Books can take you any place

Books can take you any place

Posted on February 8 by Andrea Spalding in Kids
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

I love Canadian landscapes. I’ve crossed and re-crossed Canada many times on book tours, and the incredible variety of landscapes I discover at each destination always amazes me. Georgian Bay, the Arctic tundra, Newfoundland outports, and stunning sweeps of prairie all have their own feel, beauty and lifestyle, and stir my senses.

As a writer for children this awareness of landscape has massive implications. Children do not travel like adults do, therefore every story I write not only needs a credible plot and well-developed characters, but it must create a strong sense of place.

Children who know nothing but their inner city neighbourhood need to feel comfortable on the Alberta prairies. 

Children living on a small west coast island need to experience through words, the hot concrete of midsummer sidewalks, or wearing runners in 40 below.

Awareness of landscape changes how I write. The setting of my story becomes an integral character in the book. Treating landscape as a character moves the plot a different way and dictates how I manipulate the story. Landscape involves changes of temperature, changes of weather, different aromas, interactions with clothing, and a multitude of effects on both plot and people. The speech patterns of someone climbing a mountain are different from those of someone walking a city street. The actions of someone bushwhacking through forest dictates a different rhythm of body movement and speech, compared with someone lying on a bed talking on a phone.

If your landscape is also a character, you need to reveal it, bit by bit, as part of the plot. And therein lies one of the reasons I love books and think they are so important to young people. Books not only encourage literacy, they paint pictures and foster understanding of far-off places and previously unimagined lifestyles.

My desire to travel and hunger to experience other lifestyles was born of an early age, by reading books set in Australia’s outback (M. E. Patchett’s Brumby series), and Canada’s prairies (Susanna of the Mounties). Dickens conjured the horrid stench of London slums and instilled a curiosity and fascination for history. My awareness of the terrors and hardships of sailing ships came from Treasure Island; the pleasures of “messing about in boats” have never left me after reading Wind in the Willows. These stories have nothing in common except vivid settings that stayed a lifetime with me; sometimes long after the story itself had faded.

I’ve worked to bring a strong sense of place to my novel Finder Keepers. For me, there is nothing more exotic than Canada’s endless prairies with their constant wind and expansive skies. It’s a thrill to go into a Toronto school, or a small library on a west coast island, and see children, who may never set foot in prairie dust, become excited and intrigued about a story of a cross cultural friendship that winds like the wind across this stunning landscape.

“How did you first get to hear about these places?” asked a child in Mississauga.

“I read about them when I was your age,” I replied. “Books can take you any place.”

Dundurn has just reissued Andrea Spalding’s first novel Finders Keepers, set in the landscape around Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Southern Alberta.