It might sound cliché, but local children's writer Sara Leach was happy simply to be nominated for Red Cedar Book Award this year.
Count Me In, was one of around a dozen final picks, which kids around B.C. read and then voted on to choose a winner. Leach, a teacher and teacher librarian at Spring Creek Community School, had run the program at the school for years and was thrilled when she discovered her book was in the running.
"It's been really exciting for me to have my book chosen for something I've been part of for so many years," Leach says, over Skype from Italy where she and her family are working and living for several months. "It was a goal of mine to have my book chosen for Red Cedar... I thought just being nominated was as good as winning because it meant kids across the province would be reading my book."
That she ended up winning the award for fiction was "icing on the cake," she says.
Count Me In tells the story of Tabitha, a young girl who is forced into a hiking trip with her aunt and two disagreeable cousins. The group crosses the Squamish River, but are unable to return home when the river floods. "Tabitha is stuck at Lake Lovely Water, and things go from bad to worse," Leach explains. "She has to confront angry cousins, injuries and wild animals, and in the process finds an inner strength she never knew she had."
The story was inspired by Leach's friend and a fellow Spring Creek teacher Jane Millen, who also had a hiking trip go wrong as a teen after a river swelled too high to pass. She was separated from her dog and when she, her uncle and father went back a week later they discovered the dog under their canoe. "I asked Jane if I could borrow her story for a novel, although I made a lot of changes to the events and characters in my book," Leach says.
Around 2,000 kids from across the province voted this year (they were eligible to cast their vote if they had read at least five of the final books) and nearly 800 young readers posted online reviews. "The kids at Spring Creek and Myrtle Philip were like, 'We're going to vote for it!' And I thought, 'That's nice. You're saying that because you know me.' It's exciting to hear that other kids thought the same," she says.
The best feedback Leach has received, though, was from a local mom who told her Count Me In was the first book her son had really enjoyed and that it might have sparked a new passion for reading. "If I'm ever feeling down about my writing, I just have to remember that and it gets me going again," she says.
Currently, she's working on two new projects. One book about a girl on a lyrical dance team will be part of a series by Orca Book publishers about the fine arts while the other, a novel tentatively titled News Flash, is about two Vancouver kids who accidentalwly start a riot with a school project.
For now, find Count Me In in Whistler at Armchair Books.