Michelle Mulder, a graduate of Humber's School for Writers and successful author, was recently awarded the Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada’s Information Book Award. As she says, she had to laugh.
I’d never imagined laughing under these circumstances, but I couldn’t help it. Of all possible writing awards, this is the last one I’d imagined growing up to win.
When I was a kid, I loved novels. I loved cracking open a cover to dive into another time and place, and I loved closing the book, hours later, feeling I’d added a new set of experiences to my own. In school, teachers encouraged me to read nonfiction, but I didn’t see the point. Why read long, boring passages of authoritative text, when instead I could become a character in a novel and learn all that I needed to know about the world?
Not surprisingly, when I enrolled in the Humber School for Writers twelve years ago, I planned to write a novel. Isabel Huggan encouraged me to dive into a story and bring my readers with me. Happy with my creation, I sent the manuscript off to publishers. No luck. I reworked it and sent it out again. This time, while I waited for responses, I began writing a children’s book, but sobered by recent rejections, I didn’t trust myself to come up with a story on my own. Instead, I used what I’d learned from Isabel to shape a story around a real event—the Canadian children’s strikes of 1947 when the price of chocolate rose from 5 cents to 8 cents. I invented fictional characters who got involved in the action and went from there.
The book sold. I tried the story-generating technique again with another topic, and that book sold too, and so did the next. By this time, I was reading plenty of children’s nonfiction, and I realized that it had changed a lot since I was a kid. Gone were the long passages of authoritative text. Color photos abounded, and realistic descriptive passages drew me in like never before. With this in mind, I wrote my first nonfiction proposal, about bicycles. Orca Books offered to publish it, but only as part of a series, so would I mind writing books about sustainable energy and water, as well please? I knew little about water, less about sustainable energy, and nothing about nonfiction, but not wanting to turn down this opportunity, I agreed. Then I sat down to write what the twelve-year-old in me never imagined.
And so a few months ago, when I learned that Pedal It! How Bicycles Are Changing the World had won the Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada’s Information Book Award, I laughed. I laughed because I had been so wrong about nonfiction and because I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to write it anyway.
Author Michelle Mulder is a Canadian author who writes both fiction and non-fiction for young readers. Her newest non-fiction book, Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World, hit the shelves on April 1, 2015.