A‘ Newfoundland Christmas’ and other stories
Siblings Sarah and Michael are less than happy when they are told they will be going “down home” – i.e., from mainland Canada to Newfoundland – for Christmas. “This is so unfair!” Sarah laments to her best friend.
With those words, Dawn Baker, a visual artist and children’s writer living in Gander, launches her readers into “A Newfoundland Christmas.”
In an email interview with this columnist, Baker says, “Writing and illustrating books has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager.” Indeed, her career mushroomed from a hobby that she felt passionately about.
She has also written and illustrated “A Newfoundland Year” and “A Newfoundland Alphabet.”
She has even illustrated a children’s book, “Saltwater Joys,” written by Wayne Chaulk, one-third of the comedy troupe Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers. Perhaps one of this province’s best-known and most popular songs, it celebrates the simple pleasures of outport life.
Baker’s latest effort is “A Newfoundland Adventure,” in which the reader interacts with a beautiful Irish princess, an infamous sea captain and pirates.
Baker says her aim is to “try to represent our beautiful province ... My topics,” she adds, “are always chosen with that in mind.”
Elsewhere, she writes: “The history of this wonderful place is amazing.” Perhaps her books “will spark some interest ... to read more about our unique province.”
I inquired about her writing and illustrating process.
“The stories I tell,” she explains, “are developed with words and pictures at the same time.” She jots down the words before she paints the illustrations, but “both are imagined simultaneously.”
She hopes her books are, and foremost, entertaining.
“Hopefully they will also help encourage positive feelings about our home and heritage.”
Children’s literature, not unlike other genres, makes its own demand of the author.
“A good children’s story should be fun, entertaining and short.” How short? “Something that may be read aloud by a caregiver in less than 10 minutes.”
She admits that it was both challenging and enjoyable working with Wayne Chaulk on “Saltwater Joys.”
“It was and is his story and his song, and I did my best to bring it to life in pictures.”
Chaulk himself writes that the book based on his song “came about because Dawn borrowed a multitude of my photos and proceeded to paint for three straight months. The resulting 17 paintings ... depict many of the sites that inspired the lyrics of the song.”
Typically, though, Baker works much more from her own imagination.
Now, earning her livelihood as a visual artist and children’s writer is, she says, “a dream come true.”
Since 2006, she has served on the board of directors of The Rooms Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador, which she has found to be a very rewarding experience. She has “gotten to know so many others who care deeply about Newfoundland and Labrador culture and history.”
While she has undoubtedly made a useful contribution, she believes she has “received much more.”
Meanwhile, how are Sarah and Michael faring down home in Newfoundland? Quite well, actually, once they see what a Newfoundland Christmas has to offer.
Back home, Sarah tells her friend, “All I can say is that I sure hope we can go down home for Christmas again next year!”
Baker believes the future of children’s literature is assured, “even in this age of technology. I hope I never see the day when a four-year-old no longer curls up on an adult’s lap to share an actual book.”
Baker herself has “precious memories of reading to my daughter when she was little. She loved to turn the pages at the appropriate time. The feel and smell of a good book is always a delight.”
What else can readers anticipate from Baker?
She’s rather coy in her response: “Psychologists claim that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. In my case, they are right, and my readers can expect more books that continue to highlight Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Meanwhile, she’s grateful to those who continue to support her work. “I strive to do my best for them,” she says.
“Once a man twice a child.” So goes a popular truism. As a child, I read my fair share of books. Of late, I find myself more and more reading children’s books. I wonder if I am, at 57, having a second, delayed childhood?
All of Dawn Baker’s books are published by Pennywell Books, an imprint of Flanker Press, St. John’s.
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SANTA IN A DORY — Santa Claus traded in his traditional sleigh for a dory during Bay Roberts’ annual night time Santa Claus parade on Dec. 3. The parade, which travelled from the municipal building to the Royal Canadian Legion, brought out hundreds of residents to see the some-dozen floats. It was a precursor to the main Bay Roberts parade, held Dec. 6.