The idea for Gabby came from some research I’d done about literacy and “kinesthetic learning”–many kids learn to read faster if they can touch actual letters, like Scrabble tiles.
Gabby’s magic book creates letters. Whatever she spells with the letters, comes to life. That makes a connection for kids between letters, words and real-life things.
In Gabby: Wonder Girl, we wanted to extend the learning a bit, with questions–question words and question marks. So we had to invent a bit of a mystery for Gabby; she finds a mysterious photo of a little girl and wants to know: WHO is it?
This is me, just a bit older than Gabby, holding a prize-winning doll cake my dad and I had baked for a father-daughter contest. And below is the photo Gabby discovers in Gabby: Wonder Girl. (Greta is my late grandmother’s name.)
Once the text was written (Wonder Girl is 574 words, by the way) it was time to talk to my publisher, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. This is my first book with Cheryl Chen as my editor; she’d been enthusiastic about the idea of a question-based Gabby from the start. She poked some very intelligent holes in my manuscript, as a good editor will do, pointing out where the story needed to be improved. So I rewrote… and rewrote… and rewrote. There would be 19 rewrites and polished versions by the end of it. Every word has to work really hard, especially since part of the book’s job is to help kids learn to read.
Next, illustrator Jan Dolby was given the text, to make her magic with it. It was particularly tricky, because Gabby creates questions (“Who?”) and somehow, Gabby understands that the answer is “Mrs. Oldham.” I thought the “Who?” could turn into Mrs. Oldham’s butterflies (from the second Gabby book) but I sure as heck didn’t know how! I just said, “Hey, Jan and Cheryl–figure this out, will ya?”
Long-story short… Jan pulled it off beautifully. Here’s what it looks like in the book.
When the story opens, Gabby happens to be dressed up like a superhero. I love that idea, because if you’ve ever seen a kid put on a cape–they’re immediately transformed. And I wanted to portray Gabby as a powerful girl. A super girl!
Jan immediately caught onto that idea. She has all kinds of superhero t-shirts and paraphernalia. She loves superheros. She spent a lot of time thinking about “Wonder Gabby” and “Super Roy”, and studying superlogos.
I wonder if you picked up on the pun: “Wonder Girl” refers to Gabby as a superhero and the fact that she’s questioning, or wondering.
Incidentally, Gabby’s friend Roy is indigenous. I think it’s really important that kids in our northern and First Nations communities have picture books with kids who are like them. In this book, Roy becomes Super Roy. (Thank you to Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus and Dr. John B. Zoe of the Tlicho government and Dale Matasawagon from Canada’s Assembly of First Nations for their help in developing Roy.)
I’ll be posting more about Gabby: Wonder Girl as the book is completed (we’re not quite done!) and of course, when it launches. In the meantime, please check out Jan Dolby’s website.
And please do pre-order Gabby: Wonder Girl on Amazon. If you live near me, let me know and I’ll sign your copy. If you don’t, send me your snail-mail address and I’ll send you a signed bookplate sticker.
I’d like to thank Winston, Rowan, Cheryl, Tracey, Daniel and the entire gang at Fitzhenry & Whiteside Publishing for their support, encouragement… and talent!
And, of course, Jan Dolby who I hadn’t met before Gabby came along but who I now love like a sistah. ‘Cause she’s awesome. And talented. And super-quirky. But in a cool way.