Great Writers of Dawson City
December 7, 2009
I’ve found some new friends in Dawson. They’re a bit younger than me, but they write books, too.
I met them the other day inside a colourful classroom at Robert Service School in Dawson City. Teacher Peter Menzies asked me to talk to his Grade Three class about writing. I told the kids they were lucky to find a teacher like him. Way back in ancient times I had a Grade Four teacher who told me that I could write stories as a hobby at home but I probably couldn’t earn my living as a professional writer.
“Maybe that teacher made you a bit mad,” one Dawson student suggested when I told that story. Mad, sad and determined, too.
The kids in Dawson already know they can create anything if they try hard enough.
Have you ever read a story about a moose that ate bannock?
One girl read me her book about how she followed that awesome moose through the bush just because it was interesting.
In her drawings, the moose is always smiling. Well, no wonder!
Later I sat on the floor and explored Hong Kong with a boy who had travelled all the way from the Yukon to China, and made a travel scrapbook with his family to remind him of his journey. Nearby I read a hilarious illustrated comic about a superhero named Marshmallow Man.
Another book, The Snow Machine, could be a bestseller. It began: “Once upon a time there was a little girl who drove a snowmachine and she was only one year old . . .”
If you need a new bathroom, you might like to read a helpful how-to book called Making an Outhouse. [“Usually, you will make an outhouse three feet by three feet.”]
One of the longer books was a true story about a Dawson City boy whose grandfather is teaching him how to drive heavy equipment “such as tow trucks, and loaders, and high-up trucks and 500 snowmobiles with reverse, and excavators.” This student’s family knows all about the gold mining operations around Dawson City, and they also own a gas station. The pictures showed a boy driving a gigantic yellow Cat through the mountains, a boy driving a bulldozer and lots of gas pumps.
Another book, Travel Ways, explained every single way you can travel through the Yukon, including snowmobiles and helicopters. I also enjoyed another story called My Peaceful Life because it reminded me how much I will miss peaceful Dawson when I leave it next month.
“Stand up to bullies!” wrote another author in her book. “Anti-Bully Day is Today!”
All the kids at Robert Service School celebrated Anti-Bully Day with banner painting, and short plays and workshops about how to get rid of pesky bullies when they interrupt your peaceful life in Dawson City. In appreciation, the town’s volunteer firefighters served the students free hotdogs and hamburgers for lunch.
Back in Mr. Menzies’ class, the Grade Three students wrote an anti-bullying song with a great Yukon songwriter named Steve Slade. He created the tune, and they wrote the words. My favourite verse went like this:
Stand up for the world
Stand up for others
Use your wits
Stop bullying! Stop bullying!
It looks to me like the young authors in Dawson City always use their wits.
Move over, Jack London, Robert Service and Pierre Berton! You’ve got some younger competition in this town.
In another twenty years or so, look for their award-winning books in a Canadian public library near you.