Thursday, December 8, 2011

A new story

A new issue of the literary magazine Taddle Creek has just come out and its theme is music. There's a story of mine included, "Dreyfus in Wichita." Like many of my stories, it has taken me a long time to finish--perhaps ten years--so I'm rather glad it's done. The title refers to a full-scale musical that is written by the protagonist, a grade-school music teacher.

Taddle Creek is a terrific mag, far more inventive and lively than most literary journals. You can find it on the magazine stand of better bookstores. They've also got a website, of course:

By the way, several years after I first drafted the story I discovered that Sholem Aleichem wrote a story called "Dreyfus in Kasrilevke." I took this as a good sign.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An earful of Kaspar Snit--an audiobook, that is

I have very fond memories of listening to audiobooks in the car with the kids. "The School Story," and "Longer Letter Later" were two that we heard over and over, until we could recite many of the lines ourselves.

These days, audiobooks are much more accessible; they're a simple download. And one of the first from RMW Kids is my own "Ten Lessons for Kaspar Snit." The reader is Chrisine Ghawi and from the bit I've heard, she's very good.

You can have a listen at:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Can you make a banjo out of a silver birch?

I was happy and proud to hear that Banjo of Destinyis a nominee for the Silver Birch Express Award. That means kids all over Ontario will read it, along with other nominees, to vote on their favourite book. In May the winners are announced at a big hooh-hah of an event down at Toronto's Harbourfront.

I look forward to meeting the other nominees but I'm particularly tickled to know that my buddy Monica Kulling will be up there too for her book All Aboard!

Just one thing, Monica. What's with the exclamation mark at the end of your title? You think it's going to help you to win? I mean I could have called mine Banjo of Destiny!

Maybe I should have.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What I Learned in Florida

Today I was taking a look at the website of paperplates, the handsome and highly readable online journal edited by Bernard Kelly. (Bernard and I co-edit paperplates books but my relation to the journal is only as a reader.) I noticed the online chapbooks that Bernard has published and remembered that he electronically published a little memoir/essay of mine called "What I Learned in Florida." Sure enough, it's still up there, and although the subject is grim the design is rather pretty.

It can be found (in pdf) at:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My very own book review blog

After mulling the idea over for some time I suddenly and without warning found myself signing up for a new blog. On it I plan to review books that interest me for one reason another--adult, kids, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. They might be spanking new, they might be from last year or ten years ago. I might want to give a conventional sort of review, or talk about a single scene, or do something I can't yet imagine.

I suppose the idea came from finding reviews of my own books on other book review blogs. (Yes, I confess to finding them by googling myself.) While review space in newspapers has sadly shrunk, this new online conversation about books seems to be thriving. So why not be a part of it?

There's a first review up and I'll soon do another. So take a look once in a while and maybe even become a "follower". (What a term--does that mean I'm the leader?)

Authors or publishers who would like me to consider a book for review should email me at

You can find the blog at:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thanks, Kathryn Cole

This week I was shocked and dismayed to find out that Kathryn Cole, editor at Tundra Books, was no longer with the house. I enjoyed working with Kathryn these last few years; she's the editor of a picture book of mine, 'Mr. Zinger's Hat,' which is due out fall 2012.

So I want to thank you, Kathryn,for all your efforts and wish you the very best. It was an honour making books with you. And I look forward to hearing what's next!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wild Word on the Street

The Word on the Street festival is upon us this Sunday. It's a wild time, with rogue authors dashing here and there and mad readers snatching up books. Or visa versa.

I'll be reading twice on Sunday. At 12:10 p.m. I'm going to read my new picture book 'Ella May and the Wishing Stone'.

At 1:40 p.m. I'll be reading from my latest kids' novel, 'Banjo of Destiny.'

Both are at the Children's Reading Tent.

In between I'll be downing a double espresso.

Come by and have a listen or just say hi. After all, if an author reads and nobody is there to hear, has a tree really fallen in the forest?

Or something like that.

The photo, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with Word on the Street. It's an old photograph my brother Lawrence found of a puppet show that my cousin Ellen and I put on when we were kids. I don't know where he digs this stuff up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Want to write picture books? Come and study...with me

At the end of August my thoughts turn to...continuing education. That's right folks, the excitement of fall classes is upon us.

I'm teaching two courses at University of Toronto continuing studies this fall. "Writing For Children: Picture Books" begins on Wed. October 5 (12:30 p.m. to 3). In eight sessions we will work through a number of creative and inspiring exercises with the goal of producing two manuscripts. There will be little 'lectures' by me and lots of show and tell, as well as information on the mysteries of getting published. These classes are usually small and attended by a really interesting mix of people. I always enjoy them.

The other course follows the first. "Writing For Children: Picture Books II" is intended for people who have already taken the first course and others who have taken other writing courses and want a straight workshop experience. In this course there are no formal talks or exercises. Instead, each week participants read their manuscripts aloud for discussion and helpful criticism. I also offer more written responses. And as well, there will be two guests. One will be by a children's book editor who will talk about how manuscripts get chosen and the best way to reach publishers. The other will be an experienced illustrator who will talk about what manuscripts are appealing to artists, etc. This class begins on Monday October 3 (6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.)

Both classes are held somewhere on the U of T downtown campus, around Bloor or College and St. George.

The Continuinng Studies website is at:
The phone number is 416 978-2400.

If you have questions, feel free to email me at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Be careful what you wish for

This summer when you're on holiday you might keep your eye out for a stone with a line going all-all-all the way around it. That's a wishing stone. But wishes don't always work out they way you expect, as Ella May finds out in my new picture book, "Ella May and the Wishing Stone," which should be in the stores any time now. The wonderfully talented Genevieve Cote is the illustrator. (Sorry for missing the accents, Genevieve. I don't know how to get them on this keyboard.)

I had heard about wishing stones many, many years ago, after my daughters came home from visiting relatives in Cape Breton with their mom, Joanne Schwartz (now a fine picture book writer herself). But my first attempts fell flat. I had to let some fifteen years pass before trying again.

Here are some quotes from the early reviews:

"Cary Fagan is no newcomer to kids' books, and he does a great job here with both the fun, engaging story, and the fine tricks of repetition and structure that make 'Ella May and the Wishing Stone' ideal for the early reader. original and imaginative treatment of one of the hardest lessons of early childhood--sharing."
--Quill & Quire

"Fagan believably captures the delicate balance of friendship in the very young and lets the story pay out with welcome complexity. Thoughtful and touching."
--Kirkus Reviews

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Banjo Newsletter

Ok, the title of this post is a bit of an insider joke--as it's the name of an actual magazine. But here are some odds-and-ends about my latest kids' novel, 'Banjo of Destiny.'

The novel is going to be published in Turkish by Hayykitap, which I understand is an excellent publisher. So look for it at your favourite bookshop in Istanbul. (I want a book launch!)

The CBC Children's Book Panel has put it on their recommended summer reading list. Many thanks.

Finally, this from a new review from Norm Ravvin in the "Canadian Jewish News":
"Fagan makes subtle use of his story's fable-like message, and there is no cloying lesson to be had in the final pages. One can feel, instead, the joy some people gain from making a thing, from making music, and from sharing these things with others. There is much that parents and their kids can share in the novel."

Sure, Norm is an old friend of mine. But the man has integrity; he would not accept the bribe I offered. (Why he didn't want to hear me play banjo for a whole evening I can't stay.) Instead, I simply bought his own new novel, "The Joyful Child," published by Gasperau Press. It's a beautiful looking book and next on my reading list.

Norm, by the way, is not the first reviewer to comment favourably on the ending. To be honest, the original manuscript did have one of those triumphant endings that we see all too often in books and that can be hard to avoid when trying to end a story. But it bugged me so much that I finally had the inspiration of how to change it in the last draft before publication. It became quieter but, I think, more honest, and I'm very glad that people have liked it.

About the accompanying photo: a jam session in Mars Hill, North Carolina where I recently went for Blue Ridge Old Time Music Week. It was heaven.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jacob Two-Two has been Hackmatacked!

The Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Award is an Atlantic Canadian book award voted on by kids. And "Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas" has used every piratey trick to fight its way onto the short list. Which means that kids in the Atlantic provinces will soon be reading the book to discover how Jacob Two-Two came to Canada, what parrots should never say, and that not everyone's treasure is the same.

And if anyone can tell this ignorant Ontarian where the name of the awards comes from, I'd be much obliged.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A chat with 'Kirkus Reviews'

Here's an interview just published by the American magazine 'Kirkus Reviews' about 'Banjo of Destiny.' Yes, now you can finally learn such fascinating tidbits as how I failed as a child to learn to play the ukulele.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Toronto Star is banjo friendly

I was pleased to get a call this morning from my mother-in-law Helene about Deirdre Baker's nice review of "Banjo of Destiny." Here's some of what she had to say:

"There's a real light-hearted sparkle to Torontonian Cary Fagan's "Banjo of Destiny"...This has the spirit and cheer of comic melodrama, its fun coming as much from Fagan's breezy asides as from the plot. Who could resist Luella, who toboggans down the school hill singing the school anthem in Pig Latin? ... These kinds of details, as well as Fagan's evocative descriptions of banjo music ("weirdly old and jumpily alive") give this story its loft."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

That plucky banjo--in person

"Banjo of Destiny" is just out and the first reviews are definitely making me want to take out the ol' five string and play a reel or two.

"CM magazine"
4 stars (out of 4). "'Banjo of Destiny' will inspire any budding musician, and its story of a boy coming to terms with his inner dork will appeal to all...This sweet, quirky little book hits all the right notes. Highly recommended."

"Kirkus Reviews"
"A low-key charmer."

"Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children"
"This bittersweet novel has just the right touch of wit and creativity to watch and keep the attention of young discerning readers. ...will encourage readers to think about what brings true happiness."

The reviews make me hope that kids might really be inspired to discover the pleasure of working hard at something they really want to be good at. There's a lesson I'm still learning.

It seems a good time to offer a photograph of the real banjo that Jeremiah built-- with the author's help, of course. Yes, it really plays. Total cost of materials: about $11.

But enough about me (and Jeremiah). Congratulations to Luc Melanson, whose illustrations for "Big Book of Brothers" have just been nominated for the Amelia Frances Howard Gibbon Award.

And now I'm going to go and play.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Two Photographs

I was sorting through some work photos and came upon these two. The first photo is from an author visit in Montreal. No, I'm not yodelling. I'm teaching the kids a pirate song from the book "Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas." The first verse goes like this:
"We don't like washing behind our ears, or doing our multiplication.
When our noses drip we wipe on our sleeves, and we spit for relaxation."
Pretty catchy, no? (By the way, that instrument I'm playing is a 1937 Martin mandolin.)

The second photo is from the launch of "Valentine's Fall" at the Gladstone Hotel. That's my buddy Gary Clement trying to make me look as if I know what I'm talking about. Gary was the artist on our picture book "Ten Old Men and a Mouse" and we're going to be doing another one together.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Teaching time

Well, it's teaching time again. On Monday, January 24 my evening class in writing picture books begins at the University of Toronto. I always get a great group of enthusiastic people who love picture books and want to find their own stories. If you're interested, you can see the course here:

Or call 416 978-2400.

Hope to see you in class!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A boy and his banjo

Here is a look at the cover of my next book for kids, a novel called "Banjo of Destiny."

Jeremiah falls in love with the sound of old-time banjo music and wants to learn to play. But when his wealthy (or, as Jeremiah's best friend Luella says, "stinking rich") parents won't let him buy one, he decides to build a banjo himself. Or (to quote Luella again), to listen to his "inner nerd."

It's funny, it's dramatic, it's touching, it's romantic. Okay, maybe not romantic.

Closer to publication date I'll try and get around to publishing a picture of the banjo that Jeremiah (with some help from the author) builds.

The book will be published in March but is already up on Amazon and the other online book sites.

Happy New Year, everybody.