Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Maxwell Newhouse

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Ten Questions with Maxwell Newhouse

Maxwell Newhouse talks to Open Book about kids, part-time jobs and his latest book, The Weber Street Wonder Work Crew (Tundra Books).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, The Weber Street Wonder Work Crew.

Maxwell Newhouse:

Well the idea for this book came from a conversation I had with my three children, who are now young adults. We were talking about the work ethic of kids today and how they thought it had changed since they were young. Today’s kids are too busy with extra activities, being watched all the time and driven everywhere. They don’t have any free time, to have jobs like they did.

My daughter commented on opening an account at the Royal Bank at the age of seven; with money she earned helping her brother with his paper route. She took it upon herself to maintain a positive bank balance all her school life. Having good money management skills made her transition into the adult workforce easier.

One of my sons told me he didn’t like walking the neighbour’s dog and looking after houses when neighbors went away, but he learned at a young age how to be responsible for your job and that people depend on you.

My oldest son talked about cutting lawns, washing cars and cleaning trash, although he may have complained at the time, these small jobs taught him to organize his life, a great trait to have. To be able to fit in all your chores and still have time for fun and sports is essential. Responsibility, trustworthiness, commitment, and being dependable, these are some of the lessons we learn as children that will follow us through life. I see all my children in every one of the kids in The Weber Street Wonder Work Crew. The youth have so much to offer!

OBT:

Tell us about the process of writing and illustrating a book.

MN:

Thinking back on my conversation with my family, I thought, was this really true? Are we taking this important part of learning away from our children? It became easy for me to imagine how a community might operate with input from the youth as one wise person put it, children are our biggest asset. I set out to tell the story of how a community comes together with cooperation. Kids can learn valuable lessons and have fun doing it. The most important part of producing any of my books is telling the story in my paintings.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote The Weber Street Wonder Work Crew?

MN:

I hope this book will inspire kindergarteners to grade three, helping them realize that anything is possible and helping someone is rewarding.

Recycling and reusing is the way to go, so when people work together, it changes everything.
Fundraising is a big part of what children hear in the media very day, this book gives them a first hand look at how to begin this process.

OBT:

Did you have a part-time job when you were a kid?

MN:

Growing up on a farm with six brothers and sisters, we all had chores to do. One of mine was milking the cow — morning and night! At the end of the week my Dad would give us a small allowance, but unlike my daughter I was not as disciplined in saving.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

MN:

Illustrating is what I love best, from a young child all my spare time was spent drawing.
I continued to paint all my adult life and was so very fortunate to get my first break from Tundra books, illustrating Laura Secord: A Story of Courage with one of Canada’s top children authors, Janet Lunn.

OBT:

Describe your ideal work environment.

MN:

Growing up in a small house with six kids, there was very little space to call your own. When you wanted quiet time you had to block out the background noises. While my children were home, I painted with them running around. This was the best time for me; I could stay in the loop of what was going on, but escape into my painting when it was necessary.
Since they have left home, a couple of times I chose to paint in spare rooms at local elementary schools. I guess you could say this is my ideal work environment.

OBT:

Tell us about a recent Canadian cultural experience that has influenced your work.

MN:

To date, my biggest cultural experience would have to be the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. The main theme for most of my paintings is how we live and work in Canada. Building up to the games has been exciting. I was asked by the Minister of Education for British Columbia to come up with images of Paralympic athletes for an online school coloring book. It was fantastic to research the Paralympic athletes and their sports. It changed how I felt about the athletes and there events.

At present I have been volunteering for the Olympics and working in Whistler. It makes me proud to be Canadian, when you hear people coming from all over the world say, “You are lucky to be living in Canada, it is a wonderful place to live.” I have to agree with them! Taking in the full vibe of the event and hearing and watching the outpour of Canadian pride is bound to have a positive influence on my work in the future.

OBT:

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

MN:

That is a difficult question! I have many favorite Canadian authors, but to give a gift of Canadian literature. I would choose Al Purdy, Pierre Berton and Margaret Laurence.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

MN: I have just finished Company of Adventures by Peter C. Newman, the story of the Hudson Bay Company. I must admit I am a history buff, usually Canadian or American, (my mother is American) but a good novel is also something I enjoy.

OBT:

What is your next project?

MN:

I am working on a story about children going camping; it doesn’t get any better then that!


Maxwell Newhouse is a highly accomplished folk artist whose work has been widely exhibited in galleries across Canada. He has illustrated the critically acclaimed The RCMP Musical Ride, written by the artist himself, as well as Laura Secord: A Story of Courage, Emily Carr: At the Edge of the World, Let’s Go for a Ride — a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Children’s Illustration — and The House that Max Built. Please visit his website at www.maxwellnewhouse.com

For more information on The Weber Street Wonder Work Crew, please visit Tundra’s website at www.tundrabooks.com

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

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