Red Maple Nomination

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So now the truth can be told.

A few weeks ago, on a sunny morning as I sat down in front of my computer, Teacher-Librarian James Steeves, from the Peel Board, called me from out of the blue and asked if I was sitting down and swearing me to secrecy. His voice was entirely too cheerful for this to be bad news, so I told him I was sitting down, and he said, “You’ve been nominated for the Red Maple!”

I was, I admit, floored. Nobody expects to receive good news out of the blue like this, but I was also shocked at what had actually been nominated: Canadian Structures and Sustainability, a 32-page non-fiction book for grades 2-5, published by Beech Street Books and Saunders Book Company.

Though I consider myself first and foremost a fiction writer, I have produced over 60 non-fiction books for young readers as part of my freelance day job. These are entirely different beasts to write. My fiction takes months, if not years, from idea to draft to something publishable. For many of the non-fiction pieces, the publishers have come to me with the idea, asked for an outline, and expected a fully-researched and finished manuscript within weeks.

But, truth be told, I am proud of every one of them. Each may be a more collaborative affair as editors work tirelessly to keep each title relevant to school curriculums, and ensure that the language is appropriate for the audience, but I am pleased at some of the touches I’ve been allowed to put in, and it has been fun researching a topic from scratch, learning about it, and reworking it into a format that kids (I hope) enjoy reading.

Canadian Structures and Sustainability was a particularly interesting title because the topic was both limited and broad at the same time. I got to talk about Hurricane Hazel and other natural disasters, what keeps structures upright, and the latest in green technology that helps our new buildings fit into the environment. And it all has to happen within a Canadian context.

And thanks to the work of the editors and designers who took my manuscript and made it into a book, the Forest of Reading Awards, run for the Ontario Library Association, have recognized this book among other extremely worthy finalists for their Red Maple Non Fiction Award. I do not expect to win (Have you seen the other nominees?), but for the Forest of Reading, just finding yourself in the finals is a true honour, something which my mother and my wife Erin know all about.

So, thank you to my editors, and thank you to all involved with the Forest of Reading, for giving me this chance to talk a lot more about this book in the coming months.

IMG_6595.jpgIf you've been reading the past few posts, you'll know. I'm sorry they ended abruptly as we crossed the Colorado River, but around that time, our energy for driving kind of hit a low ebb. Other than working towards my deadlines, I didn't feel able to blog, though we took lots of pictures. But, as you cn guess, we havea returned.

We got back from our journey on Sunday, August 26. We spent 24 days abroad, with five nights at my father-in-law's place in Fresno, two nights on a tugboat in Sausalito, two nights in a hotel in Pueblo, Colorado, two nights in Salt Lake City, two nights with friends in Batavia, Illinois, and nights with friends and family in Omaha. We also spent quicker stops on the road in such places as a Rodeside Inn somewhere in southwestern Utah, a Days Inn at Flagstaff, and the Winnemucca Inn and Casino in Nevada. We also saw a massive thunderstorm over the Hoover Dam in Boulder City.

We took lots of photographs, and Erin wrote about our great road trip on her website. The journey was also fodder for Kitchener Post columns here, here, here, and here. In total, we drove for around 10,000 kilometers, or one quarter of the circumference of the planet. We saw the landscape of our continent change multiple times, and we probably road on the longest segment of single roadway in my lifetime, as we took the I-80 back from Oakland all the way to Davenport, Iowa. We kayaked in the Sierra Nevadas, squinted into the smoke at the Grand Canyon, and were charmed by otters in teh Monterey Bay aquarium. We saw how thoroughly gentrified Cannery Row had become. We played the soundtrack of the musical The Book of Mormon as we left Salt Lake City.

I'm pretty sure the kids won't ever forget this trip. They both admired the scenery, but both expressed a prefereence for future such trips either not being as long, or not being in a Prius. Still, I have to say that I was impressed by how well my mother-in-law's Prius handled the transcontinental trip, ascending to 12,000 feet and getting up to 80 MPH without complaint. And we definitely saved on gas compared to, say, a Grand Caravan.

Erin will probably not talk about this aspect of our trip, but she and the kids were kind enough to give me a day in Salt Lake City to explore its transit network, adding it to the list of cities whose LRTs I've ridden on. Overall, I was impressed with the operation, which was reliable, clean, reasonably frequent, and gave the sense that it took people where it needed to go, and was well used. There is a section where they've clearly built transit ahead of planned development, and I laud them for planning ahead, even if it did remind me of the preamble of the famous crop-duster scene in the movie North by Northwest.

It's good to be back, and it's good to get back to work on my writing. But I'm glad we took this trip.

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I had not realized this, but we have been following the Colorado since Grand Junction. Sort of.

We crossed the Colorado River on the I-70 just before we entered Utah. Actually, the Colorado follows the I-70 deeper into Colorado, through a spectacular canyon that's shared with Amtrak's California Zephyr. After Grand Junction, though, it cuts southwest through Utah and into Arizona, where it cuts out the vast landscape that is the Grand Canyon.

After leaving a nameless town in western Utah, we headed south on US-89, fortified by some excellent coffee and burgers by a roadside café. We entered Arizona and approached the Grand Canyon from the north. The north rim does not receive the attention that the south rim gets, mostly because it's harder to access; all of the big cities in the area (Las Vegas, Flagstaff, etc) are on the southern side. So, we were promised that the north rim would still be impressive, but less touristy.

We were impressed by the drive up to the north rim, which passes through a microclimate of pine forest and bison. It was really quite beautiful. And then the land drops away, and there's the canyon, diving hundreds of feet deep. It's spectacular -- or, would have been if it hadn't been totally obscured by the smoke of three nearby wildfires. It made the visit quite a disappointment, and the smoke actually made Eleanor physically sick. Fortunately, she recovered quickly as we high-tailed it out of there, heading for Flagstaff.

Leaving the pine forest, we entered Moon Canyon, a wide, flat expanse across northeastern Arizona that's buttressed by tall, red mesas. I couldn't help but be impressed: crossing the Grand Canyon is impossible, of course, so to get around it, you have to go nearly a hundred kilometres out of your way, where the Colorado River hasn't cut so deep. And here is where we found a sight that made our day. Moon Canyon is wide and flat at this point, and the Colorado River cuts into it deep. There's a steel road bridge, and an older footbridge that used to be the road bridge. We got out and walked across the bridge, and saw that the Colorado River was about a hundred feet below us. It's like the Grand Canyon is just getting started here.

We took pictures of the bridge, the canyon and the surrounding mesas, and drove off to Flagstaff as the sun set, arriving after nightfall.

Tomorrow, we will try the Grand Canyon again, heading for the south rim, but further west, hopefully avoiding all of that smoke. We'll bunk down near the Nevada/California border, and be in Fresno by Sunday night.

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continental-divide.jpgI've calculated that, by the time we've finished this drive, and have returned to Kitchener, we will have travelled the equivalent to one quarter the circumference of the globe.

And I suspect we'll be feeling every inch of it.

The past few days have been worth it, though. We spent the past three days in Colorado, starting with a two-night stay in Pueblo. We ventured behind the front range mountains and visited the Great Sand Dunes. Altitude sickness affected us more than we would have suspected, however, so we weren't up to sledding down them. But we did see mountains, spectacular scenery, and met up with two of Erin's friends online. We returned home tracked by a thunderhead that produced a wonderful show.

Then, yesterday, we struck out for Grand Junction, Colorado, following US-50 through some of the more rugged territory of the state. We crossed the continental divide at Monarch Pass, and took a tram to the summit, 12,000 feet above sea level. The sun was bright, the sky was clear, and we could see over 150 miles. We pushed through canyons that were jaw-dropping. Vivian, who often tries to be too cool for things, was impressed enough to say, "what is it like for the people who live here? Who look out on this stuff and think it's normal!"

The trees started to run out as we approched Grand Junction, and passed through what must have been honest desert, but we're not sure. The sun had set and it was getting dark.

The difference between Utah and Colorado is night and day, but it is no less impressive. First, driving out on I-70, the state makes it perfectly clear that it would kill us if it wanted to. Yellow sand and rock stretched as far as the eye could see. Exits advised "NO SERVICES" (then why put the exits there, then?). That spooked us enough to fill up the tank about as often as we saw a gas station. We stopped at a gas station convenience store that had been carved into a rock outcrop. We had mediocre burgers at a dry, desolate location. All-in-all, Utah looked grim. But we drove down UT-24 to UT-12, which is consistently ranked as one of the most scenic drives in the world. They're not kidding.

We stopped to dip our toes at Capitol Reef near the Harrison Bridge. We went over, around and through some spectacular badlands, as well as other places that were green oases. And we arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park as the sun was setting.

I didn't know what to expect here, but this national park is a forested area that overlooks the start of some of the most spectacular badlands in the world. You hike up to an observation post with no idea about what to expect. The result takes your breath away and makes you reassess your place in the Universe.

We are now in southwestern Utah at a Rodeway Motel that's not attached to any city, so far as I can tell.We finished the day looking up at the stars in an almost dark sky. Unfortunately, the light from the inn's sign from two miles away was enough to cause some light pollution, but we were still able to see an unusually bright Mars and the sweep of the Milky Way.

Tomorrow, we head to Flagstaff, Arizona, by way of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Fresno beckons in two days.

I will make photos available on Flickr when I have more time.

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holdridge-nebraska.jpgThis was, unexpectedly, the longest day yet, but I write this from Pueblo, Colorado, about fifty miles farther than we planned to end up the night and about a hundred miles further than I'd expected. We avoided the freeways of Denver, and saw land that was flatter than a pancake. Let me explain.

We left Grinnell, Iowa, fortified by excellent espresso, and had a short jaunt to Omaha, where we spent an afternoon and stayed overnight with our old friend Therese and her husband Rob. The rest stop was greatly appreciated, and we played Ticket to Ride and learned a interesting Scrabble-like puzzle game called Quirkle. Then we headed off into Nebraska after breakfast.

On trips through Northern Ontario, there's a song that people are supposed to sing, to describe the wonderful things they will see a lot of along the way. The lyrics go something like this:

Rocks and trees! Trees and rocks!
Rocks and trees! Trees and rocks!
Rocks and trees! Trees and Rocks and waterrrrrrr!

Nebraska could come up with its own song very easily, and it would go like this:

Corn and beans! Beans and corn!
Corn and beans! Beans and corn!

Corn and beans! Beans and corn and cattlllllllle!

The states get bigger the further west you go. You cross the border on I-80, and the mileage markers start counting down from over 400. We made good time on the i-80, but it was hot and loud, and the kids were getting somewhat battle fatigued. So Erin made an executive decision to turn the car south at Kearney, and take a route that bypassed Denver for Colorado Springs and also, incidentally, took us into Kansas, thus knocking another US state off my list.

Urban legend has it that scientists measured Kansas and pronounced it to be, on average, flatter than a pancake, and I have no trouble believing this. You'd think that, with Nebraska being among the Great Plains states, that it would be flat. It isn't. It's hot, and rugged, and tinged yellow wherever you go. It's strange, but heading south caused the land to flatten out almost completely, and turn green. The sky also got even more interesting. We followed thunderstorms for miles, only occasionally getting wet. We observed lightning strikes in the distance. And we came through places where we could only see crops; no houses, and no other cars on the road. And these were US (federal) highways.

We hit I-70 and turned west, and the land changed soon after we entered Colorado. Visiting Denver back in 2016, I was amazed at how flat Colorado seemed, before transforming within the span of a city to a community in the foothills. I see now, after having seen true flatness in Kansas, that Colorado has small ridges -- possibly waves in the techtonic forces that preceed the mountains.

Because the mountains are still amazing, even though we came in after sunset. Their presence can still be felt. We know we're on the cusp of things.

We'll be staying in Pueblo for two nights, meeting some friends, and seeing some amazing scenery. And also catching our breath a little after a long day.

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