Red Cedar Awards Gala 2016

Your Roving Reporter is back to write about the celebration last Saturday (May 7) which was the Red Cedar Awards Gala 2016.

Students from various Red Cedar reading clubs MC’d the event. They are to be congratulated for their clear speaking and poise in front of what was a large and enthusiastic audience.

The event kicked off, after announcements, thanks, and acknowledgement that we stood on the traditional unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations, with skits and book talks for the nominated books, created by the readers.

The first presentation was for Kate Jaimet’s Dunce’s Rock.

“[If this book were a drink] it would be an extravagantly delicious smoothie.”

The skit for Charles de Lint’s Seven Wild Sisters was very short and left the audience laughing, as did the introduction to a re-enactment of a scene from Becky Citra’s Finding Grace.

Next up was The Elevator Ghost by Glen Huser.

“The moral of the story is, stories teach lessons.”

“We like this book because the kids are really naughty, and the babysitter makes them un-naughty.”

The girls who spoke about Deborah Ellis’s The Cat at the Wall spoke back and forth smoothly, and at key moments spoke in unison in perfect time.

The group who presented on Take Sheter: At Home and Around the World by Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton used a powerpoint to show images of their two favourite homes in the book. The homes depicted (volcano homes in Turkey and artificial pond apartments in Switzerland) drew an appreciative ooh from the crowd.

The scheduled presenters of The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter, were unable to be present. Two classmates filled in for them by reading the prepared script in unison robotic voices. The script was funny, raising partially-suppressed giggles, which burst out at the sassy interjections to the script and culminated in whoops with applause at the end.

One of the two students presenting Dan Bar-el’s Audrey (cow) was likewise absent; she was replaced by a librarian. This presentation, which took the form of journalist Rachel Brown (human) interviewing Audrey (cow), was greeted with gales of laughter.

Patient Zero by Marilee Peters was presented as a “Minute Masterpiece” by three boys in identical outfits, one of whom ran a powerpoint, one of whom listed what the book was about, and one of whom acted out those themes: illness, mysteries, death, plague, “and other things.”

The group who presented Camp Outlook by Brenda Baker made a video trailer for the book – well done!

Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home by Michelle Mulder was introduced with Did You Knows and the story behind the author’s interest in the topic.

Finally, the group presenting If…: A Mind Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith and Steve Adams shared facts from the book.

Next up were the talks by the fiction authors present. Each author was introduced by a different student, who listed a few of the author’s accomplishments, careers, and other writings.

The girl who introduced Richard Scrimger, author of Zomboy, was clearly very enthusiastic about his writing, interjecting “the fabulous” before his name, and declaring that “He is fun, fun, fun!”

He was, in fact.

“I’ve never been able to stand still for very long.”

Instead, he walked back and forth at the front of the crowd. He praised the presentations (“astoundingly cool”) and said he was glad that the Red Cedar Award was taken so seriously – and that so many funny books were nominated. His book, he admitted “is both funny and kind of creepy.”

“Stories come from dark places. If you’re just going to tell the happiest day of your life, that would be a lousy story.”

He spoke about the origins of Zomboy: hating bullies. As a nine year old, he was exactly the sort of kid you would expect to be bullied – short, chubby, with inch-thick glasses, and nerdy. Surprisingly, he wasn’t bullied. Why? Because he made friends with the kids who might want to pick on him.

“I domesticated them.”

His trouble with bullies came later in life, with a dog who was

“part mastiff and part tyrannosaurus”

… and with that dog’s owner, who did not respond well to a reasonable request.

“She called me names. She told me to do physically impossible things.”

Unable to react in real life, he instead put the dog and the owner in his story.

“You use the truth and you write the story based on the truth.”

The name for the protagonist, in fact, came from Richard Scrimger’s driving instructor, Imre, who was a larger-than-life man with a wicked sense of humour, not to mention a thick accent. The audience was in stitches as the author quoted things Imre, the real Imre, had said to him, complete with (rather good) accent.

Finally, before reading an excerpt from Zomboy, R.S. spoke a bit about writing and school.

The writer’s job is to “pay attention. Bring the real world into the story and make it interesting.”

“Different kinds of people. That’s what makes education wonderful.”

Next up was Glen Huser (“the amazing,” as the student introducing him added), author of The Elevator Ghost.

‘”My favourite people in the world are children who read,”

he began.

“I love crazy and eccentric people.”

(Hear, hear!)

Much of his talk was a reading from one of the tales related by the babysitter in The Elevator Ghost. I believe the tale was “The Bone Story,” which involves two prankster boys and a skeleton. Glen Huser had a wonderfully creepy voice for the skeleton, which was greeted with giggles from the audience, including this reporter. Judging by the excerpt read, the book is both hilarious and eerie – here are a few lines:

“Yes, sometimes there is a skeleton in the closet.”

“… when the world was asleep and they should have been, too.”

The next author to speak was Dan Bar-el.

“I think the only thing better than being nominated for Red Cedar was knowing I would be here for the gala.”

His talk, however, was on a serious subject. After the publication of Audrey (cow), which, he noted, was merely a collection of interviews with the various animals and humans who played a role in Audrey’s adventure, he was served legal notice.

“Apparently I have ruffled a few feathers and fur.”

Several animals disagreed with his representation of themselves in Audrey (cow) and expressed their displeasure via lawyer. This an exchange of letter between author and attorneys took place, beginning with an opening salvo on behalf of his clients from Turk E. Gobble, Attorney-at-law, demanding that his clients be allowed to tell their own side of the tale.

Unfortunately, as a letter from the library confirmed, no animals are allowed in the library. ***There was a powerpoint showing each letter, y’all. It was great.*** The end result was that Attorney Chick N. Nuggets, following the direction of the firm Gobble, Gobble, and Chick’s clients, ordered Dan Bar-el to read statements from the plaintiffs.

Which he did. First up: Charleston (rooster). Then Doris (deer), followed by Buster (pig) –

“I have received many many letters from people requesting help…” [I apologize, dear readers; I was laughing so much I couldn’t keep up with quoting. Buster lamented the letters asking for his help with computers, and cell phones. He seemed most indignant about the texts from students asking for help with math problems while they were taking a math test in class.]

– then Marlon and Jimmy D. (crows), who wanted to thank Dan Bar-el for boosting their reputation as delinquents, Greta (cow), and Oliver and Stan (raccoons).

All of these animals had different accents.

I cannot possibly convey what it was like.

Then there was a break and your Roving Reporter had to hotfoot it over to supervise the snacks table. During a lull I spoke with Michelle Mulder (author of the information book Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home). She said she had been to similar events around the country and thought she liked this one best, because of the skits. (Dead on, Michelle! The student-created skits were highly entertaining.)

I asked if it was odd seeing her own book up there.

“It was funny having my story come out of someone else’s mouth.”

Door prizes were drawn. Kidsbooks donated 7 prizes. The winners were thrilled. (When the last name was drawn, the winner’s friends screamed with excitement. Her prize must have been Zomboy, because shortly after I saw the winner make her way to Richard Scrimger, I’m pretty sure to get his signature.)

And then we heard from the information book authors in attendance.

Author Kira Vermond and illustrator Julie McLaughlin went up to talk about working together (or not!) and the process of creating Why We Live Where We Live.

“It all starts with an idea.” (KV) – or a question.

“It’s actually really tough” being an information book writer, because you have to be engaging and fun “and it all has to be true.”

Kira Vermond spoke about the fascinating different buildings and ways of living she researched to write the book, such as the poop trucks of Dubai. Then Julie McLaughlin explained the process of creating the book.

The first time they spoke was “about a year and a half after the book had been published.” (JM)

The story, in this case, went from writer (Kira Vermond) to editor to designer. The designer made a rough plan of the book layout and decided what should go there. Then the information went to the illustrator (Julie McLaughlin), who made roughs. Then there were rounds of fact-checking and editing.

Sketches of Julie McLaughlin’s process for one doublespread were shown on a powerpoint as she showed the audience the stages and changes the manuscript underwent. Fun fact: only 10-12 colours were used in the whole book. They concluded their talk by giving away two books.

Next up were mother and daughter team Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton. Dani remembered being a reader (student presenter?) at the first ever Red Cedar Gala, back in the 90s.

Nikki Tate was as funny this year as she was last year, peppering her talk with cool facts, like that there is a city in New Zealand in the desert that is entirely underground.

The idea for the story began with Dani, who started wondering about different homes. She became so interested, in fact, that as a result of her research, she and her husband bought and moved into a bus.

“Some people bring home a puppy. She brought home a greyhound bus.” (NT)

One of the major challenges in writing, they agreed, was in deciding what to include and what to cut.

“For everything that went in the book, there were six things we had to leave out.” (NT)

Researching and writing the first draft took about a year, followed by six months of editing. The original document was at least twice as long as the published book.

One audience member had a great question: “Why were most of the photographs the outside of houses and not the inside?” The answer was privacy (of the houses’ residents) and ease of access.

Next up was Michelle Mulder (Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home), who spoke about her change in perspective on fiction and nonfiction.

“When I was your age, I hated nonfiction. I thought it was the most boring thing on the planet.”

She surveyed the audience – “How many of you read fiction?” (Plenty of hands went up.) “How many of you read nonfiction?” (Slightly fewer hands but still an abundance raised.)

“How many of you will read anything you can get your hands on?”

You can imagine how many palms waved in the air in response.

As a kid who read fiction, Michelle Mulder said,

“I loved the idea of jumping into a different time and place… and when I got back I felt that I’d added their lived experiences to mine.”

Eventually, she noticed that her favourite novels all had something in common:

“every single one of them was about something that had really happened.”

As an adult, though, nonfiction books were still boring – facts crammed onto pages with no sense of what things were really like, and barely any photos – and only in black and white, when there were any. Eventually, she looked again at children’s nonfiction book. In the years between her childhood and her adulthood, the industry had shifted. Suddenly nonfiction books had photos! in colour! and paragraphs that made her feel, reading them, that she had stepped into another time and place.

Her own experience with water-borne illness led to research and the desire to write. A pitch to a publisher landed her (quite unexpectedly) a three-book deal.

“It actually took more time to find the photos and get permission to use them than it did to write the book.”

A member of the audience asked how many books she has written. Ah – written, or published? She currently has 13 published books, and several more

“stuffed into a drawer that I doubt will ever see the light of day.”

Next up was Nick Gray. Laura Scandiffio was present but did not go onstage until the very end of this talk. Nick Gray begin by showing on the screen the two brothers Escape from Tibet is about: Pasang and Tenzin and giving a short background of their homeland.

Tibet “is between India and China, which is a very uncomfortable place to be, for a country.”

About 60 years ago, China invaded Tibet. Tenzin was around 11 years old when Pesang planned their escape from Tibet, so that they could spare their mother the hardship of raising four sons.

Nick Gray pulled out a Tibetan flag and asked the two girls who had introduced him and Laura Scandiffio to hold it up. He drew attention to the features of the flag and pointed out that holding the Tibetan flag in (occupied) Tibet, as the girls were doing, was punishable by imprisonment, and perhaps worse.

The brothers’ first attempt to escape failed; they were caught and tortured. He spoke about their journey, and his documentation on film of their journey. Happily, a subsequent and very dangerous escape attempt succeeded, though their journey was far from over, and now the brothers have British citizenship.

Nick Gray is a film-maker, not a writer; Laura Scandiffio has written several information books. They did not meet until the book launch.

Susan McGuigan from Kidsbooks came up to announce the winner in each category.

“There were so many wonderful Canadian books nominated for this year’s Red Cedar Book Award in the fiction category. It was a close race, between cows, cats, campers, ghosts – this is alphabetical – gardeners, hockey players, guitar players, siblings, friends, and (of course) zombies.

“Yeah!” – from a boy in the back.

“But the young readers have spoken and chosen their favourite.”

She opened an envelope and read: Finding Grace by Becky Citra. The audience reacted with cheer, yells, and much applause. Becky Citra came forward. “I really didn’t expect this,” she said.

“I am so honoured. I’ve had a really good time today, but I’ve got to say, it just got a whole lot better.”

She spoke, as had other authors, about how nice it was to meet the readers.

“This is an amazing honour. Thank you so much.”

Susan McGuigan spoke again:

“We also had some fantastic nominations in the information book fcategory for the Red Cedar Award. We learned about history, the environment, animals, quirks of the human body, viruses and germs. Oh, so many germs…

The young readers of the British Columbia have cast their ballots, and chosen their favourite.”

She opened the second envelope: IF…” A Mind Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith and Steve Adams. This, too, was greeted with much enthusiastic noise.

A student MC took the stage to thank the authors and illustrators in attendance and the kids who had presented skits, and to *drumroll* announce the nominees for next year’s fiction and information book Red Cedar nominees. Loud, excited yesses from the back greeted the titles. “I’ve read that one!” “I’m reading that one!” One book in particular (I am not going to say which) was greeted with a room-wide inhaled hiss of anticipation. Two books nominated were by authors present this year, and were met with laughter and cheers. *** The list of nominated books for each categories will be posted soon on the Red Cedar website. ***

The day ended as it had began, with books for sale and authors available to sign them in an adjacent room, which was shortly filled with readers.

It was fun. See you there next year!