What do these books have in common?
1. Both were signed to me personally and mailed to me from the US by their authors.
2. I value both books highly, and even moreso the connections I’ve made with their authors, whom I have never met.
This would not be the case, were it not for our current, ongoing pandemic, and the resulting introduction of online gatherings as a regular feature of our lives. This is not to say I’m glad for the pandemic; it has had a devastating effect on far too many people. But it has also allowed the coming together of some who would not otherwise have had that opportunity.
I met David Jacobson last fall, via email, after he attended a launch of The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman. David was (and is) working on an adult book about Lepman, the founder of the International Youth Library and of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People, and he had a question for me.
He had also written the picture book biography, Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kineko, and so we had some interesting chats about the genre, especially after he learned that, as he had done with the poet, I too had done a ‘full-life’ treatment of Anne Innis Dagg in The Girl Who Loved Giraffes and became the world’s first giraffologist. (There’s a review of David’s book on goodreads by ‘Betsy’ that explores some of the questions David and I did in our emails.)
Through my correspondence with David, I learned that I had unknowingly read a novel that Jella Lepman had written under a pen name while researching my book, and that the man who had helped Jella get out of Germany when Hitler was in power was the same man who had helped Cornelia Oberlander (whose biography I wrote some years ago) get out.
Omar El Akkad
I met Omar El Akkad this fall, via email, after attending his Humber Masterclass, “What A Powerful Sentence Looks Like,” offered through the Toronto International Festival of Authors. He provided his email address for anyone who would like to receive the writing prompts he gives to people in his writing classes. When I wrote to him, he quickly wrote back saying, “… your work has brought immense joy to our household over the years, and it’s an absolute honour to meet you.” Whoa! This from an award-winning journalist whose book was on this year’s Giller shortlist! When I suggested that perhaps we could do a book swap, Omar was all in.
I had just started reading What Strange Paradise when I watched the Gillers on CBC Gem — and it won! I wrote to congratulate him and he wrote back “flabbergasted.” I love knowing that this esteemed and humble author is reading my books with his daughter and that we are now busy “making sentences” alongside each other, metaphorically speaking.
Both David’s book and Omar’s took me to places, physical and psychological, that I’ve only experienced through books. That’s what great books do for us, right? I highly recommend both of them.
I truly hope that I will some day meet David and Omar in person, although I feel in a way as if we have met already.
What connections have you made due to pandemic restrictions that wouldn’t have happened otherwise? I’d love to hear about them!
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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.