Friday, September 2, 2011

The Always Team gets a sequel-- Trouble in Riderville goes for a TD

My most recent book-- and the latest Saskatchewan Roughrider book -- has rolled off the presses just in time for the annual Labour Classic Day CFL game, the much-loved duel between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Sunday, September 4 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina).

In collaboration with author / journalist, Holly Preston, The Always Team: Trouble in Riderville, published by Always Books, hints at more suspense than readers may have found in the first story...
Everything was perfect in Riderville. At least it seemed that way.... until the day it wasn’t perfect at all.

One interesting aside... the first book, simply entitled The Always Team, has won the distinction of being the Riders' all time best-selling book.

I started working on Trouble in Riderville in the spring of 2011, and decided, along with Holly, to add more Regina landmarks to the sequel. As you can see from the cover, and a number of the full spreads, I needed to do some research as the look of the Regina skyline has changed considerably over the past few years.

Lots of reference pictures, especially from the perspective of Mosaic Stadium, were needed. We were both keen to include a scene of the boys walking across the Albert Street, where the reader could see the gorgeous and newly-refurbished pillars. (Some trivia here... did you know that the Albert Street bridge holds the Guiness Book of Worlds Records for the longest bridge over the shortest span of water... ? If you're from Regina, then I bet you did ...)

Here's my pen draft of this scene -- the final colour image that appears in the book is somewhat changed, however. We decided to include some Saskatchewan pirates, anchored in Wascana Lake, for some extra intrigue...

As for the neighbourhood where the boys live, I drew on my own memories of growing up in the 2900 block of Retallack Street in the leafy surrounds of Lakeview, where kids still play in the dappley shade of its tree-lined streets. I chose houses that were built in the 1920s because I love the stucco, the window frames, the interesting doorways, the mature foliage... the gestalt of the neighbourhood, the singularity and uniqueness of each home, where a sense of western Canadian history lingers.

I was reminded while creating the images for Trouble in Riderville of what a lovely city Regina is. If you harbour any doubt about the validity of this statement, then check out the blog called "Regina in Pictures: an online photoblog of one of Canada's most beautiful cities!," by a wonderful photographer named Guy D. There's one shot of a gentleman sitting lakeside at the south end of the Albert Street bridge in autumn-- it's absolutely stunning.

Anyway, it's back to the proverbial (and literal) drawing board for now...



"The ALWAYS Team: Trouble in Riderville" is now available online at

Monday, January 24, 2011

A weekend at the Banff Teacher Institute

I've just returned from a revitalizing weekend at the magnificent Banff Centre for the Arts (the temperature was plus 1!), where I had an opportunity to facilitate a couple of workshops at the 6th annual Learning Through the Arts Banff Teacher Institute. There was lots of cross-pollination as LTTA artists and teachers from across Canada gathered in the mountains to share their arts-based ideas, innovations and experiences for the classroom.

My co-facilitator was Mar'ce Merrell, YA novelist extraordinaire, and together we tackled humanity mapping at the division 2 level. With Mar'ce at the writing helm, and me directing the visual art component, we and our class of teachers explored 19th century immigration to western Canada.

Our lead into the topic was the creation of a thaumatrope (see my December 1, 2009 post for details on this easy but effective optical device). We asked our students to devise an image based on some form of 19th century vehicle -- modes of transport that immigrants would have used to make their way to western Canada. Chinese and European immigrants would have come by sea to reach North America, while Afro-Americans would have come by land.

With some reference material on hand to sift through, students came up with images such... as a steam train on one side of the thaumatrope disk, and steam rising from its stack on the other side; a clipper ship hull on one side and the full set of sails on the other; a wagon train on one, with the seated driver on t'other.

Students drew them in pencil first and after lots of twirling and experimenting with the placement of objects on the second side, outlined their images in fine black Sharpies and coloured them in with pencil crayons.

My second visual arts project with our students was developing a short cartoon strip -- I provided a series of pre-drawn templates with 4 to 12 boxes, gave them a brief run-down on the basic elements to consider when creating a cartoon strip (panels, speech and thought bubbles, narrative devices, etc).

Based on Mar'ce's literary lead-in, in which she guided us through the first chapter of Shaun Tan's "The Arrival," students developed a short immigration story based on their own family history, or on the reference materials provided. Most chose to narrate from personal histories, and the results were wonderful and moving.

I like to use cartoon strips or graphic novels as my art form when I instruct because it covers lots of core scholastic territory -- literacy, fine arts, storytelling -- and I now realize that really any subject matter is a candidate for this art form.

It was one of my students (a French immersion teacher from southern Alberta), who showed me an example of four-panelled cartoon she's used to teach math in Grade 3. I quickly scribbled it up show I could post it here to show you ...

So simple, so effective, so, so, well, so Learning Through the Arts...!!