Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Celebrating literacy

 Today I am excited to be giving a lunch-time Zoom talk sponsored by Literacy Quebec. Literacy has always been dear to my heart, not just because I grew up in a house full of books or because I make my living with words, but because literacy opens up a whole new world of information, entertainment, and knowledge. It makes life so much richer.

In my career as a child psychologist, I witnessed first hand the defeat that children faced in school when they struggled with literacy, the avenues that became closed to them, and the lifelong frustrations and discouragement they faced as adults. That's why I was delighted to participate in the initiative of Orca Book Publishers to write short, engaging novels for reluctant and emerging adult readers. It married my two loves – my psychology interests and my writing. Mystery novels are perfect for encouraging reading, because they are fast-paced page-turners that grab the readers' interest from the first page.  I gave a lot of thought to the kind of books I would write. What kind of hero would I create? What problems they would face? How would they solve them? 

I decided to create a hero that reluctant readers might identify with. Not a police officer or a lawyer, but an ordinary guy who has struggles of his own with reading and who keeps his life as simple as possible to hide it and cope with it. The problems occur when that simple life was disrupted by demands from the outside.

Cedric O'Toole is a simple country handyman who lives on a farm in rural Eastern Canada that he inherited from his mother. He ekes out a living growing organic vegetables and doing minor carpentry jobs. He barely finished high school, is socially awkward, and feels inferior because he can't read his job contracts or come up with quick repartee. But like many people who struggle with literacy, he is very good with his hands, can visualize, build or repair anything, and dreams of one day creating a great invention that will make his fortune. It is this strength that helps him solve the mysteries he faces in the books. 

I hope readers will not only identify with the life challenges Cedric faces, but also see his strengths, and gain inspiration from how he solves the mysteries. These are short, easy-read books, but the issues they tackle are not simple or superficial. As such, they can be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good mystery and an interesting cast of characters. So far Cedric has appeared in four mystery novels; he is slowly coming out of his shell but there are still plenty of problems waiting for him.


Tanya said...

Barbara, I'm so thrilled that you and Vicki Delany are among the skilled authors doing Rapid Reads books with Orca. Keep 'em coming! I'm a volunteer literacy tutor, and the two adult students I work with have enjoyed a number of Orca titles (as have I). We use an ESL workbook appropriate for their level and supplement with short books and magazines for variety. And you're right, when the characters and situations in the books have some resemblance to "regular life" it makes them more relatable, and it's easy to get students involved in reading and discussing the stories. Thanks for all your hard work!

Tanya said...

Rick, didn't mean to leave you out... just saw your titles on the Orca site. Thanks to you, too!

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, Tanya. Seems I'm left out by a lot of people when it comes to Rapid Reads. I REALLY appreciate the shout-out!

Barbara Fradkin said...

Tanya, thanks so much for your comments, and please let Orca know how much you appreciate the Rapid Read books. I know they have challenges marketing them. Barbara