Illustrator Susan Mitchell spends long days ensconced in her tiny drawing studio tucked into a back corner of her upper duplex in N.D.G., creating whimsical paintings for children’s books. Children’s author Joyce Scharf is 20,000 words into the second book of what will be a trilogy of fantasy adventures starring a courageous Montreal West teen heroine named Grace.
Mitchell and Scharf toil over their labours of love in solitude, away from the bustle of the conventional office.
And both are stepping out to make contact with young readers during the first edition of the Blue Metropolis Children’s Festival. French and English events are booked at various museums and public and private libraries from Wednesday to May 4.
Mitchell, who is juggling three children’s book projects, is happy to take time out to participate in the festival. Such events, she said, help introduce children to the work that goes on behind the scenes.
“Somebody sat down and wrote those words, and somebody sat down and drew those pictures,” she said. The end result “is magical, but there are real people behind it.”
Even if the real people seem larger than life — Mitchell remembered how thrilled she was to meet one of her heroes, the British creator of Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present, when she was all grown up.
“Not too long ago, I met illustrator John Burningham at a literary function,” Mitchell said. “I just started gabbling at him and couldn’t stop. It was like meeting a rock star.”
Crossing creative paths can be inspiring for all ages.
“Drawing is all I wanted to do as a kid,” Mitchell said. “I would have been thrilled to have met an illustrator. These workshops help put the idea in their heads at a young age that this is something they can do.”
Scharf has been attending Blue Metropolis functions for three years and always looks forward to connecting with other authors to talk shop. Now she’ll be meeting with possible future authors.
“When I was 11 years old, I had never met an author,” Scharf said. “At readings, children get to meet the person behind the book.”
Scharf’s book, Grace and the Ice Prince, is about a young Montrealer who discovers she has strong connections with a magical ice world. Her adventure in that shiny, frozen otherworld helps her discover an inner strength and confidence.
“The ice world is enchanted, but Grace has no special powers,” Scharf said. “So she has to use her intuition to succeed.”
The book’s heroine is named after Scharf’s daughter and is inspired, in part, by the 1998 ice storm. But the author’s material goes back farther than 1998. Before the ice storm, she had been making up bedtime stories for her daughter that just happened to be situated in an enchanted ice world. Grace and Ice Prince is her first novel.
Scharf, who has worked for years as a creative director and art director in the advertising business, will talk for about 20 minutes, read from her book for about 10 minutes and then — her favourite part — answer questions.
“I just want to give some inspiration,” Scharf said. “It took me three years to write the first book, two years to find a publisher and one year for the editing process. That’s a lot of time. It’s good for children to understand that it’s hard work, but if they believe in themselves, it can be done.”
— Interview by Kathryn Greenaway, Published: Saturday, April 26
For children 10 to 12 years old.