I am absolutely thrilled to announce that Alis the Aviator: An ABC Aviation Adventure is coming out with Tundra Books in July 2019 (and is now available for pre-order)!
I first drafted the main text in the summer of 2014 after a friend gave me an ABC airplane book for my (then) two-year-old son. It was lovely in a lot of ways, but just didn’t have the bounce, wit and rhyme I love in picture books. And it certainly couldn’t hold the attention of my very active little boy. So I sat on my back porch in Edmonton one day when my son was taking his nap, and started scribbling out ideas by hand, letter by letter.
By then I’d been immersed in the world of airplanes and aviation officially since 2007, when I started work on my first book for adults, For the Love of Flying. But really, I grew up surrounded by plane nuts from day one. So even though I’m not a pilot myself, the aircraft types, their stories, and their quirks, flowed surprisingly easily. There were some letters I just knew right away: A is for Arrow, for example. And B is for Beaver. Those were such important airplanes for the people I’ve interviewed and family members. Others took a bit of research. But as a trained historian and research-addict, that was all part of the fun.
From there it was the usual rollercoaster of rewrites, critiques, convincing my agent at the time that I was a children’s writer too, and shopping the manuscript around. But no one was ready to publish the book and my son was getting older, so I decided to self publish with an incredible artist/illustrator colleague, Jason Blower, and got my father (a pilot, francophone, and professional translator) to create a French-language version. That was also when Jason wisely suggested a through-line character for the book. I have always tried to highlight hidden stories in aviation, so I knew I wanted that ‘character’ to be a female pioneer (who was less known than, say, Amelia Earhart). I’ve also been dedicated to spotlighting Indigenous voices and reconciliation, so when I learned about Dr. Alis Kennedy and we started chatting, it felt right on so many levels.
Even though all these wonderful pieces came together, Jason and I were incredibly busy with life and work and decided to send Alis the Aviator around on submission once more with my agent. In early 2016, the wonderful Sam Swenson at Tundra Books expressed interest in the text, but had a different vision for the art. Kalpna Patel, whom I’d read about in Chatelaine magazine just a few months earlier, was brought in as the illustrator. I have baseline craft and drawing skills, so I had no idea how her cut-art designs might translate into a picture book, but I knew enough to trust the experts.
I’m so glad I did. When I saw the first proofs, I knew she was on to something special. When I got to look over the final PDF, I was gobsmacked. Tears sprang to my eyes as I saw my text magically brought to life through her vivid scenes, primary colours, and intricate creations. She really ‘got’ the sense of inclusivity and fun and adventure that I yearned for in this book – and for all the readers who come to it. And the scrapbook design at the back of the book where I tell Alis’s story – illustrated by her own photographs – is just gorgeous.
I love that all my son’s friends will see themselves in this book. That the young girls in my life can picture themselves flying, maintaining, and controlling aircraft from the past and present in these pages. It has been a long time coming, but good things come to those who wait. And this is something truly special that I can’t wait to share with my son, with my friends and family, and will all of you!