Cherry blossoms on the U of T campus.

Earlier this month, I took a slightly sudden, whirlwind trip to Canada. It was fortuitous, exciting, inspiring, bittersweet—all the things a voyage across the sea ought to be. Here’s why:

1. Fortuitous: At the start of the year, if you had asked me if I would be in Canada by spring, I would have said, “Unlikely.” That changed when a few disparate stars came into alignment. The Creature Department was nominated for the Silver Birch award, and then I found out my father, whom I don’t see much, would be in Toronto at precisely the same time. So…I hopped on a plane.

2. Exciting: The Forest of Reading children’s book festival is always exciting. In my very unscientific study of the world’s literary festivals, this one ranks among the best, or at least the loudest. And now I can prove it.

This year, 8000 screaming fans of books for all ages packed into Harbourfront Centre to clamour for their favourite writers. As it was The Creature Department that brought me to the awards and since the titular creatures power their strange inventions with the “essences” of abstract concepts (this makes a lot more sense if you read the book), I thought I could use the audience to collect what I called, “The Essence of Reading.”

I asked everyone to think of their favourite book and scream for it “as loud as you love it.” Here’s what that sounds like:

What other literary festival sounds like that? And yes, that’s me getting a bit overwhelmed at the end there. Finally, congrats to the Jonathan Auxier, whose wonderful book The Night Gardener won the award.

The trip was also exciting because a third star aligned with Canada’s first ever Authors for Indies Day on 2 May 2015. I had the pleasure of visiting two of my favourite children’s bookshops, Ella Minnow in the morning and Mabel’s Fables in the afternoon. Each gave me the opportunity to catch up with some old writerly friends, and make some new ones.

At Ella Minnow, left to right: Yvette, who runs the shop; me; Caroline Fernandez; Mireille Messier; Dennis Lee; and Heather, who also runs the shop.

At Mabel’s Fables: Signing books with Kevin Sylvester.

3. Inspiring: One of my favourite things is visiting schools to present my work and lead writing workshops. I did several in the Toronto area and a particular highlight was a presentation with the Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph, Ontario.

While I spoke in a library packed with students, the presentation was simultaneously beamed to nine other schools, who were then able to ask questions and get involved via text and video. Ah, technology.

Creature Department presentation uplinked to multiple schools at once. Technology!

4. Bittersweet: Having grown up in nearby Georgetown, it was lovely to see old friends and family—and then sad to say goodbye to them. Again. Until next time.

Bittersweet, indeed.

A billion thanks to the many, many people who made this trip exceptional: Penguin Canada, The Forest of Reading Festival, Mabel’s Fables, Ella Minnow, Authors for Indies, The Writers’ Union of Canada, The Authors Booking Service, Harbourfront Centre, and the great people at every schoolor library who hosted me so graciously. Thank you all!

Until next time, I’ll be dreaming of these…

Good old Tim Hortons.