Author Tags: Kidlit & Young Adult
The first B.C. writer to win a Governor-General's Award was Emily Carr who famously ran a boarding house in Victoria. Susan Musgrave now also runs a bed 'n' breakfast.
The indefatigible Margriet Ruurs has followed suit, operating a "book friendly" bed 'n' breakfast on Saltspring Island called Between the Covers. She's not as famous as Carr and Musgrave, but it's not for lack of effort.
An avid traveller who has written more than thirty books, Ruurs was born in the Netherlands on December 2, 1952 Ruurs started writing stories when she was six but only learned English at age nineteen.
Since her arrival in Canada in 1977, she has lived with her family in California, Oregon, Northern Alberta, Kananaskis Provincial Park, the Yukon and the Okanagan.
Since her arrival in B.C. in 1990, she has gained her MA in Education degree from Simon Fraser University; taught creative writing at elementary schools; and taught Writing For Children courses at Okanagan University College.
Around the turn of the century, Ruurs created an online magazine for children in which they share their own stories and poems. Conceived as a project for her Masters of Education from Simon Fraser University, this ongoing publication called Kidswwwrite attracts submissions from children all around the world.
In 2014 she received an honorary fellowship from Okanagan University in Kelowna for her volunteer work on this project.
Ruurs output has arisen from a determinedly social outlook.
Typically, while researching a children’s book on mobile libraries around the world, Margriet Ruurs discovered Basarat Kazim who was running an inner city library and a mobile library based in Lahore, Pakistan. Ruurs arranged for used books and teddy bears to be sent to the youngest victims of a Pakistani earthquake. After two weeks in Lahore, Ruurs also initiated a book mark exchange to promote international understanding and friendship. These initiatives gave rise to Along with My Librarian is a Camel (Boyds Mills Press 2006), the cover of which features children and book-toting camels in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
Ruurs published three other new titles in the same year, including Animal Alphabed (Boyds Mills Press 2006), a nighttime fantasy and alphabet mystery in which a girl discovers one of her 26 stuffed animals is missing.
Emma at the Fair (Fitzhenry and Whiteside 2006) was the fourth adventure of her plucky, yet addle-brained hen, this time at harvest time at an agricultural fair. Her series of books about a hen named Emma were inspired by a chicken she had when she was living on a farm in Armstrong, B.C. Her title Emma and the Coyote was shortlisted for the 2000 Mr. Christie Book Award and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Tiny Torgi Award.
In 2001, Ruurs published six new books. In 2014, she found time to publish two more books and contribute a monthly column to Canadian Teacher Magazine to feature a different Canadian children’s author or illustrator in each issue.
Co-written with Katherine Gordon, A Brush Full of Colour, The World of Ted Harrison (Pajama Press 2014) is a picture book for all ages that relates how Canadian artist Ted Harrison was drawn to the far north by the poems of Robert Service and the fiction of Jack London.
Families Around the World (Kids Can Press 2014) is a more typical Ruurs book emphasizing positive community values with an internationalist viewpoint. Its follow-up, School Days Around the World (Kids Can 2015), for ages 3 to 7, introduces fourteen real students experiences a typical school day. Whereas Ana walks for an hour to get to school in Honduras, Johannes attends a boarding school in Germany. Each school experiences is different.
Me and Martha Black (Penumbra Press 2006), with cover art by Ted Harrison, introduced the exploits of naturalist Martha Louise Munger who gave up a well-heeled life in Chicago for the lure of the Canadian north. Eventually married to George Black, who was later made commissioner of the Yukon, Martha went on to receive an OBE for her work with Yukon servicemen during WW1 and, at age 70, became only the second woman elected to Parliament.
One of her best-known titles, Amazing Animals: The Remarkable Things That Creatures Do (Tundra, 2011) teaches that a slug has three noses, an octopus has three hearts, and an earthworm has five hearts - but no eyes, nose or ears. It's illustrated by W. Allan Hancok of the Comox Valley,
Kidswwwrite can be viewed at: http://www.kalwriters.com/kidswwwrite/index.html
Margriet Ruurs' convocation address at OUC can be seen at: http://youtu.be/Iucl5emXMfI
For her bed 'n' breakfast, visit: www.betweenthecoversbandb.com
Storytellers World Honor Title (Emma's Eggs)
Silver Seal Mr. Christie Book Awards (Emma and the Coyote)
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey (Orca 2016) $20 978-1-4598-1490-5
School Days Around the World (Kids Can 2015) $19.95 978-1-77138-047-8
A Brush Full of Colour, The World of Ted Harrison (Pajama Press 2014) 978-1-927485-63-7 $22.95 Co-authored with Katherine Gibson
Families Around the World (Kids Can Press 2014) $19.95 978-1-894786-57-7
Amazing Animals (Tundra, 2011) 978-0-88776-973-3 $19.99
My Librarian is a Camel (Boyds Mills Press 2006) $19.95)
Animal Alphabed (Boyds Mills Press 2006) $21.50
Emma at the Fair (Fitzhenry and Whiteside 2006) $19.95)
Me and Martha Black (Penumbra Press 2006)
Ms. Bee’s Magical Bookcase, Chestnut, 2004, $10.95.
Wild Babies, Tundra, ISBN 0-88776-627-7 (2003)
When We Go Camping, Tundra, ISBN 0-88776-476-2
Virtual Maniac, Silly and Serious Poems for Kids, Maupin House Publishing. ISBN 0929895-43-6
The Power of Poems, Teaching the Joy of Writing Poetry. Maupin House Publishing. ISBN 0-929895-44-4
Emma's Cold Day, Stoddart Kids, 2003 ISBN 0-7737-33140
Logan's Lake, Hodgepog Books ISBN 0-9686899-7-3, novel, 60 pages. $5.95
When We Go Camping, Tundra Books, ill. by Andrew Kiss ISBN 0-88776-476-2
Pacific Alphabet, Whitecap Books, Illustrated by Dianna Bonder. ISBN 1-55285-264-4.
Emma and the Coyote, Stoddart Kids, ISBN 0-7737-3140-7, 1999
Emma's Eggs, Stoddart Kids, ISBN 0-7737-2972-0,1996 (1997 Storytelling World Honor Title)
A Mountain Alphabet, Tundra Books, ISBN 0-88776-374-X, 1996 (Our Choice Book)
On The Write Track, Pacific Educational Press, 1993, ISBN 0-88865-086-8
Big Little Dog, Penumbra Press, 1992, ISBN 0-921254-46-6
Fireweed, Burns & Morton, 1986, ISBN 0-920961-01-0
Translation of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, Leopold Publishers, The Netherlands
Apenkinderen, Leopold Publishers, 1982, ISBN 90-258-4364-6
The R.C.M.P., KGR Learning Aides, 1992, ISBN 1-55010-177-3
Spectacular Spiders, Pacific Edge Publishing, ISBN 1-895110-20-3
Wake Up Henry Rooster, Fitzhenry & Whiteside
No Dogs Allowed, Chestnut
In My Backyard, Tundra
[BCBW 2016] "Kidlit"
A Pacific Alphabet (Whitecap $16.95)
“I keep pinching myself,” says Margriet Ruurs. “I feel so lucky.”
Best known as the creator of A Mountain Alphabet (Tundra) and the scatterbrained purple-plumed chicken in the Emma picture book series (Stoddart), Ruurs will see six books published this year, but she is hardly toting that literary six-pack by chance.
A workshop leader for writing, Ruurs estimates she recently spoke to more than ten thousand children in BC, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Maryland. She also deliberately set aside last summer to market her work. Writing, it seems, is only half the battle.
For her A Pacific Alphabet (Whitecap $16.95) Ruurs envisioned an illustrated look with a quirky, non-realistic style, so she was delighted when her B.C. publisher chose Dianna Bonder of Maple Ridge. Bonder’s whimsical style gave Ruurs free rein to indulge her love of word play and rhyme, “I’m ESL,” she tells kids, encouraging them to retain their first language. “Being bilingual gives you twice as many ways to describe something. You’re more creative in finding solutions, in writing and possibly in life.”
Born and raised in Holland, Ruurs learned English at 19. She eventually found herself living up north with two young sons where her husband was director of Yukon Parks. Nature and the wilderness, early influences on her work, continue to inspire her.
In A Mountain Alphabet, Ruurs and Andrew Kiss (a former Cariboo illustrator, who, through a twist of fate, has recently become her next-door neighbour in rural Armstrong in the southern interior) collaborated on When We Go Camping (Tundra $17.99). Text and pictures take readers through an image-rich day of camping with mystery animal tracks and a hidden animal on each page.
In Logan’s Lake (Hodgepog $5.95), an easy-read book for grades two and three, a remote lake is threatened by commercial development. Young Logan can’t stop ‘progress’ but he does inspire the developer to forego plans for a deluxe hotel complex in favour of a wilderness lodge.
Maupin House in Florida picked up both Virtual Maniac: Silly and Serious Poems for Kids ($12.95 U.S.) and the companion resource The Power of Poems: Teaching the Joy of Writing Poetry ($24 U.S.). The sales clincher for the education resource publisher was her passion for language, demonstrated when Ruurs, with her slight Dutch accent, rattled off lines from a poem that included Kleena Kleene, Takla, Tatlayoko, Bella Coola, Bella Bella, Archennini, Wapa Wekka, Flin Flon.
Ruurs’ Emma’s Eggs was a Storytellers’ World Honor Title; Emma and the Coyote was shortlisted for the 2000 Mr. Christie Book Award and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Tiny Torgi Award. Her new Emma’s Cold Day (Stoddard Kids $19.95) finds the addled hen bustling about the farm in search of a warm, cozy, chicken-perfect shelter.
Ruurs will travel to Newfoundland in November for Children’s Book Week and go for a series of readings next March in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Virtual 0-929895-43-6; Power 0-929895-44-4; Camping 0-88776-476-2;
Logan’s 0-9686899-7-3; Pacific 1-55285-264-4 Cold Day 0-7737-33140.
[Louise Donnelly / BCBW 2001]
Emma and the Coyote (Stoddart $18.95)
A real-life chicken on her Armstrong farm was the inspiration for Margriet Ruurs’ well-meaning but addled hen Emma, a character that made its first appearance in Emma’s Eggs.
Eggs are scrambled, boiled, dyed and hidden behind shrubs and Easter daffodils until Emma discovers the very best thing to do with an egg is sit on it until out pops a perfect dandelion chick.
In Emma and the Coyote (Stoddart $18.95), Emma takes on a dreaded barnyard prowler and almost meets her demise. But a gust of wind and a stray magnolia blossom save her, leaving Emma, feathers intact, should she be required to lend her antics to a third picture book adventure.
Barbara Spurll’s illustrations bring the befuddled Emma to life with crazed chicken eyes, a fiery comb, a comedic beak and wings as expressive as hands. 0-7737-3140-7
[Louise Donnelly / BCBW WINTER 1999]
Ms. Bee’s Magical Bookcase
Dedicated to teacher-librarians everywhere, Ms. Bee’s Magical Bookcase (Chestnut, $10.95) is the latest picture book from Margriet Ruurs who, although temporarily re-located in Oregon, still calls rural Armstrong home. Ms. Bee, with sassy striped socks, hair anchored in a haphazard bun and satchels of books, leads a secret weekend life with seven dwarfs, three kittens without mittens and a woman who lives in a shoe. Come Monday, Ms. Bee, who in the hands of illustrator Andrew Gooderham bears a resemblance to a certain Armstrong community librarian, returns to school with an ever-changing repertoire of stories. 1-894601-10-6
Convocation Speech (2014)
In the summer of 2014, Margriet Ruurs, author of thirty books for children, received an Honorary Fellowship from Okanagan University College for her fifteen years of volunteer work with Kidswwwrite Magazine, an online site that publishes children’s stories and poems and encourages children to be writers.
Here is the convocation address Ruurs delivered to graduands to stress the importance of books and libraries for children.
On this special day I would like to use the words of Dr. Seuss to say:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose. “
When I was little, in The Netherlands, my dad told me stories and my
mom read books to me. They bought me books and took me to the
The very foundation of my life was built on books.
As I grew older, I wanted to tell my own stories.
"Write them down," my mother said. She gave me a lined book with
empty pages and encouraged me to write down my stories and
My teachers encouraged me to write more. With encouragement and books, I had a good start in life. I was lucky.
This spring I conducted writing workshops in Israel where all the
signs where either in Hebrew or in Arabic. Then I spent two weeks in
China. Seeing nothing but Chinese characters on directional signs,
advertisements, on the packages in the stores, I suddenly felt what
it might be like to be illiterate. I had no idea what was in the
packages in the store, of ingredients or directions. I couldn’t read
the newspaper, even warning signs. I felt helpless, powerless, clueless.
Reading is fundamental.
If a child is encourage to read, if he wants to read, then he will be
that much more successful in everything he attempts in life. Fluency
in reading and writing comes through the joy of discovering good
stories. Remember when suddenly the whole world wanted to read
Harry Potter? What a joy that was. A spellbinding story encouraged
people of all ages to curl up with a book and read.
I once met J.K. Rowling. Someone asked her "eight-year-olds like reading Harry Potter and 80-year-olds like reading Harry Potter, who did you write it for?" And you know what the answer was? She said "I wrote it for myself."
I write for myself, too. I just never stopped writing and now I have 30
I hope that you write for yourself. The stories of your childhood,
feelings and emotions expressed in a poem, a piece of information
to share with others or just for yourself.
When I travel to developing countries it strikes me that, the very
first thing they do, after providing for shelter, food and water, is try
and collect books.
All over the world, villages try to build libraries.
Mobile libraries in the most astounding shapes and sizes attempt to
bring books to people. There are book boats in Indonesia. A camel
library in Kenya, even an elephant library in Thailand. I have seen
libraries on motorbikes and donkey carts. I have helped to deliver
books to nomads in Mongolia's Gobi Desert, where the literacy rate
is 98%. This fall I hope to travel with a book bus, bringing books to
villages around Zambia.
Access to books is fundamental to our development, our well being
and our success in anything we achieve in life, a resource all children
have a right too.
And it should be the cornerstone of education in North America. It is
of grave concern to me that more and more of our school libraries
are closing. Budget cuts lead to reduced access to books for our
children, here in the developed world.
A school library open for half a day a week? Library closed because
no one can help the students to check out the books that are in the
shelf. I find this mind boggling when reading and writing are the very
foundation of everything we are teaching them.
I hope that, among the many things you will accomplish in your life,
you will put books in the hands of children, tell them stories and help
them to discover the joy of reading, of storytelling , and of writing
Dr. Seuss said: The more that you read, the more things you will
know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
I would like to leave you with a poem I wrote to tell you how I feel
Open the cover of the book in your hands,
bridge to unknown and wonderful lands.
Travel through countries of wisdom and fun,
nights full of darkness, days full of sun.
Turn each page full of wonder,
follow its road to up yonder
where mountain tops talk to the sky
whispering a wondering “why”?
Treasure chest of make-believe places,
meeting new and familiar faces. Reach
for a book on the shelf—
Discover the world, discover yourself.
Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs (Orca $20)
from Alex Van Tol
On a chilly and overcast October morning, as the Skeena Queen pulls into Saltspring’s Fulford Harbour, Margriet Ruurs is waiting at the dock, herself just back from another trip.
Ruurs is what you might call an internationalist. In another week she and her husband, Kees, will visit Spain, then it’s onto Qatar for two weeks, where Ruurs will speak to students at ten different schools; then it’s onto Saudi Arabia: more schools, more children, more stories.
At her Book Lovers’ B&B operated with her husband, as she makes poached eggs on English muffins in her light-filled kitchen, Ruurs explains the origins of Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, another foray into a world far beyond her idyllic Gulf Island life.
Browsing Facebook one day, she stumbled on a number of photographs of stone arrangements by a Syrian artist: A delicate stone mother holds a tiny stone baby; a downcast father heaves a heavy load behind them. Small stone figures are running for safety as bombs fall overhead. They are migrants.
Captivated, Ruurs set out to contact the artist who could generate such heart-rending images from mere pebbles. The artist, Nizar Ali Badr, was telling the stories of his people, forced to flee a land besieged by civil war, struggling to cross borders with their families and health intact.
Badr had no telephone or laptop. When eventually contacted, he agreed—through translators—to collaborate with Ruurs on a children’s book that would bring his work and stories to a broader audience.
For a publisher, Ruurs found Orca Books founder Bob Tyrrell who was already hip-deep into bringing a refugee family to Canada with his wife, Avril. One dollar from the sale of each book would go to supporting refugee resettlement organizations across North America; Ruurs would donate her royalties in their entirety.
Ruurs was intentionally spare in her storytelling for Stepping Stones, leaving geography out of it and focusing instead on the plight of all those who are forced to flee their home countries, with translation assistance from Falah Raheem.
With only what they can carry, Rama and her family flee their once-peaceful village to escape civil war. Including her grandfather and brother, Rama’s family is hoping to walk to freedom in Europe.
“I wanted to make the story more universal,” says Ruurs. “These stories of refugees, their experiences—it’s always happening somewhere. Two years from now, in another part of the world, the story will be the same.”
Even though Stepping Stones has emanated from the grim plight of Syrians, it does so in a hopeful, forward-looking way. Despite the harsh realities of refugees meeting with closed borders, chain-link fences and overcrowded camps, Ruurs chose to leave the ending light.
“I wrote it for my grandson,” she says, “as a way of sharing with him my message that we need to help each other. I am here because, in World War II, the Americans and Canadians helped us. Countries that are currently living in peace need to help others that are not.”
Margriet Ruurs was born in the Netherlands in 1952. She learned English at age nineteen. Since her arrival in North America in 1977, she has also lived in California, Oregon, Northern Alberta, Kananaskis Provincial Park, the Yukon and the Okanagan. She came to B.C. in 1990.
In the early 2000s, Ruurs created an online magazine for children in which they share their own stories and poems. Conceived as an online project for her Masters of Education from Simon Fraser University, Kidswwwrite has attracted submissions from children all around the world. In 2014 she received an honorary fellowship from Okanagan University in Kelowna for her volunteer work on this project.
Victoria’s Alex Van Tol often gives presentations in B.C. schools about writing.