Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Helaine Becker

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Ten Questions with Helaine Becker

Open Book talks to Helaine Becker about reading, writing and her latest book, The Insecto-Files: Amazing Insect Science and Bug Facts You'll Never Believe (Maple Tree Press). Helaine will be at the Children’s Activity Tent at The Word On The Street on Sunday, September 27.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

Helaine Becker:

The Insecto-Files is everything weird and wonderful you ever wanted to know about bugs. Like, “can they grow as big as a T-Rex?” and “how do they walk on the ceiling anyway?” You’ll learn about bugs that stink so bad they can kill themselves with the smell and others that can shoot burning hot acid out of their butts.

I also have a book coming out in October called What’s the Big Idea? It’s about the most influential inventions of all time (alas, the whoopee cushion didn’t make the cut) and why you really, really, really should tip your hat to their inventors. It’s full of bizarro facts that will make you give your head a shake, and make you appreciate how lucky you are not to be a potter in Mesopotamia or a farmer in 12th century Holland.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

HB:

Kids ages 8 to 12 are the main audience, but I really write for everyone who is curious, open-minded and has a twisted sense of humor. For some reason, boys of all ages love my books. I guess they can sense that I think arm farts are funny.
 

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

HB:

A beach in Tahiti... or else my comfy armchair by the kitchen window, with our dog Ella keeping my tootsies warm.
 

OBT:

What was your first publication?

HB:

A poem in a library magazine when I was 11 or 12. Then there was a long, dry spell. Boredom Blasters, which won the Silver Birch Award, came out in 2004.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

HB:

I did have the amazing opportunity of travelling to Nunavut this past fall and reading in three different communities' schools. I learned so much and had a great time. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some Arctic book in my future.
 

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

HB:

Gosh, other than my own? Hmmmm... what about my friends’ books? Keep our economy humming along….

I find it hard to decide. There are so many truly great Canadian books now, both children’s and for adults, that it’s not like you have to read the iconic titles in order to find something memorable.

For a kid or teenager, I might recommend this year’s Silver Birch fiction winner, The Third Eye, by Mahtab Narsimhan. On Thin Ice by Jamie Bastedo or Spider’s Song by Anita Daher.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

HB:

We Have to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

HB:

Read read read read read. Then write write write write write.
 

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

HB:

Learn the biz. You wouldn’t open a shoe store without learning how shoe manufacturers make money. You can’t become a professional writer without knowing how publishers make money either (and ahem, most don’t.) Well, you can, but it might not work out how you want it to. To be successful, it helps to consider yourself as an entrepreneur selling a service. You not only need writing talent and discipline, but all the sales and business skills required to set up shop on your own. That means learning how to make a sales call and how to collect overdue accounts.

It also means you have to know your customer – who all the publishers are and what they are buying. So get on line and do your research, and meet up with fellow writers to network and share info. Would-be children’s writers should hustle their rears right to the next CANSCAIP meeting – the Canadian Association of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers – ASAP for incredible advice, information and support.

OBT:

What is your next project?

HB:

I’ve always got about a dozen projects on the go at any given time, some in edits, some in various states of completion and some still in the on spec hopper. I have a book about Science Magic coming out in the spring of’10 from Owlkids that’s in edits now and a quiz book for boys that Scholastic will be publishing also in the spring. Two picture books are slated for Fall ’10, both with Scholastic too. One is a funny Halloween book, and one is a Christmas giggler. Tundra will be publishing my third picture book in Spring ’11. I’ve been working with illustrator Martin Springett on a graphic novel that we’re both really excited about, and I am waiting to hear about whether three or four other potential projects are going to be a go. Like I said, there’s always lots on my to do list! That’s what makes my job as a writer so much fun – that, and getting to hang out with kids all over the country. Amazingly, and marvelously, kids NEVER talk about their mortgages or their investments. I guess that’s why I never want to stop being one ( a kid, not an investment...).


Helaine Becker has published in children's genres all the way from humorous verse to educational textbooks. She has developed inventive materials for numerous educational publications in science, math and language arts, has had her work published in children's magazines such as chickaDEE and Chirp and has taught seminars on children's writing for the Canadian Author's Association.

Helaine’s knack for blending humour and education into a satisfying package that both delights and informs is recognized by critics and booksellers across North America. Her first book with Maple Tree Press, eHBoredom Blasters: Brain Bogglers, Awesome Activities, Cool Comics, Tasty Treats, and More… was a Book Sense Pick, an honour chosen by over 250 independent booksellers across the United States. It was also the winner of the 2006 Silver Birch Award for non-fiction, and made the Chapters/Indigo “Best of 2004” list. Her book, Mama Likes to Mambo (Stoddart), a book of humorous verse, received a star of outstanding merit from Our Choice and was selected by the Ontario Elementary Teacher's Federation for Summer Reading.

Helaine’s most recent books include The Insecto-files: Amazing Insect Science and Bug Facts You’ll Never Believe, Science on the Loose: Amazing Activities and Science Facts You’ll Never Believe and Mother Goose Unplucked: Crazy Comics, Zany Activities, Nutty Facts & Other Twisted Takes on Childhood Favorites. She is also the author of Secret Agent Y.O.U., Boredom Blasters and Like a Pro.

Helaine lives in Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two sons. Her website is www.helainebecker.com.

For more information about The Insecto-Files please visit the Maple Tree Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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