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Kids and Teen Blog

Tag: Canada

The Storyteller’s Son: Sebastian Robertson

by Alisha
Kids + Music / October 21, 2014


As the bus pulled off the dirt road of the reservation to the pavement of the highway back to Toronto, Robbie would stare out the window, waving good-bye. "Hey, Ma, I wanna be the storyteller one day."

Sebastian Robertson, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, lives in Los Angeles where he works as a composer. He has written music for major television series and is the head writer for a music library, We the People, which he owns and operates. More recently, he has become an author with the publication of Legends, Icons & Rebels in 2013 and more recently, Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story. His new title, released today, is a heartwarming tribute to his father, Robbie Robertson, the famed songwriter and guitarist who discovered his love of music and storytelling on a First Nations reservation in southern Ontario. Dedicated, talented and driven to succeed, Robertson rose quickly through the ranks to perform alongside rock-and-roll legends as a teenager. Written for children ages 6 to 11, Rock and Roll Highway is a story that will inspire young and old alike. In an e-mail interview yesterday, Sebastian shared his thoughts on music, reading, and his relationship with a Canadian legend.

Your close relationship with your father is evident in the telling of his life story. How much were you influenced, if at all, by your father’s reputation, when you were young? As a successful composer and musician in your own right, how have you been able to carve out your own identity, separate yet complementary to his own?

As a kid I didn’t really understand my father’s fame or profession all that well. By the time I was born he had ceased touring and he really kept his work life and home life separate. I just thought it was really cool when people would ask for his autograph. That gave me a sense of pride. As far as my own work is concerned I forged a new path in an area of music that is separate from my dad. Not on purpose, but because I was pulled in another direction and found it to be the most fulfilling for me. However, he’s an amazing guy to be able to bounce ideas off of and we’ve collaborated on a number of projects.

One of the most powerful moments depicted in Rock and Roll Highway is your father’s decision, as a teen, to sell his beloved guitar and amplifier in order to buy a bus ticket and join Ronnie Hawkins in the American south. His sense of mission, and at such a young age, is unusual but I am intrigued by the amount of synchronicity, almost destiny, that plays out in the book. It’s as if Robbie was always at the right place at the right time and that fate was always one step ahead of him. But when did Robbie first know, really know, that music would be his life’s work?

My dad spent a lot of time with his mother’s relatives and they were terrific storytellers and quite musical too. He was bitten by the music bug and immediately knew he was going to completely give himself to the process. At the age of nine, he got his first guitar and after a few lessons, he taught himself the rest. This clearly is an unusual amount of commitment and discipline for a young boy but it speaks to his talent and success.

Your previous book, Legends, Icons & Rebels, profiles the musical legacies of popular music's most influential voices, and is accompanied by two CDs that include recordings by Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, and many others. The book, aimed at pre-teens, was recently nominated for a 2015 Red Maple Non-Fiction award. (Congratulations!) With the publication of Rock and Roll Legend, you appear to be carving a path for yourself as a writer of music history books for young people. Where does your desire to preserve—and celebratemusical history originate from? And why young people (as opposed to an adult audience)?

First off I’m honored by the nomination and also that I have the opportunity to share an art form with those I believe to be the most open minded, honest and interesting peoples of our world, children. When I play music for my son, Donovan who is nine, he approaches it with no judgment or baggage, just curiosity. This allows him to appreciate everything from Curtis Mayfield, Billie Holiday to Iggy Azalea and M83. This is what I consider a perfect audience.

In the book, you describe the incredible support and love Robbie received from his relatives. At a young age, he and his mother would often visit the Six Nations Indian Reservation located two hours north of Toronto, his hometown. “It was here where it all began; it was here where the rhythm, melodies, and storytelling of Robbie’s First Nation relatives captured his imagination.” It’s apparent that his ancestral legacy played a part in developing his intense connection to music. What do you consider to be your father’s most important legacy? And as a musician and writer, and most importantly, as a father, what do you hope your legacy will be to your own son?

For me, his most important legacy will always be as a loving, kind, generous and devoted father. I’ll never forget his handcrafted, early morning western omelettes before a big 8:30 am little league game. I’ll never forget the compassion when I miss-stepped as boy and into my teens. My goal and my legacy are simple: To be the best friend, son, father and husband I can be.

In your own Q & A section at the back of Rock and Roll Highway, your father mentions a love of reading and particularly enjoyed the classics by Steinbeck and Faulkner when he was on the road. He also reveals he was inspired by these books, saying “…some of the songs I wrote were about historical times and events, and the reading I was doing really helped me paint pictures with the lyrics and expand my vocabulary.” How much of your own work as a television music composer is inspired by the books you read—and who are some of your favourite writers?

When I started out playing in bands, reading was an integral part of the writing process. I have always felt that you needed to read in order to write. I was greatly impacted by Steinbeck but also loved authors of “darker” literature, like Camus, and specifically enjoyed Hunger by Knut Hamsun, The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy and some of Aleister Crowley’s works. I suppose these books stay with you forever and impact any creative endeavor you give yourself to.

Janet Gurtler #16ThingsIThoughtWereTrue Interview

by Dan
Author Q & A + YA Fiction / March 07, 2014

Janet Gurtler

We're very excited about Janet Gurtler's new novel 16 Things I Thought Were True (if you don't believe me, take a look at our list of "Things We Thought Were True About Publishing!" inspired by the book on Facebook!) and to celebrate its release we thought we'd ask the Calgary-based author a few questions about the book and her writing process...  

Where do you write?

I can write almost anywhere if I have to, but I usually just sit on my couch with an ottoman under my feet, laptop in my lap. Sometimes I also write at Starbucks. Lastly, my son is a swimmer and I often write in the viewing area while he swims. He swims A LOT.

Tell us about your writing process.

I tend to be more of a seat of the pants writer, meaning that I don’t do heavy plotting. I usually come up with a character first and build around that character’s life. I try and make my characters and secondary characters well rounded and relatable and I use Donald Maass’s Breakout Workbook a lot when I’m writing.

Is there a teacher or librarian who has influenced your life?

I had a teacher in sixth grade who really encouraged my creative writing. He was a really great teacher, Mr. Dufferin, and he made me believe in myself as a writer. I think he made me a writer in my soul.

What is your favourite social media platform?

I am a Facebook fan. Because I’m old. But I do love Twitter as well.

Why did you choose to incorporate social media into this novel?

I actually wanted to use the paradox of a girl who has been overexposed online, and then finds herself hiding out online. I know so many people (myself included) who spend a lot of time alone and being online makes it somehow less lonely. As a writer I am pretty much alone most of the day, but I love being able to check in on social media sites. It makes me feel connected to others. I wanted to explore that connection, but also show how this girl needed to get a “real” life as well as an online one.

What have you learned over the past four novels? Has that influenced the way you wrote this fifth novel?

Wow. I’ve learned that I really can write a book! That may sound like I’m kidding but sometimes when I’m at the middle point of a first draft, it feels like it’s not possible to ever finish. But I know I can. I am big on giving myself daily word counts. It’s a great way to keep a book going.
I also learned how much I love the revision process. The type of writer I am, it works best for me to get the first draft down in a choppy, rather sloppy way, and then the real shape comes in the revision process.

Other than your own book, what’s your favourite book that you’ve read in the last year?

I’ve read some great books this year, Rainbow Rowell is amazing! But I think I was most taken with, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini. The voice is amazing and I really admired the book. I was so sorry to hear of his death. Such a talented but conflicted man. Mental illness sucks.

Have you ever been tempted to write genres other than contemporary YA?

I’ve been more than tempted! I’ve done it! I’ve actually written a couple of paranormal YA’s. Neither sold. But right now I’m writing an MG series for Capstone, called Mermaid Kingdom. It’s fun. Four small books. So different than my YA.

What is one of the things you thought were true as a teenager?

I thought that Rex Smith was the most beautiful man on the planet. I thought that this was the most beautiful and meaningful song ever written. And a great video. Ha ha. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Write a lot. And try to find some writing friends who “get” what you’re trying to do. It’s not always easy but if you love it, you’ll keep at it.

Where do you get inspiration for your novels?

I get inspiration everywhere, and lots from real life. Most of my ideas start with characters. I’m kind of a “what if” writer. What if a girl’s embarrassing video accidentally went viral and she was hiding out on Twitter. What if a girl ate a peanut butter sandwich and then kissed a boy who had peanut allergies.

Why do you write novels for young adults?

I think that’s where my voice is most natural. I tried writing romance when I wrote my first book but when I started writing my first YA, I was like, YES, this is what I was meant to write. I think in my head I’m a sixteen year old girl, and it’s easy for me to write at that level. Scary. True.

How do you choose names for your characters?

Very randomly. I use social media to find names for most of my main characters. I have to make sure I’m giving my characters names that are popular today and not when I was a teenager. I’m not the kind of writer who gets really hung up on character’s names. In 16 Things, Adam was not Adam until my editor gave me revisions. His name was Riker and my editor really nicely asked if I would change it. It tends to happen more with my male characters. That they get changed, I mean.

What would be in your road trip survival kit?

First coffee. Then Diet coke. And Gum. Especially if I’m driving. I love to chew gum when I drive. And good speakers, if I’m driving. So I can play loud music. If I’m a passenger, I need a good book.

What has been your most memorable road trip?

I took A LOT of road trips as a kid. That was our go to summer holiday plan in my family with 4 kids. The one that stands out the most is when family friends drove all the way from the Edmonton joined us in Toronto (where we’d recently moved from Edmonton) and we drove all the way to the Maritimes. Two station wagons, 9 kids, 2 dogs, 4 adults. We camped along the way. I mostly remember the fireflies in on East Coast. They were so cool.

What kind of advice would you give kids who are suffering from cyber bullying? Do you think it’s something that will keep escalating?

As the mom of a teenager, I really hate the idea of cyber bullying, but of course it happens. I think parents need to play an active role if they can. By that I mean making sure they are aware of what kids are doing online and keeping communication lines open. So if bullying is happening with kids, they can feel comfortable about asking parents for help. Which is hard, I know, because being bullied feels so shameful (when it isn’t the fault of the victim at all) but it’s not always something kids want to talk about. My advice is to tell someone. Ask for help. No one should have to deal with bullying alone.

If you could go back in time and give your teenage self 5 pieces of advice, what would they be?

  1. Stop perming your hair.
  2. Drinking does not make people like you more. Quite the opposite. You’re okay without it. Shy isn’t a death sentence. Be yourself.
  3. You’re not so bad. Give yourself a break.
  4. A boy who says you need to lose weight is NOT a boy you want to be dating. Also. You are NOT fat.
  5. Don’t be so worried about what other people think.

Do you imagine that your characters go on to live happier, stronger lives having overcome the obstacles they face? Or, do you think they continue to be presented with struggles in their adult lives?

Great question ha ha! I always imagine my characters going on to have a happier life after the books is over, I really do! I don’t usually think of them all the way to adult lives, but I think past the time when the book ends and they’re off to college, or with the boy or whatever they need to do to get happy when the book is over. ☺

Who is your favourite character from your books, and why?

Hmm. This is hard. I always really love the characters I’m currently working on. And it’s harder than naming my favorite child, because I only have one so he always wins. Picture me currently in deep thought. Okay. I’m going to go with Sam from Who I Kissed. I felt very protective of her because she really did think she didn’t deserve to have any happiness in her life after the tragedy in the book took place. It was a hard book to write, very close to home, as my son has peanut allergies. I really felt emotionally connected to Sam.

Have you ever wanted to revisit any of your characters in a sequel?

I think at some point I’d like to write a short novella or something where all my characters meet up and there’s some resolution to where they ended up after their stories ended. I haven’t felt compelled to continue a characters story in a full book though.

Which character is the most like you?

Honestly I think little parts of me slip into most of the characters. Or they get to do or say thing I always wanted to.

This book is a departure from your previous cover treatments. What do you think of the new cover?

I really really really love it! (really really) I think it is a great representation of what the book is about. I love the Morgan they used on the cover and the feeling of being alone in all that white space!

Thanks Janet!

Flying The Canadian Flyer

by Kendal (Owlkids)
October 24, 2011

Beware, Pirates!

When I was eight years old I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even allowed to go around the corner by myself, which is why I love our Canadian Flyer series — Emily and Matt, our two fourth-grade adventurers, have been to more provinces and territories (and gotten out of more jams) than anyone I know! Since 2007, when Beware, Pirates! first started flying off shelves, they’ve outrun dinosaurs in the Alberta Badlands, seen the Silver Dart soar high in Nova Scotia’s skies, drove a bumpy stagecoach from Montreal to Peterborough, and experienced other key moments in Canadian history firsthand (such is the magic of time travel)!

Halifax Explodes!

Owlkids is wrapping the series up this November with Halifax Explodes!, which finds Matt and Emily touching their magic sled down on Citadel Hill just as the city is rocked by a giant explosion. Nova Scotia is clearly a favourite province of theirs, as this will be their fourth visit in as many years! It will be sad not to have a new Canadian Flyer or two (or three) on our list next season, but luckily there are 17 books in total, which is plenty of material for even the most voracious of young readers.

Canadian Flyer Map

These books have great curriculum links for grades two to four — everything from geography to language arts and social studies — so author (and former teacher) Frieda Wishinsky has helped us put together these great lesson plans for teachers. Hope you can use them in your classroom or library! Plus, don’t you love this map of Canada, which shows all the places Emily and Matt have gone on their adventures? Let your Raincoast rep know if you would like one.

Bon voyage!  

Learn To Speak Dance

by Kendal (Owlkids)
Kids / September 13, 2011

With over 800,000 people tuning in to the season 4 finale of So You Think You Can Dance Canada last weekend, I think we can safely assume there are a whole lot of Canadians out there fascinated by the world of dance. That’s not to say that everyone wants to take centre stage, though — maybe it’s the choreography that you find fascinating, or the costumes, or the lighting. Maybe it’s the judges’ banter you find entertaining, or you just love seeing all the different dance styles from around the world in action. Put simply, whether you’re a performer or not, dance is a pretty cool art form to explore. 

Luckily, Owlkids has got a book to help kids do just that.

Whether for an aspiring pro or a curious onlooker, Learn to Speak Dance by longtime dancer and dance teacher Ann-Marie Williams is a chance for kids to experience — and be inspired by — the world of dance as never before. They’ll learn how to choreograph steps, design costumes, mix dance styles, shoot a dance video...even about some of the careers available in the dance industry.

But this book isn’t an audition, a lecture, or a strict “how-to.” It’s just about having fun and seeing just how far your own two feet can move you! Check out this video starring four young students from the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre in Toronto to see what I’m talking about. These young dancers got their hands on Learn to Speak Dance and worked with author Ann-Marie to put together this cool video:


Harry Potter and the Teen Read Awards!

by Dan
Harry Potter + Kids / June 21, 2010

teens read awards

Indigo announced their first annual Teen Read Awards today, and J.K. Rowling is nominated for TWO awards!  

Harry Potter Teen Read Awards

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been nominated for 'Best All-Time Fave', while Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been nominated for 'Best Book to Flick'. 

You can cast your vote and win cool prizes at the Teen Read Awards website, and get the latest news on the awards on Twitter and on the Chapters-Indigo Facebook Fan Page

Harry Potter Teen Read Awards