Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This Plus That

Are you curious about the title of this blog post?  You should be.  This Plus That is the title of a great picture book by Amy Rosenthal in which she combines the joys of mathematical equations with language.  For example, here's one I made up:

baby + felt pen + library book = Disaster!

How about another or two?  (Okay, if you insist . . .)

Thanksgiving dinner – Brussels sprouts = Heaven

McMahen + singing – earplugs = painful!

Get the idea?  If you get the urge, how about making some up of your own.  If you have an aversion to math, this is the perfect way to overcome it.

Has your curiosity been quenched?  I hope so.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fact or Fiction?

At the two schools where I work as a teacher-librarian, we are having a monthly writing challenge for all students.  Our first challenge was called:  "Fact or Fiction."  Another title to this could be "Two Truths and a Lie."  Here's how it works:

Write three statements about yourself.  Two of them are true, while one of them is made up.  Here's my own personal example:

1.  I met Michael Buble at the Vancouver Airport.

2.  I finished third in my age category at the Reino-Keski Salmi ski loppet last year.

3.  I once went swimming in Kalamalka Lake near Vernon in January.

Two are true and one is false.  Can you guess?  Leave a comment below with your guess for which one is not true.

We are encouraging all ages of students to enter, with the little tykes getting help from their parents.  Everyone has about three weeks to enter the challenge.  During this time, entries are read over the P.A. system in the school or at assemblies.  At the end of the challenge, there is a random draw from all the entries for some prizes.

The purpose of the challenge is to get students and their parents involved in a variety of creative writing activities that are challenging and a whole lot of fun.

If you have any questions about this challenge or wish to further discuss this idea, please contact me at my email address:  chrismcmahen@gmail.com.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Distractions! Distractions! Distractions!

I haven't updated the blog for a while for a number of reasons . . . (Excuses!  Excuses!  Excuses!)  Pictured above is the most recent one.  This is (or was) our front yard.  Thankfully, the yard is back together and I can actually get back to writing.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Footloose in Toronto

After my official duties of Book Week were over, I had some time to explore Toronto.

First, it was up the CN Tower . . .

Paid a visit to Glenn Gould . . .

Then, said hello to Stanley.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Week Tour Day 5

The final day of my Book Week tour has arrived.  I spent the entire day at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School, and what a day it was.  Thanks to the great staff and students at the school, I had a terrific time during my four readings and over lunch hour.

They had an art display in the gym, and this very original picture by Olivia really caught my eye:

Right after the readings, I headed into Grimsby's downtown for a few hours, sampling the offerings of their cafe, taking in their museum, and wandering about their picturesque neighbourhoods.

Then, I jumped on the train back to Toronto.

I sat with Jessica Scott Kerrin, another Book Week author.  It was great to swap stories of our Book Week adventures and talk about the writing life.  Monica met us at the train station to complete the circle of the week.

The week went by in a blur.  The Book Week organizers are absolutely right– The Book Week Tour is not for the faint of heart!  But what a great time it was.  Thanks again to Monica Winkler for her amazing organizational efforts and skills!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Week Tour Day 4

Last night, I took the train back from London to Toronto . . .

I got in very late, and the next morning arrived quite quickly.

Once in a while, a superhero appears out of nowhere to save the day.  Today, that superhero's name was Niki.  Monica's good friend picked me up at the hotel in the morning and drove me through the maze that is called "Toronto" out to Blessed Margherita School for my first presentation.

The hundred or so students were very energetic and eager to participate!  Thanks to Elaine for hosting the event!

Here I am in action . . .

Well . . . maybe not quite in action yet.  How about this . . .

Then, I had the opening of the Box of Shocks . . .

Safety First!  I always have someone standing behind, just in case they faint.

Right after the presentation, we headed back to downtown Toronto toward the GO station for a train I was to catch to Ajax.  Unfortunately, a combination of traffic, traffic and traffic conspired against us and we arrived too late to catch the train.

Was this a problem?  Of course not!  Niki drove me all the way out to Ajax.  We stopped for lunch, then she delivered me to the library in Ajax for my next presentation.  Thanks to Niki for going the extra kilometres, otherwise, today would have been Ajaxless.

The 85 kids in Ajax were a terrific audience.  They had such great ideas, were full of enthusiasm, and a joy to work with.  I also met Joel Sutherland, a fellow author who works in the library system in Ajax.  Check out his book on writing with Scholastic, plus his adult horror novel.  I know I am as soon as I get home.  Thanks to Cindy and Raj for making my visit to Ajax so enjoyable.

After, I hopped on the GO train in Ajax and went back to Toronto . . .

This is Union Station in Toronto.  An incredible building with an inspiring heritage.

Tonight, I caught the Via Rail train to Grimsby, Ontario– hometown of Vancouver Canucks' star defenceman Kevin Bieksa.

Tomorrow, my final official day of the tour in terms of presentations.  What a blur this week has been!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Week Tour Day 3

Another fast-paced, fun-filled, action-packed day!  (I'd better watch it.  Soon, I'll be wearing out the "-" key on my keyboard.)

First thing in the morning, I headed over to Wilfrid Jury School.  And what a school it is!

Warning!  If you are a teacher-librarian and do not want to get extremely jealous, DO NOT read any further!

Pictured below is Kathie Rose in her library– the most jaw-dropping library I have ever seen.
I was unable to adequately capture the library in one photo.  Above this photo are massive skylights that bath the entire room in bright light.  We have skylights back in the library at my school, Highland Park, but these skylights are way up and gigantic.  The layout of the library is also unbelievable.

But the best part of the library is their amazing teacher-librarian, Kathie Rose, who was a great host, providing a superb setup in the gym, coffee and even carrot cake.  She made my visit a great experience.  Thanks also to her great student helpers and all of her incredibly attentive students!

After two presentations at Wilfrid Jury, I hopped in a cab and tore across town to Tweedmuir Public School.  Right away, I did a presentation to a very enthusiastic group of grade 3-5 students followed by a different presentation to the grade 6-8 students.  My second presentation really emphasized the writing process an author goes through, and I was really impressed how focused the kids were.  I had some great questions from them, as well as terrific participation when I asked for them to share their experiences of things like jumping off cliffs into deep water, revisiting old houses they used to live in, and other experiences relevant to my books.  It was two great sessions.

Tweedsmuir School has one of the nicest front school yards I've seen.  It must be spectacular in the fall, with the large trees lining the front sidewalk.  This picture doesn't do it justice.  I guess if you want to really get the full sense of it, you'll have to visit.  If you do, say hello to my gracious host, Ilse Nel-Landers!
After my four presentations, I hopped in yet another taxi and headed to the Via Rail station, stashed my suitcase, and was footloose in downtown London for a few hours.  I managed to visit their spectacular art gallery and museum . . .
. . . featuring this rhino on the front lawn.  St. Thomas has their statue of Jumbo, and London has the rhino.

Winding through London is a river called, what else?  The Thames River.  They've done a great job of making a walkway/ linear park along both sides of the river.  Right across from the Museum/Gallery they have this massive fountain that shoots water out across the river.

And, of course, if this is London, it had better have a castle . . . And it does!

This evening, I said good bye to London and boarded the Via Rail train to Toronto which is where I'm writing at this very minute.  In another hour and a bit, I should be back in Toronto.  The train is definitely a great way to travel.  Very comfortable.  I just hope I don't doze off and wake up in Montreal.  Better stay awake!  Better stay awake!  Better stay awake!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book Week Day 2

Wow.  What a whirlwind day!

In the morning, I presented to 130 very enthusiastic Grade 4-6 students at Sir Arthur Carly Catholic School in London.  We had a great time!  Thanks to Debbie Popovic for hosting the event and for whisking me over to Wilton Grove School.

At Wilton Grove School, I did a writing workshop with 50 grade 6 students.  We worked on revision, adding details and descriptive words to the world's most boring sentences.  The group proved to have wonderful imaginations and an eagerness to make their writing sizzle.  Thanks to Tara Phillips for hosting the event and providing all of the necessary supplies.

A taxi ride took me over to John Dearness Public School where I presented to 60 grade sevens and eights.  I always find it fascinating how different audiences can be depending upon their age.  There's such a huge difference between the responses I get with a grade 4-6 audience versus a grade 7-8 audience.  It was great to do a presentation to an older audience where I could go behind the scenes of my books and explain where the ideas came from.  Thanks to Beccy Adams for making a very impressive backdrop, borrowing her husband's hockey stick (a right hand shot, at that!) and providing a delicious fruit platter.

In all three schools today, I visited incredible school libraries with vibrant library programs lead by enthusiastic, innovative teacher-librarians.  Such lucky students in these schools to have these amazing library programs!

What's this?  Flowers?

After my three sessions today, I decided to go for a good long walk and sought out a nature preserve about two kilometres from the hotel.  It was great to see the spring flowers along the side of the trail which skirted along the shore of a lake.  Unfortunately . . .

. . . the trail got a tad muddy.  I ended up log hopping in a number of places.  I was slightly mindful, in a few particularly squishy places, that I should make sure I wouldn't sink in too deeply.  Chances are, if I did, the next person to find me would be some archaeologist in about 2712 AD.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Week Tour Day 1

Day 1 of my Children's Book Week tour of Ontario was superbly, fantastically, dazzlingly, out-of-this-worldly . . . I just ran out of words to adequately describe the day I had.  Thanks to my wonderful hosts at the West Lorne and Aylmer Libraries along with three audiences of enthusiastic, thoughtful young readers, the day was a memorable one.  And not only that, I had my name on a marquis for the very first time.  (Apparently, at night, the marquis flashes brightly and projects the message across passing clouds.  The people of West Elgin are truly amazing.)

Between readings, it was great to be driven around the countryside.  I really felt at home in this rural area of sprawling farms and quaint communities– very reminiscent of the Spallumcheen Valley where I live.  

One of the highlights was seeing the statue of Jumbo the circus elephant in St. Thomas.  Jumbo was struck by a train here in 1885 and died.  Barbara Smucker has written a great novel about this amazing elephant.

This is the Aylmer Library.  What a great old building it is, although the library is jammed into a very small area on the lower floor.  The upper floor is a theatre where John A. Macdonald once spoke.  Here's a photo of the ceiling:

Thanks to everyone for making it such a great opening day of my Book Week tour, including all 160 students.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Off to London . . . Ontario, that is

This morning, Monica Winkler picked me up at the hotel and drove me to the train station.  Thanks to the Toronto Marathon, some key roads were closed, forcing us into a wildly circuitous route. I didn't mind one bit, however, as our drive took us through some great neighbourhoods, including Cabbagetown, over the same bridge twice (the one in the photo), until we finally arrived at the train station.  I'm sure glad she knows Toronto so well.  She even dodged some construction with a well executed U-turn.

The train from Toronto to London was a great trip, enabling me to take in the southern Ontario countryside.

Now, I'm ready to roll for my first readings.  Monday, I'm at the Elgin County Library in the morning, then off to the Aylmer Public Library in the afternoon.

Should be fun.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book Week Tour Begins

I arrived in Toronto today, flying in from Kelowna.  Downtown Toronto is spectacular– spray-painting street artists, improv. drummers, great reflections . . .

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Favourite Socks

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of paying a visit to an amazing school in Calgary, Alberta–Simon Fraser School. The audiences of grades 5, 6, and 7 students were incredibly attentive, asked great questions, and were willing participants in the silliness that overcame all of us during moments of outrageousness.

Much to my surprise, upon leaving the school, I was presented with a great deal of swag, including the most comfortable socks I now own. Hours after receiving them, I wore them on a long run my daughter and I did along the banks of the Bow River. I'm sure my pace was quickened by the mere fact I wore Simon Fraser School socks.

Thanks to Meghan and her great kids for a very enjoyable morning, delicious lunch, and some great memories.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An Interview With . . .

I'm in the Canadian Teacher Magazine! You can read my interview right here:


Thanks to Margriet Ruurs for doing the interview!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Welcome to the World, Sophie!

The best of 2011 was saved to the last . . . Sophie Madeline Bell born on Dec. 31st!