Interview: Vikki VanSickle – Part 2

BBC: As a mom and a teacher it’s my duty to ask on behalf of all my little ones: can we expect a sequel to “Teddy Bear of the Year”? Will all our favourite teddies be back? Any new characters?

VV: I very rarely think in terms of sequels, if you can believe it! I like leaving all of my books a little open-ended because I think it invites reflection and space for the reader’s imagination to take off. I also think of life as a series of small moments, and each book I write is a small moment or reflection, and then I want to move on. I’d never say never, in fact during one of my virtual events, an idea for a book about a school for teddy bears popped into my head, and I’ve been mulling that over for a few days now. 

BBC: How was to win the Red Maple Award for the Winnowing? 

VV: Honestly it was one of the most exhilarating, gratifying moments in my career. I love science fiction and always wanted to write something like The Winnowing, but the genre felt so daunting. I had to do so much more plotting and researching and logistical thinking. I wanted to tell a big story on a smaller, personal scale. I’m not an epic writer, I’m a small moments writer. I wondered if it was possible to write a pacey, action-packed sci fi novel in a small, personal way. In the end, I felt like I developed new muscles but was also true to my own vision of the story.  

It was also a step in a different direction, and I wasn’t sure how people would respond. So to be nominated for numerous children’s choice awards and to have the actual age group you write for vote your book as the best of the year was beyond satisfying. It was proof that I am staying true to my audience. I love everything about the Forest of Reading program and what it means for Canadian authors, readers, and schools and libraries, so to be included among the winners is just a dream. 

BBC: Your contribution to children’s literacy goes beyond your fun, amazing books. You are also the Marketing Director for the Young Reader’s Program at Penguin Random House Canada. Tell us a little bit about your activities. What are the best elements to engage young readers? 

VV: A big part of my job is finding the right audience for every book. I don’t believe in “the one book you must read” messaging. Life is not one-size-fits-all, and neither are books. I learned this working in the bookstore. Telling a reluctant reader, “you have to read this” or “everyone loves this” isn’t going to help. And if they try those books and they don’t enjoy them, you have inadvertently confirmed their suspicions: they just aren’t readers. 

Marketing is finding the right words and promotions and reviewers to best promote a book.  Who will love this book? Who needs it? How do I reach them? Would they respond to an art card or an activity kit? Is this book perfect for storytime or is it a bedtime book? Is this the kind of book that a teacher would use to introduce a subject? What curriculum connections does it have? My job is creative, which I love. The plan is driven by the book, which means I get to ask new questions and try new things all the time. 

BBC: You worked in bookselling and hosted story times. Do you think these experiences influenced your writing? If so how? 

VV: Definitely! I was the stand-in storyteller at the store that I worked in and boy were those big shoes to fill. I also spent a summer as the summer programming student at the Woodstock Public Library where I did a lot of readings and activities. So much about storytime is staying in the moment, engaging with the kids, and being playful. I learned that books with rhyme, humour, a familiar situation with a magical or unexpected twist or call and response (or creating an opportunity for call and response) are very engaging. I learned the difference between quiet books and loud books. I also learned a lot about a book that appeals to kids versus a book that appeals to adults. There are lots of great books out there that aren’t great books for sharing in a large group. It doesn’t make them unsuccessful, it just means there is a time and place for different books. 

BBC: What you would tell children that are passionate about reading and want to pursue writing as a career when they grow up?

VV: Writing is a passion and publishing is a business. Sometimes these two things don’t mix the way you want them to. Make sure you have a day job that you enjoy, because making a living as a writer is very hard and is based mostly on luck and the whims of the market. You can write whenever and wherever you go. You don’t need money, but you do need time. I tell kids all the time that I would continue to write even if no one ever published me. I enjoy it and it helps me make sense of the world. 

BBC: Any quote, saying or favourite book passage you would like to share?

VV: I live by the refrain from the picture book Miss Rumphius, ‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful.’ I love how the use of the word ‘must’ makes it an urgent call to action. I love that it’s personal, but also community-minded. It is in no way prescriptive or instructive, but an invitation to make, create, and engage. I think about this statement every day. 

There is also a line in Watch Over Me, an up-coming YA novel from Nina LaCour that I love: “Everything was beautiful and nothing was perfect.” This cozies up nicely to the Miss Rumphius quote. It reminds us that in our quest for beauty, we don’t need to strive for perfection. 

There is also a line in Watch Over Me, an up-coming YA novel from Nina LaCour that I love: “Everything was beautiful and nothing was perfect.” This cozies up nicely to the Miss Rumphius quote. It reminds us that in our quest for beauty, we don’t need to strive for perfection. 

Vikki’s Books:

Teddy Bear of the Year Written by Vikki VanSickle Illustrated by Sidney Hanson (Tundra Books, 2020)

The Winnowing 
(Scholastic Canada, 2017)

If I had a Gryphon
Written by Vikki VanSickle
Illustrated by Cale Atkinson
(Tundra Books, 2016)

Summer Days, Starry Nights 
(Scholastic Canada, 2013)

Days That end in Y 
(Scholastic Canada, 2013)

Love is a Four-Letter Word 
(Scholastic Canada, 2011)

Words That Start With B 
(Scholastic Canada, 2010)

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