Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Erin Silver. Take it away, Erin!
I’d been working really hard on my first-ever children’s book and was so excited for it’s spring 2020 release. Called Proud to Play, it’s about the experience of Canadian LGBTQ athletes in professional sports. The topic was so important and I’d poured my heart into writing and researching the book. But then the coronavirus starting spreading. The Olympics were postponed. Even sports clubs for kids were cancelled. And then, my book was put on hold, too.
Suddenly, I was at home, miserable over the derailment of my writing career, while trying to help my kids learn online, while also refereeing their fights, while trying to maintain my six feet of distance while walking my dog, which was pretty much the only activity you could do when Toronto went into lockdown. I know, I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture of how I was feeling in spring of last year, but looking back, it was an accurate one.
I took a deep breath and decided not to give up. After all, I’d been working on several other manuscripts and proposals. Why not send them out and touch base with publishers and editors since there wasn’t much else I could do? Unfortunately, they all said the same thing: everything had changed because of the pandemic. None of the ideas I’d been pitching were relevant considering the uncertain future of the publishing industry, and the world, for that matter.
One day, I happened to be emailing with an editor from Second Story Press. She also didn’t want the manuscript I’d been pitching, but she asked if I was interested in writing a book about how kids around the world were helping others during the pandemic. I jumped at the chance to take on a new writing project. Nothing makes me happier than having a purpose. And this felt meaningful. At a time when schools, libraries and offices were closed, when people were worried about everything from their health to their finances, this book would offer hope and inspiration.
I dove in to my research—and I brought my husband with me. I was overwhelmed by the scope of the project and needed help. Together, we scoured the internet, typing in different search terms, scanning social media, blogs and newspapers in languages we didn’t even understand. Each time we found a good-news story about a child who had helped others, we felt uplifted ourselves. It was amazing to see how kids, some as young as six, were taking action and making an impact at a time when even adults were paralyzed by fear.
I had one month to find stories from across the globe, track down parents, conduct interviews, and write a picture book that would empower kids to make a difference, too. The book features sisters who started a good-news-only broadcast, a boy in Japan who created a graduation ceremony on Minecraft so all his friends could celebrate, and a boy in Kenya who built a semi-automatic hand-washing stand so people in his village could wash their hands more safely. Called What Kids Did: Stories of Kindness and Invention in the Time of COVID-19, the book was released in October 2020. I was so proud of the more than 25 stories that ended up in the book and was buoyed by all the other stories I’d found during my research.
When the first box of printed copies arrived at my door, I was elated. I wrote personalized notes and mailed each kid in the book a copy. When they received it, many of them emailed me photos of themselves holding the book. Connecting with people around the world, by email and mail, was one of the many highlights of writing a book about the pandemic during the pandemic.
Another highlight? Interacting with kids during virtual author visits. After the book’s release, I reached out to teachers I knew, and some I didn’t, to tell them about the book and to offer to meet their classes online to discuss the book. These visits were fun and energizing. Students were eager to talk about the book and to tell me about how their lives had changed during the pandemic. They asked me about the kids in the book and life as an author. Some even wrote me notes afterward to tell me how much the book had inspired them. I haven’t met these kids personally—and who knows when in-person author visits will happen again—but I will always treasure their kind words.
None of this has been easy, not for anyone. But writing about the pandemic in a pandemic has taught me: never give up hope.
Erin Silver is a children’s author in Toronto. Her middle grade novel, Just Watch Me, was released in October 2020 by Common Deer Press. What Kids Did: Stories of Kindness and Invention in the Time of COVID-19, was published by Second Story Press in October 2020 as well. For more about Erin or her books, visit her online at erinsilver.ca.