Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Helaine Becker

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Helaine Becker

Helaine Becker is the author of Juba This Juba That (Tundra Books), which is based on a song in the popular juba hand-clapping tradition.

Helaine Becker talks with Open Book about the genesis of the book, her closest literary influence and the books that stayed with her from childhood.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book.

Helaine Becker:

I have two new books coming out this Fall. Juba This, Juba That is a fantasy picture book based on a traditional African-American chant and hand-clapping game. It’s gorgeously illustrated by Ron Lightburn — I’m so lucky he was selected to do the art! — and the rhyme and rhythm are very catchy. It’s a really fun read aloud.

Trouble in the Hills couldn’t be more different. It is a fast-paced, young adult adventure novel set in the mountains of British Columbia. When Cameron has a mountain bike crash, he has to spend the night on the mountain alone. His troubles intensify when his path crosses that of a gang of human traffickers. Can Cam help Samira, the girl who he literally bumps into when she’s fleeing from the gang, get down the mountain safely? Or will they end up left to die like the boy they stumble across in the crystal cave?


What was the most challenging part of writing this book?


The hardest part of writing Juba This, Juba That was staying true to the spirit of the original words, but taking out the violent and often unpleasant imagery that was woven through the original. For Trouble in the Hills, keeping the pace fast and furious — it’s a page-turner thriller — was the toughie.


With what character (or characters) in your book do you most identify?


I most identify with Dakota, the “bad boy” character in Trouble in the Hills. He’s got some serious ‘tude, and gets all the best lines — the one’s I’d like to say. In Juba This, Juba That, the main character is a cat. And I confess — I’m a dog person.


For what age group are you most drawn to writing?


All of them!!!! I write for kids from pre-K all the way up to upper level YA, fiction and nonfiction, prose and verse. I am completely ADD.


What recurring themes do you notice turning up in your writing?


Fart jokes.


What book did you read as a child or young adult that has stayed with you into adulthood?


Oh my gosh, too many to count. I was a compulsive reader, still am. I still want my own goat, from having read Heidi, and want to spend the night in the Met from having read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.


Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?


Wow… hmmm…. let’s see… I think that being a writer requires you to be open to influences everywhere, and I think that’s true of me. My mind is one big soup pot where every person I’ve encountered, every experience I’ve ever had , feeds into everything else. What gets dished up into the serving bowl is, with a little luck, greater than the sum of the parts.

But I might also say that my dad has influenced me a lot — first of all, by having an infectious sense of fun. Enjoy life, he seems to say, all the time, it’s incredible! He’s also the kind of guy who’s not afraid to try new things, whether it is gardening, sculpting or calculus. That foolhardy bravery was definitely transferred to me — I’m pretty darn adventurous and always like to try new things. I guess that’s one reason why I write in so many genres. And thirdly, he’s taught me — he’ll laugh at this — discipline. If you want inspiration to appear, you have work at it, put your butt in the chair and do the hard slog day in and day out. I guess it’s high time I said, “Thanks, Daddy!”


What are you working on now?


I’ve always got a whack of things on the go. I’m working on a TV series called Dr. Greenie’s Mad Lab, a YA horror novel, two more quiz books… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. My head’s a tilt-a-whirl of activity — but don’t ask me to do laundry!

Helaine Becker is an award-winning writer of books for children. She has written over 40 books, including the best-selling Looney Bay All-Stars series; popular non-fiction, including Magic Up Your Sleeve, Secret Agent Y.O.U. and Boredom Blasters; picture books and young adult novels.

She also writes for children's magazines and for children's television. She has been nominated for the Silver Birch Award four times and is the winner of two. Helaine Becker holds US and Canadian citizenship. She attended high school in New York and now lives in Toronto.

For more information about Juba This Juba That please visit the Tundra website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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