Can Write: Meeting Canadian Writers and Illustrators of Children’s Books
What inspires the writers of the books your students read? How does an illustrator decide what to draw? Is it true that most authors and illustrators don’t know each other? This column features a different Canadian children’s book creator in each issue and shows you the story beyond the covers.
On Loris Lesynski’s website, her name has a footnote. It explains this Canadian author’s genetic make-up and sums up her mission statement:
enjoys writing poems that make people grinski.
Jumping off the screen are engaging characters with speech bubbles spewing information at teachers, parents, children and fellow book lovers. Nothing about Loris or her books is the least bit boring. To get to know her better I asked her some questions.
Margriet: Where does the need to “make people grinski” come from?
Loris: I myself have often felt sad, confused, anxious, so when someone or something makes me laugh it’s a wonderful feeling. It lightens everything. When I write it gives me great pleasure to use lightness and humour. I’ve produced dark, contemplative, unreadable writing in my life, blech. Writing poems (I adore rhythm) and weaving in grinskifying is a much better way to work.
Margriet: How did you discover your love for poetry, rather than writing prose?
Loris: I’ve always written rhymes, ballads, odes. Loved Robert Service’s rhythms in junior high. When I started writing stories, they were much too earnest, too long, housing a hundred extra adjectives. I had serious leftover habits of pleasing teachers by using lots of description. I was still writing poems for kids all the time, and it was when I was struggling with several stories, having trouble getting from one scene to the next. As soon as I switched from prose to rhyme, they fell into place. Transition from scene to scene, from time to time is so much easier in rhyme—you can leap over mountains, years, incidents.
Margriet: How can teachers use your books in the classroom?
Loris: Between my own and ideas from creative teachers, there are many activities on my website. Talking to children about their own writing, I use the Laundromat poem (from Dirty Dog Boogie) to show them how they can repeat lines to fill up a poem, use different voices and sound effects (we always howl). English has the richest supply of onomatopoeia of any language. It’s interesting to say words to kids in a completely neutral tone and then have them repeat the words making the WAY they say them indicate the meaning, for example shy, cheerful, sleepy, then moving on to oily, crunchy, furious, etc.
The poem “If I Had a Brudda” (from Dirty Dog Boogie) is the poem which kids have rewritten most:
“If I had a sista, I would call my sista Slug,”
“If I had another teacher, I wish he’d drive a plane,”
or one from a mother:
“If I had a kid who’d listen, my life would be so fine.”
Teachers have printed out the empty bowl picture from the Boy Soup section of the website and kids have filled them with words, pictures or collage, from grades 1 to 6. One grade 7 class wrote the whole Giants’ Home Medical Guide—in rhyme!
Margriet: Tell us about your process of writing a poem.
Loris: A scrap of an idea comes into my awareness, and I write it down. While driving, in comes “What does a dogdog do all day?” Great rhythm, becoming a poem, maybe it’ll have, “What does a boyboy do all day?”
Other bits come into my mind and I attach them. If whatever captures ideas in my mind were a muscle, it would be extremely strong—I’m scanning the world, sweeping over things I hear and see all the time for what piques my interest. This sometimes makes me less than attentive at proper grownup meetings or when doing tedious grownup things, but it’s so enjoyable.
Part of my process is throwing things out. The eraser is the second most important part of the pencil. Doing revisions simply has to be accepted, not seen as a sign that one isn’t any good. The best, most award-winningest authors and illustrators struggle with a new project.
Margriet: Do you have any average days? If so, what does it look like?
Loris: I’m not an orderly person, don’t really follow a schedule. I want to make writing the number one priority in my life, waste less time futzing around. One thing that’s changed my “average days” quite a lot is music—listening to soft, meditative classical music, quiet African drumming. It cuts my jumpiness by about 80 percent, and I’m able to sit with my writing for much longer periods.
Margriet: Tell us what the children will experience when you do a school visit.
Loris: I love visiting kids. I don’t care for the paperwork, organizing, finding directions and back-and-forth e-mails, but the actual Author Visit part is great. I meet fabulous, brilliant kids everywhere. I do my echo-reading with them, talk about the creative process, show them crayon pictures I did as a child, then cartoons, journal pages, some of my note-taking. I show them “how a book happens”—the first sketches of a story, thumbnails, roughs, then the final art in original format, not a photocopy.
I show them a “colour key,” four sheets of plastic indicating the different printing plates that go into making JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING around us, cereal boxes, newspapers, every single book in their library. They like this, and I usually go through the layering (yellow, then magenta, blue, black) several times. Kids need to be told all the time that everything comes from parts, from process, it didn’t just appear as a burp in the universe.
Often I use the lunch hour to meet with students who really are interested in writing, or drawing, and we do an informal no-charge writing workshop. This is fun for me, the kids are very open, have excellent questions and some definite ambitions. Sometimes they say, “I have a great idea for a story, why don’t you write it?” and my answer is, “Why don’t you?!”
Margriet: What are you working on right now?
Loris: A book of funny soccer poems, Crazy About Soccer, with Annick Press, and an assortment of picture books. The next big project will be a book about math—is it real? is it funny? is it necessary?
Margriet: What is your worst habit?
Loris: Library books. The limit is fifty, I’m usually right up there. I read fast and I’m interested in everything. Such bounty, and free! Except for overdue fines—I’m convinced mine paid for the renovation of the Leaside branch.
Also avoiding housework, nail-biting and deadline-meeting. Aside from that, I’m not too bad. I hope to do another twelve books still. Back to work!
PICTURE BOOKS written and illustrated by Loris Lesynski
Boy Soup, Annick Press, 1996. Paper 1-55037-416-8; Cloth 1-55037-417-6
Ogre Fun, Annick Press, 1997. Paper 1-55037-446-X; Cloth 1-55037-447-8
Catmagic, Annick Press, 1998. Paper 1-55037-532-6; Cloth 1-55037-533-4
Night School, Annick Press, 2000. Paper 1-55037-584-9; Cloth 1-55037-585-7
Rocksy, Annick Press, 2002. Paper 1-55037-750-7; Cloth 1-55037-751-5
COLLECTIONS OF POEMS written and illustrated by Loris Lesynski
Dirty Dog Boogie, Annick Press, 1999. Paper 1-55037-572-5; Cloth 1-55037-573-3
Nothing Beats A Pizza, Annick Press, 2002. Paper 1-55037-700-0; Cloth 1-55037-701-9
Cabbagehead, Annick Press, 2003. Paper 1-55037-804-X; Cloth 1-55037-805-8
Zigzag: Zoems for Zindergarten, Annick Press, 2004. Paper 1-55037-882-1; Cloth 1-55037-875-9
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of 28 books for children. She conducts author presentations in schools around the country. http://www.margrietruurs.com/
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2011 issue.