A&E » Arts

Whistler writer hits mark with kids

Teacher/librarian Sara Leach publishes two children’s books



What: Book launch

When: Friday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.

Where: Adele Campbell Gallery

Cost: Free!

Originally from Vancouver, Sara Leach has been coming to Whistler to ski since she was just three years old. She finally made the move to the community 15 years ago and now works as a part-time Grade 2 teacher-librarian at Spring Creek Community School.

Surrounded by books for a large part of the workweek and also quite involved in the local writing community, it really should be no surprise that Leach is something of an expert when it comes to children's literature. But she has recently taken things to a new level, writing two children's books: Jake Reynolds: Chicken or Eagle? and Mountain Machines.

"I love children's literature," Leach said. "I mean, I wrote a book that was aimed at the kids that I have spent most of my time teaching, although in the end, it wound up being for a bit older than that."

While the two books have been published within weeks of one another, they're radically different.

Jake Reynolds is an adventure tale for readers aged 8 to 11 that tells the story of 11-year-old Jake, a budding environmentalist who is busy saving seal pups from bald eagles, protecting his sister and hunting down the wolf that stalks the fictional "Hidalgo Island," which is inspired by Leach's real childhood summer retreat on Hernando Island.

"I did not think of myself as a writer, and about eight or nine years ago, I was on the beach with my husband, on this island where I'd spent every summer since I was a kid, and we saw this eagle swoop down from the trees and almost pluck a seal pup off of a boulder, and my husband turned to me and said, 'you've got to write a story about this place.'"

By the time they'd returned to their cabin, Leach had already imagined the central characters, Jake and Emily.

"Things, of course, changed hugely from that starting point to where I finished," she said with a laugh.

Part of that evolution branched from Leach's participation in the Vicious Circle's annual writer-in-residence program, where she had the chance to work with Paulette Bourgeois, the creator of the beloved Franklin the Turtle series.

"Paulette was a huge help to me," Leach said, explaining that the experienced author helped her structure and self-edit the story.

"It was 10,000 words and I needed to either make it 5,000 words and much simpler so that it was an early chapter book, or I needed to make it 15,000 words and more complex, so that it was a mid-grade novel."

Mountain Machines, a rhyming counting book geared towards a much younger audience, was inspired by Leach's own son, Ben.

"I wrote it when my son was two and he was completely obsessed (with machines). It was right at the start of all the construction on the highway, so we'd drive down the highway and he'd just start getting cranky as we hit the construction."

To keep him happy and entertained, Leach would spend the next half-hour of the drive pointing out and naming the machinery they drove past, which turned out to be a learning experience for both the child and the parent.

"All of a sudden I knew all these machines - I used to think they were all just tractors!" she said with a laugh.

The book is full of rhyming text about groomers, pipe dragons, gondolas and other ski hill machinery that is all too familiar in Whistler. The text is accompanied by colourful, cartoony illustrations by California-based artist, Steven Corvelo.

"It's not Whistler-specific, but it's ski resort-specific," she said.

Leach gave each machine its own distinct personality, and was sure to include "Marty Marmot" on each page.

"Steven's illustrations are amazing, I'm so pleased with them and the kids love them. I read it to about four or five classes at school now and honestly, I could be speaking German - they're not actually listening to what the words are, they're laughing themselves silly!"

It makes sense for Whistler kids to love Mountain Machines, but it looks like city kids are also interested in Leach's book; KidsBooks has just started carrying it.

Leach even took different approaches when it came to publishing her first two books: Jake Reynolds was picked up by the B.C.-based children's publisher, Orca Books, while Leach opted to go the self-publishing route with Mountain Machines.

"It's been a really great learning experience, going through both processes at once," Leach said.

Both books are now available at Armchair Books; Jake Reynolds: Chicken or Eagle? Is $7.95, while Mountain Machines is $9.95.



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