The Writing Classroom – Summer Reading Story Quilts

It may still be 15C out in the middle of August here in Vancouver (we’ve had what amounts to five days of truly hot weather this season), but the kids are out of school, the pool is open, and we are in full summer mode for a few more weeks.

That also means that my creative writing classes were PACKED (and I mean packed) with young authors who knew they need to keep reading and writing during the long break but also didn’t really want comma worksheets and book summaries.

My secret plan to keep them going was to bribe them with pizza. They received long reading lists and daily writing tasks at the beginning of the term. The pizza at the end of the Summer Reading Challenge Rainbow proved the key to getting them to read more than 100 novels this summer.

The way we kept track of it all was a bit sentimental, a bit creative, and a bit old-school community building.

We made a Summer Reading Story Quilt.


Over the course of eight weeks, the kids got to make a quilt square every time the read a new book. Around the edges, they had to come up with symbols that stood for the theme, the characters, or a literary device used in the novel. Then, in the middle, they drew their favourite scene and captioned it.

Admittedly, there was a wide range of engagement, but they had fun using their brains in a different way, setting reading goals, and achieving them.

For me, this was also a demonstration of how much can be accomplished by taking learning one step at a time. When we started, the wall looked pretty sorry and everyone wondered if we could ever fill it.

Within a couple of weeks, the quilt started to take shape.


Kids would pile in to see what others had read. They named their teams in order to identify which squares belonged to them and counted to make sure they were in the race for the pizza at the end.

Yesterday, the final square made it up onto the wall.


The kids couldn’t believe how much they accomplished and we all marveled at the 100+ books read over the course of the Summer.

Now, time for the celebration!

Curated CanLit Delivered To Your Doorstep

It is the great question all of my friends ask each other at the beginning of every Summer. (or any other time for that matter)

What are you reading?

For me, it’s a mix of research and historical drama. I spend a lot of time lost in these two worlds and often forget that there is so much other fantastic literature out there.

When I do come out of my cave and broaden my range, I’m big on supporting my fellow Canadian writers including amazing wordsmiths such as crime writer Sam Wiebe, historical fiction writer Janie Chang, and author/ LGBTQ-refugees activist Ahmad Danny Ramadan.

Sadly, though, it can be challenging to find much CanLit at the bookstore.

Now, everything has changed.


Last week, the indomitable Kerry Clare (her literary blog is Pickle Me This) and my favorite Ontario bookstore Blue Heron Books launched a literary endeavor that will shift your reading habits forever.


Briny Books has launched, delivering curated CanLit from Canada’s fabulous independent publishers to your door every month.

For a small fee, Kerry and Blue Heron’s team will pick the books, pack them up, and send them off.

I love getting mail, especially book mail!!!

This is also so exciting to me because it can be extra challenging to find CanLit from the Atlantics here on the West Coast. So, I’m excited that this partnership will share the love of lit from around the country.

Go check out this Summer’s curated titles, sign up for their newsletter to know when the first book drop will take place, and high-five this amazing crew of bibliophiles.

Briny Books is the Canadian book fan’s finest subscription box!

On My Nightstand: The Bastard of Istanbul

I binge read. It happens more often than I am willing to admit. I get into a writer and then have to read everything I can get my hands on by them. It happened last year with Kate Mosse, earlier this year with Herta Mueller, C.C. Humphreys, Tobsha Lerner, Yasmina Khadra. Recently, it’s Turkish novelist Elif Shafak.

I came across The Bastard of Istanbul at, of all places, the thrift store. People give the best books away, and I love to cruise the stacks there for gems that I wouldn’t otherwise know anything about.

This novel thrilled me from the beginning until about 3/4 of the way through, where all of the storylines converged in ways that weren’t my favourite. But, Shafak’s biting voice full of exploration of competing diasporas, mythologies, cultural expectations, and family drama hooked me and I could not stop reading.


What followed was an opening up to a new set of ideas and perspective through Shafak’s writing and conversations.

Her other novels including The Architect’s Apprentice and The Flea Palace are now high up in the nightstand reading stack.

If you love charming, gritty family novels, check out The Bastard of Istanbul.