Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Holiday Treat, Just for You

For your viewing pleasure, the animated, musical trailer for A Porcupine in a Pine Tree.

Enjoy, and have a very happy holiday season!

With love,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

ROCK Really Rocks

Awesome day yesterday helping to kick off the The RBC After School Grants Project  in Burlington! Money was handed out. I read. The kids' laughed, and then took home books donated by Scholastic Canada. Here's the short info on the project - more later when I have a chance to pull it together!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Yes, there ARE nice people in the world

I'm sure you were as horrified as I was to hear the stories about Malala Yousoufzai's getting shot for supporting education for girls.

Journalist and author Kate Jaimet was. And she decided to do what she could to help Malala and the girls of Pakistan. So she got in touch with other members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in our region, Canada East, to see about sending a "Get Well Soon" box of kids books to Malala.

The response was overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that Kate quickly found herself faced with logistical and practical problems of sending boxes and boxes of books to Pakistan. In the end, Kate arranged to have a small box of books, written and donated by SCBWI members who had attended the recent SCBWI conference in Ottawa, to the girls' school in Pakistan that is named for Malala. Another book and get well card was mailed directly to Malala in hospital in Britain.

The selected book was Greener Grass by Caroline Pignat. The card, handmade by illustrator Peggy Collins, was signed by all the authors and illustrators who had contributed to the project.

My own contribution was The Quiz Book for Girls. I hope the girls in Pakistan enjoy it!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Fun for Yanks!

I got a nice surprise in the mail today - a cheque for the sale of sub rights of The Haunted House That Jack Built to Scholastic US!

A very welcome Halloween treat indeed.

For those of you looking for more thrills and chills - and laughs - get the audio edition! It includes a copy of the book and a CD with ME! reading the story. I'm told I have a "very professional witch's laugh" - something my sons both agree is well-earned.

Friday, October 19, 2012

You GOTTA see this Awesome Trailer!

Illustrator Mike Boldt put together this fantastic trailer for our upcoming picture book, Live from the Corner, It's Little Jack Horner.

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"The Action Begins with the First Sentence and Never Stops!"

School Library Journal reviewed Trouble in the Hills and gave it such a great review I'm jumping up and down in my seat!

Here's what they said:

"In this exciting adventure set in the Canadian Rockies, the action begins with the first sentence and never stops. After arguing with his father, high school student Cam Stewart jumps on his bike and pedals quickly up a trail. A reckless ride is his way of handling his anger at his father, whom he feels constantly badgers him. While on this ride, Cam falls over a cliff, landing on a rock jutting out from the mountain. Badly hurt, but still able to move, he tries to get to safer ground. After another error in judgement, he is thrown into a fast-moving waterfall but saved by a young woman who appears to be running away from someone. Becker keeps the plot moving as Cam and Samira struggle to survive the elements, and more. Drug running, human trafficking, and an innocent romance all factor into making this story a hit with teens. Including reluctant readers. Because of its graphic language, this one is meant for older readers who enjoy extreme sports, and survival stories."

Thanks, SLJ!

BTW, if you want to see a sneak preview of the book, check out the live-action trailer on youtube. It was produced by the folks who I work with on the TV Show, Planet Echo, and it really captures the heart-pounding chase scene on which the novel opens.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Great, Greater, Greatest Review for Alphabest!

CM Magazine reviewed Alphabest today! They gave it three stars, and had this to say:

"Gentle. Gentler. Gentlest.

Hot. Hotter. Hottest.

Icy. Icier. Iciest.

A bully at an amusement park makes other guests angry, angrier and angriest, until the brave, braver, bravest hero arrives on the scene. The chase that ensues involves increasing degrees of mayhem as the two move through the park and towards a surprise ending. Author Helaine Becker and illustrator Dave Whamond have teamed up to create an alphabet of comparative and superlative adjectives.

While Becker has carefully selected adjectives in alphabetical order, the nature of this book as an alphabet book is lost. Becker’s selections pair quite well with the illustrations and address the function of the book as an instructional tool for teaching standard comparatives and superlatives as well as some exceptions. Included at the end of the main story is a guide for teaching kids to form comparatives and superlatives with tips, rules, exceptions and examples.

The full-colour illustrations are the real gem of this book. Dave Whamond’s cartoon style is incorporated through the amusement park theme. This style is also perfect for the over-the-top examples needed to show superlatives, such as hottest, klutziest, slimiest and zaniest. Highly detailed pictures will have readers noticing something new upon each read through.

Helaine Becker and Dave Whamond are both Forest of Reading Award winners and have written a book that will teach and entertain. Definitely recommended for teachers.


Quiz Book for Spies - Great Review!

CM Magazine gave The Quiz Book for Spies 3 stars today! They also had this to say about the book :

"The amount of fun you will get out of this book is probably worth the modest price. The Quiz Book for Spies is full of word play, picture puzzles, secret codes, jokes and a couple of ‘choose your own adventure’ type stories. Everything is related to spying with some interesting trivia included. Maybe you knew that chef Julia Child was a spy, but did you also know that she invented a shark repellant?

My favourite activity was “Can You Decode Teacherspeak?”, funny ‘translations’ that rang surprisingly true. The young readers will probably recognize the ‘translations’ also, but I’m not sure they will see the humour like I did.

Because the answers to each activity are placed immediately after the activity, there is no extra step required to flip to the back of the book or turn the page upside down. Developing readers will probably have fun working their way through the pages or skipping about to do the activities in random order.

In addition to the reading and writing ‘spy’ activities, there is also one series of physical tests to determine “Are You Fit to be a Spy?” The activities test upper body strength, core strength, aerobic fitness and balance. A simple evaluation scale tells readers how close they are to being a “Super Spy”....RECOMMENDED."

Read the whole review here.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Royal Style - Science Books for Kids

The Shortlist for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize is out! Here in Canada we adore all things British, so what's not to love on this list of superb science-y reads for kids?

The complete list and more about the prize can be found at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Live Action Book Trailer Unveil!

Finally, it's done! The trailer for Trouble in the Hills. Live action. Featuring handsome leading men, one stunning leading lady, helicopters, explosions, and---

Oh, just watch it. :)


Monday, September 24, 2012

Attention Young Writers!

Do you know someone of tender years who already has the writing bug and is looking for a place to get their work published?

Check out this list, compiled by the fabulous Gillian O'Reilly,children’s book author and editor of Canadian Children’s Book News for the Telling Tales Festival in Hamilton, Ontario. Gillian has very kindly allowed me to reprint her listings here.


* Check for local papers and contests in your area.
* Canadian Aboriginal Writing Challenge
* Claremont Review - an international print magazine, based in British Columbia, that accepts manuscripts by writers 13-19.
* CNIB Braille Writing Contest  and click on Braille Creative Writing Contest.
* Cicada Magazine - an international print and online magazine that publishes writing by teens.
* Cricket Magazine - an international print magazine that holds monthly writing and artwork contests for young subscribers 9-14.
* The website accepts work for online publication.
* Hamilton Public Library annual Power of the Pen contest, poetry and short fiction, for ages 12-18. Look for it in the spring. Check the Teen Page at
* KIdsWWwrite - e-zine for young authors and readers, published by the Department of English at Okanagan College.
* New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams - a print magazine edited by 8 to 14 year-old girls.
* Skipping Stones - an international print magazine that accepts manuscripts by writers 8-16.
* Stone Soup - a print magazine of writing by young people from 8-13.
* Toronto Public Library Young Voices Magazine and other venues for writing and art:
* Windscript, the Saskatchewan Writers Guild's e-zine of high school writing   (click on “publications” and then on “Windscript”)
* Check out summer writing camps for kids, including the Brantford Camp run by Kids Can Fly ( and the Burlington Book Camp (

Monday, September 17, 2012

Don't Judge This Book by Its Cover Revised Repost

In honor of Nonfiction Monday, I'm reposting my June post about book covers.

I'd love your feedback on how much a book's cover influences your decision  to read or not read, especially in an age of Good Reads reviews et al...

I recently received a lovely letter from Cheryl Chambers, a Teacher-Librarian in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The letter said, in part,

"I recently read and reviewed (as part of the CANLIT reviews for schools in Halifax) your book "The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea."

I thought it was fabulous and gave it a 5/5 for its content. I recommended that every elementary school have at least one copy of the book.

There is however, one problem: the cover. None of the students I showed the book to would even take the time to open the book because they were put off by the cover....You have done such a fantastic job making all of the difficult concepts you bring up accessible. I think that "The Big Green Book" is an invaluable resource for educating students about the real problems facing our oceans today. But as you know, people can't help but judge a book by its cover. I would love to see this book republished with a new bright, interesting cover, so that more people will turn to "The Big Green Book" and hopefully learn from it and try to help improve the fate of our oceans...I think my favourite experiment in "The Big Green Book" was the one on over fishing, students should be able to easily understand the crisis facing the world's fish population after performing that simple experiment."

Letters like this are both thrilling (she liked it!) and disheartening for an author. We work hard on a book, as part of a team, and trust the other members of the team to do a great job all around. And they do. But sometimes, well, maybe there's a misstep.

I don't know if that's the case with The Big Green Book. Is Cheryl's opinion of the cover what's blowing in the prevailing wind? Is it a Slam Dunk, or an SOS? What do you think?

I hope, either way, that people will read the book and discover what's inside.

"Hopefully," Cheryl added, "my glowing review to the school librarians in Halifax will encourage others to purchase your book. " Me too.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Q and the Tips Take the Mad Greenie Stage

You can now watch a mini episode of Dr.Greenie's Mad Lab on line. Right here! This is the submission to the upcoming MIP Junior Kids Jury Competition, for which it is a Finalist. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Comprehensive listing now on line!

I just updated my website with ALL of my current books. It's the best place to go to see all my in-print titles, read reviews, get ISBNs, and order!

Please take a peek!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It's Out, Outer, Outest!

AlphaBest: The Zany, Zanier Zaniest Book about Comparatives and Superlatives is now available! It's already been reviewed by PW and Kirkus.

PW says, in part: "A pint-size superhero and a villain do battle through an amusement park in this alphabetical exploration of comparatives and superlatives. Both opponents suffer slapstick pratfalls as they race around the park: the hero gets covered in eggs, stuffed animal fluff, and green goo—demonstrating “eggy, eggier, eggiest,” “fuzzy, fuzzier, fuzziest,” and “slimy, slimier, slimiest.”...Closing notes offer grammatical tips for creating comparatives and superlatives".

And Kirkus says: "A bumbling klutz of a superhero chases a villain through an amusement park, the text consisting of 25 comparatives and superlatives describing their attacks on each other and the sights, sounds, textures and tastes of the park. ("Unique," appropriately, stands alone.) “Clever” is the superhero following a footprint trail. The villain is “cleverer,” slipping onto a Ferris-wheel–like ride. But the superhero is “cleverest,” setting the ride to “hyper drive,” which sends the dizzy villain flying....Whamond’s ink-and-watercolor cartoon illustrations are the true stars, his over-the-top scenes carrying the story with lots of humorous details that are sure to have kids chuckling. Expressive body language and facial expressions, especially pop-eyes, make the characters come to life."

AlphaBest not a comprehensive grammar guide, but rather a fun, funner, funnest introduction to adjective usage. I hope kids, parents and teachers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed working on it with Dave Whamond !

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Sneak Peek at New Covers (I refuse to say "cover reveal" ugh)

Here they are - my five new books/book sets that will be out this coming fall/winter. From the marvelous Scholastic Canada, and the equally marvelous Kids Can Press! How I love them, let me count the ways! 1,2,3,4....5!

This one's soooo fun - I'm crazy about the illos by Dave Whamond. Dave illustrated the award-winning Secret Agent Y.O.U. for me and I am mad about his work. You will be too when you see the inside of this book. He has taken my simple concept of learning about adjectives (ideal for beginning readers and ESL students) and turned it into a hilarious adventure. I'm digging that shrieky tongue.

What happens when you cross Old MacDonald with a dog named Bingo? A very funny sing-a-long featuring familiar fairy tale friends in a  twisted "Whatever happened to...." plot. Look for this title in 2013 unless you are a very very lucky Luckey Duckey and can get your hands on it before Xmas.

So Editor Jen MacKinnon and I are still giggling over what's inside this book. Are you ready to be a spy? Are you a spy already? Can you escape Pus Eye's dreaded clutches? Boys, girls, and immature adults will laugh very, very hard while they take these nutso quizzes. Buy copies by the dozen as loot bag gifts and you're totally covered.

I tested some of the quizzes in this book with my wonderful personal trainer, Sarah Harris. If I didn't get the answers about her right, she would twist me into a pretzel and tell me to breathe from my belly. Luckily she was laughing too hard to do a triangle pose. I recommend this book for gals ages 7-12. And for their moms who are doing Girls Night Out. You will enjoy yourselves, all of you. I promise and my BFF is nodding her head in agreement.

Last but not least, the long awaited Gift Set for Quilliam the Porcupine. This set features a book with a smaller trim size than the original edition - perfect for little hands.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Indie Bookstore Finder Rocks!

I recently came across this great tool: The Indie Bookstore Finder. Where ever you are in North America, plug in the zip or postal code and find the nearest booksellers to you. It's not perfect - booksellers, get yourselves listed! - but it is a big help if you want to find that special book, and don't want to go to the megasellers.

So give 'em a try and support your local bookseller!

Friday, June 8, 2012

More about StoryWalk!

Here are two of the signs posted along the "Juba This Juba That" StoryWalk trail in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia. You follow the trail, read the story, and do the activities. How great is that - literacy, exercise and nature all in one!
For more info on Active Kids, Healthy Kids (one of the sponsors), go to

Take a Storywalk with Juba!

What a GREAT idea! I only wish I could be there for the launch!

The Annapolis Valley Regional Library has received funding to create a StoryWalk™ from the picture

book, "Juba This, Juba That" by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Ron Lightburn, published by Tundra

Books. StoryWalk™ is an exciting initiative that combines a children’s story with a walking route, and

was developed in September, 2007 by Anne Ferguson and the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition.

This project combines the benefits of physical activity, time spent outdoors in nature, literacy, and

family time. Funds to create the project came from the Wellness Initiative Fund from the Annapolis

Valley Health Community Health Boards, and additional funds came from Eastern Kings and Annapolis

County's Active Kids Healthy Kids funding. Other partners include the Town of Bridgetown and the

Municipality of the County of Kings.

The StoryWalk™ will be installed at Jubilee Park in Bridgetown and at the Port Williams Community Park.

There will also be sets of the signs available for schools and community groups to borrow for group

events. The StoryWalk™ will be unveiled on June 11 at Jubilee Park in Bridgetown at 10:45 AM.

Illustrator Ron Lightburn will be attending the launch, and the public is invited. There will be a reading

of the book, walking the StoryWalk™, stickers for the kids, a book draw, and refreshments. Stay tuned for


For further information, or to schedule an interview, please contact

Angela J. Reynolds, Head of Youth Services

902-665-2995 ext. 224

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Don't Judge This Book by Its Cover

I recently received a lovely letter from Cheryl Chambers, a Teacher-Librarian in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The letter said, in part,

"I recently read and reviewed (as part of the CANLIT reviews for schools in Halifax) your book "The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea."

I thought it was fabulous and gave it a 5/5 for its content. I recommended that every elementary school have at least one copy of the book.

There is however, one problem: the cover. None of the students I showed the book to would even take the time to open the book because they were put off by the cover....You have done such a fantastic job making all of the difficult concepts you bring up accessible. I think that "The Big Green Book" is an invaluable resource for educating students about the real problems facing our oceans today. But as you know, people can't help but judge a book by its cover. I would love to see this book republished with a new bright, interesting cover, so that more people will turn to "The Big Green Book" and hopefully learn from it and try to help improve the fate of our oceans...I think my favourite experiment in "The Big Green Book" was the one on over fishing, students should be able to easily understand the crisis facing the world's fish population after performing that simple experiment."
Letters like this are both thrilling (she liked it!) and disheartening for an author. We work hard on a book, as part of a team, and trust the other members of the team to do a great job all around. And they do. But sometimes, well, maybe there's a misstep.
I don't know if that's the case with The Big Green Book. Is Cheryl's opinion of the cover what's blowing in the prevailing wind? Is it a Slam Dunk, or an SOS? What do you think?
I hope, either way, that people will read the book and discover what's inside.  
"Hopefully," Cheryl added, "my glowing review to the school librarians in Halifax will encourage others to purchase your book. "  Me too.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sneak Preview - Christmas Gift Set for Book, Porcupine Lovers #kidlit #xmas #bea

There's going to be a boxed set of The Porcupine in a Pine Tree this coming holiday season, complete with a new, smaller trim size (8 x 8) book and our dear fluffy stuffy, Quilliam. Hope you like it half as much as I do!
Not the final package...but still cute!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Two New Quiz Books - Sneak Preview!

I just got the covers for the two latest titles in my Quiz Book series from Scholastic Canada. They are so cute! Tell me what you think!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Will YOU Survive?

I certainly didn't feel like I'd survive my teen years. Mine were fraught: with anxiety, insecurity, doubt. I knew I had potential, but somehow it just seemed like I had to wait, and wait, and wait, until I could DO something. Like have a life.

That was the inspiration for How to Survive Absolutely Anything, my contemporary YA novel from Fitzhenry and Whiteside. I knew that I wasn't the only person who ever felt that way. But now, having survived the angsty times and reached the wise old age of ahem, I knew a little bit about how to deal.

So I created Bonnie and Jen, and their kooky 'Agony Aunt'-style blog for other teens.

Here's a snippet from the book:

"• Ok so if you’ve clicked on this blog you probably want to know how to survive something terrible.

• And if you are in middle school or junior high, guaranteed, something terrible has happened to you.

Is happening to you right now.

Or is about to happen to you.

• How do we know?

• Because we’ve been there. Definitely been there."

Naturally, Bonnie and Jen's plan to help other kids goes pear-shaped. Will they both survive their very-different, but very real challenges?

I hope you'll pick up the book as soon as it hits store shelves  - any minute now! And please let me know what you think of the new cover!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Short Chapters, Perfect Pacing and Lots of Action...

I was so delighted to return from Fireworks School (more on THAT in a later post) to find the Canadian Children's Book Centre's BookNews in my mailbox, with a review of Trouble in the Hills in it. I was even more delighted by the review. It says, in part:

"Filled with non-stop action, the story moves at breakneck speed as Cam faces numereous perilous situations...Short chapters, perfect pacing and lots of action make Helaine Becker's debut YA novel a perfect choice for reluctant boy readers, and once they pick it up, they'll find it impossible to put down until the end."

Thanks CCBC!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

CSWA Best Science Books for 2011 Announced

The CSWA has announced the winners of this year's book awards. The general audience book winner is Cascadia’s Fault by Jerry Thompson. The youth book winner is 50 Poisonous Questions by Tanya Lloyd Kyi.

Entries were judged on the basis of initiative, originality, scientific accuracy, clarity of interpretation and value in promoting a better understanding of science by the public.

Both of this year’s books appealed to the judges because they created a sense of mystery and discovery. Commenting on Cascadia’s Fault one judge said, “The writing was masterful and it read almost like a novel. I never felt bogged down in details, and yet the science about earthquakes was all there along with the controversies, descriptions of the sources, and stories about the people.”

The youth judges were equally enthusiastic about 50 Poisonous Questions, “There were very interesting facts that I didn’t know about and the explanations were easy to understand.” “It was a book I didn’t want to put down until I finished the whole book.” “It was a really fun book.”

The book awards will be presented at the CSWA annual conference in Windsor, Ontario on June 2, 2012.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Parents' Choice Award for Planet Echo!

For the last few years, I've been writing the Dr. Greenie's Mad Lab segments for the TV show, Planet Echo. I just learned today that the show received a Parents' Choice Award for season 1.

From the Parents' Choice website:

"The program is recommended for kids aged 8 to 12, and though some of the skits are a little corny, the factoids are fascinating and there's a nice blend of hard science and light-hearted humor to keep kids' attention. The program includes frequent tags directing viewers to the companion website for more activities and information, and many show segments are available for viewing on demand.
For a universal message about doing your part to help save the planet, and an interesting glimpse into Aboriginal history and culture in Canada, Planet Echo is an earnest half-hour offering up positive suggestions kids can understand and put into practice in their own lives."

All I can say is wait til the folks at Parents' Choice see seasons 2 and 3!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Giant List of Science and Nature Books for Children

To celebrate the publication of my new book, The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea, coming soon from Kids Can Press, I decided to compile this list of top notch resources for science and nature from Canadian publishers.  All titles were published in 2011. I got a lot of help with this list from the incredible Meghan Howe of the Canadian Children's Book Centre. Thanks, Meghan!

Books on this list cover the gamut from board books, picture books, chapter books and YA fiction, as well as interesting and provocative nonfiction. All the titles are readily available from booksellers in the U.S. and Canada.

50 Poisonous Questions: A Book with Bite, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Annick Press) Kid-friendly question and answer format make for an entertaining look at toxic substances in nature, medicine and industry.

Africans Thought of It: Amazing Innovations by Bathseba Opini (Annick Press) From aloe vera to the xylophone, great inventions that hail from Africa.

Alligator, Bear, Crab: A Baby's ABC by Lesley Wynne Pechter (Orca) Board book introduces the shapes and sounds of the alphabet alongside colourful, original paintings of critters and animals.

Amazing Animals: The Remarkable Things That Creatures Do, by Margriet Ruurs (Tundra) A compendium of astounding facts.

Ankylosaur Attack, by Daniel Loxton (Kids Can Press) Movie-quality images and a suspenseful story will enthrall young fans of dinosaur life. By Lane Anderson Science Writing for Children Award Winner.

Arctic Land, by Vladyana Krykorka; Arctic Sea by Vladyana Krykorka; Arctic Sky by Vladyana Krykorka (Annick Press) Each of these three board books focuses on a particular aspect of Arctic wildlife and pairs delicate watercolour paintings with simple language. Suited to toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Ben the Inventor by Robin Stevenson (Orca) Historical fiction.

Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature by Dora Lee (Kids Can Press) A fascinating homage to Mother Nature's genius, anchored by solid science and a strong environmental message.

Busy Beaver, The by Nicholas Oldland (Kids Can Press) Picture book.

Caillou: Every Drop Counts! by Sarah Margaret Johanson (Chouette) Caillou learns about water conservation at daycare. Picture book.

Caillou: The Magic of Compost by Sarah Margaret Johanson (Chouette) Grandma shows Caillou a great magic trick - turning scraps of leftovers, grass clippings and apple cores into plant food. Picture book.

Can Hens Give Milk? By Joan Betty Stuchner (Orca) A wacky tale teaches the difference between birds and mammals.

Canada's Trees by Elizabeth McLeod (Scholastic Canada) Explore all of Canada's famous native trees and learn how they affect us and the environment, and how we in turn affect them.

Case Files: 40 Murders and Mysteries Solved by Science, by Larry Verstraete (Scholastic Canada) Learn how investigators use different fields of science to solve ancient and recent mysteries, catch murderers, and even help prove innocence.

Charlie and Kiwi: An Evolutionary Adventure by Eileen Campbell (Simon &Schuster Canada) How can such an unlucky bird survive in the wild? Produced in conjunction with a project and traveling exhibit developed by the New York Hall of Science.

Dear Baobab by Cheryl Foggo (Second Story Press) Maiko has moved to North American from Africa to live with his aunt and uncle. Homesick, he misses the giant Baobab tree in this old village, and forms a bond with the little spruce tree out front of his new home.

Dinosaur Discovery: Everything You Need to Be a Paleontologist by Chris McGowan (Simon &Schuster Canada) What do dinosaurs look like from the inside out? Take a journey with renowned paleontologist Chris McGowan as he examines species from Allosaurus to T. Rex!

E is for Environment: by James Corlett (Simon &Schuster Canada) An interactive family book featuring 26 original stories for parents to read to their child to help them learn how to appreciate our planet.

Farmed Out by Glenda Goerzen (Orca) Young adult fiction.

Good Night, World by Willa Perlman, (Simon &Schuster Canada) Takes children on a magical round-the-world journey to big good night to the world's natural wonders, from plants and animals, to mountains, oceans and wide desert plains.

Honeybee Man, The by Lela Nargi (Random House Canada) A story about bees, beekeeping and honey.

If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People by David J. Smith (Kids Can Press) This bestseller is newly revised with updated statistics, completely new material on food security, energy and health.

In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up by Monica Kulling (Tundra) Mattie devoted her life to inventing, and is best known for the clever practical, paper bag.

Justine McKeen, Queen of Green by Simon Brouwer (Orca) Justine and her friends are all about being green and helping the planet, on fun-filled environmental project at a time.

Look at That Building! A First Book of Structures by Scot Ritchie, Kids Can Press An engaging introduction to buildings deftly mixes non-fiction and fiction elements.

Loon by Susan R. Vande Griek (Groundwood) This beautifully illustrated chapter book follows the life cycle of two loon chicks.

Luz Sees the Light by Claudia Davila (Kids Can Press) A smart and provocative novel about sustainable living, by brilliant illustrator Claudia Davila. Who illustrated many of my own books, btw.

Maple Leaf in Space: Canada's Astronauts by John Melady (Dundurn) Canadians who have ventured off our planet.

Mathemagic! Number Tricks by Lynda Colgan (Kids Can Press) Learn mathematical secrets of the ancients and much more.

Migrant, by Maxine Trottier (Groundwood) Each spring Anna leaves her home in Mexico and travels north with her family where they will work on farms harvesting fruit and vegetables. Sometimes she feels like a bird, flying north in the spring and south in the fall.

Motion, Magnets and More: The Big Book of Primary Physical Science, by Adrienne Mason (Kids Can Perss) A one-step sourcebook to answer kids' tricky questions about the physical sciences. By longtime editor of science magazines YES and Know.

My Achy Body by Liza Fromer (Tundra) What is happening to us when we feel pain, and how does out body repair itself when we are hurt?

My Messy Body by Liza Fromer (Tundra) Why are vomit, puss and snot sometimes good for us? And yes, pee and poo are also featured.

My Noisy Body by Liza Fromer (Tundra) Deals with the digestive system and the many noises it creates, from burps to stomach growls to farts. Why do we hiccup? Sneeze? Snore?

My Stretchy Body by Liza Fromer (Tundra) Learn about growth spurts, growing pains, growing hair, fingernails, and much more.

Nowhere Else on Earth: Standing Tall for the Great Bear Rainforest by Caitlyn Vernon (Orca) A hands-on guide to the magic and majesty of British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest.

Picture a Tree, by Barbara Reid (Scholastic Canada) The best picture book of the year! Use your imagination, and you will see how trees help us open our minds to new things and look at the world differently.

Snowy Science: 25 Cool Experiments by Shar Levine (Scholastic Canada) Simple experiments to brighten up a cold winter day! Learn how to make ice cream, create an indoor avalanche, and more! Illustrated brilliantly by respected cartoonist Patricia Storms.

Source of Light, The by David Richards (Thistledown Press) Two teenage boys uncover nefarrious schemes set against a backdrop of the synchrotron, the world's most powerful microscope. A novel dedicated to the pure fun of dazzling light science and the adventure of private investigation.

Space Tourism by Peter McMahon (Kids Can Press) A book about commercial space travel that will fuel the imagination, by top science writer.

STAR Academy: Dark Secrets by Edward Kay (Doubleday Canada) A charming, funny middle-grade novel that combines action, adventure, science, and a big dose of satire.

Totally Human: Why We Look and Act the Way We Do, by Cynthia Pratt Nicolson (Kids Can Press) A fascinating introduction to the scientific fields of evolutionary biology and psychology.

Uumajut, Volume Two: Learn About Arctic Wildlife! By Simon Awa(Inhabit Media) Picking up where "Uumajut: Learn About Arctic Wildlife!" left off, this volume will introduce the youngest readers to the diets and habitats of more arctic species including the Siksik, Ermine, Wolf, Muskox, Eider Duck, Ringed Seal, Harp Seal, and Walrus.

Walk on the Tundra, A by Rebecca Hainnu, (Inhabit Media) Inuujaq soon learns that the tundra's colourful flowers, mosses, shrubs, and lichens are much more important to the Inuit than she originally believed. Includes a field guide with photographs and scientific information about a wide array of plants found throughout the Arctic ecosystem.

Watch Me Grow! A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City by Deborah Hodge, Kids Can Press The companion to "Up We Grow" is another informative and inspiring book about small-scale, local farming. This time the focus is on raising food in cities.

Water Hazard by Helene Boudreau (Nimbus) The second in the Red Dune Adventure series, is an exciting and action-packed chapter book for young readers with an environmental theme.

What is the Theory of Plate Tectonics? by Craig Saunders (Crabtree). How the earth’s plates shift on molten magma to reconfigure the globe’s surface.

You Asked? Over 300 Great Questions and Astounding Answers, Editors of Owl and ChickaDEE Magazine (Owlkids) Giant collection of over 300 of the best questions submitted by years of OWL readers.

You Just Can't Help It! Your Guide to the Wild and Wacky World of Human Behavior by Jeff Szpirglas (Owlkids) Part Desmond Morris's "The Naked Ape," part "MAD Magazine," and 100% Jeff Szpirglas, provides a cultural, historical, and socio-biological perspective on human behaviour, synthesizing several branches of science - from anthropology to zoology - along the way.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Alligator Why?

I recently came across a blogpost, which I can no longer find, about children's books that were inspired by other children's books.

I didn't write a whole book inspired by another, but I did once write a poem - a riposte to Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie.

Here it is, for your amusement:

Alligator Why?

A Riposte to Dennis Lee

By Helaine Becker

World Premiere:

ALOUD: Harbourfront International Children’s Festival

June 25, 2005

I cannot for the life of me

Think why you crave so desperately

Those rude, repulsive, yucky tarts

Made from mushed up reptile parts

Give me apple crumble, give me ham on rye,

But keep to yourself that Alligator Pie!

As if you hadn’t had enough

You still want more - some stewed up stuff

Boiled crocodilian grin

Reduced to flapping teeth and skin

Give me chicken paprikash, give me ratatouille

But keep to yourself your swampy-phooey-stewy!

Soup, you say, let’s have some soup

For crocks of croc, I will not stoop!

Potage d’Everglade is one

Dish from which I’ll always run

Give me bouillabaise or mushroom barley soup

But keep to yourself your gross-out gator goop!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review Round Up

This was a banner week for reviews for my books.

The first review for The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea appeared in Booklist. You can see that review here.

There were two reviews for Juba This, Juba That. Read the CM Magazine review here, and the Canadian Children's Book Centre review here.

And Trouble in the Hills received its first review, from CM Magazine. You can read that one here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nature Study is For the Birds

I'm reposting an article here from, where I group-blog along with 15 other science and nature children's writers, because its an important one. It highlights very clearly the importance of having scientific knowledge and critical thinking skills when evaluating research and other information (even more so when creating research!). These are topics dear to my heart, and ones that I think have an impact on every kid out there.

Here's the article. I hope you find it interesting!
Originally Posted by the Writers of Sci-Why

The Huffington Post recently ran a story entitled, “Children's Books Lack Nature References, Study Suggests.” The study it referred to, which was published in the journal Sociological Inquiry, concluded that “today’s generation of children are [sic] not being socialized, at least through this source, toward an understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the place of humans within it.” (You can read the complete study here)

Here at Sci-Why, where we are both children’s writers/illustrators AND scientist/environmentalist types, we were naturally intrigued by this study. So we took a closer look at it.

As suspected, the study did not pass the scientific sniff test.

The study looked at 296 children’s books, published between 1938 and 2008, and which won the prestigious Caldecott Medal. The medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” From an examination of these books, the study authors drew conclusions about children’s books overall, and their effect on children.

In short, the conclusions the authors reach are not supportable by the facts, and the study’s design is flawed.

To begin with, the study examined books that are award-winners for artistic merit. These books, by definition, are not reflective of books overall.

Nor, as the authors claim, are Caldecott winners necessarily “the books that young children are most likely to encounter.” Quoting a 15-year-old study, the authors say the Caldecott winners “are important both because the award leads to strong sales and they are featured in schools and libraries and influence tastes for children’s literature more generally.” While it may be true that Caldecott winners influence tastes in children’s literature, those tastes would be in artistic style, not in subject matter.

Furthermore, Caldecott winners are not necessarily the books children tend to encounter most. A better designed study would have looked at best-selling books, and books actually on school and library shelves. Caldecott winners are a tiny minority of these, and not reflective of them over all.

The choice of the sample, therefore, is seriously flawed. But an even greater flaw is the severely restricted size of the sample. The study examined just 296 books. Contrast this to the number of children’s books published in 2009, as reported by The Library and Book Trade Almanac (“Book Title Output and Average Prices: 2006-2009):” 21,878.

According to the American Library Association, that staggering figure is actually part of a downward trend in the number of published children’s books that began in 2008.

While we do not have access to the data describing the number of books published for children overall since 1938, considering the 2009 figure alone demonstrates the problem with this study. 296 books are simply too small a sample to reflect the nature of children’s books over all; in 2009, the Caldecott winner was just one title out of more than 20,000 books published for children in the U.S. One of of twenty-thousand yields a statistical correlation of exactly zero.

Furthermore, the authors' statistical analysis of trends over time is noted in three graphs. The data, the authors says, show statistical significance with a p-value of about .05. This is not a strong p-value. Something where p=.01 or less are stronger data.

Scientifically, then, the study fails to convince. A non-scientific, common-sense approach to the study reveals even further flaws.

A quick eyeballing of the most popular picture books from the first “golden age of publishing” – a period loosely covering the 1950s and 1960s, features bestsellers such as Babar, Curious George, and books by Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry. The Little Engine that Could. Madeline. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Goodnight Moon. Where the Wild Things Are.

Looking back even further, to the first illustrated children’s books in the 19th century, every single book features built environments, tamed nature and artificially civilized animals – think of Beatrix Potter’s Peter in his little blue coat.

None of these books is “natural” in focus or illustration, yet they remain, perhaps, the most influential children’s books of all time.

In contrast, look at some notable books for 2012 from the Association for Library Service to Children ( Nine out of 32 picture books on the list have natural themes and settings.

Interestingly, students of literature know that in the fairly short history of children’s literature, nature has rarely been presented as benevolent or even benign, making the current crop of books with pro-nature themes an anomaly. In traditional children’s stories, both oral and written, the wilderness is universally presented as a place of evil and danger. Consider Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel as prime examples of the classic form.

There are still other issues with the study overall. For example, the authors use dated material, and also cite references that do not, in fact, support their claims. For example, consider this sentence: “the final decades of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first saw a conservative backlash (Kline 2000; K. Gottfried, personal communication).” Unless the authors engaged in time travel, it would be impossible to draw conclusions about “the early years of the twenty-first century” from a document dated 2000.

Similarly, the authors of the study use data from 1996 to draw conclusions about the content of children’s science textbooks and continuing trends today. This data, 16 years out of date, does not reflect either the content of children’s texts today, nor the changing nature and usage of textbooks overall. To draw conclusions about books and their impact without consideration for the revolution in publishing we have been undergoing in the last decade is simply nonsensical.

The authors, we believe, suffer from a common problem among scientists and researchers of all stripes: confirmation bias. The researchers set out to confirm a hypothesis in which they already believed. Consider this quotation from one of the sources used in the study: ‘‘I believe one of the greatest causes of the ecological crisis is the state of personal alienation from nature in which many people live.’’ This is not a scientific observation; it is an unsubstantiated opinion.

As writers and illustrators involved in science and nature, we, of course, have our own biases. We know, however, exactly how much our own work, and the work of our peers, is inspired by and infused by the natural world. We see firsthand the work that is most influential, the work that is most often read by children and promoted by teachers and librarians.

Is it less “natural” than previous generations? We think not.

The Huffington Post should be more careful about the studies on which they choose to report. And for information about science or nature in children’s books, they should perhaps look to those who know something about the field: authors or librarians, not environmentalist-sociologists.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

African-American History Month - a Perfect Time to Talk about Cultural Appropriation

February is  African-American History Month. That makes it a great month to talk about my most recent picture book, Juba This, Juba That. The book is adapted from an African-American slave chant for contemporary audiences, and includes a toe-tapping rhythm, lighthearted rhyme, and gorgeous illustrations by GG Award-Winner Ron Lightburn.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been party to discussions on the topic of “cultural appropriation.” Those who oppose “cultural appropriation” believe that people can only write about their own experience, first hand, and that those who write from outside their own experience, are somehow stealing from their subjects. To do so would make you a bad, bad person: an opportunist without sensitivity or moral standing.

As you might have gathered from the above paragraph, I do not agree with this position. In fact, I find it one of the most pernicious bits of racist claptrap I can imagine.

A fiction writer’s job is, quite simply, to write from other people’s point of view. Our mission is to get into another person’s (or object’s – we can become flying carpets, or toasters, if we wish) skin and try and recreate their experience. How well we do this job is the mark of our craftsmanship - whether we succeeded or failed as a writer.

So when people have suggested to me that I shouldn’t have written Juba This, Juba That because I am not African-American, I got angry. Right down to the bottom of my pale pink toes.

I wrote the book because I had uncovered a great story that wasn’t being told. I adapted it using the very best of my abilities, as a writer and as human being, to create a book that is beautiful, moving, and delightful. The final result is a book I am proud of, and a book I hope will introduce children of all colors to an aspect of African-American history that they night not have learned about otherwise.

To be told I should not write this book because I am white is galling in the extreme. It considers my skin color the deciding factor in what I can and cannot do. It judges my output not on its quality, but on the color of my skin.

Is this anything other than racism?

Read the book. Review it based on what is on the page, not on what I look like, where I come from, or what sex I am.

And don’t even mention the term “cultural appropriation in my presence, unless you're ready for an argument!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I've got a contest going! You can find it and enter on the group blog I belong to: SCI-WHY.
Serve up your best guess as to what a corpse would look like after a year in a cave. The best answer to the question will win a free signed copy of Trouble in the Hills.

Because: Science!