Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Case for Procrastination

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Thomas Dundas and Bunny ("The Toronto Telegram," 1918)

One of the projects I’m working on right now is a picture book that will be published in Fall 2014 by Kids Can Press. The subject is a Toronto Police Force horse named Bunny, who was one of 18 horses chosen from the Force to go to Europe and serve in World War I. Bunny and his rider faced many dangers — they were even on the battlefield the first time poison gas was used in the war. But of all of those 18 horses, Bunny was the only one still alive at the end of World War I.

I’m often asked where I get the ideas for my books. A few years ago around Remembrance Day, I was speaking to students at a Peterborough school about my book The Kids Book of Canada at War (which includes photos of my dad, who is a World War II veteran and almost 93 years old). Afterwards, I asked the librarians if there were any topics that she felt hadn’t been written about but that teachers wanted. She mentioned that there were few books about war for very young students. So I filed that away in my brain.

Shortly after that, my husband and I attended War Horse, the musical about a British boy and his horse in World War I (based on a kids’ book; it was also made into a movie). The next day, when I should have been working, instead I was procrastinating and wasting time looking up information about War Horse. That’s when I somehow came across the story of Bunny and his riders: Officer Thomas Dundas and his brother.

I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard this story, and I quickly pitched the idea of a picture book based on Bunny’s story. With the one-hundredth anniversary of World War I occurring next year, I thought the idea was not only interesting but well timed. I was so happy when Kids Can Press agreed with me.

It fascinates me how in less than 100 years, so much of a story can be lost or forgotten. For instance, no one knows for sure the name of Thomas Dundas’ brother, who was Bunny’s original rider. There are a number of guesses, but there are no definite records any more. And there’s no information on how a horse got the name Bunny.

Marie Lafrance is illustrating the book, Stacey Roderick is the editor and Marie Bartholomew is the designer. I’m also lucky to have two wonderful experts as consultants on the book, Dr. Mélanie Morin-Pelletier, First World War Historian, Canadian War Museum; and Toronto Mounted Police Staff Inspector William Wardle.

I find it interesting that a book (War Horse) can lead to a movie and a musical, which can in turn inspire another book. And it reminds me that you never know when an idea will hit. Be sure to always be prepared to write it down — or you’ll go wild later desperately trying to remember it!

And Another Thing …
Back in 1837 on this date, publisher and politician William Lyon Mackenzie and his followers gathered at Montgomery Tavern in Toronto, marched down Yonge Street and the Upper Canada Rebellion began. The uprising ended quickly and badly for the rebels, but it did lead to the Province of Canada being created in 1841, and eventually to Canada’s politicians being more responsible to their citizens (er, um, well, sort of …).

The Upper Canada Rebellion has of course inspired many books. But it has a literary connection that you might not know — Montgomery Tavern, where the rebels gathered is on Yonge Street, north of Eglinton Avenue. That road gets its name from Eglinton Castle in Scotland, which is named for the Earls of Eglinton. The Earl of Eglinton is the chief of the Clan Montgomery — as in Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books. In fact, one of the pseudonyms Montgomery used was “Maud Eglinton.”

Thanks for reading.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Elizabeth MacLeod

Award-winning author Elizabeth MacLeod has written over 50 books for children. Her most recent book, Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries, was published by Annick Press.

Go to Elizabeth MacLeod’s Author Page