A passion for places

Cover art: Why We Live Where We Live

It’s something many people take for granted, but it shapes who we are. Why We Live Where We Live is a new book for kids by Kira Vermond (Owlkids, 2014). I happen to live in the same city as Kira, and we both love it: Guelph, Ontario. If you live there, too, don’t miss her book launch on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014 at 2 p.m. at The Bookshelf.

Kira writes regularly for The Globe and Mail, the National Post and national magazines. She has previously written two other books for kids, Growing Up, Inside and Out (2013) and The Secret Life of Money: A Kid’s Guide to Cash (2012).

As a child I never questioned why my parents chose to live where they did. On the shore of Lake Erie, it was incredibly beautiful, but far from my dad’s work and maybe not the most practical choice. This made me want to live in places with natural beauty. My priorities might have been much different if I had grown up in a highrise apartment, or if we had moved around a lot.

Did you ever wonder why so many people live in cities while most of their food grows somewhere else? Or why some choose to live near volcanoes or earthquake zones? Kira addresses these mysteries with energy, humour and insight about human nature.

I had a chance to ask Kira some questions about her newest book.

Kira Vermond

Q: You must have had some fun writing this book. It shows your passion for places and communities. How did the idea to write this come about?

Kira Vermond: Ideas for my books come from the weirdest places. For Why We Live Where We Live, I was sitting in the car travelling to my in-laws listening to a TED podcast about urban food transportation. It got me thinking that people are only able to live in cities, far from rural agricultural land, because we’ve figured out how to move food in large quantities from farms to urban grocery stores. We’ve learned how to store food, sell food and then dispose of its waste on a massive scale all over the world. That’s incredible. So what other human innovations have given us flexibility in terms of where we call home? It’s a fascinating question – and I think kids are the perfect readers to explore fascinating questions.

Q: Tell us about your collaboration with illustrator Julie McLaughlin.

KV: Here’s something many people don’t know about how kids’ books come together: the author and illustrator usually never talk during a book’s creation. For instance, I didn’t meet Clayton Hanmer, my illustrator for The Secret Life of Money (Owlkids, 2011), until the book was printed and we were in the middle of marketing that book. I still haven’t spoken to Julie, although I keep meaning to shoot off an email.

Editors will keep writers away from the illustrators so we don’t influence (or hamper) their vision and creativity. I do get that, but I’ve figured out ways to get around the blockage: I write a lot of notes to the illustrator in my copy. “Hey, this would be a great place for an illustration to highlight this point about living next to an active volcano!”

I think Julie’s illustrations are beautiful and so colourful. People say they want to pick up the book because the cover is so appealing. I agree.

Q: The book is bright, upbeat and thought-provoking so it will be fun for kids to read. I can also see it being used as a grade school textbook about social sciences. Is that something you had in mind?

KV: Absolutely. This book definitely has more of an educational, text-booky feel than my last two books, but that’s probably because I had researched the school curriculum for a few key Canadian and U.S. school boards before I pitched it. There were a number of points I needed to cover to make the book relevant at school. Even so, I still wanted Why We Live Where We Live to sound like (goofy) me and challenge kids to think critically about their world. Kids are so smart. They deserve books that make them stretch their brains a bit.

Q: As I recall, your family moved around a lot when you were a kid. Can you talk about how that experience shaped your ideas about where people live?

KV: You’re right. By the time I was 22, I’d lived in 20 different houses and in communities that ranged from villages of 300 people to cities of 3-million people. I’ve lived on a lake in Ontario and not far from the beach in California outside of Los Angeles. All that moving around taught me two things: how to make friends quickly (even though I’m an introvert at heart) and that there are so many incredible places to live on this planet. I do believe that many adults get stuck thinking, “I’ve lived in Toronto for 30 years, and so I should stay here.” Seriously? The world is big. Move somewhere new. Try a new place and see if it’s a better fit. Maybe Toronto really is for you, but you might be surprised that you feel more comfortable in a different community.

I do discuss the personality of place in the book and why that’s so important when choosing a place to live. Our road, town, or city needs to feel like home. I know from living in many different communities that some simply feel more natural than others. (For the record, Guelph is my comfy place. Not too big. Not too small. Just right. But I know people who find Guelph too quaint. A bigger city speaks their inner language. I try not to judge.)

Q: How about your experiences as a parent?

KV: Although I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to see the world as a child, I did find all that moving around stressful. Now that I have kids, we’ve lived in this one house for 10 years. We have no plans to move, but we do travel with our two children a lot so they can discover for themselves that people are able to live almost anywhere.

Q: What three things matter most to you about where you decide to call home?

KV: It has got to have bookstores, theatres and cafes. I need to be able to walk to most places I’d visit daily. My neighbours have to be caring and engaged in what’s happening on the street. I am so lucky to have found a home that gives me all three things.

Q: Where is the best place you have ever lived and why?

KV: Every place has something special to offer us. I used to fish off my dock and catch frogs every day in the summer on Lake Scugog when I was 12. California had fabulous sushi, and the kids, being American, were super friendly and welcoming. I had my own forest to play in and acres of land to roam across as a small child in Guelph. Ottawa taught me that if you bundle up in frozen weather (and don’t mind having hat head all day) it’s easy to brave the cold.

But ultimately, it comes down to the people, No matter where you are and what’s outside your door, that’s just scenery. It’s the people you connect with, laugh with and come to depend on who matter most. They make every place you live, no matter where that is, feel like home.

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