Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Giving Back: A Chat with Kathy Stinson

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Kathy Stinson

On this, my last day as writer-in-residence of Open Book Toronto, I’d like to say thanks for checking in throughout the month to read my chats with many of the people who sparkle within the world of children’s publishing. It’s been a wonderful experience for me to be able to host them in this forum.

For my final post, I’d like to introduce you to KATHY STINSON, the well-respected Toronto-born writer who has published books in many genres, for example: RED IS BEST and BIG OR LITTLE?, the two first Canadian picture books for preschoolers; four CANADIAN GIRL novels about Marie-Claire; novels KING OF THE CASTLE and RUBY; and the non-fiction HIGHWAY OF HEROES.

I’ve saved this interview with Kathy for my last post because, as well as being a writer dedicated to her own craft, she also sets aside time and energy to give back to the community, both local and global, by sharing her skills and expertise. Over the years Kathy has helped students across Canada with their own writing projects through the Writers in Electronic Residence program. More recently she has been volunteering her time to help writers in Liberia, a country recently recovering from the effects of two civil wars.

ME: I remember when I first learned of you, Kathy. I borrowed your picture book, RED IS BEST, from the library, along with about 40 other picture books and read all the books to my son. He loved it and so did I. We reread it many times, borrowing it over and over again. I eventually bought the book (you'll be happy to know!) and then read it to my second child and then my third child. Each of them loved it. It was one of our favourites.

KATHY STINSON: It’s fun to find out that people I meet in different capacities in the world of children’s books have actually ‘known’ me for a long time through one of my books – usually RED IS BEST. I’m happy to know that it’s been a part of your family’s reading enjoyment.

ME: You've been writing children's books very successfully for over 30 years, both fiction and non-fiction. But I'd like to ask you about the other work you do -- the volunteer work you do to promote literacy with CODE. First of all, can you explain who CODE is and its mandate?

KATHY STINSON: CODE is the Canadian Organization for Development through Education. Their mandate is to support libraries and teacher training as well as national and local book publishing in Africa and the Caribbean.

ME: What exactly do you do with the organization?

KATHY STINSON: Through a program called Reading Liberia, I’ve worked closely with writers in Liberia and with We-Care, an organization in Liberia that is determined to establish a self-sustainable publishing program there.

Some of what I’ve been involved with includes:
conducting workshops designed to develop writing skills and the skills needed to lead their own workshops;
reading and evaluating manuscripts; helping develop criterion for selecting children’s book manuscripts to be published and serving on a committee making choices for the first ever Liberian children’s books;
helping establish publishing schedules that take into account the time and work required at each stage of book development;
advocating for writers on certain contract issues;
and coordinating the work of volunteer editors in Canada, each working with a number of Liberian writers’ manuscripts.

Since pulling back some from my intense involvement with Reading Liberia, I’ve also initiated a program called Laptops for Liberia (www.laptopsforliberia.com), in hopes of at least beginning to address the Liberian writers’ dire need for their own laptops.

ME: Why did you become involved in this type of work, and is it connected in some way to your being a writer?

KATHY: I grew up in Canada at a time when there were very few (a mere handful) of Canadian children’s books. I still managed to develop a love of books and reading, but I’ve since seen what a difference it makes to kids when the books they read reflect their country and their experiences. When I heard that this war-torn country with limited resources wanted to begin establishing a literature for their kids – because they see the education of their young as being key to avoid the kind of mess they’d just gone through – well, how could I resist?

ME: Can you tell us what opportunities there are for others to become involved?

KATHY STINSON: The need for support in many areas of the creation of quality books for young people is greater than I think anyone at CODE realized when the program began. It’s certainly greater than can be provided by just a few volunteers. Those writers, editors, illustrators, designers, or publishers interested in taking part in Reading Liberia or other CODE programs should visit www.codecan.org.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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