#TuesdayTalk with Sylvia Taekema. Sylvia’s new middle reader, Ripple Effect, launches today!
Sylvia, you’ve written two books for kids ages 8-11. How do you get into the mind of your target audience?
Kids this age are great because they tell it like it is. They tell you what they love about a story and they tell you what they don’t. I love to spend time with children in this age group. They are fun, energetic and enthusiastic and they are always ready for more. My experiences with them in the classroom as a supply teacher or in settings where I volunteer help me to see what kids are like, what’s important to them, what they want most, and what they are afraid of. This helps me get into the mind of my target audience. As well as all the time spent with my own children and their friends, and remembering myself what it was like to be this age!
Was there a research component to either of your books?
My first book, Seconds, is about a cross country runner. It’s not at all meant to be a handbook on running, but I did do a fair amount of research about cross country running in hopes that the setting and action be accurate. I also spent quite a bit of time each autumn at cross country events as several of my children participated in the sport. For Ripple Effect, I had to make sure I had all the characters and lines of The Wizard of Oz straight.
Is there a story behind the creation of your stories?
I was chatting with a young lady just after Seconds was published. She asked me if I was going to write another book. I told her I hoped so, and then I asked her, if I did, what it should be about. She took this question very seriously and didn’t answer immediately. After some time, she came back to me and said: Friendship. I asked her why she thought that would be a good theme. She said that friendship is very important to kids, but that it doesn’t always go the way it’s supposed to. I agreed with her and wrote Ripple Effect with this in mind. In order to acknowledge this young lady’s contribution to the story, I snuck her name in.
What’s your favorite season and why?
All the seasons are wonderful in their own way and I love each of them in turn. I think it would be strange to live in a place where you don’t experience 4 distinct seasons like we do in Canada. I must admit that I love winter.The first snowfall of the year is still exciting to me and winter sports are great fun. Skating on the Rideau Canal has been one of my family’s favourite activities over the years as well as hurtling down the Winterlude ice slides. Winter evenings inside are so cozy and offer such a great opportunity to sit down and read. And I love to read. As long as I don’t have to drive in a snowstorm, I love the winter.
Is there an important issue or theme in your book that you are passionate about?
A secondary theme in Ripple Effect is doing what you can for the health of the environment and so there are several references to recycling and to choosing to walk, ride a bike or take a bus instead of driving. Choices like this are good, but they aren’t always easy. Sometimes you end up riding in the rain!
When you hit writer’s block, how do you push through it?
I cannot sit at my computer 9-5 every day and expect the ideas and words to be there exactly when I need them to be. I do try to write for a short time most days, but I also have many other things to do each day. A story is always at the back of my mind, and as I’m dusting or vacuuming or riding my bike or baking cookies or doing dishes, I will be thinking about where things were when I left off. Often an idea will come to me as I’m doing these other things and I’ll grab a small piece of paper and write it down and then stuff the paper in my pocket. Later, when I have time again, I’ll sit down at the computer and try to work that idea in. It’s a good thing I do the laundry at my house, because my pockets are often full of bits of paper that I have to empty!
Sylvia Taekema works as a supply teacher and as a volunteer in programs for children at school, church and in the community. Her first novel, Seconds, was nominated for a Silver Birch Express Award. Sylvia lives in Chatham, Ontario, where she loves to read, bake cookies and go on camping adventures with her family.