On Tuesday morning, Nan Forler’s kids greeted her with breakfast in bed. On a slice of toast, her daughter Maia had used a template to sprinkle sugar in the shape of a bird.
It wasn’t her birthday or a belated mother’s day present; they were celebrating the release of her first book, Bird Child.
The release has been a long time coming. Forler wrote the story in 2001 and it was finally accepted by a publisher two years ago. Then the publisher started to go under and Forler was advised to pull the book out. The setback proved to be a temporary one; within a week it was accepted by Tundra Books and the process of editing and illustrating started.
Sitting in the backyard of her parents’ home in Elmira, the house she grew up in, Forler said it was hard to take in the finished book.
“When it actually came, it was really surreal,” Forler said. “After you’ve looked at it so many times, it’s hard to get your head around it.”
A primary teacher, Forler started writing 15 years ago. Her first story was about a little girl in her class who died of cancer, a death that affected Forler deeply.
In the years since, Forler has written about 15 children’s books, 50 kids’ poems and some adult poetry. She’s also written a coming-of-age Mennonite story in the form of 12 narrative poems.
Her first published work is about a bird-like little girl whose mother teaches her to look up and see the possibilities beyond, and how she confronts a schoolyard bully.
Forler said standing up to injustice is a common theme in her stories.
“As a teacher you just see that so much and you often feel powerless yourself to make a difference.”
As powerful as the story are the striking illustrations by François Thisdale. Using his daughter as a model, Thisdale combined photographs with watercolour paintings and digital manipulation to illustrate the pages.
When the advance copy of the book arrived at their house in north Waterloo, Forler’s kids were enraptured. Her son Dillon took the book off the mantel to read it over again 10 times that day, and her daughter started typing out a sequel.
“She wanted me to take it to my editor,” Forler laughed.
Forler said her kids are her biggest fans. Every Christmas she gives them a binding of all her writing for the year, and she includes a few stories about them. They’re also honest editors.
“The story I was writing lately, my son said ‘That dad sounds awful.’”
Right now, Forler is enjoying the bustle of promoting her first book. She’s slated to do readings at the Toronto Public Library and the McNally Robinson Booksellers store in Toronto. Plans are also underway for the official launch, which will be held at Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo Sept. 19. Forler’s husband Kevin Coates is a music teacher, and they plan to recruit their students to perform music and act out the story.
Forler has just completed another children’s story and her editor has her working on a novel. Having one book published by a company as respected as Tundra gives her an edge toward getting other books published.
“It’s still going to be a bit of a climb but certainly to get your foot in the door is an amazing thing.”