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Author shares mythical 'pet care' tips

Lauren MacGill

Author Vikki VanSickle read her book If I Had a Gryphon in Morden and Winkler on May 9. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

Author Vikki VanSickle read her book If I Had a Gryphon in Morden and Winkler on May 9. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

Hamsters are nice, but wouldn’t a gryphon be more fun? Or a dragon?

Author Vikki VanSickle visited Morden Library and Winkler Centennial Library on May 9 as part of TD Canadian Children’s Book Week to read her new book, If I Had a Gryphon and answer those questions.

“It’s a primer on magical pet care,” VanSickle said. “I was working at a book store and I did story time, and I had very little kids who were interested in older books like Harry Potter. I tried to find a story book that I thought they would like and I thought, ‘That could be the book I write.’”

The picture book follows Sam, a young girl who owns a hamster but longs for a more exciting pet. What Sam finds, however, is that taking care of mystical beasts is harder than she expected.

Maybe a hamster isn’t so bad after all.

To figure out how one could take care of each animal that appears in the book, VanSickle said she wrote a list of mythological creatures and applied regular pet care to them.

VanSickle said she was pleased to see children at the readings engaging with the material. “I do find [children] to be very insightful,” she said. “I think sometimes as an adult if you don’t have kids or work with kids, you forget how much they think about a book. That even surprises me and I do visits and see them on a regular basis. It’s a different experience when you’re young.”

Reading was always an important part of VanSickle’s life. “I don’t even remember when I learned to read, I’ve always had books and enjoyed them,” she said.

Where she grew up, the bus system transported both elementary and high school students. Because of the time differential, VanSickle would spend an hour every day at her school’s library.

Knowing that her books might be what inspire a young reader to get into writing is inspiring. “It’s sort of surreal,” she said. “I don’t always feels that until I come to events like this and see kids with the book, or teachers who say they’ve read it before. A lot of it is still just me in my room writing, which is what I’ve always done.”

VanSickle also said events like TD Canadian Children’s Book Week are important in celebrating the work libraries do. “Growing up we didn’t buy a lot of books, but I was a huge library user,” she said. “I found so many beloved authors in the library, so it’s an exciting thing.”

VanSickle has written several other books, but for a slightly older audience of  young adults. This was her first foray into books for young children. “It was really different,” VanSickle said. “I mistakenly thought it would be easier. When you’re writing a picture book you have to think about show don’t tell, you have to think about who the audience is in a slightly different way. It’s adults reading it, but kids listening to it so language choice and pacing is important.”

VanSickle also had to fit the story in 32-40 pages, and make sure each page was interesting but not too full. “Every single word feels like a monumental choice,” she said. “It stretches your brain in a different way. For me it feels more like an intellectual exercise or puzzle, where writing a novel is very characters driven. I get in there and mess around and it’s a little more organic.”

VanSickle just released a new science-fiction novel for young adults called The Winnowing, which was nominated for a Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award.

She also has another picture book coming out next year called Teddy Bear Magic, which is about a little bear’s first time at the teddy bear service awards who wonders if he has truly earned his place there, until he discovers what he was nominated for.