Sarah Raymond is a writer and artist from Toronto, Ontario. Her young adult novel, Signs of Martha, comes out in spring 2011 with Great Plains Publications. Scroll on down for musings on writing, art and other perils of domestic life. Homemade drawings included.

Monday, January 10, 2011

High School Blackboards These Days

When I subbed at a Toronto high school last week, I witnessed another encounter between old and new technologies. As usual, I wrote the day's date and assignment on the blackboard. White dust sprayed down from my words, clouded the air and smudged my sweater. That's okay. I like chalk--reliably available and free of recharging needs or software updating. And when chalk crashes, it's hardly a disaster.

In walked the grade 12s. Not one but two of them stopped in their tracks before the blackboard. They raised their iphones to eye-level, paused and snapped a photo of the assignment. You heard me. They photographed my blackboard assignment.

I gulped. What was that all about? Laziness? Technological exhibitionism? Or was it efficiency?

I divulged the students' ways to my friends at dinner that evening, at a restaurant. One friend, a mother of a younger child with learning disabilities, raised her glass. Anything to spare her son the angst of handwriting would be a blessing. The other friend was aghast. She made me remember my own long-held classroom ritual of copying an assignment from the board--getting graphically involved with the work ahead. Was the copying ritual meaningful? Or did it bog down the process of learning, I wondered?

The answer doesn't matter. Our mini-debate over dinner won't change a thing. Although many students will continue favouring their trusty blue Bic pens, and a few others, true to form, will shun the work all together, some will take technological opportunities when they arise. And I, brushing chalk from my sweater, say cheers to them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Latest Delicious Read: Aristide

Aristide visits his grandma to eat her sumptuous French cooking and explore the seaside, but he accidentally floats from France to England on his blue and white air mattress. His trip is cold and dark, and when Aristide bumps ashore, he's taken prisoner by a red-haired kid who happens to be preparing for a full-scale water pistol and sand balloon attack on the enemy. Aristide, though, changes the course of the war.

Spoiler: when Aristide finally reunites with his distraught maman, she cries so hard she soaks her pillow. His father, in contrast, says, "It's good to see you, son." I laughed so hard I soaked my own pillow, but when I told my husband about the excerpt, he said, "Ha, ha. Very funny." It's weird how men can't appreciate even the most enjoyable digs at their gender's emotional restraint.

Aristide is hilariously written by Rosemary Friedman and illustrated by Quentin Blake. What more could you want? The English version, perhaps? I read the slim, sweet book in French, but there must be an English one kicking around.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Brainpicking Children's Author Karen Krossing

Karen Krossing writes novels and short stories for children and teens. Her latest novel, The Yoyo Prophet, will be published in the fall of 2011 with Orca Books. Karen is the current president of CANSCAIP. She volunteers at Red Door Family Shelter and lives in Toronto with her family.

Best time/place to write

I get my best ideas when I’m falling asleep. I repeat them in my head a few times and then write them down once I get to my desk.

Author you wish you had for a high school English teacher

E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and other books. He could write a mean sentence and explain why it worked so well.

Your thoughts on flossing

The need for flossing should be banned from my world.

Favourite background noise for writing

Absolute silence. Except for birds twittering outside, or the sound of rain and wind.

Bad grammar pet peeve

Life’s too short to get peeved about grammar.

Biggest obstacle to getting the work of writing done

The need for sleep. If I didn’t sleep, I’d have eight more hours each day to write!

Favourite writing tool

I love talking about a writing idea with someone who will listen, nod and inspire.

Do you believe in aliens?

Yup. Life has evolved on Earth. Why not elsewhere?

Literary character you’d like to invite for dinner?

The protagonist from my current work-in-progress so that I could fully explore what he thinks and feels.

Alternate time, place or universe you’d like to visit

The world of my current work-in-progress – to smell, touch, hear and see details that I could then write about.

Current writing project you dare to mention

Eeep! I can’t talk about it yet. It’s too fragile.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Latest Read: Eating Animals

I have an uncomfortable relationship with meat. Chicken is tasty and salmon divine, yet factory farming makes my stomach queasy. Reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals (Little, Brown and Co., 2009) didn't ease my discomfort one calorie.

Safran Foer describes his visits to factory farms with the graphic precision of an inspired novelist, which of course he is. He also turns his pen over to meat processors, farmers and activists so they can relate their experiences. He muses on his collective findings and admits to the awkward aspects of going veg, like the difficulty in sitting apart from a communal table. He doesn't mention the issue of time. Me, I covet time, and butchering each haricot vert and stalk of swiss chard takes up a lot of it. Skimming Saran off a styro-pack of chicken parts, in contrast, does not.

Trouble is, I know too much about family farming. I grew up between a dairy farm and an alfalfa field. We carried home unpasteurized milk in old Beckers jugs from the neighbours. We bought beef by the gutsy fraction--a quarter or a half a cow--from the guy down the road. We weren't trying to be ethical or local-eaters. The food was just available, affordable and tasty. Finding the same kind of products seems like a luxury now. Eating animals is complicated and uncomfortable. I can't promise what I'll be eating a year from now, but I'm soaking lentils after I post this entry.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Brainpicking Children's Author Karen Rankin

Karen Rankin is a Toronto teacher and writer of children's stories. She writes for CM ( and is currently working on a young adult novel, Stepping Into Traffic. Delve into Karen's writer-brain here.

Best time and place to write:
Anytime in front of a computer, but I'm happy with a napkin in a coffee shop, too.

Author you wish you had for a high school English teacher:
At the time, Margaret Lawrence. Now: Rohinton Mistry.

Favourite background noise for writing:

Views on flossing:
Deeply religious.

Grammar pet peeve:
None, really. I’ve read too many wonderful stories written by people for whom English is a second, third or fourth language. I can’t get peeved.

Biggest obstacle to getting the writing done:

Favourite writing tool:
Computer, but I'm ashamed. It comes more easily when I use a pen, but I'm too lazy to transcribe.

Literary character you'd like to have for dinner:
Dawsey Adams. I was sorry when the (epistolary) novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (M. A. Shaffer and A. Barrows) ended. I wanted to stay in touch with the characters, especially Dawsey.

Alternate universe you'd like to visit:
Occasionally I wish to be "beamed up", not that I really want to go anywhere else, I just get fed up with being here.

Thoughts on aliens:

Depends on where they're from. If they're the same kind of aliens as me, then I believe in them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Latest Read: Watching Jimmy

When I brought home Nancy Hartry's Watching Jimmy (Tundra, 2009), my nine-year-old pounced on it before I could crack open the cover. We agreed to share the novel as a bedtime read-aloud. That worked well, although my daughter wanted to keep reading all night.

In the novel, 11-year-old Carolyn guards an uncomfortable secret about the reason for her next door neighbour's brain damage. The novel's 1958 setting encouraged mother-daughter discussion about terms like "galoshes" and concepts like "washing your mouth out with soap", (seen as horrifically hilarious) and even the beginnings of Canada's health care system. Nancy Hartry's writing is seemingly effortless, powerful and moving. I ended up in tears with my daughter stroking my back. Four thumbs up--two big and two small.