When I was growing up my family had many animals. We had horses, cats — in the barn and always one in the house, dogs of course, all types of birds, including chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks, and a budgie named George. Animals gave me great joy. Another thing I loved about my childhood were the stories my dad told. He was a master storyteller. He could invent them instantly at bedtime, or on a leisure Saturday morning.
On the other hand, I wasn’t much interested in reading or school — both required long periods of sitting. My ten-year-old self would never have dreamed that one day I would become a writer or a teacher. Yet here I am, now the author of several children’s books and a Montessori elementary school teacher for more than two decades.
I was born in Port Arthur, Ontario, now called Thunder Bay. We moved a lot because of my dad’s work. We lived in Ottawa for a period of time, and then on a farm in Richmond, Ontario. Eventually we moved to four acres in Surrey, BC, along with our horses, cats and dogs. It was the perfect place for a girl who enjoyed the outdoors. When I grew up this little farm passed into the hands of my brother and sister-in-law for many years. But not so long ago my husband and I took it over. So once again, I live happily in my girlhood home and get to sleep in the very same bedroom on the top floor that was mine when I was young.
My first love in life was animals. As a teen I followed the work of three great primatologists, Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey and Birute Galdikas who appeared often in the National Geographic that came to our home. I had a burning wish that one day I would work with primates too, and it was this desire that led me to study archaeology. It might sound strange that archaeology and apes are connected. But a famous archaeologist, Louis Leakey, believed that if scientists studied the behaviour of the great apes they would find clues to how early humans behaved some four million years ago. Fortunately for me, one of those primatologists, Dr. Birute Galdikas, taught at my university. Thanks to her, I got to go to Borneo, Indonesia three times over eight years. For twelve hours a day I followed orang-utans through jungle and tea-coloured swamp water gathering data on their behaviour. I will never forget the joy and thrill I felt being so near those beautiful orange apes that live most of their lives in the treetops of the rainforest. It was a highlight in my life.
While I was earning my archaeology degree I also began writing for my community newspaper. I enjoyed it so much I later studied journalism and became a newspaper reporter. I wasn’t too interested in covering news, but I loved writing human-interest pieces. That was how I got started in creative writing. I worked as a freelance writer for local magazines until my first child was born. That’s when I entered the amazing world of children’s books.
When my first son was little I studied to be a Montessori elementary teacher. Among other subjects, I enjoyed teaching history. To bring it to life I wrote my students stories and plays to act out. In 2004 I received the Governor General’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Canadian History. Then a few years later I turned one of my stories into my first children’s novel. Reading the Bones was published in 2008.
Governor General Adrienne Clarkson
These Days …
I still teach grades 4 to 7 in a Montessori school. This is generally the age I like to write for too. I also give school and library presentations on my books and writing workshops for children.
Reading the Bones, my first book, has now sold over 10,000 copies. In 2015 it was selected for the Reading Link Challenge in BC, and I gave dozens of talks on it for schools and libraries. It also became the first in a series of four archaeology adventures, which include: Broken Bones, Bone Deep, and A Bone to Pick. These books explore different types of archaeology, and cover different periods in Canadian history and prehistory.
Free as a Bird (a novel nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, as well as five other important book awards) centres around a character who has Down syndrome. My sister, Jane, had Down syndrome. Sadly she passed on, but her life inspired me to share what I learned from having her as my sister. One thing I wanted to share was how people with Down syndrome were treated in the past. My latest book, The Jigsaw Puzzle King, also has a character with Down syndrome. He has an exceptional talent for puzzles and a brother who worries too much about what other people think.
Awards and Nominations:
- 2004 Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History-Recipient
- 2010 Governor General’s Literary Award-Finalist
- 2011 BC Book Prize Finalist
- 2011 Canadian Library Association Book Award-Finalist
- 2011 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities
- 2011 VOYA Top Shelf Award-Finalist
- 2012 Saskatchewan’s Willow Awards–Finalist
- 2009 Ontario’s Silver Birch Awards–Finalist
- 2009 Langley Book of the Year Award—Finalist
- 2014/2015 Hackmatack Awards–Finalist
- CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014
- 2010 BC Book Prizes Author Tour; 2012 TD Book Tour-Manitoba; 2015 Reading Link Challenge Tour-BC; 2015 Hacmatack Author Tour—New Brunswick; 2015 Write It, Read it Camp instructor at the Whistler Public Library
- BC Ministry of Education – some of my books are on the ERAC List of Recommended Reading