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Stephanie Blue Spruce

See also “How I Became a Writer”

As long as I can remember, I have been preoccupied with words and writing and books. At the age of 7, I turned my room into a library, categorizing and classifying every book in the house. If any family member wanted to read anything, they had to come through me first, and be subject to my borrowing rules and due dates.

About the same time, I wrote and illustrated a collection of poems for my grandparents, and decided I wanted to be a writer.

Throughout my teens, I filled scores of notebooks with notes to myself. In high school, I wrote weekly columns for the town newspaper, reporting on school events. My first collection of (unpublished) poetry was followed by many more. I immersed myself in Plath and Yevteshenko, Hardy and Hemingway, Atwood, Lawrence and Munroe. I was and remain in love with words, the way they sound when put together, their roots and inside meanings.

I studied English Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (with a minor in Economics) and found myself good at digging inside the words and stories to uncover the many patterns and layers of stories. Despite my love of literature, however, after graduating from Queen’s I went back to school to study something “serious” this time so I could deal with the practical matter of paying rent. I graduated two years later with an MBA in Marketing from the University of Toronto. That started me on a path into corporate Canada and the world of marketing and advertising. I worked both sides of it, most recently as an Account Director with one of the major agencies. Every step I took wound me further and further away from my goal of writing.

And then, in 1987, my husband Jeff (who I met in Economics class at Queen’s) and I moved north of Toronto to a town called Newmarket and in 1989 had our first child, Sarah (the real life Pumpkin in my monster picture book trilogy — see below). Sarah was joined 3-1/2 years later by Eryn (the real-life Hoogie), and my youngest, Tristan (the real life Tweezle), joined his sisters in 1996. We’ve had many cats over the years (Merlin, Guinevere, Tigger, Tennyson, Roxanne, Titania, Harry and Arietty … yes, all of those names are literary allusions), and countless other pets including scores of mice, two map turtles (Shade and Marina … yup, borrowed names from Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing) and a gecko named Sticky (right again, a borrowed name from Wendelin Van Draanen’s Gecko and Sticky series). We are currently pet-less with Merlin, the real-life Chicken Cat, passing away in July 2010.

This was the start of the road back for me. I moved my job home when Sarah was 6 months old, finding the interminable commute a waste of my increasingly precious time. I freelanced for the agency I had worked for, and then picked up other clients, developing their strategies, writing their reports, and managing the production of their marketing materials. Finding it hard to buy good writing for my clients for the money they had to spend, I took to ghost-writing for these projects. (They knew me as a “manager” not a “writer”, but if I passed the work off as someone else’s, they bought it!) Eventually, the writing end of it overbalanced the managing part of it and I pulled off the mask. Currently I’m working full time as a freelance writer/strategist for local businesses. (This kind of writing doesn’t feed my soul, but it does, importantly, pay the bills!)

At the same time, however, I started a passionate and obsessive search for great books to share with my children. This became my addiction. I couldn’t pass a bookstore without being pulled in, and I couldn’t browse without buying. Pretty soon, I had an in-house library all over again (no cards or due dates this time though.) Max and Spot and Shrek (long before the wonderful movie) became household names. These characters were my children’s earliest playmates, their authors their heros. I was as enchanted as they were, because the books at their disposal were vastly more rich and wonderful than the ones I had filled my imaginary library with as a child.

In 1995, I launched Neverending Stories, a mail order children’s book company which celebrates, reviews and offers the best in children’s literature to a growing database of customers. I developed a reading classification system which helps adults choose the best books for kids to match their reading skills. This company became a family project as Sarah, Eryn and Tristan grew. In addition to reviewing books for Neverending Stories, I also wrote the children’s book reviews for Today’s Parent magazine from 2001-2012.

My own writing for children has been influenced by the many, many talented writers I’ve shared with my kids and read in my capacity of reviewer and bookseller. The best writers are the ones who understand the music in words. Good writing is not just about a good plot, it’s very much about how the story sounds . My first book for children, The Chicken Cat, was published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Spring 2000. I owe my start in this industry to Gail Winskill who led the children’s division at Fitzhenry & Whiteside at this point, and to wonderful editor, Ann Featherstone. It was also Gail who selected Sean Cassidy to create the beautiful illustrations, and we have been very fortunate to have received some important awards for this book: The Ruth Schwartz Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature and The Mr. Christie Award. The Chicken Cat was also shortlisted for the Blue Spruce Award and the CNIB Tiny Torgi Print-Braille Book of the Year.

In August 2003, I was asked to write a little summer story for Today’s Parent Magazine’s 1st annual “Fiction for Kids” pull out section. This isn’t a book you can buy, but you can read the resulting story, Jeremiah, on this site. The beautiful illustrations by Toronto artist Ron Berg were all computer generated!

My second book Leon’s Song was published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in 2004 and was a finalist for both The Blue Spruce Award and The Chocolate Lily Award. The brilliant Dianna Bonder created the beautiful illustrations to bring Leon and all the other pond dwellers to life.

My third picture book, Hoogie in the Middle, illustrated by Dean Griffiths, was launched in May 2013 by Pajama Press (again, thanks to publisher Gail Winskill and editor Ann Featherstone), and was followed by a second in the series, Tweezle into Everything, in August 2013.

The Christmas Wind, a longer storybook (Red Deer Press) was originally scheduled for a Fall 2015 launch and from January-June 2015 I worked with 1,000 primary students across the country (from B.C. to Labrador) on an exciting literacy/visualization project that involved the words of this book. I’ve been very fortunate to work with renowned industry editor, Peter Carver, and award-winning author, Kathy Stinson, on the editing of this book. Internal production delays have led to a delay in the book’s launch to Fall 2016 as ilustrator, Brooke Kerrigan, continues to work on the illustrations. In the interim, I relaunched the Christmas Wind Story Project in Spring 2016 and have been working with one class from each province and territory of Canada (sourced with the invaluable assistance of The Canadian Children’s Book Centre) on this rewarding literacy initiative.