How chil­dren’s books changed this au­thor’s life

Matthew Beam on how a de­tour in teach­ing led to his dream job

North Toronto Post - - Currents - By Darcy Stre­it­en­feld

Cel­e­brated young-adult and chil­dren’s au­thor Matthew Beam now makes his liv­ing off academia and lit­er­a­ture, but he says he wasn’t a star stu­dent in high school.

“I was your con­stant B stu­dent all the way through. I wrote very creative es­says, with out­landish the­ses that I could never quite prove,” he ex­plains. “I think that’s why I be­came a writer, I didn’t have to ad­here to any­one’s struc­ture.”

While aca­demics were not his strong suit, Beam was the typ­i­cal sporty stu­dent.

He played bas­ket­ball, soc­cer and ran cross-coun­try. But some­where around Grade 10, he started read­ing de­tec­tive nov­els and that lit a spark.

“Even­tu­ally, read­ing those nov­els made me think I could write,” he says. “I took writer’s craft cour­ses, but to be hon­est, I spent a long time say­ing I’d be a writer with­out ac­tu­ally writ­ing. I used to say I had liv­ing or ‘re­search’ to do.”

While he was do­ing all that liv­ing, he re­lo­cated to Syd­ney, Aus­tralia for teach­ers’ col­lege.

And since jobs in On­tario were scarce, he stuck around that side of the globe and took a teach­ing post in New Zealand.

“While I was there, I gave the kids an edit­ing as­sign­ment. I couldn’t find a two-page short story for them to work on, so I wrote one, and I was thrilled about it,” says Beam.

It wasn’t long af­ter that rev­e­la­tory mo­ment that the newly in­vig­o­rated writer de­cided to leave New Zealand and come back to Toronto to write.

“I bought a gi­ant iMac circa 1997 and started writ­ing bad, over­writ­ten adult fic­tion,” he says jok­ingly. “I was try­ing to be po­etic with­out per­spec­tive.”

When Beam backed off on the es­o­teric prose and started writ­ing for a younger au­di­ence, he found it sur­pris­ingly easy to ex­press him­self with­out all the pre­tense. “That’s when I wrote Can You

Spell Revo­lu­tion?,” he says. And af­ter a long le­gal bat­tle with a de­funct pub­lish­ing com­pany to get the rights back, that first young-adult novel of his was even­tu­ally sold to HarperCollins.

The le­gal bat­tle took so long that Beam’s sec­ond book, Get­ting to First Base with Danalda Chase, had al­ready been pub­lished through HarperCollins by the time Can you Spell Revo­lu­tion? hit the shelves.

Through a pub­lisher called Ground­wood, he re­leased two col­lab­o­ra­tions with Joanne Schwartz for younger read­ers, called City Al­pha­bet and City

Num­bers. The books, with Beam’s pho­tog­ra­phy and words by Schwartz, ex­plores the process of learn­ing the al­pha­bet and num­bers with ar­rest­ing images of the ur­ban land­scape.

Zom­bie Prince, pub­lished this past Septem­ber, is Beam’s and first tra­di­tional pic­ture book.

“This book is about boys sup­port­ing each other and re­spond­ing to each other in a creative and emo­tional way,” says Beam. “For men to be bet­ter, boys have to be bet­ter. When we get to­gether, we tend to nar­row each other with machismo and com­pe­ti­tion. I’m try­ing to teach boys that they can be what­ever they want.”

Beam also con­tin­ues to teach Grades 6 and 7 at the Clare­mont School on Dan­forth Av­enue, which is a school for stu­dents with dyslexia.

Whether in the class­room or on the pub­lished page, Beam is on a mis­sion to teach kids that they can be what­ever they want to be.

Beam’s lat­est book ‘Zom­bie Prince’ was re­leased in Septem­ber

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.