I’m an incorrigible reader and writer—which explains what I’m doing here at UFV. Well, that and my love of teaching! As a Children’s Literature specialist, I teach the subject through both literature and creative writing courses.
After landing my first position fresh from my Master’s degree in 2005, I began teaching at the University (then College) of the Fraser Valley. From that moment, I became addicted to the mind blowing ideas generated in class discussions of children’s literature. I’ve been teaching children’s literature ever since, including a year in the innovative interdisciplinary Children’s Study Program at York University. I’ve also taught writing courses of all kinds (academic, professional, technical, business, and creative) at many institutions, including the University of British Columbia (Vancouver and Okanagan campuses), IIG All Nations Aboriginal College, Capilano College, and Okanagan College. Collaborating with students to build their repertoire of writing techniques and watching them improve their communication skills is a joy like no other. Well, that and hanging out with the critters I love, especially horses, elephants, miniature donkeys, and dogs. Interacting with animals (and the literature they inspired) is pretty great, too!
Publications & Awards
The research on South Asian children’s literature that I embarked on at UFV in 2005 eventually became the basis for my doctoral dissertation at Newcastle University, where I studied under world renowned children’s literature scholar Professor Kimberley Reynolds. As part of this research, I completed two research trips to India and won a fellowship to study at the International Youth Library in Germany. My work was eventually published as a scholarly monograph by Routledge: Contemporary, English-language Indian Children’s Literature: Representations of Nation, Culture, and the New Indian Girl.
This path led me to serve as the Vice President of IBBY Canada and as a jury member for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature and the TD Children’s Literature Award (the latter is the highest grossing children’s literature award in Canada). As well, I regularly review new Canadian children’s books for CM magazine. I’m also a staff writer for tujawellness.com, a website dedicated to promoting and supporting wellness in Canadian communities.
The fiction I write explores connections between people, animals, and the environment. My children’s novel, Black Dog, Dream Dog, won the 2012 Chocolate Lily Award (Chapter Book category) and has been nominated for the 2011 People’s Book Prize and shortlisted for the 2012 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award.
I begin with the belief that all students who wish to and who apply themselves can transform their learning. Each student is, in my opinion, capable of experiencing radical achievement. Every course I teach begins with each student outlining her/his goals, fears, and established skills in relation to the course, her/his program of study, and her/his professional future. Students also complete an informal diagnostic exercise so that I can assess both the level of individual student need and any patterns of need within the class. This provides me with a template with which to pull students along with a supportive approach, as well as to push them towards achievable challenges.
When teaching writing courses, I’ve often been called a “coach,” which I consider a compliment: I’m always looking for ways to guide and support students to overcome their challenges and improve their communication skills. Although students express a variety of strengths and challenges in relation to their writing, the comment I hear most frequently is that most have an abundance of ideas but experience a near insurmountable disconnect when they sit down to write. When they try to organize and communicate their ideas, they become overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, and disheartened. My mission is to empower these (and all) students by helping them to discover and develop an individualized method for brainstorming, structuring, drafting, revising, and polishing their ideas so that they become effective writers. Students who are motivated to harness their ideas and recognize the necessity of doing so in relation to their academic and professional success are transformed.
We begin by building from what students know, with concrete learning outcomes towards which we are all moving. We make our way towards new ideas, methods, skills, and, ultimately, increased enjoyment and confidence in approaching academic work and writing.
As is clear from my use of the pronoun “we” here, I believe that collaborative, hands-on work facilitates transformative learning. I consider myself the “lead scholar” in the classroom, and I am as willing to be transformed by students’ ideas and input as I am able to provide context through my own knowledge, expertise, and experience. I incorporate many activities, writing exercises, and group discussions into my classes, not only so that students can apply concepts in practice but also so that all students come to recognize that their ideas are valuable. This allows many who previously lacked confidence to morph into active participants when we do group projects, peer editing, and class activities. In this way, students understand that each of them experiences varying challenges and that each has a different, yet important, perspective to contribute.
My novel-in-progress, Oh, Little Orchard Town, is about a family apple orchard in Kelowna, BC. This story is for grownups and follows three generations of women from World War II to the present day, exploring their relationships with their land and each other.
My latest research project focuses on developing a new critical approach to children’s literature—one that has a child-centred belief system at its foundation. Just as feminist literary criticism transformed the value systems by which literature was assessed and the ways that women’s writing was interpreted, this child-centred literary criticism will provide a new lens through which to view children’s literature.