Teaching the Quad

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has a fantastic reputation when it comes to staff development for teachers, so I was thrilled to be a part of today’s workshop called Teaching the Quad, helping educators prepare for the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s voyage in 1609.  I talked about Using Historical Fiction in the Classroom and gave my first-ever reading from Champlain & the Silent One, my new middle grade historical novel that comes out in September.  For me, reading out loud from a novel for the first time is a milestone that’s always a little scary but a lot of fun!

As the last speaker, I got to relax for most of the day and enjoy the other presenters — including biographer Willard Sterne Randall, whose work I’ve admired for years.  His Benedict Arnold biography was one of my first stops when I was researching Spitfire.  Randall and his wife have worked together to put together this fantastic website focusing on Champlain and the Quadricentennial Celebration.
Also on the agenda today – Dr. Fred Wiseman from Johnson State College, who shared parts of his new documentary about 1609 as well as information about some recent archaeological discoveries that may change the way we view the lives and culture of Native peoples in the Champlain Valley. 

Sarah Lyman from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum talked more about the museum’s Quadricentennial curriculum, a 200-page treasure trove for educators that’s available as a free download here.  It includes the first chapter of Champlain & the Silent One, as well as a sample chapter of the study guide.

Joan Robinson of the Flynn Theatre got us all up and moving around with some dramatic activities relating to the 1609 encounter between Champlain and the Iroquois.

And Roger Longtoe of the El-nu Abenaki Tribe shared his expertise on Abenaki culture of the 17th century and today. 

I was especially intrigued by the wooden shield he’s holding here, since it was modeled after the ones that Champlain describes in his 17th century journals.  No matter how many times I read the descriptions, I couldn’t quite picture what they looked like until now.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of today’s workshop for me was listening to the struggles of some other researchers who have delved into Champlain’s life and the world he inhabited in 17th Century New France.  Because there are still so many unanswered questions about this time period — and so many controversial opinions — the Quadricentennial Celebration in the Champlain Valley is promising to be a time of tremendous scholarship, discussion, and discovery. 

Signing, Skating, & Champlain

Three highlights of my February vacation week!

I signed books and met some fantastic readers at Barnes and Noble in South Burlington, Vermont yesterday afternoon.  Thanks to everyone who came out to pick up copies of Spitfire and say hello.  I was especially happy to meet Marje VanOlsen from the South Burlington Community Library in person. We’ve been emailing for a few weeks, and I’ll be presenting a summer program at her library in July. 

Earlier in the vacation week, my family enjoyed the last weekend of Winterlude in Ottawa.  It’s a fantastic winter festival with outdoor entertainment, ice sculptures, and best of all — skating!

As soon as Ottawa’s Rideau Canal freezes, it turns into the world’s longest skating rink — literally.  Those world record folks at Guinness made it official this year. 

We had a beautiful day and enjoyed the full 7.8 km.  Of course, we did make a few stops along the way — most notably to indulge in a Beaver Tail or two.

If  you’re ever in Ottawa, this decadent delicacy is a must-have.  A beaver tail pastry is a very thin strip of fried dough shaped like, well, the flat tail of a beaver.  It’s dusted with cinnamon and sugar or drizzled with maple syrup (my favorite). 

I even managed to get some work done in between skating and scarfing down pastries.  I’ve been asked to do a couple presentations this spring, talking about my upcoming book Champlain & the Silent One, which comes out next fall.  That means going back to the places where I did some of my research to gather photographs and other resources for my school visits.

Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is featuring Samuel de Champlain in an exhibit about people who shaped Canada’s history.

This was especially fun to see…

It’s a navigational tool called an astrolabe, and historians believe it might have belonged to Champlain himself.  According to documents, Champlain lost his astrolabe near a place called Green Lake when he was traveling up the Ottawa River in 1613.  In 1867, a boy named Edward Lee was helping his father clear trees in that area and came upon the instrument pictured above, right where Champlain supposedly dropped it 254 years earlier.

And here’s a quiz for particularly astute blog readers.  Look at this statue of Champlain with his astrolabe at Ottawa’s Nepean point.

There’s something wrong.  Do you know what it is? 

Contest for Impatient Readers

Sometimes it can be hard to wait.  I’m feeling a little impatient about the books of 2008 for a few reasons.

As a writer, I’m feeling impatient because my second MG historical novel, Champlain & the Silent One,  is still seven months away from the shelves.  It’s off being edited and illustrated now, so all my work is done, except the waiting.  I can’t wait to see the illustrations and the cover, and I really can’t wait to start talking with kids at schools & libraries about Samuel de Champlain and the tribes who guided him on his voyage from Quebec to Lake Champlain 400 years ago.

As a reader and teacher, I’m excited for a whole roundup of 2008 titles from favorite authors & friends & other writers whose work I’ve heard about and can’t wait to read.  I’ve been lucky enough to get sneak peaks of some of them, like Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score, which I reviewed here. This one is so unbelievably good that I’ve decided it’s a crime not to pass it along so someone else can read it and love it and hopefully talk about it, too.

So here’s the contest.  I’m giving a way my pre-read and somewhat well-traveled ARC of Keeping Score.  I won it in a drawing on

‘s blog a few weeks ago and asked Cindy if she’d be okay with me giving it away again.  The ARC traveled with me to the Kindling Words retreat in Vermont last week, where Linda Sue Park (

) graciously signed it for the giveaway.  It’s not a shiny, perfect, unread-by-human-eyes ARC, but it is signed and got to hang out with the likes of Linda Sue and Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr and Katie Davis and Jane Yolen and other wonderful people.  It’s an ARC with lots of good karma.

If you’d like to be entered the drawing, just leave a comment below with the title of one 2008 release that you can’t wait to read.  The contest ends at 6pm EST on February 13th.  I’ll figure out some bizarre and random way to choose a winner and announce it here on my blog on Valentine’s Day.