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Bullying and basketball

February 10th, 2011 by Meredith

Sports novelist Steven Barwin talks about the bullying theme in his new basketball novel

Q: As a middle school teacher you must see your fair share of bullying. Was there a particular incident that prompted you to write Fadeaway? 

A: Fadeaway came about from my experiences in the classroom and from coaching a junior basketball team. As a teacher I knew I had to write a book on bullying. Cyber and social bullying are something I see all the time, especially with girls, which is why my main character, Renna, is female. My angle was to take a very optimistic, glass half full type character and force her into the role of victim and see how she reacted.  The coach character is based on me. While there wasn’t bullying on my team, I was new to coaching and this lead to a coach character who was so distracted by his coaching duties that he was oblivious to the bullying issues on the team. Besides, so much social and cyber bullying plays out below the radar of teachers and coaches.


Q: What's the hardest part for you when it comes to dealing with bullying at school?

 A: All of it! Almost all of the bullying that I see is social bullying. And more among girls than boys. It’s like they’re walking a social high wire where friendships are forming and dissolving in front of my eyes everyday. I’m amazed at how quickly a student can be left out to dry and as a teacher I get frustrated because I can’t force friendships.  When it comes to cyberbullying, I had an incident when I taught grade seven. In an online chat room, unflattering comments were said about another student and myself. Someone on the chat printed it and reported it. It was horrific to see the parent’s reaction to what their daughter had written online. I remember how I felt reading about myself and I made sure to relate that experience to Renna when she is the target of cyber bullying. 

Q: What is being done in your school or classroom to fight bullying? Do you have any advice for other teachers about how to deal with bullying?

 A: My school takes a restorative approach. The bully and the victim meet face to face each with a buddy of their choice for support. A mediator asks a series of questions to engage in dialogue centered around getting the bully to understand the victim’s feelings and the impact they’ve had on them. It’s a great approach that forces both parties to deal with the situation. As for other teachers, this can be done in the classroom as well. It’s all about keeping an open dialogue and not letting friction build up to a boiling point. Students need to know that there is zero tolerance when it comes to bullying. 

Q: What about the kids themselves, what can they do?

 A: A big theme in the book is how Renna becomes a bully by being bullied. It’s a vicious turn I’ve seen a lot at school.  First stop is a great go-to source - (1-800-668-6868).  There is a lot of very valuable information on this site. At that moment of truth when someone admits to being a victim of bullying there’s an online forum where they can reach out to others. At the very least, that’s a good place to start. For cyberbullying, the message to bullies is that what goes online stays online. The message for victims is to learn how to print the screen. It’s the best way to get proof. Clicking the Alt and PrintScreen keys will take a screen shot and it can be saved and printed. I know the research and the students have been educated about the language around bullying (bully, victim, and bystander). One of the best messages I’ve heard about anti-bullying comes from Q-Mack (see foreword inFadeaway). He empowers students by telling them to one-up their bully by going out and becoming better at something than them. The entire bully and victim scenario is all about power ­— and those who are bullied can take back the power if they want it. 


Q: You've written quite a few books about middle school kids and sports: Icebreaker,Rock DogsSk8er, and Slam Dunk, to name a few. Where do the ideas for  your characters from?

 A:  Coming up with ideas has never been a problem for me. Sometimes I think they’re floating in the air waiting from me to grab them, other times they’re inspired by something I see or hear. I’ve yet to write a book about a kid I’ve taught… it’s more about the environment, the vibe. I feel lucky being a teacher and a writer because every day I show up to school, it’s like walking into a focus group. I’m privy to tweens and their world. They’re my audience and I definitely cater my stories, my writing towards them. A big “character” in my books is also the Toronto area. Each book features a unique part of the city (Kensington Market, Castle Loma, Richmond Hill, etc.).

FadeawayIcebreakerRock DogsSk8terSlam Dunk

Q: In Fadeaway there was a scene where a group of grade 7 girls were in the cafeteria hovering around an iPhone that they weren't supposed to have. Did this scene come from a real experience?  

A: This moment was inspired by what I see at my school. When I was in grade six and seven, other kids would hover around someone who was willing to share their candy.  Now it’s the iPhone that gathers a crowd. Texting is a big part of a kid’s and teen’s world today. I see students in grades three and four with cell phones. Schools need to keep up with these changes because more kids are now going online via their smart phones than their computers. Since writing Fadeaway, my school has gone wireless and acceptance of technology brought in by the students has increased.


Q: Do you play all the sports you write about?

 A: Some of my best writing advice was from author Eric Walters. He told me that writing shouldn’t be all made up. He said experience it and write from your senses. I played ice hockey and as an adult I play floor hockey. As for rock climbing, I did research inside a rock climbing gym in Toronto and visited Rattle Snake Point. It took a while to build up the courage because I’m afraid of heights, but I eventually did go climbing. Maybe my next book should be about skydiving!

Author Interview: Sylvia Gunnery

April 23rd, 2014 by Kendra Martin

I just received the Spring 2014 newsletter from the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP), and splashed on the front page was the smiling face of our author Sylvia Gunnery!

Sylvia Gunnery author

Author of Game Face, Out of Bounds, and Personal Best, and award-winning teacher in Nova Scotia, Sylvia is also keeping herself busy at the moment as President for the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. 

Below is a short excerpt of YA author Vicki Grant's interview with Sylvia: 


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was always writing. In scribblers, on holidays, or dutifully following teachers' instructions to write about what I did on my summer vacation or how I'd spend a million dollars. In grade 4, I wrote a story that my friend, Donna, bought for a bag of chips and gave to her older brother (who probably would've rather had the chips.) 

But all that isn't about the word realize. I was 30 before I knew in that sure, realized way that I wanted to be a writer. And that's when I sent some stories (terrible stories, really) to Banff and was accepted for the 5-week summer writing session with W.O. Mitchell, Alice Munro, Eli Mandel, Sylvia Fraser, and others. That was 1976.... In 1984, Scholastic released my first novel for teens. 

You've written black characters and male characters. Do you worry at all about 'expropriating' another's voice?

I don't think of writing fiction as "expropriating" (stealing, taking, walking off with, as a thesaurus defines it.) Fiction writers explore and research and reflect on and arrive at some kind of understanding of others. It's what we must do. Right now, I am writing about three sisters from Halifax, ages 15, 17, and 20. They're driving across Canada. My sister and I drove across Canada when we were in our late 20s. Perhaps in each of these fictional sisters there is something of me and of my sister. But really, at 67, I have to work very hard to truly know each of these young characters, what motivates them, what worries them, how each will or won't influence the others, and why. I have to be inside their stories with them, listening and watching carefully in order to get their voices right. 

What do you want your readers to get out of your books? Entertainment? Insight? A peek into another world? 

My earliest motivation for writing teen fiction was to give my students a peek into their own worlds. In the early 80s when I started writing for teens, the stories offered to them through our schools were really about other worlds--books written by American or British authors, mostly. Very few by Canadians. That's changed now, through the efforts of a lot of book lovers across Canada--writers, publishers, librarians, teachers, and organizations such as the Canadian Children's Book Centre. And I do hope my books give my teen readers some insights into their own lives. 

What are the best tips you can give a beginning writer?

One tip: Get used to spending a lot of time sitting in one place, pushing forward with your writing even though doubts will probably stand right behind your chair, snickering. 

What energizes you? 

I sometimes get energy from stories (especially when they're cooking right along) but that answer is too simple. I might get my energy from the sea. There's something about negative ions in the ocean that's very positive (sorry, I had to do that). I've lived by the ocean since 1990. Right now, I can hear it hauling pebbles back into its waves and then crashing up against the shore again. But maybe that's too simple too. Could be friends. Could be family. Love. Maybe it's me carrying on Mom's attitude she seemed to grab onto even more as she'd aged--she'd sing "Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side..." 


Thank you, Vicki and Sylvia, and CANSCAIP for a great interview! 


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