorrow we head out on the last day of our tour- visiting schools in Chetwynd and Hudson’s Hope. I am looking forward to being in two communities I have never been to before.This tour has been a wonderful adventure.

BC Book Prizes Tour, Day 2

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 6:13 pm by Robin Stevenson

It’s cold and windy and snowy, but today was wonderful despite the weather- because I was visiting schools and talking with kids. Grade 4, 5 and 6 kids. Fort St John kids and Dawson Creek kids. Curious, energetic, excited kids. Overflowing with questions and ideas kids.

SO MUCH FUN. We talked about writing and books and where ideas come from and how they turn into stories. And then the kids came up with stories of their own…

In Fort St. John, the students conjured up Jack, a six foot tall thirteen year old who wants to be an NBA star, and Sherman, his best-friend-since-forever, affectionately known as Shrimp. Sherman has been in a devastating accident and lost all his memories of their friendship. Jack is determined to help him recover- and prepared to do whatever it takes.

In Dawson Creek, the kids created Angela, a girl with purple streaks in her hair and an annoying-but-cute two year old brother who she is fiercely protective of. Angela’s family has decided that they won’t celebrate their kids’ birthday’s because they have no money… but Angela is turning eleven and she wants a big celebration. How many bottles and cans will she have to collect to pay for it? And will her parents understand how important this is to her? Stay tuned…

 Dawson Creek margaritas

Above: Taking a break for margaritas in Dawson Creek, with Catherine Greenwood, poet and author of The Lost Letters.

BC Book Prizes Tour, Day 1

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 6:09 pm by Robin Stevenson

It’s 10 pm and I am sitting in my hotel room after a whirlwind of a day, which took us from Victoria to Vancouver to Dawson Creek (those were flights), and then to Taylor, Fort St John, back to Dawson Creek, and now back in Fort St John (and those were rather nice drives with good jazz playing in the car and a slow rain falling outside).

Flying into Dawson Creek was particularly cool for me because Dawson Creek was the first place in Canada I ever lived (I moved there from England with my parents when I was four). My sister was born there. We stayed a year—and that was in 1973! Today was the first time I had been there in FORTY YEARS! Wild.

Flying into Dawson Creek was also great because the airport actually has a bookshelf where you can help yourself to a book and stick a few coins in a donation box. Seriously awesome, and made me absurdly happy. I took two books, because I had only brought three with me and was worried about running out of stuff to read (I know this makes no sense, given how busy we are, but I’m slightly phobic about ever being without a book).

The afternoon at Taylor Elementary School was fabulous and a great way to kick off the tour. Eighty enthusiastic kids ranging from age seven to eleven or so… and all of them writers! Seriously. I was reading to them from my novel Record Breaker—which is about a boy who desperately wants to break a world record—but Taylor, BC is going after a record of its own. Taylor is on track to become the town with the most published writers per capita—and I will be cheering these young writers on.

And this evening we were welcomed by a lovely group of readers, writers and librarians at the Dawson Creek library. What a gorgeous space- colorful quilts hanging on the walls, cozy couches and chairs, and—of course—books everywhere. I very much enjoyed listening to Catherine Greenwood’s poetry, and talking to everyone who came out to hear us read. Thanks to all of you for laughing when I read the funny parts of my book. And a huge thanks to the library for hosting us.

dawson creek library reading

Feeling very lucky to be on this book tour and grateful for the opportunity. Many thanks to BC Book Prizes and all the sponsors who make this possible. And now—off to bed. The adventures will continue tomorrow…


BC Book Prizes and Forest of Reading, Oh My!

Posted in Blog, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing at 5:45 pm by Robin Stevenson

So May is shaping up to be a Very Exciting Month.

My novel Record Breaker is a finalist for the Silver Birch award, part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program. Which is incredibly cool, because it is a reader’s choice award, which means kids in schools all over Ontario will read the nominated books and vote on their favorites. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?

Record Breaker

Also my son is a huge fan of one of the nominated authors (and by huge fan, I mean I have read him about seventy books by this author- luckily, I am also a fan!) so actually having one of my books on the same list as this author (oh, okay- Gordon Korman! )  makes me seem, well, kind of cool. You know, a little bit. For a mom. (Though as my always pragmatic son points out, it also makes me unlikely to win… But that’s okay. There are some amazing books on that list and whatever happens, I am thrilled to be in such good company.)

I’m also thrilled because being nominated for the Silver Birch means I get to go to Toronto and to Thunder Bay, to visit schools and libraries, and talk to kids, and meet other writers, and attend the Forest of Reading festivities, which is an awesome celebration for kids and books and kid-book-people. My kind of party, in other words.

And while I am in Toronto, I get to spend time with the world’s cutest three year old, AKA my nephew Quentin. Which will be a whole other kind of party, one that involves building things and knocking them down, and possibly eating cake because my sister-in-law is the world’s best baker. Woohoo!

And– in case all that wasn’t excitement enough– I just found out that Record Breaker has been nominated for the BC Book Prizes’ Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize. Which is a huge honor, and I am over-the-moon delighted about it. Another wonderful list of books, and interestingly, three of the five finalists in my category are from my publisher, Orca Books– which I think speaks volumes about the great team at Orca and especially our fabulously talented editor, Sarah Harvey.

Congratulations to all the nominees for both awards– I’ve read and enjoyed many of your books and I am putting the others on my ever-growing to-read list!


Introducing… Beatrice Ekoko and Natural Born Learners!

Posted in Blog, Homeschooling, Uncategorized, Writing at 6:50 pm by Robin Stevenson

I was thrilled to hear that a new book on unschooling was being released this year, and even more delighted when I heard that it had roots in the town I grew up in– Hamilton, Ontario–and in the radio station that I listened to during my undergraduate days at McMaster University.

The book is called Natural Born Learners, and is edited by Beatrice Ekoko and Carlo Ricci. Allow me to introduce Beatrice Ekoko, of the blog RadioFreeSchool.


Robin:  Tell me about your new book, Natural Born Learners…

Beatrice: I co-edited the book with Dr. Carlo Ricci (Nipissing University), founder and editor of  The Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning.

NBL is a labour of love. It’s a collaborative book project that took a community of advocates for autonomy in education to go live! Most of the pieces in this book are derived from interviews aired on the Radio Free School program that ran from 2002 to 2008 on 93.3 FM CFMU (McMaster University Campus radio).

We contacted interviewees and asked if they would be willing to be a part of our book.  The next step was to transcribe all of the audio interviews into written text. Although most of the pieces are transcribed and edited versions of interviews that were conducted for Radio Free School, some are pieces that were written for the Radio Free School blogspot. A handful of pieces were ones we solicited later because we felt they provided a valuable addition to the book.

The book itself is divided into three sections:
What is unschooling/natural learning/self-determined learning;
2. What does it look like in practice, and;
3. The stories of those who unschooled and are now adults.


Robin: How did you discover unschooling? Can you tell us a little about your own journey into unschooling as a parent? 
Beatrice: It is a tale of wonder. I was amazed at how my little daughters learned, what they could do, how full of life and exuberance they were and I wanted to preserve all that energy and love of life for as long as I possibly could.  But before that, I think I heard about unschooling through a breastfeeding support group. At least homeschooling and then the more I delved into the subject, the more I thought I wanted freedom in learning for my children.

Robin: Why did you and Carlo Ricci decide to publish a book about unschooling? What was the process of producing the book like? What were the biggest challenges?

Beatrice: I had all this material (audio,) and all these amazing interviews–John Taylor Gatto, Grace Llewellyn, Wendy Priesnitz, Gordon Neufeld… I felt that I had to do something with it all. I reached out to Carlo for some help in figuring out a vision for putting it into a book and he thought the idea was great to turn it into a reader. So that is what we did. But we realized really quickly that we needed help in a big way.Volunteers responded to my call out for help in transcribing the work. Volunteers helped proof read! It was awesome!

The biggest challenge? The amount of learning I had to do–in order to get this together in a solid, readable style and format. And the cover! Oh the cover!!

Robin:What are the most common misconceptions about unschooling that you encounter?

Beatrice: That unschoolers are insulated, disorganized, don’t like structure, can’t work in a team, aren’t educated. All nonsense.

Robin: What advice would you give to parents who are considering unschooling? 

Beatrice: Make it yours. Hang with people who want to see you succeed, not those who are waiting to say, “I told you it wouldn’t work!”

Robin: What are some of the things that you learned during the process of producing and promoting this book? 

Beatrice:I’m still learning (about promoting) but it’s nice to have people helping you along the way. Be willing to make changes and to check and keep checking to make it as perfect as you can.

Thanks so much Beatrice! I can’t wait to read it!  


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